Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles

Oedipus at Colonus

By Sophocles

 Translated by F. Storr

Fate comes full circle in Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles. The tragic king finds his finale in a foreign city while his sons begin to war.

Dramatis Personae 

OEDIPUS, banished King of Thebes
ANTIGONE, his daughter
ISMENE, his daughter
THESEUS, King of Athens
CREON, brother of Jocasta, now reigning at Thebes
POLYNEICES, elder son of Oedipus
STRANGER, a native of Colonus
MESSENGER, an attendant of Theseus

Scene

In front of the grove of the Eumenides.

Enter the blind OEDIPUS led by his daughter, ANTIGONE.


OEDIPUS

Child of an old blind sire, Antigone, 
What region, say, whose city have we reached? 
Who will provide today with scanted dole 
This wanderer? ‘Tis little that he craves, 
And less obtains–that less enough for me; 
For I am taught by suffering to endure, 
And the long years that have grown old with me, 
And last not least, by true nobility. 
My daughter, if thou seest a resting place 
On common ground or by some sacred grove, 
Stay me and set me down. Let us discover 
Where we have come, for strangers must inquire 
Of denizens, and do as they are bid.

ANTIGONE

Long-suffering father, Oedipus, the towers 
That fence the city still are faint and far; 
But where we stand is surely holy ground; 
A wilderness of laurel, olive, vine; 
Within a choir or songster nightingales 
Are warbling. On this native seat of rock 
Rest; for an old man thou hast traveled far.

OEDIPUS

Guide these dark steps and seat me there secure.

ANTIGONE

If time can teach, I need not to be told.

OEDIPUS

Say, prithee, if thou knowest, where we are.

ANTIGONE

Athens I recognize, but not the spot.

OEDIPUS

That much we heard from every wayfarer.

ANTIGONE

Shall I go on and ask about the place?

OEDIPUS

Yes, daughter, if it be inhabited.

ANTIGONE

Sure there are habitations; but no need 
To leave thee; yonder is a man hard by.

OEDIPUS

What, moving hitherward and on his way?

ANTIGONE

Say rather, here already. Ask him straight 
The needful questions, for the man is here.

Enter STRANGER


OEDIPUS

O stranger, as I learn from her whose eyes 
Must serve both her and me, that thou art here 
Sent by some happy chance to serve our doubts–

STRANGER

First quit that seat, then question me at large: 
The spot thou treadest on is holy ground.

OEDIPUS

What is the site, to what god dedicate?

STRANGER

Inviolable, untrod; goddesses, 
Dread brood of Earth and Darkness, here abide.

OEDIPUS

Tell me the awful name I should invoke?

STRANGER

The Gracious Ones, All-seeing, so our folk 
Call them, but elsewhere other names are rife.

OEDIPUS

Then may they show their suppliant grace, for 
From this your sanctuary will ne’er depart.

STRANGER

What word is this?

OEDIPUS

The watchword of my fate.

STRANGER

Nay, ’tis not mine to bid thee hence without 
Due warrant and instruction from the State.

OEDIPUS

Now in God’s name, O stranger, scorn me not 
As a wayfarer; tell me what I crave.

STRANGER

Ask; your request shall not be scorned by me.

OEDIPUS

How call you then the place wherein we bide?

STRANGER

Whate’er I know thou too shalt know; the place 
Is all to great Poseidon consecrate. 
Hard by, the Titan, he who bears the torch, 
Prometheus, has his worship; but the spot 
Thou treadest, the Brass-footed Threshold named, 
Is Athens’ bastion, and the neighboring lands 
Claim as their chief and patron yonder knight 
Colonus, and in common bear his name. 
Such, stranger, is the spot, to fame unknown, 
But dear to us its native worshipers.

OEDIPUS

Thou sayest there are dwellers in these parts?

STRANGER

Surely; they bear the name of yonder god.

OEDIPUS

Ruled by a king or by the general voice?

STRANGER

The lord of Athens is our over-lord.

OEDIPUS

Who is this monarch, great in word and might?

STRANGER

Theseus, the son of Aegeus our late king.

OEDIPUS

Might one be sent from you to summon him?

STRANGER

Wherefore? To tell him aught or urge his coming?

OEDIPUS

Say a slight service may avail him much.

STRANGER

How can he profit from a sightless man?

OEDIPUS

The blind man’s words will be instinct with sight.

STRANGER

Heed then; I fain would see thee out of harm; 
For by the looks, marred though they be by fate, 
I judge thee noble; tarry where thou art, 
While I go seek the burghers–those at hand, 
Not in the city. They will soon decide 
Whether thou art to rest or go thy way.

Exit STRANGER


OEDIPUS

Tell me, my daughter, has the stranger gone?

ANTIGONE

Yes, he has gone; now we are all alone, 
And thou may’st speak, dear father, without fear.

OEDIPUS

Stern-visaged queens, since coming to this land 
First in your sanctuary I bent the knee, 
Frown not on me or Phoebus, who, when erst 
He told me all my miseries to come, 
Spake of this respite after many years, 
Some haven in a far-off land, a rest 
Vouchsafed at last by dread divinities. 
“There,” said he, “shalt thou round thy weary life, 
A blessing to the land wherein thou dwell’st, 
But to the land that cast thee forth, a curse.” 
And of my weird he promised signs should come, 
Earthquake, or thunderclap, or lightning flash. 
And now I recognize as yours the sign 
That led my wanderings to this your grove; 
Else had I never lighted on you first, 
A wineless man on your seat of native rock. 
O goddesses, fulfill Apollo’s word, 
Grant me some consummation of my life, 
If haply I appear not all too vile, 
A thrall to sorrow worse than any slave. 
Hear, gentle daughters of primeval Night, 
Hear, namesake of great Pallas; Athens, first 
Of cities, pity this dishonored shade, 
The ghost of him who once was Oedipus.

ANTIGONE

Hush! for I see some grey-beards on their way, 
Their errand to spy out our resting-place.

OEDIPUS

I will be mute, and thou shalt guide my steps 
Into the covert from the public road, 
Till I have learned their drift. A prudent man 
Will ever shape his course by what he learns.

Enter CHORUS


CHORUS

strophe 1

Ha! Where is he? Look around! 
Every nook and corner scan! 
He the all-presumptuous man, 
Whither vanished? search the ground! 
A wayfarer, I ween, 
A wayfarer, no countryman of ours, 
That old man must have been; 
Never had native dared to tempt the Powers, 
Or enter their demesne, 
The Maids in awe of whom each mortal cowers, 
Whose name no voice betrays nor cry, 
And as we pass them with averted eye, 
We move hushed lips in reverent piety. 
But now some godless man, 
‘Tis rumored, here abides; 
The precincts through I scan, 
Yet wot not where he hides, 
The wretch profane! 
I search and search in vain.

OEDIPUS

I am that man; I know you near 
Ears to the blind, they say, are eyes.

CHORUS

O dread to see and dread to hear!

OEDIPUS

Oh sirs, I am no outlaw under ban.

CHORUS

Who can he be–Zeus save us!–this old man?

OEDIPUS

No favorite of fate, 
That ye should envy his estate, 
O, Sirs, would any happy mortal, say, 
Grope by the light of other eyes his way, 
Or face the storm upon so frail a stay?

Oedipus at Colonus