Ah, may they meet the doom they think to bring-
They and their impious vaunts-from those on high!
So should they sink, hurled down to deepest death!
This foe, at least, by thee Arcadian styled,
Is faced by one who bears no braggart sign,
But his hand sees to smite, where blows avail-
Actor, own brother to Hyperbius!
He will not let a boast without a blow
Stream through our gates and nourish our despair,
Nor give him way who on his hostile shield
Bears the brute image of the loathly Sphinx!
Blocked at the gate, she will rebuke the man
Who strives to thrust her forward, when she feels
Thick crash of blows, up to the city wall.
With Heaven’s goodwill, my forecast shall be true.
Home to my heart the vaunting goes,
And, quick with terror, on my head
Rises my hair, at sound of those
Who wildly, impiously rave!
If gods there be, to them I plead-
Give them to darkness and the grave.
Fronting the sixth gate stands another foe,
Wisest of warriors, bravest among seers-
Such must I name Amphiaraus: he,
Set steadfast at the Homoloid gate,
Berates strong Tydeus with reviling words-
The man of blood, the bane of state and home
To Argos, arch-allurer to all ill,
Evoker of the Fury-fiend of hell,
Death’s minister, and counsellor of wrong
Unto Adrastus in this fatal field.
Ay, and with eyes upturned and mien of scorn
He chides thy brother Polyneices to
At his desert, and once and yet again
Dwells hard and meaningly upon his name
Where it saith glory yet importeth feud.
Yea, such thou art in act, and such thy grace
In sight of Heaven, and such in aftertime
Thy fame, for lips and ears of mortal men!
“He strove to sack the city of his sires
And temples of her gods, and brought on her
An alien armament of foreign foes.
The fountain of maternal blood outpoured
What power can staunck? even so, thy fatherland
Once by thine ardent malice stormed and ta’en,
Shall ne’er join force with thee.” For me, I know
It doth remain to let my blood enrich
The border of this land that loves me not-
Blood of a prophet, in a foreign grave!
Now, for the battle! I foreknow my doom,
Yet it shall be with honour. So he spake,
The prophet, holding up his targe of bronze
Wrought without blazon, to the ears of men
Who stood around and heeded not his word.
For on no bruit and rumour of great deeds,
But on their doing, is his spirit set,
And in his heart he reaps a furrow rich,
Wherefrom the foison of good counsel springs.
Against him, send brave heart and hand of might;
For the god-lover is man’s fiercest foe.
Out on the chance that couples mortal men,
Linking the just and impious in one!
In every issue, the one curse is this-
Companionship with men of evil heart!
A baneful harvest, let none gather it!
The field of sin is rank, and brings forth death
At whiles a righteous man who goes aboard
With reckless mates, a horde of villainy,
Dies by one death with that detested crew;
At whiles the just man, joined with citizens
Ruthless to strangers, recking nought of Heaven,
Trapped, against nature, in one net with them,
Dies by God’s thrust and all-including blow.
So will this prophet die, even Oecleus’ child,
Sage, just, and brave, and loyal towards Heaven,
Potent in prophecy, but mated here
With men of sin, too boastful to be wise!
Long is their road, and they return no more,
And, at their taking-off, by hard of Zeus,
The prophet too shall take the downward way.
He will not-so I deem-assail the gate-
Not as through cowardice or feeble will,
But as one knowing to what end shall be
Their struggle in the battle, if indeed
Fruit of fulfilment lie in Loxias’ word.
He speaketh not, unless to speak avails!
Yet, for more surety, we will post a man,
Strong Lasthenes, as warder of the gate,
Stern to the foeman; he hath age’s skill,
Mated with youthful vigour, and an eye
Forward, alert; swift too his hand, to catch
The fenceless interval ‘twixt shield and spear!
Yet man’s good fortune lies in hand of Heaven.
Last, let me name yon seventh antagonist,
Thy brother’s self, at the seventh portal set-
Hear with what wrath he imprecates our doom,
Vowing to mount the wall, though banished hence,
And peal aloud the wild exulting cry-
The town is ta’en-then clash his sword with thine,
Giving and taking death in close embrace,
Or, if thou ‘scapest, flinging upon thee,
As robber of his honour and his home,
The doom of exile such as he has borne.
So clamours he and so invokes the gods
Who guard his race and home, to hear and heed
The curse that sounds in Polyneices’ name!
He bears a round shield, fresh from forge and fire,
And wrought upon it is a twofold sign-
For lo, a woman leads decorously
The figure of a warrior wrought in gold;
And thus the legend runs-I Justice am,
And I will bring the hero home again,
To hold once more his place within this town,
Once more to pace his sire’s ancestral hall.
Such are the symbols, by our foemen shown-
Now make thine own decision, whom to send
Against this last opponent! I have said-
Nor canst thou in my tidings find a flaw-
Thine is it, now, to steer the course aright.
Ah me, the madman, and the curse of Heaven
And woe for us, the lamentable line
Of Oedipus, and woe that in this house
Our father’s curse must find accomplishment!
But now, a truce to tears and loud lament,
Lest they should breed a still more rueful wail!
As for this Polyneices, named too well,
Soon shall we know how this device shall end-
Whether the gold-wrought symbols on his shield,
In their mad vaunting and bewildered pride,
Shall guide him as a victor to his home!
For had but justice, maiden-child of Zeus,
Stood by his act and thought, it might have been!
Yet never, from the day he reached the light
Out of the darkness of his mother’s womb,
Never in childhood, nor in youthful prime,
Nor when his chin was gathering its beard,
Hath justice hailed or claimed him as her own.
Therefore I deem not that she standeth now
To aid him in this outrage on his home!
Misnamed, in truth, were justice, utterly,
If to impiety she lent her hand.
Sure in this faith, I will myself go forth
And match me with him; who hath fairer claim?
Ruler, against one fain to snatch the rule,
Brother with brother matched, and foe with foe,
Will I confront the issue. To the wall!
O thou true heart, O child of Oedipus,
Be not, in wrath, too like the man whose name
Murmurs an evil omen! ‘Tis enough
That Cadmus’ clan should strive with Arges’ host,
For blood there is that can atone that stain!
But-brother upon brother dealing death-
Not time itself can expiate the sin!
Ah, be not urged of her! for none shall dare
To call thee coward, in thy throned estate!
Will not the Fury in her sable pal
Pass outward from these halls, what time the gods
Welcome a votive offering from our hands?
The Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus