LEADER

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For Zeus utterly abhors the boasts of a proud tongue; and when he beheld them coming on in a great stream, in the haughty pride of clanging gold, he smote with brandished fire one who was now hasting to shout victory at his goal upon our ramparts.

CHORUS

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Swung down, he fell on the earth with a crash, torch in hand, he who so lately, in the frenzy of the mad onset, was raging against us with theblasts of his tempestuous hate. But those threats fared not as he hoped; and to other foes the mighty War-god dispensed their several dooms, dealing havoc around, a mighty helper at our need.

LEADER

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For seven captains at seven gates, matched against seven, left the tribute of their panoplies to Zeus who turns the battle; save those two of cruelfate, who, born of one sire and one mother, set against each other their twain conquering spears, and are sharers in a common death.

CHORUS

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But since Victory of glorious name hath come to us, with joy responsive to the joy of Thebe whose chariots are many, let us enjoy forgetfulnessafter the late wars, and visit all the temples of the gods with night-long dance and song; and may Bacchus be our leader, whose dancing shakes the land of Thebe.

LEADER

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But lo, the king of the land comes yonder, Creon, son of Menoeceus, our new ruler by the new fortunes that the gods have given; what counsel ishe pondering, that he hath proposed this special conference of elders, summoned by his general mandate?

Enter CREON, from the central doors of the palace, in the garb of king, with two attendants.


CREON

Sirs, the vessel of our State, after being tossed on wild waves, hath once more been safely steadied by the gods: and ye, out of all the folk, have been called apart by my summons, because I knew, first of all, how true and constant was your reverence for the royal power of Laius; how, again, when Oedipus was ruler of our land, and when he had perished, your steadfast loyalty still upheld their children. Since, then, his sons have fallen in one day by a twofold doom,-each smitten by the other, each stained with a brother’s blood,-I now possess the throne and all its powers,by nearness of kinship to the dead. 

No man can be fully known, in soul and spirit and mind, until he hath been seen versed in rule and law-giving. For if any, being supreme guide of the State, cleaves not to the best counsels, but, through some fear, keeps his lips locked, I hold, and have ever held, him most base; and if any makes a friend of more account than his fatherland, that man hath no place in my regard. For I-be Zeus my witness, who sees all things always-would not be silent if I saw ruin, instead of safety, coming to the citizens; nor would I ever deem the country’s foe a friend to myself;remembering this, that our country is the ship that bears us safe, and that only while she prospers in our voyage can we make true friends. 

Such are the rules by which I guard this city’s greatness. And in accord with them is the edict which I have now published to the folk touching the sons of Oedipus;-that Eteocles, who hath fallen fighting for our city, in all renown of arms, shall be entombed, and crowned with every rite that follows the noblest dead to their rest. But for his brother, Polyneices,-who came back from exile, and sought to consume utterly with fire the city of his fathers and the shrines of his fathers’ gods,-sought to taste of kindred blood, and to lead the remnant into slavery;-touching this man, it hath been proclaimed to our people that none shall grace him with sepulture or lament, but leave him unburied, a corpse for birds and dogs to eat, a ghastly sight of shame. 

Such the spirit of my dealing; and never, by deed of mine, shall the wicked stand in honour before the just; but whoso hath good will to Thebes, he shall be honoured of me, in his life and in his death.

LEADER OF THE CHORUS

Such is thy pleasure, Creon, son of Menoeceus, touching this city’s foe, and its friend; and thou hast power, I ween, to take what order thou wilt, both for the dead, and for all us who live.

CREON

See, then, that ye be guardians of the mandate.

LEADER

Lay the burden of this task on some younger man.

CREON

Nay, watchers of the corpse have been found.

LEADER

What, then, is this further charge that thou wouldst give?

CREON

That ye side not with the breakers of these commands.

LEADER

No man is so foolish that he is enamoured of death.

CREON

In sooth, that is the meed; yet lucre hath oft ruined men through their hopes.

A GUARD enters from the spectators’ left.


GUARD

My liege, I will not say that I come breathless from speed, or that have plied a nimble foot; for often did my thoughts make me pause, and wheel round in my path, to return. My mind was holding large discourse with me; ‘Fool, why goest thou to thy certain doom?’ ‘Wretch, tarrying again? And if Creon hears this from another, must not thou smart for it?’ So debating, I went on my way with lagging steps, and thus a short road was made long. At last, however, it carried the day that I should come hither-to thee; and, though my tale be nought, yet will I tell it; for I come with a good grip on one hope,-that I can suffer nothing but what is my fate.

CREON

And what is it that disquiets thee thus?

GUARD

I wish to tell thee first about myself-I did not do the deed-I did not see the doer-it were not right that I should come to any harm.

CREON

Thou hast a shrewd eye for thy mark; well dost thou fence thyself round against the blame; clearly thou hast some strange thing to tell.

GUARD

Aye, truly; dread news makes one pause long.

CREON

Then tell it, wilt thou, and so get thee gone?

GUARD

Well, this is it.-The corpse-some one hath just given it burial, and gone away,-after sprinkling thirsty dust on the flesh, with such other rites as piety enjoins.

CREON

What sayest thou? What living man hath dared this deed?

GUARD

I know not; no stroke of pickaxe was seen there, no earth thrown up by mattock; the ground was hard and dry, unbroken, without track ofwheels; the doer was one who had left no trace. And when the first day-watchman showed it to us, sore wonder fell on all. The dead man was veiled from us; not shut within a tomb, but lightly strewn with dust, as by the hand of one who shunned a curse. And no sign met the eye as though any beast of prey or any dog had come nigh to him, or torn him. 

Then evil words flew fast and loud among us, guard accusing guard; und it would e’en have come to blows at last, nor was there any to hinder.Every man was the culprit, and no one was convicted, but all disclaimed knowledge of the deed. And we were ready to take red-hot iron in our hands;-to walk through fire;-to make oath by the gods that we had not done the deed,-that we were not privy to the planning or the doing. 

At last, when all our searching was fruitless, one spake, who made us all bend our faces on the earth in fear; for we saw not how we couldgainsay him, or escape mischance if we obeyed. His counsel was that this deed must be reported to thee, and not hidden. And this seemed best; and the lot doomed my hapless self to win this prize. So here I stand,-as unwelcome as unwilling, well I wot; for no man delights in the bearer of bad news.

LEADER

O king, my thoughts have long been whispering, can this deed, perchance, be e’en the work of gods?

CREON

Cease, ere thy words fill me utterly with wrath, lest thou be found at once an old man and foolish. For thou sayest what is not to be borne, in saying that the gods have care for this corpse. Was it for high reward of trusty service that they sought to hide his nakedness, who came to burn their pillared shrines and sacred treasures, to burn their land, and scatter its laws to the winds? Or dost thou behold the gods honouring the wicked? It cannot be. No! From the first there were certain in the town that muttered against me, chafing at this edict, wagging their heads in secret; and kept not their necks duly under the yoke, like men contented with my sway. 

‘Tis by them, well I know, that these have been beguiled and bribed to do this deed. Nothing so evil as money ever grew to be current amongmen. This lays cities low, this drives men from their homes, this trains and warps honest souls till they set themselves to works of shame; thisstill teaches folk to practise villainies, and to know every godless deed. 

But all the men who wrought this thing for hire have made it sure that, soon or late, they shall pay the price. Now, as Zeus still hath myreverence, know this-I tell it thee on my oath:-If ye find not the very author of this burial, and produce him before mine eyes, death alone shallnot be enough for you, till first, hung up alive, ye have revealed this outrage,-that henceforth ye may thieve with better knowledge whence lucreshould be won, and learn that it is not well to love gain from every source. For thou wilt find that ill-gotten pelf brings more men to ruin than toweal.

Antigone by Sophocles