And what, aged Teiresias, are thy tidings?
I will tell thee; and do thou hearken to the seer.
Indeed, it has not been my wont to slight thy counsel.
Therefore didst thou steer our city’s course aright.
I have felt, and can attest, thy benefits.
Mark that now, once more, thou standest on fate’s fine edge.
What means this? How I shudder at thy message!
Thou wilt learn, when thou hearest the warnings of mine art. As I took my place on mine old seat of augury, where all birds have been wont to gather within my ken, I heard a strange voice among them; they were screaming with dire, feverish rage, that drowned their language in jargon; and I knew that they were rending each other with their talons, murderously; the whirr of wings told no doubtful tale.
Forthwith, in fear, I essayed burnt-sacrifice on a duly kindled altar: but from my offerings the Fire-god showed no flame; a dank moisture, oozing from the thigh-flesh, trickled forth upon the embers, and smoked, and sputtered; the gall was scattered to the air; and the streaming thighs lay bared of the fat that had been wrapped round them.
Such was the failure of the rites by which I vainly asked a sign, as from this boy I learned; for he is my guide, as I am guide to others. And ’tis thy counsel that hath brought this sickness on our State. For the altars of our city and of our hearths have been tainted, one and all, by birds and dogs, with carrion from the hapless corpse, the son of Oedipus: and therefore the gods no more accept prayer and sacrifice at our hands, or the flame of meat-offering; nor doth any bird give a clear sign by its shrill cry, for they have tasted the fatness of a slain man’s blood.
Think, then, on these things, my son. All men are liable to err; but when an error hath been made, that man is no longer witless or unblest who heals the ill into which he hath fallen, and remains not stubborn.
Self-will, we know, incurs the charge of folly. Nay, allow the claim of the dead; stab not the fallen; what prowess is it to slay the slain anew? I have sought thy good, and for thy good I speak: and never is it sweeter to learn from a good counsellor than when he counsels for thine own gain.
Old man, ye all shoot your shafts at me, as archers at the butts;-Ye must needs practise on me with seer-craft also;-aye, the seer-tribe hath long trafficked in me, and made me their merchandise. Gain your gains, drive your trade, if ye list, in the silver-gold of Sardis and the gold of India; but ye shall not hide that man in the grave,-no, though the eagles of Zeus should bear the carrion morsels to their Master’s throne-no, not for dread of that defilement will I suffer his burial:-for well I know that no mortal can defile the gods.-But, aged Teiresias, the wisest fall with shameful fall, when they clothe shameful thoughts in fair words, for lucre’s sake.
Alas! Doth any man know, doth any consider…
Whereof? What general truth dost thou announce?
How precious, above all wealth, is good counsel.
As folly, I think, is the worst mischief.
Yet thou art tainted with that distemper.
I would not answer the seer with a taunt.
But thou dost, in saying that I prophesy falsely.
Well, the prophet-tribe was ever fond of money.
And the race bred of tyrants loves base gain.
Knowest thou that thy speech is spoken of thy king?
I know it; for through me thou hast saved Thebes.
Thou art a wise seer; but thou lovest evil deeds.
Thou wilt rouse me to utter the dread secret in my soul.
Out with it!-Only speak it not for gain.
Indeed, methinks, I shall not,-as touching thee.
Know that thou shalt not trade on my resolve.
Then know thou-aye, know it well-that thou shalt not live through many more courses of the sun’s swift chariot, ere one begotten of thine own loins shall have been given by thee, a corpse for corpses; because thou hast thrust children of the sunlight to the shades, and ruthlessly lodged a living soul in the grave; but keepest in this world one who belongs to the gods infernal, a corpse unburied, unhonoured, all unhallowed. In such thou hast no part, nor have the gods above, but this is a violence done to them by thee. Therefore the avenging destroyers lie in wait for thee, the Furies of Hades and of the gods, that thou mayest be taken in these same ills.
And mark well if I speak these things as a hireling. A time not long to be delayed shall awaken the wailing of men and of women in thy house. And a tumult of hatred against thee stirs all the cities whose mangled sons had the burial-rite from dogs, or from wild beasts, or from some winged bird that bore a polluting breath to each city that contains the hearths of the dead.
Such arrows for thy heart-since thou provokest me-have I launched at thee, archer-like, in my anger,-sure arrows, of which thou shalt not escape the smart.-Boy, lead me home, that he may spend his rage on younger men, and learn to keep a tongue more temperate, and to bear within hisbreast a better mind than now he bears.
Son of Menoeceus, it behoves thee to take wise counsel.
What should I do then? Speak and I will obey.
And this is thy counsel? Thou wouldst have me yield?
Go, thou, and do these things; leave them not to others.
Even as I am I’ll go:-on, on, my servants, each and all of you,-take axes in your hands, and hasten to the ground that ye see yonder! Since our judgment hath taken this turn, I will be present to unloose her, as myself bound her. My heart misgives me, ’tis best to keep the established laws, even to life’s end.