I bear command to tell to one and all
What hath approved itself and now is law,
Ruled by the counsellors of Cadmus’ town.
For this Eteocles, it is resolved
To lay him on his earth-bed, in this soil,
Not without care and kindly sepulture.
For why? he hated those who hated us,
And, with all duties blanielessly performed
Unto the sacred ritual of his sires,
He met such end as gains our city’s grace,-
With auspices that do ennoble death.
Such words I have in charge to speak of him:
But of his brother Polyneices, this-
Be he cast out unburied, for the dogs
To rend and tear: for he presumed to waste
The land of the Cadmeans, had not Heaven-
Some god of those who aid our fatherland-
Opposed his onset, by his brother’s spear,
To whom, tho’ dead, shall consecration come!
Against him stood this wretch, and brought a horde
Of foreign foemen, to beset our town.
He therefore shall receive his recompense,
Buried ignobly in the maw of kites-
No women-wailers to escort his corpse
Nor pile his tomb nor shrill his dirge anew-
Unhouselled, unattended, cast away
So, for these brothers, doth our State ordain.
I, I will bury this my brother’s corse
And risk your wrath and what may come of it!
It shames me not to face the State, and set
Will against power, rebellion resolute:
Deep in my heart is set my sisterhood,
My common birthright with my brothers, born
All of one womb, her children who, for woe,
Brought forth sad offspring to a sire ill-starred.
Therefore, my soul! take thou thy willing share,
In aid of him who now can will no more,
Against this outrage: be a sister true,
While yet thou livest, to a brother dead!
Him never shall the wolves with ravening maw
Rend and devour: I do forbid the thought!
I for him, I-albeit a woman weak-
In place of burial-pit, will give him rest
By this protecting handful of light dust
Which, in the lap of this poor linen robe,
I bear to hallow and bestrew his corpse
With the due covering. Let none gainsay!
Courage and craft shall arm me, this to do.
I charge thee, not to flout the city’s law!
I charge thee, use no useless heralding!
Stern is a people newly ‘scaped from death.
Whet thou their sternness! burial he shall have.
How? grace of burial, to the city’s foe?
God hath not judged him separate in guilt.
True-till he put this land in jeopardy.
His rights usurped, he answered wrong with wrong.
Nay-but for one man’s sin he smote the State.
Will, an thou wilt! but I forbid the deed.
Exulting Fates, who waste the line
And whelm the house of Oedipus!
Fiends, who have slain, in wrath condign,
The father and the children thus!
What now befits it that I do,
What meditate, what undergo?
Can I the funeral rite refrain,
Nor weep for Polyneices slain?
But yet, with fear I shrink and thrill,
Presageful of the city’s will!
Thou, O Eteocles, shalt have
Full rites, and mourners at thy grave,
But he, thy brother slain, shall he,
With none to weep or cry Alas,
To unbefriended burial pass?
Only one sister o’er his bier,
To raise the cry and pour the tear-
Who can obey such stern decree?
Let those who hold our city’s sway
Wreak, or forbear to wreak, their will
On those who cry, Ah, well-a-day!
Lamenting Polyneices still!
We will go forth and, side by side
With her, due burial will provide!
Royal he was; to him be paid
Our grief, wherever he be laid!
The crowd may sway, and change, and still
Take its caprice for justice’ will
But we this dead Eteocles,
As Justice wills and Right decrees,
Will bear unto his grave!
For-under those enthroned on high
And Zeus’ eternal royalty-
He unto us salvation gave!
He saved us from a foreign yoke,-
A wild assault of outland folk,
A savage, alien wave!