Why, Oedipus, why stung with passionate grief
Hath the queen thus departed? Much I fear
From this dead calm will burst a storm of woes.
Let the storm burst, my fixed resolve still holds,
To learn my lineage, be it ne’er so low.
It may be she with all a woman’s pride
Thinks scorn of my base parentage. But I
Who rank myself as Fortune’s favorite child,
The giver of good gifts, shall not be shamed.
She is my mother and the changing moons
My brethren, and with them I wax and wane.
Thus sprung why should I fear to trace my birth?
Nothing can make me other than I am.
If my soul prophetic err not, if my wisdom aught avail,
Thee, Cithaeron, I shall hail,
As the nurse and foster-mother of our Oedipus shall greet
Ere tomorrow’s full moon rises, and exalt thee as is meet.
Dance and song shall hymn thy praises, lover of our royal race.
Phoebus, may my words find grace!
Child, who bare thee, nymph or goddess? sure thy sure was more than man,
Haply the hill-roamer Pan.
Of did Loxias beget thee, for he haunts the upland wold;
Or Cyllene’s lord, or Bacchus, dweller on the hilltops cold?
Did some Heliconian Oread give him thee, a new-born joy?
Nymphs with whom he love to toy?
Elders, if I, who never yet before
Have met the man, may make a guess, methinks
I see the herdsman who we long have sought;
His time-worn aspect matches with the years
Of yonder aged messenger; besides
I seem to recognize the men who bring him
As servants of my own. But you, perchance,
Having in past days known or seen the herd,
May better by sure knowledge my surmise.
I recognize him; one of Laius’ house;
A simple hind, but true as any man.
Corinthian, stranger, I address thee first,
Is this the man thou meanest!
This is he.
And now old man, look up and answer all
I ask thee. Wast thou once of Laius’ house?
I was, a thrall, not purchased but home-bred.
What was thy business? how wast thou employed?
The best part of my life I tended sheep.
What were the pastures thou didst most frequent?
Cithaeron and the neighboring alps.
Thou must have known yon man, at least by fame?
Yon man? in what way? what man dost thou mean?
The man here, having met him in past times…
Off-hand I cannot call him well to mind.
No wonder, master. But I will revive
His blunted memories. Sure he can recall
What time together both we drove our flocks,
He two, I one, on the Cithaeron range,
For three long summers; I his mate from spring
Till rose Arcturus; then in winter time
I led mine home, he his to Laius’ folds.
Did these things happen as I say, or no?
‘Tis long ago, but all thou say’st is true.
Well, thou mast then remember giving me
A child to rear as my own foster-son?
Why dost thou ask this question? What of that?
Friend, he that stands before thee was that child.
A plague upon thee! Hold thy wanton tongue!
Softly, old man, rebuke him not; thy words
Are more deserving chastisement than his.
O best of masters, what is my offense?
Not answering what he asks about the child.
He speaks at random, babbles like a fool.
If thou lack’st grace to speak, I’ll loose thy tongue.
For mercy’s sake abuse not an old man.
Arrest the villain, seize and pinion him!
Alack, alack! What have I done? what wouldst thou further learn?
Didst give this man the child of whom he asks?
I did; and would that I had died that day!
And die thou shalt unless thou tell the truth.
But, if I tell it, I am doubly lost.
The knave methinks will still prevaricate.
Nay, I confessed I gave it long ago.
Whence came it? was it thine, or given to thee?
I had it from another, ’twas not mine.
From whom of these our townsmen, and what house?
Forbear for God’s sake, master, ask no more.
If I must question thee again, thou’rt lost.
Well then–it was a child of Laius’ house.
Slave-born or one of Laius’ own race?
Ah me! I stand upon the perilous edge of speech.
And I of hearing, but I still must hear.
Know then the child was by repute his own,
But she within, thy consort best could tell.
What! she, she gave it thee?
‘Tis so, my king.
With what intent?
To make away with it.
What, she its mother.
Fearing a dread weird.
‘Twas told that he should slay his sire.
What didst thou give it then to this old man?
Through pity, master, for the babe. I thought
He’d take it to the country whence he came;
But he preserved it for the worst of woes.
For if thou art in sooth what this man saith,
God pity thee! thou wast to misery born.
Ah me! ah me! all brought to pass, all true!
O light, may I behold thee nevermore!
I stand a wretch, in birth, in wedlock cursed,
A parricide, incestuously, triply cursed!
Races of mortal man
Whose life is but a span,
I count ye but the shadow of a shade!
For he who most doth know
Of bliss, hath but the show;
A moment, and the visions pale and fade.
Thy fall, O Oedipus, thy piteous fall
Warns me none born of women blest to call.
For he of marksmen best,
O Zeus, outshot the rest,
And won the prize supreme of wealth and power.
By him the vulture maid
Was quelled, her witchery laid;
He rose our savior and the land’s strong tower.
We hailed thee king and from that day adored
Of mighty Thebes the universal lord.
O heavy hand of fate!
Who now more desolate,
Whose tale more sad than thine, whose lot more dire?
O Oedipus, discrowned head,
Thy cradle was thy marriage bed;
One harborage sufficed for son and sire.
How could the soil thy father eared so long
Endure to bear in silence such a wrong?
All-seeing Time hath caught
Guilt, and to justice brought
The son and sire commingled in one bed.
O child of Laius’ ill-starred race
Would I had ne’er beheld thy face;
I raise for thee a dirge as o’er the dead.
Yet, sooth to say, through thee I drew new breath,
And now through thee I feel a second death.
(Enter SECOND MESSENGER.)
Oedipus the King