O thou of many names, glory of the Cadmeian bride, offspring of loud-thundering Zeus! thou who watchest over famed Italia, and reignest, where all guests are welcomed, in the sheltered plain of Eleusinian Deo! O Bacchus, dweller in Thebe, mother-city of Bacchants, by the softly-gliding stream of Ismenus, on the soil where the fierce dragon’s teeth were sown!
Thou comest from the ivy-mantled slopes of Nysa’s hills, and from the shore green with many-clustered vines, while thy name is lifted up on strains of more than mortal power, as thou visitest the ways of Thebe:
Thebe, of all cities, thou holdest first in honour, thou and thy mother whom the lightning smote; and now, when all our people is captive to aviolent plague, come thou with healing feet over the Parnassian height, or over the moaning strait!
O thou with whom the stars rejoice as they move, the stars whose breath is fire; O master of the voices of the night; son begotten of Zeus; appear,O king, with thine attendant Thyiads, who in night-long frenzy dance before thee, the giver of good gifts, Iacchus!
Dwellers by the house of Cadmus and of Amphion, there is no estate of mortal life that I would ever praise or blame as settled. Fortune raises and Fortune humbles the lucky or unlucky from day to day, and no one can prophesy to men concerning those things which are established. For
CREON was blest once, as I count bliss; he had saved this land of Cadmus from its foes; he was clothed with sole dominion in the land; he reigned, the glorious sire of princely children. And now all hath been lost. For when a man hath forfeited his pleasures, I count him not as living,-I hold him but a breathing corpse. Heap up riches in thy house, if thou wilt; live in kingly state; yet, if there be no gladness therewith, I would not give the shadow of a vapour for all the rest, compared with joy.
And what is this new grief that thou hast to tell for our princes?
Death; and the living are guilty for the dead.
And who is the slayer? Who the stricken? Speak.
Haemon hath perished; his blood hath been shed by no stranger.
By his father’s hand, or by his own?
By his own, in wrath with his sire for the murder.
O prophet, how true, then, hast thou proved thy word!
These things stand thus; ye must consider of the rest.
People of Thebes, I heard your words as I was going forth, to salute the goddess Pallas with my prayers. Even as I was loosing the fastenings of the gate, to open it, the message of a household woe smote on mine ear: I sank back, terror-stricken, into the arms of my handmaids, and my senses fled. But say again what the tidings were; I shall hear them as one who is no stranger to sorrow.
Dear lady, I will witness of what I saw, and will leave no word of the truth untold. Why, indeed, should I soothe thee with words in which must presently be found false? Truth is ever best.-I attended thy lord as his guide to the furthest part of the plain, where the body of Polyneices, torn by dogs, still lay unpitied. We prayed the goddess of the roads, and Pluto, in mercy to restrain their wrath; we washed the dead with holy washing; and with freshly-plucked boughs we solemnly burned such relics as there were. We raised a high mound of his native earth; and then we turned away to enter the maiden’s nuptial chamber with rocky couch, the caverned mansion of the bride of Death. And, from afar off, one of us heard a voice of loud wailing at that bride’s unhallowed bower; and came to tell our master Creon.
And as the king drew nearer, doubtful sounds of a bitter cry floated around him; he groaned, and said in accents of anguish, ‘Wretched that I am, can my foreboding be true? Am I going on the wofullest way that ever I went? My son’s voice greets me.-Go, my servants,-haste ye nearer, andwhen ye have reached the tomb, pass through the gap, where the stones have been wrenched away, to the cell’s very mouth,-and look. and see if ’tis Haemon’s voice that I know, or if mine ear is cheated by the gods.’
This search, at our despairing master’s word, we went to make; and in the furthest part of the tomb we descried her hanging by the neck, slung by a thread-wrought halter of fine linen: while he was embracing her with arms thrown around her waist, bewailing the loss of his bride who is with the dead, and his father’s deeds, and his own ill-starred love.
But his father, when he saw him, cried aloud with a dread cry and went in, and called to him with a voice of wailing:-‘Unhappy, what deed hast thou done! What thought hath come to thee? What manner of mischance hath marred thy reason? Come forth, my child! I pray thee-I implore!’ But the boy glared at him with fierce eyes, spat in his face, and, without a word of answer, drew his cross-hilted sword:-as his father rushed forthin flight, he missed his aim;-then, hapless one, wroth with himself, he straightway leaned with all his weight against his sword, and drove it, half its length, into his side; and, while sense lingered, he clasped the maiden to his faint embrace, and, as he gasped, sent forth on her pale cheek the swift stream of the oozing blood.
Corpse enfolding corpse he lies; he hath won his nuptial rites, poor youth, not here, yet in the halls of Death; and he hath witnessed to mankind that, of all curses which cleave to man, ill counsel is the sovereign curse.
I, too, am startled; yet I nourish the hope that, at these sore tidings of her son, she cannot deign to give her sorrow public vent, but in the privacy of the house will set her handmaids to mourn the household grief. For she is not untaught of discretion, that she should err.
Well, I will enter the house, and learn whether indeed she is not hiding some repressed purpose in the depths of a passionate heart. Yea, thou sayest well: excess of silence, too, may have a perilous meaning.
The MESSENGER goes into the palace. Enter CREON, on the spectators’ left, with attendants, carrying the shrouded body of HAEMON on bier. Thefollowing lines between CREON and the CHORUS are chanted responsively.Antigone by Sophocles