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
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
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
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 his
breast a better mind than now he bears.
The Boy leads TEIRESIAS Out.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
The man hath gone, O King, with dread prophecies. And, since
the hair on this head, once dark, hath been white, I know that he hath
never been a false prophet to our city.
I, too, know it well, and am troubled in soul. ‘Tis dire to
yield; but, by resistance, to smite my pride with ruin-this, too, is a
Son of Menoeceus, it behoves thee to take wise counsel.
What should I do then? Speak and I will obey.
Go thou, and free the maiden from her rocky chamber, and make
a tomb for the unburied dead.
And this is thy counsel? Thou wouldst have me yield?
Yea, King, and with all speed; for swift harms from the gods
cut short the folly of men.
Ah me, ’tis hard, but I resign my cherished resolve,-I obey.
We must not wage a vain war with destiny.
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.
CREON and his servants hasten out on the spectators’ left.
Antigone by Sophocles