CHORUS

Our pity, Oedipus, thou needs must move, 
Thou and these maidens; and the stronger plea 
Thou urgest, as the savior of our land, 
Disposes me to counsel for thy weal.

OEDIPUS

Aid me, kind sirs; I will do all you bid.

CHORUS

First make atonement to the deities, 
Whose grove by trespass thou didst first profane.

OEDIPUS

After what manner, stranger? Teach me, pray.

CHORUS

Make a libation first of water fetched 
With undefiled hands from living spring.

OEDIPUS

And after I have gotten this pure draught?

CHORUS

Bowls thou wilt find, the carver’s handiwork; 
Crown thou the rims and both the handles crown–

OEDIPUS

With olive shoots or blocks of wool, or how?

CHORUS

With wool from fleece of yearling freshly shorn.

OEDIPUS

What next? how must I end the ritual?

CHORUS

Pour thy libation, turning to the dawn.

OEDIPUS

Pouring it from the urns whereof ye spake?

CHORUS

Yea, in three streams; and be the last bowl drained 
To the last drop.

OEDIPUS

And wherewith shall I fill it, 
Ere in its place I set it? This too tell.

CHORUS

With water and with honey; add no wine.

OEDIPUS

And when the embowered earth hath drunk thereof?

CHORUS

Then lay upon it thrice nine olive sprays 
With both thy hands, and offer up this prayer.

OEDIPUS

I fain would hear it; that imports the most.

CHORUS

That, as we call them Gracious, they would deign 
To grant the suppliant their saving grace. 
So pray thyself or whoso pray for thee, 
In whispered accents, not with lifted voice; 
Then go and look back. Do as I bid, 
And I shall then be bold to stand thy friend; 
Else, stranger, I should have my fears for thee.

OEDIPUS

Hear ye, my daughters, what these strangers say?

ANTIGONE

We listened, and attend thy bidding, father.

OEDIPUS

I cannot go, disabled as I am 
Doubly, by lack of strength and lack of sight; 
But one of you may do it in my stead; 
For one, I trow, may pay the sacrifice 
Of thousands, if his heart be leal and true. 
So to your work with speed, but leave me not 
Untended; for this frame is all too week 
To move without the help of guiding hand.

ISMENE

Then I will go perform these rites, but where 
To find the spot, this have I yet to learn.

CHORUS

Beyond this grove; if thou hast need of aught, 
The guardian of the close will lend his aid.

ISMENE

I go, and thou, Antigone, meanwhile 
Must guard our father. In a parent’s cause 
Toil, if there be toil, is of no account.

Exit ISMENE


CHORUS

strophe 1

Ill it is, stranger, to awake 
Pain that long since has ceased to ache, 
And yet I fain would hear–

OEDIPUS

What thing?

CHORUS

Thy tale of cruel suffering 
For which no cure was found, 
The fate that held thee bound.

OEDIPUS

O bid me not (as guest I claim 
This grace) expose my shame.

CHORUS

The tale is bruited far and near, 
And echoes still from ear to ear. 
The truth, I fain would hear.

OEDIPUS

Ah me!

CHORUS

I prithee yield.

OEDIPUS

Ah me!

CHORUS

Grant my request, I granted all to thee.

OEDIPUS

antistrophe 1

Know then I suffered ills most vile, but none 
(So help me Heaven!) from acts in malice done.

CHORUS

Say how.

OEDIPUS

The State around 
An all unwitting bridegroom bound 
An impious marriage chain; 
That was my bane.

CHORUS

Didst thou in sooth then share 
A bed incestuous with her that bare–

OEDIPUS

It stabs me like a sword, 
That two-edged word, 
O stranger, but these maids–my own–

CHORUS

Say on.

OEDIPUS

Two daughters, curses twain.

CHORUS

Oh God!

OEDIPUS

Sprang from the wife and mother’s travail-pain.

CHORUS

strophe 2

What, then thy offspring are at once–

OEDIPUS

Too true. Their father’s very sister’s too.

CHORUS

Oh horror!

OEDIPUS

Horrors from the boundless deep 
Back on my soul in refluent surges sweep.

CHORUS

Thou hast endured–

OEDIPUS

Intolerable woe.

CHORUS

And sinned–

OEDIPUS

I sinned not.

CHORUS

How so?

OEDIPUS

I served the State; would I had never won 
That graceless grace by which I was undone.

CHORUS

antistrophe 2

And next, unhappy man, thou hast shed blood?

OEDIPUS

Must ye hear more?

CHORUS

A father’s?

OEDIPUS

Flood on flood 
Whelms me; that word’s a second mortal blow.

CHORUS

Murderer!

OEDIPUS

Yes, a murderer, but know–

CHORUS

What canst thou plead?

OEDIPUS

A plea of justice.

CHORUS

How?

OEDIPUS

I slew who else would me have slain; 
I slew without intent, 
A wretch, but innocent 
In the law’s eye, I stand, without a stain.

CHORUS

Behold our sovereign, Theseus, Aegeus’ son, 
Comes at thy summons to perform his part.

Enter THESEUS


THESEUS

Oft had I heard of thee in times gone by– 
The bloody mutilation of thine eyes– 
And therefore know thee, son of Laius. 
All that I lately gathered on the way 
Made my conjecture doubly sure; and now 
Thy garb and that marred visage prove to me 
That thou art he. So pitying thine estate, 
Most ill-starred Oedipus, I fain would know 
What is the suit ye urge on me and Athens, 
Thou and the helpless maiden at thy side. 
Declare it; dire indeed must be the tale 
Whereat I should recoil. I too was reared, 
Like thee, in exile, and in foreign lands 
Wrestled with many perils, no man more. 
Wherefore no alien in adversity 
Shall seek in vain my succor, nor shalt thou; 
I know myself a mortal, and my share 
In what the morrow brings no more than thine.

OEDIPUS

Theseus, thy words so apt, so generous 
So comfortable, need no long reply 
Both who I am and of what lineage sprung, 
And from what land I came, thou hast declared. 
So without prologue I may utter now 
My brief petition, and the tale is told.

THESEUS

Say on, and tell me what I fain would learn.

OEDIPUS

I come to offer thee this woe-worn frame, 
A gift not fair to look on; yet its worth 
More precious far than any outward show.

THESEUS

What profit dost thou proffer to have brought?

OEDIPUS

Hereafter thou shalt learn, not yet, methinks.

THESEUS

When may we hope to reap the benefit?

OEDIPUS

When I am dead and thou hast buried me.

THESEUS

Thou cravest life’s last service; all before– 
Is it forgotten or of no account?

OEDIPUS

Yea, the last boon is warrant for the rest.

THESEUS

The grace thou cravest then is small indeed.

OEDIPUS

Nay, weigh it well; the issue is not slight.

THESEUS

Thou meanest that betwixt thy sons and me?

OEDIPUS

Prince, they would fain convey me back to Thebes.

THESEUS

If there be no compulsion, then methinks 
To rest in banishment befits not thee.

OEDIPUS

Nay, when I wished it they would not consent.

THESEUS

For shame! such temper misbecomes the faller.

OEDIPUS

Chide if thou wilt, but first attend my plea.

THESEUS

Say on, I wait full knowledge ere I judge.

OEDIPUS

O Theseus, I have suffered wrongs on wrongs.

THESEUS

Wouldst tell the old misfortune of thy race?

OEDIPUS

No, that has grown a byword throughout Greece.

THESEUS

What then can be this more than mortal grief?

OEDIPUS

My case stands thus; by my own flesh and blood 
I was expelled my country, and can ne’er 
Thither return again, a parricide.

THESEUS

Why fetch thee home if thou must needs obey.

THESEUS

What are they threatened by the oracle?

OEDIPUS

Destruction that awaits them in this land.

THESEUS

What can beget ill blood ‘twixt them and me?

OEDIPUS

Dear son of Aegeus, to the gods alone 
Is given immunity from eld and death; 
But nothing else escapes all-ruinous time. 
Earth’s might decays, the might of men decays, 
Honor grows cold, dishonor flourishes, 
There is no constancy ‘twixt friend and friend, 
Or city and city; be it soon or late, 
Sweet turns to bitter, hate once more to love. 
If now ’tis sunshine betwixt Thebes and thee 
And not a cloud, Time in his endless course 
Gives birth to endless days and nights, wherein 
The merest nothing shall suffice to cut 
With serried spears your bonds of amity. 
Then shall my slumbering and buried corpse 
In its cold grave drink their warm life-blood up, 
If Zeus be Zeus and Phoebus still speak true. 
No more: ’tis ill to tear aside the veil 
Of mysteries; let me cease as I began: 
Enough if thou wilt keep thy plighted troth, 
Then shall thou ne’er complain that Oedipus 
Proved an unprofitable and thankless guest, 
Except the gods themselves shall play me false.

CHORUS

The man, my lord, has from the very first 
Declared his power to offer to our land 
These and like benefits.

THESEUS

Who could reject 
The proffered amity of such a friend? 
First, he can claim the hospitality 
To which by mutual contract we stand pledged: 
Next, coming here, a suppliant to the gods, 
He pays full tribute to the State and me; 
His favors therefore never will I spurn, 
But grant him the full rights of citizen; 
And, if it suits the stranger here to bide, 
I place him in your charge, or if he please 
Rather to come with me–choose, Oedipus, 
Which of the two thou wilt. Thy choice is mine.

OEDIPUS

Zeus, may the blessing fall on men like these!

THESEUS

What dost thou then decide–to come with me?

OEDIPUS

Yea, were it lawful–but ’tis rather here–

THESEUS

What wouldst thou here? I shall not thwart thy wish.

OEDIPUS

Here shall I vanquish those who cast me forth.

THESEUS

Then were thy presence here a boon indeed.

OEDIPUS

Such shall it prove, if thou fulfill’st thy pledge.

THESEUS

Fear not for me; I shall not play thee false.

OEDIPUS

No need to back thy promise with an oath.

THESEUS

An oath would be no surer than my word.

OEDIPUS

How wilt thou act then?

THESEUS

What is it thou fear’st?

Oedipus at Colonus