Zeus! What is this? What can I say or think?
What now, Antigone?
I see a woman
Riding upon a colt of Aetna’s breed;
She wears for headgear a Thessalian hat
To shade her from the sun. Who can it be?
She or a stranger? Do I wake or dream?
‘This she; ’tis not–I cannot tell, alack;
It is no other! Now her bright’ning glance
Greets me with recognition, yes, ’tis she,
Ha! what say ye, child?
Art come, my child?
O father, sad thy plight!
Child, thou art here?
Yes, ’twas a weary way.
Touch me, my child.
I give a hand to both.
O disastrous plight!
Her plight and mine?
Aye, and my own no less.
What brought thee, daughter?
Father, care for thee.
A daughter’s yearning?
Thy valiant brothers, where are they at need?
They are–enough, ’tis now their darkest hour.
Out on the twain! The thoughts and actions all
Are framed and modeled on Egyptian ways.
For there the men sit at the loom indoors
While the wives slave abroad for daily bread.
So you, my children–those whom I behooved
To bear the burden, stay at home like girls,
While in their stead my daughters moil and drudge,
Lightening their father’s misery. The one
Since first she grew from girlish feebleness
To womanhood has been the old man’s guide
And shared my weary wandering, roaming oft
Hungry and footsore through wild forest ways,
In drenching rains and under scorching suns,
Careless herself of home and ease, if so
Her sire might have her tender ministry.
And thou, my child, whilom thou wentest forth,
Eluding the Cadmeians’ vigilance,
To bring thy father all the oracles
Concerning Oedipus, and didst make thyself
My faithful lieger, when they banished me.
And now what mission summons thee from home,
What news, Ismene, hast thou for thy father?
This much I know, thou com’st not empty-handed,
Without a warning of some new alarm.
The toil and trouble, father, that I bore
To find thy lodging-place and how thou faredst,
I spare thee; surely ’twere a double pain
To suffer, first in act and then in telling;
‘Tis the misfortune of thine ill-starred sons
I come to tell thee. At the first they willed
To leave the throne to Creon, minded well
Thus to remove the inveterate curse of old,
A canker that infected all thy race.
But now some god and an infatuate soul
Have stirred betwixt them a mad rivalry
To grasp at sovereignty and kingly power.
Today the hot-branded youth, the younger born,
Is keeping Polyneices from the throne,
His elder, and has thrust him from the land.
The banished brother (so all Thebes reports)
Fled to the vale of Argos, and by help
Of new alliance there and friends in arms,
Swears he will stablish Argos straight as lord
Of the Cadmeian land, or, if he fail,
Exalt the victor to the stars of heaven.
This is no empty tale, but deadly truth,
My father; and how long thy agony,
Ere the gods pity thee, I cannot tell.
Yea, so I read these latest oracles.
What oracles? What hath been uttered, child?
And who could gain by such a one as I?
On thee, ’tis said, their sovereignty depends.
So, when I cease to be, my worth begins.
The gods, who once abased, uplift thee now.
Poor help to raise an old man fallen in youth.
With what intent, my daughter? Tell me plainly.
What gain they, if I lay outside?
Thy tomb, If disappointed, brings on them a curse.
It needs no god to tell what’s plain to sense.
Mean they to shroud my bones in Theban dust?
Nay, father, guilt of kinsman’s blood forbids.
Then never shall they be my masters, never!
Thebes, thou shalt rue this bitterly some day!
When what conjunction comes to pass, my child?
Thy angry wraith, when at thy tomb they stand.
And who hath told thee what thou tell’st me, child?
Envoys who visited the Delphic hearth.
Hath Phoebus spoken thus concerning me?
So say the envoys who returned to Thebes.
And can a son of mine have heard of this?
Yea, both alike, and know its import well.
Grievous thy words, yet I must own them true.
Then may the gods ne’er quench their fatal feud,
And mine be the arbitrament of the fight,
For which they now are arming, spear to spear;
That neither he who holds the scepter now
May keep this throne, nor he who fled the realm
Return again. They never raised a hand,
When I their sire was thrust from hearth and home,
When I was banned and banished, what recked they?
Say you ’twas done at my desire, a grace
Which the state, yielding to my wish, allowed?
Not so; for, mark you, on that very day
When in the tempest of my soul I craved
Death, even death by stoning, none appeared
To further that wild longing, but anon,
When time had numbed my anguish and I felt
My wrath had all outrun those errors past,
Then, then it was the city went about
By force to oust me, respited for years;
And then my sons, who should as sons have helped,
Did nothing: and, one little word from them
Was all I needed, and they spoke no word,
But let me wander on for evermore,
A banished man, a beggar. These two maids
Their sisters, girls, gave all their sex could give,
Food and safe harborage and filial care;
While their two brethren sacrificed their sire
For lust of power and sceptred sovereignty.
No! me they ne’er shall win for an ally,
Nor will this Theban kingship bring them gain;
That know I from this maiden’s oracles,
And those old prophecies concerning me,
Which Phoebus now at length has brought to pass.
Come Creon then, come all the mightiest
In Thebes to seek me; for if ye my friends,
Championed by those dread Powers indigenous,
Espouse my cause; then for the State ye gain
A great deliverer, for my foemen bane.