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Written 411-409 B.C.E
Translated by E. P. Coleridge
JOCASTA, wife of OEDIPUS
OLD SERVANT, an attendant of ANTIGONE
ANTIGONE, daughter Of OEDIPUS
CHORUS OF PHOENICIAN MAIDENS
POLYNEICES, exiled son of OEDIPUS
ETEOCLES, now King of Thebes; son of OEDIPUS
CREON, brother of JOCASTA
TEIRESIAS, a blind prophet
MENOECEUS, son of CREON
OEDIPUS, formerly King of Thebes
Before the royal palace of Thebes. JOCASTA enters from the palace alone.
O sun-god, who cleavest thy way along the starry sky, mounted
on golden-studded car, rolling on thy path of flame behind fleet coursers,
how curst the beam thou didst shed on Thebes, the day that Cadmus left
Phoenicia's realm beside the sea and reached this land! He it was that
in days long gone wedded Harmonia, the daughter of Cypris, and begat Polydorus
from whom they say sprung Labdacus, and Laius from him. I am known as the
daughter of Menoeceus, and Creon is my brother by the same mother. Men
called me Jocasta, for so my father named me, and I am married to Laius.
Now when he was still childless after being wedded to me a long time, he
went and questioned Phoebus, craving moreover that our love might be crowned
with sons born to his house. But the god said, "King of Thebes for horses
famed! seek not to beget children against the will of heaven; for if thou
beget a son, that child shall slay thee, and all thy house shall wade through
blood." But he, yielding to his lust in a drunken fit, begat a son of me,
and when his babe was born, conscious of his sin and of the god's warning,
he gave the child to shepherds to expose in Hera's meadow on mount Cithaeron,
after piercing his ankles with iron spikes; whence it was that Hellas named
him Oedipus. But the keepers of the horses of Polybus finding him took
him home and laid him in the arms of their mistress. So she suckled the
child that I had borne and persuaded her husband she was its mother. Soon
as my son was grown to man's estate, the tawny beard upon his cheek, either
because he had guessed the fraud or learnt it from another, he set out
for the shrine of Phoebus, eager to know for certain who his parents were;
and likewise Laius, my husband, was on his way thither, anxious to find
out if the child he had exposed was dead. And they twain met where the
branching roads to Phocis unite; and the charioteer of Laius called to
him, "Out of the way, stranger, room for my lord!" But he, with never a
word, strode on in his pride; and the horses with their hoofs drew blood
from the tendons of his feet. Then-but why need I tell aught beyond the
sad issue?-son slew father, and taking his chariot gave it to Polybus his
foster-father. Now when the Sphinx was grievously harrying our city after
my husband's death, my brother Creon proclaimed that he would wed me to
any who should guess the riddle of that crafty maiden. By some strange
chance, my own son, Oedipus, guessed the Sphinx's riddle, and so he became
king of this land and received its sceptre as his prize, and married his
mother, all unwitting, luckless wretch! nor did I his mother know that
I was wedded to my son; and I bore him two sons, Eteocles and the hero
Polyneices, and two daughters as well; the one her father called Ismene,
the other, which was the elder, I named Antigone. Now when Oedipus, that
awful sufferer, learnt that I his wedded wife was his mother too, he inflicted
a ghastly outrage upon his eyes, tearing the bleeding orbs with a golden
brooch. But since my sons have grown to bearded men, they have confined
their father closely, that his misfortune, needing as it did full many
a shift to hide it, might be forgotten. He is still living in the palace,
but his misfortunes have so unhinged him that he imprecates the most unholy
curses on his sons, praying that they may have to draw the sword before
they share this house between them. So they, fearful that heaven may accomplish
his prayer if they dwell together, have made an agreement, arranging that
Polyneices, the younger, should first leave the land in voluntary exile,
while Eteocles should stay and hold the sceptre for a year and then change
places. But as soon as Eteocles was seated high in power, he refused to
give up the throne, and drove Polyneices into exile from the kingdom; so
Polyneices went to Argos and married into the family of Adrastus, and having
collected a numerous force of Argives is leading them hither; and he is
come up against our seven-gated walls, demanding the sceptre of his father
and his share in the kingdom. Wherefore I, to end their strife, have prevailed
on one son to meet the other under truce, before appealing to arms; and
the messenger I sent tells me that he will come. O Zeus, whose home is
heaven's radiant vault, save us, and grant that my sons may be reconciled!
For thou, if thou art really wise, must not suffer the same poor mortal
to be for ever wretched.
JOCASTA re-enters the palace, as the OLD SERVANT appears on the
Antigone, choice blossom in a father's house, although thy
mother allowed thee at thy earnest treaty to leave thy maiden chamber for
the topmost story of the house, thence to behold the Argive host, yet a
stay moment that I may first reconnoitre the path, whether there be any
of the citizens visible on the road, lest reproach, little as it matters
to a slave like me, fasten on thee, my royal mistress; and when I am quite
sure will tell thee everything that I saw and heard from the Argives, when
carried the terms of the truce to and fro between this city and Polyneices.
After a slight pause
No, there is no citizen approaching the palace; so mount the ancient cedar
steps, and view the plains that skirt Ismenus and the fount of Dirce to
see the mighty host of foemen.
ANTIGONE appears beside him. She chants her replies to
Stretch out thy hand to me from the stairs, the hand of age
to youth, helping me to mount.
There! clasp it, my young mistress; thou art come at a lucky
moment; for Pelasgia's host is just upon the move, and their several contingents
O Hecate, dread child of Latona! the plain is one blaze of
Ah! this is no ordinary home-coming of Polyneices; with many
a knight and clash of countless arms he comes.
Are the gates fast barred, and the brazen bolts shot home into
Amphion's walls of stone?
Never fear! all is safe within the town. But mark him who cometh
first, if thou wouldst learn his name.
Who is that with the white crest, who marches in the van, lightly
bearing on his arm a buckler all of bronze?
A chieftain, lady-
Who is he? whose son? his name? tell me, old man.
Mycenae claims him for her son; in Lerna's glens he dwells,
the prince Hippomedon.
Ah! how proud and terrible his mien! like to an earth-born
giant he moves, with stars engraved upon his targe, resembling not a child
Dost see yon chieftain crossing Dirce's stream?
His harness is quite different. Who is that?
Tydeus, the son of Oeneus; true Aetolian spirit fires his breast.
Is this he, old man, who wedded a sister of the wife of Polyneices?
What a foreign look his armour has! a half-barbarian he!
Yes, my child; all Aetolians carry shields, and are most unerring
marksmen with their darts.
How art thou so sure of these descriptions, old man?
I carefully noted the blazons on their shields before when
I went with the terms of the truce to thy brother; so when I see them now
I know who carry them.
Who is that youth passing close to the tomb of Zethus, with
long flowing hair, but a look of fury in his eye? is he a captain? for
crowds of warriors follow at his heels.
That is Parthenopaeus, Atalanta's son.
May Artemis, who hies o'er the hills with his mother, lay him
low with an arrow, for coming against my city to sack it!
May it be so, my daughter; but with justice are they come hither,
and my fear is that the gods will take the rightful view,
Where is he who was born of the same mother as I was by a cruel
destiny? Oh! tell me, old friend, where Polyneices is.
He is yonder, ranged next to Adrastus near the tomb of Niobe's
seven unwed daughters. Dost see him?
I see him, yes! but not distinctly; 'tis but the outline of
his form the semblance of his stalwart limbs I see. Would I could speed
through the sky, swift as a cloud before the wind, towards my own dear
brother, and throw my arms about my darling's neck, so long, poor boy!
an exile. How bright his golden weapons flash like the sun-god's morning
He will soon be here, to fill thy heart with joy, according
to the truce.
Who is that, old man, on yonder car driving snow-white steeds?
That, lady, is the prophet Amphiaraus; with him are the victims,
whose streaming blood the thirsty earth will drink.
Daughter of Latona with the dazzling zone, O moon, thou orb
of golden light! how quietly, with what restraint he drives, goading first
one horse, then the other! But where is Capaneus who utters those dreadful
threats against this city?
Yonder he is, calculating how he may scale the towers, taking
the measure of our walls from base to summit.
O Nemesis, with booming thunder-peals of Zeus and blazing levin-light,
thine it is to silence such presumptuous boasting. Is this the man, who
says he will give the maids of Thebes as captives of his spear to Mycenae's
dames, to Lerna's Trident, and the waters of Amymone, dear to Poseidon,
when he has thrown the toils of slavery round them? Never, never, Artemis,
my queen revered, child of Zeus with locks of gold, may I endure the yoke
My daughter, go within, and abide beneath the shelter of thy
maiden chamber, now that thou hast had thy wish and seen all that thy heart
desired; for I see a crowd of women moving toward the royal palace, confusion
reigning in the city. Now the race of women by nature loves to find fault;
and if they get some slight handle for their talk they exaggerate it, for
they seem to take a pleasure in saying everything bad of one another.
ANTIGONE and the OLD SERVANT descend into the palace, as the CHORUS
of PHOENICIAN MAIDENS enters.
POLYNEICES enters alone.
From the Tyrian main I come, an offering choice for Loxias from Phoenician
isle, to minister to Phoebus in his halls, where his fane lies nestling
'neath the snow-swept peaks of Parnassus; over the Ionian sea I rowed my
course, for above the plains unharvested, that fringe the coast of Sicily,
the boisterous west-wind coursed, piping sweetest music in the sky.
Chosen from my city as beauty's gift for Loxias, to the land of Cadmus
I came, sent thither to the towers of Laius, the home of my kin, the famous
sons of Agenor; and there I became the handmaid of Phoebus, dedicated like
his offerings of wrought gold. But as yet the water of Castaly is waiting
for me to bedew the maiden glory of my tresses for the service of Phoebus.
Hail! thou rock that kindlest bright fire above the twin-peaked heights
of Dionysus. Hail! thou vine, that, day by day, makest the lush bunches
of thy grapes to drip. Hail! awful cavern of the serpent, and the god's
outlook on the hills, and sacred mount by snow-storms lashed! would I were
now circling in the dance of the deathless god, free from wild alarms,
having left Dirce ere this for the vales of Phoebus at the centre of the
But now I find the impetuous god of war is come to battle before these
walls, and hath kindled murder's torch in this city. God grant he fail!
for a friend's sorrows are also mine; and if this land with its seven towers
suffer any mischance, Phoenicia's realm must share it. Ah me! our stock
is one; all children we of Io, that horned maid, whose sorrows I partake.
Around the city a dense array of serried shields is rousing the spectre
of bloody strife, whose issue Ares shall soon learn to his cost, if he
brings upon the sons of Oedipus the horrors of the curse. O Argos, city
of Pelasgia! I dread thy prowess and the vengeance Heaven sends; for he
who cometh against our home in full panoply is entering the lists with
justice on his side.
Those who kept watch and ward at the gate admitted me so readily
within the walls that my only fear is, that now they have caught me in
their toils, they will not let me out unscathed; so I must turn my eye
in every direction, hither and thither, to guard against all treachery.
Armed with this sword, I shall inspire myself with the trust that is born
What ho! who goes there? or is it an idle sound I fear? Everything seems
a danger to venturous spirits, when their feet begin to tread an enemy's
country. Still I trust my mother, and at the same time mistrust her for
persuading me to come hither under truce. Well, there is help at hand,
for the altar's hearth is close and there are people in the palace. Come,
let me sheath my sword in its dark scabbard and ask these maidens standing
near the house, who they are.
Ladies of another land, tell me from what country ye come to the
halls of Hellas.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Phoenicia is my native land where I was born and bred; and
Agenor's children's children sent me hither as a first-fruits of the spoils
of war foy Phoebus; but when the noble son of Oedipus was about to escort
me to the hallowed oracle and the altars of Loxias, came Argives meantime
against his city. Now tell me in return who thou art that comes to this
fortress of the Theban realm with its seven gates.
My father was Oedipus, the son of Laius; my mother Jocasta,
daughter of Menoeceus; and I am called Polyneices by the folk of Thebes.
O kinsman of Agenor's race, my royal masters who sent me hither at thy
feet, prince, I throw myself, according to the custom of my home. At last
art thou come to thy native land; at last! Hail to thee! all hail! Come
forth, my honoured mistress, open wide the doors. Dost hear, O mother of
this chief? Why art thou delaying to leave the sheltering roof to fold
thy son in thy embrace?
JOCASTA enters from the palace.
Maidens, I hear you call in your Phoenician tongue, and my old feet drag
their tottering steps to meet my son. O my son, my son, at last after many
a long day I see thee face to face; throw thy arms about thy mother's bosom;
reach hither thy cheek to me and thy dark locks of clustering hair, o'ershadowing
my neck therewith. Hail to thee! all hail! scarce now restored to thy mother's
arms, when hope and expectation both were dead. What can I say to thee?
how recall in every way, by word, by deed, the bliss of days long past,
expressing my joy in the mazy measures of the dance? Ah! my son, thou didst
leave thy father's halls desolate, when thy brother's despite drove thee
thence in exile. Truly thou wert missed alike by thy friends and Thebes.
This was why I cut off my silvered locks and let them fall for grief with
many a tear, not clad in robes of white, my son, but instead thereof taking
for my wear these sorry sable tatters; while within the palace that aged
one with sightless orbs, ever nursing the sorrow of a double regret for
the pair of brethren estranged from their home, rushed to lay hands upon
himself with the sword or by the noose suspended o'er his chamber-roof,
moaning his curses on his sons; and now he buries himself in darkness,
weeping ever and lamenting. And thou, my child,-I hear thou hast taken
an alien to wife and art begetting children to thy joy in thy home; they
tell me thou art courting a foreign alliance, a ceaseless woe to me thy
mother and to Laius thy ancestor, to have this woeful marriage foisted
on us. 'Twas no hand of mine that lit for thee the marriage-torch, as custom
ordains and as a happy mother ought; no part had Ismenus at thy wedding
in supplying the luxurious bath; and there was silence through the streets
of Thebes, what time thy young bride entered her home. Curses on them!
whether it be the sword or strife or thy sire that is to blame, or heaven's
visitation that hath burst so riotously upon the house of Oedipus; for
on me is come all the anguish of these troubles.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Wondrous dear to woman is the child of her travail, and all
her race hath some affection for its babes.
Mother, I have come amongst enemies wisely or foolishly; but
all men needs must love their native land; whoso saith otherwise is pleased
to say so but his thoughts are turned elsewhere. So fearful was I and in
such terror, lest my brother might slay me by treachery that I made my
way through the city sword in hand, casting my eyes all round me. My only
hope is the truce and thy plighted word which induced me to enter my paternal
walls; and many a tear I shed by the way, seeing after a weary while my
home and the altars of the gods, the training ground, scene of my childhood,
and Dirce's founts from which I was unjustly driven to sojourn in a strange
city, with tears ever gushing from mine eyes. Yea, and to add to my grief
I see thee with hair cut short and clad in sable robe; woe is me for my
How terrible, dear mother, is hatred 'twixt those once near and
dear; how hard it makes all reconciliation! What doth my aged sire within
the house, his light all darkness now? what of my sisters twain? Ah! they,
I know, bewail my bitter exile.
Some god with fell intent is plaguing the race of Oedipus.
Thus it all began; I broke God's law and bore a son, and in an evil hour
married thy father and thou wert born. But why repeat these horrors? what
Heaven sends we have to bear. I am afraid to ask thee what I fain would,
for fear of wounding thy feelings; yet I long to.
Nay, question me, leave naught unsaid; for thy will, mother,
is my pleasure too.
Well then, first I ask thee what I long to have answered. What
means exile from one's country? is it a great evil?
The greatest; harder to bear than tell.
What is it like? what is it galls the exile?
One thing most of all; he cannot speak his mind.
This is a slave's lot thou describest, to refrain from uttering
what one thinks.
The follies of his rulers must be bear.
That too is bitter, to join in the folly of fools.
Yet to gain our ends we must submit against our nature.
Hope, they say, is the exile's food.
Aye, hope that looks so fair; but she is ever in the future.
But doth not time expose her futility?
She hath a certain winsome charm in misfortune.
Whence hadst thou means to live, ere thy marriage found it
One while I had enough for the day, and then maybe I had it
Did not thy father's friends and whilom guests assist thee?
Seek to be prosperous; once let fortune lour, and the aid supplied
by friends is naught.
Did not thy noble breeding exalt thy horn for thee?
Poverty is a curse; breeding would not find me food.
Man's dearest treasure then, it seems, is his country.
No words of thine could tell how dear.
How was it thou didst go to Argos? what was thy scheme?
I know not; the deity summoned me thither in accordance with
He doubtless had some wise design; but how didst thou win thy
Loxias had given Adrastus an oracle.
What was it? what meanest thou? I cannot guess.
That he should wed his daughters to a boar and a lion.
What hadst thou, my son, to do with the name of beasts?
It was night when I reached the porch of Adrastus.
In search of a resting-place, or wandering thither in thy exile?
Yes, I wandered thither; and so did another like me.
Who was he? he too it seems was in evil plight.
Tydeus, son of Oeneus, was his name.
But why did Adrastus liken you to wild beasts?
Because we came to blows about our bed.
Was it then that the son of Talaus understood the oracle?
Yes, and he gave to us his daughters twain.
Art thou blest or curst in thy marriage?
As yet I have no fault to find with it.
How didst thou persuade an army to follow thee hither?
To me and to Tydeus who is my kinsman by marriage, Adrastus
sware an oath, even to the husbands of his daughters twain, that he would
restore us both to our country, but me the first. So many a chief from
Argos and Mycenae has joined me, doing me a bitter though needful service,
for 'tis against my own city I am marching. Now I call heaven to witness,
that it is not willingly I have raised my arm against parents whom I love
full well. But to thee, mother, it belongs to dissolve this unhappy feud,
and, by reconciling brothers in love, to end my troubles and thine and
this whole city's. 'Tis an old-world maxim, but I will cite it for all
that: "Men set most store by wealth, and of all things in this world it
hath the greatest power." This am I come to secure at the head of my countless
host; for good birth is naught if poverty go with it.
Lo! Eteocles comes hither to discuss the truce. Thine the task,
mother Jocasta, to speak such words as may reconcile thy sons.
ETEOCLES and his retinue enter.
Mother, I am here; but it was only to pleasure thee I came.
What am to do? Let some one begin the conference; for I stopped marshalling
the citizens in double lines around the walls, that I might hear thy arbitration.
between us; for it is under this truce that thou hast persuaded me to admit
this fellow within the walls.
Stay a moment; haste never carries justice with it; but slow
deliberation oft attains a wise result. Restrain the fierceness of thy
look, that panting rage; for this is not the Gorgon's severed head but
thy own brother whom thou seest here. Thou too, Polyneices, turn and face
thy brother; for if thou and he stand face to face, thou wilt adopt a kindlier
tone and lend a readier ear to him. I fain would give you both one piece
of wholesome counsel; when a man that is angered with his friend confronts
him face to face, he ought only to keep in view the object of his coming,
forgetting all previous quarrels. Polyneices my son, speak first, for thou
art come at the head of a Danaid host, alleging wrongful treatment; and
may some god judge betwixt us and reconcile the trouble.
The words of truth are simple, and justice needs no subtle
interpretations, for it hath a fitness in itself; but the words of injustice,
being rotten in themselves, require clever treatment. I provided for his
interests and mine in our father's palace, being anxious to avoid the curse
which Oedipus once uttered against us; of my own free-will I left the land,
allowing him to rule our country for one full year, on condition that I
should then take the sceptre in turn, instead of plunging into deadly enmity
and thereby doing others hurt or suffering it myself, as is now the case.
But he, after consenting to this and calling the gods to witness his oath,
has performed none of his promises, but is still keeping the sovereignty
in his own hands together with my share of our heritage. Even now am I
ready to take my own and dismiss my army from this land, receiving my house
in turn to dwell therein, and once more restore it to him for a like period
instead of ravaging our country and planting scaling-ladders against the
towers, as I shall attempt to do if I do not get my rights. Wherefore I
call the gods to witness that spite of my just dealing in everything I
am being unjustly robbed of my country by most godless fraud. Here, mother,
have I stated the several points on their own merits, without collecting
words to fence them in, but urging a fair case, I think, alike in the judgment
of skilled or simple folk.
To me at least, albeit I was not born and bred in Hellas, thy
words seem full of sense.
If all were at one in their ideas of honour and wisdom, there
would have been no strife to make men disagree; but, as it is, fairness
and equality have no existence in this world beyond the name; there is
really no such thing. For instance, mother, I will tell thee this without
any concealment; I would ascend to the rising of the stars and the sun
or dive beneath the earth, were I able so to do, to win a monarch's power,
the chief of things divine. Therefore, mother, I will never yield this
blessing to another, but keep it for myself; for it were a coward's act
to lose the greater and to win the less. Besides, I blush to think that
he should gain his object by coming with arms in his hand and ravaging
the land; for this were foul disgrace to glorious Thebes, if I should yield
my sceptre up to him for fear of Argive might. He ought not, mother, to
have attempted reconcilement by armed force, for words compass everything
that even the sword of an enemy might effect. Still, if on any other terms
he cares to dwell here, he may; but the sceptre will I never willingly
let go. Shall I become his slave, when I can be his master? Never! Wherefore
come fire, come sword! harness your steeds, fill the plains with chariots,
for I will not forego my throne for him. For if we must do wrong, to do
so for a kingdom were the fairest cause, but in all else virtue should
be our aim.
Fair words are only called for when the deeds they crown are
fair; otherwise they lose their charm and offend justice.
Eteocles, my child, it is not all evil that attends old age;
sometimes its experience can offer sager counsel than can youth. Oh why,
my son, art thou so set upon Ambition, that worst of deities? Forbear;
that goddess knows not justice; many are the homes and cities once prosperous
that she hath entered and left after the ruin of her votaries; she it is
thou madly followest. Better far, my son, prize Equality that ever linketh
friend to friend, city to city, and allies to each other; for Equality
is man's natural law; but the less is always in opposition to the greater,
ushering in the dayspring of dislike. For it is Equality that hath set
up for man measures and divisions of weights and hath distinguished numbers;
night's sightless orb, and radiant sun proceed upon their yearly course
on equal terms, and neither of them is envious when it has to yield. Though
sun and gloom then both are servants in man's interests, wilt not thou
be content with thy fair share of thy heritage and give the same to him?
if not, why where is justice? Why prize beyond its worth the monarch's
power, injustice in prosperity? why think so much of the admiring glances
turned on rank? Nay, 'tis vanity. Or wouldst thou by heaping riches in
thy halls, heap up toil therewith? what advantage is it? 'tis but a name;
for the wise find that enough which suffices for their wants. Man indeed
hath no possessions of his own; we do but hold a stewardship of the gods'
property; and when they will, they take it back again. Riches make no settled
home, but are as transient as the day. Come, suppose I put before thee
two alternatives, whether thou wilt rule or save thy city? Wilt thou say
Again, if Polyneices win the day and his Argive warriors rout the
ranks of Thebes, thou wilt see this city conquered and many a captive maid
brutally dishonoured by the foe; so will that wealth thou art so bent on
getting become a grievous bane to Thebes; but still ambition fills thee.
This I say to thee; and this to thee, Polyneices; Adrastus hath conferred
a foolish favour on thee; and thou too hast shown little sense in coming
to lay thy city waste. Suppose thou conquer this land (which Heaven forefend!)
tell me, I conjure thee, how wilt thou rear a trophy to Zeus? how wilt
thou begin the sacrifice after thy country's conquest or inscribe the spoils
at the streams of Inachus with "Polyneices gave Thebes to the flames and
dedicated these shields to the gods"? Oh! never, my son, be it thine to
win such fame from Hellas! If, on the other hand, thou art worsted and
thy brother's cause prevail, how shalt thou return to Argos, leaving countless
dead behind? Some one will be sure to say, "Out on thee! Adrastus, for
the evil bridegroom thou hast brought unto thy house; thanks to one maid's
marriage, ruin is come on us."
Towards two evils, my son, art thou hasting,-loss of influence
there and ruin in the midst of thy efforts here. Oh! my children, lay aside
your violence; two men's follies, once they meet, result in very deadly
O heaven, avert these troubles and reconcile the sons of Oedipus
in some way!
Mother, the season for parley is past; the time we still delay
is idle waste; thy good wishes are of no avail, for we shall never be reconciled
except upon the terms already named, namely, that I should keep the sceptre
and be king of this land: wherefore cease these tedious warnings and let
Turning to POLYNEICES
And as for thee, outside the walls, or die!
Who will slay me? who is so invulnerable as to plunge his sword
in my body without reaping the self-same fate?
Thou art near him, aye, very near; dost see my arm?
I see it; but wealth is cowardly, a craven too fond of life.
Was it then to meet a dastard thou camest with all that host
In a general caution is better than foolhardiness.
Relying on the truce, which saves thy life, thou turnest boaster.
Once more I ask thee to restore my sceptre and share in the
I have naught to restore; 'tis my own house, and I will dwell
What! and keep more than thy share?
Yes, I will. Begone!
O altars of my fathers' gods!-
Which thou art here to raze.
Who would hear thee after thou hast marched against thy fatherland?
O temples of those gods that ride on snow-white steeds!
They hate thee.
I am being driven from my country.
Because thou camest to drive others thence.
Unjustly, O ye gods!
Call on the gods at Mycenae, not here.
Thou hast outraged right-
But I have not like thee become my country's foe.
By driving me forth without my portion.
And further I will slay thee.
O father, dost thou hear what I am suffering?
Yea, and he hears what thou art doing.
Thou too, mother mine?
Thou hast no right to mention thy mother.
O my city!
Get thee to Argos, and invoke the waters of Lerna.
I will; trouble not thyself; all thanks to thee though, mother
Forth from the land!
I go, yet grant me to behold my father.
Thou shalt not have thy wish.
At least then my tender sisters.
No! them too thou shalt never see.
Ah, sisters mine!
Why dost thou, their bitterest foe, call on them?
Mother dear, to thee at least farewell!
A joyous faring mine in sooth, my son!
Thy son no more!
Born to sorrow, endless sorrow, I!
'Tis because my brother treats me despitefully.
I am treated just the same.
Where wilt thou be stationed before the towers?
Why ask me this?
I will array myself against thee for thy death.
I too have the same desire.
Woe is me! what will ye do, my sons?
The event will show.
Oh, fly your father's curse!
JOCASTA enters the palace.
Destruction seize our whole house!
Soon shall my sword be busy, plunged in gore. But I call my
native land and heaven too to witness, with what contumely and bitter treatment
I am being driven forth, as though I were a slave, not a son of Oedipus
as much as he. If aught happen to thee, my city, blame him, not me; for
I came not willingly, and all unwillingly am I driven hence. Farewell,
king Phoebus, lord of highways; farewell palace and comrades; farewell
ye statues of the gods, at which men offer sheep; for I know not if shall
ever again address you, though hope is still awake, which makes me confident
that with heaven's help I shall slay this fellow and rule my native Thebes.
Forth from the land! 'twas a true name our father gave thee,
when, prompted by some god, he called thee Polyneices, a name denoting
To this land came Cadmus of Tyre, at whose feet an unyoked heifer threw
itself down, giving effect to an oracle on the spot where the god's response
bade him take up his abode in Aonia's rich cornlands, where gushing Dirce's
fair rivers of water pour o'er verdant fruitful fields; here was born the
Bromian god by her whom Zeus made a mother, round whom the ivy twined its
wreaths while he was yet a babe, swathing him amid the covert of its green
foliage as child of happy destiny, to be a theme for Bacchic revelry among
the maids and wives inspired in Thebes.
There lay Ares' murderous dragon, a savage warder, watching with roving
eye the watered glens and quickening streams; him did Cadmus slay with
a jagged stone, when he came thither to draw him lustral water, smiting
that fell head with a blow of his death-dealing arm; but by the counsel
of Pallas, motherless goddess, he cast the teeth upon the earth into deep
furrows, whence sprang to sight mail-clad host above the surface of the
soil; but grim slaughter once again united them to the earth they loved,
bedewing with blood the ground that had disclosed them to the sunlit breath
Thee too, Epaphus, child of Zeus, sprung from Io our ancestress, call on
in my foreign tongue; all hail to thee! hear my prayer uttered in accents
strange, and visit this land; 'twas in thy honour thy descendants settled
here, and those goddesses of twofold name, Persephone and kindly Demeter
or Earth the queen of all, that feedeth every mouth, won it for themselves;
send to the help of this land those torch-bearing queens; for to gods all
things are easy.
to an attendant
Go, fetch Creon son of Menoeceus, the brother of jocasta my mother; tell
him I fain would confer with him on matters affecting our public and private
weal, before we set out to battle and the arraying of our host. But lo!
he comes and saves thee the trouble of going; I see him on his way to my
To and fro have I been, king Eteocles, in my desire to see
thee, and have gone all round the gates and sentinels of Thebes in quest
Why, and I was anxious to see thee, Creon; for I found the
terms of peace far from satisfactory, when I came to confer with Polyneices.
I hear that he has wider aims than Thebes, relying on his alliance
with the daughter of Adrastus and his army. Well, we must leave this dependent
on the gods; meantime I am come to tell thee our chief obstacle.
What is that? I do not understand what thou sayest.
There is come one that was captured by the Argives.
What news does he bring from their camp?
He says the Argive army intend at once to draw a ring of troops
round the city of Thebes, about its towers.
In that case the city of Cadmus must lead out its troops.
Whither? art thou so young that thine eyes see not what they
Across yon trenches for immediate action.
Our Theban forces are small, while theirs are numberless.
I well know they are reputed brave.
No mean repute have those Argives among Hellenes.
Never fear! I will soon fill the plain with their dead.
I could wish it so; but I see great difficulties in this.
Trust me, I will not keep my host within the walls.
Still victory is entirely a matter of good counsel.
Art anxious then that I should have recourse to any other scheme?
Aye to every scheme, before running the risk once for all.
Suppose we fall on them by night from ambuscade?
Good! provided in the event of defeat thou canst secure thy
Night equalizes risks, though it rather favours daring.
The darkness of night is a terrible time to suffer disaster.
Well, shall I fall upon them as they sit at meat?
That might cause them fright, but victory is what we want.
Dirce's ford is deep enough to prevent their retreat.
No plan so good as to keep well guarded.
What if our cavalry make a sortie against the host of Argos?
Their troops too are fenced all round with chariots.
What then can I do? am I to surrender the city to the foe?
Nay, nay! but of thy wisdom form some plan.
Pray, what scheme is wiser than mine?
They have seven chiefs, I hear.
What is their appointed task? their might can be but feeble.
To lead the several companies and storm our seven gates.
What are we to do? I will not wait till every chance is gone.
Choose seven chiefs thyself to set against them at the gates.
To lead our companies, or to fight single-handed?
Choose our very bravest men to lead the troops.
I understand; to repel attempts at scaling our walls.
With others to share the command, for one man sees not everything.
Selecting them for courage or thoughtful prudence?
For both; for one is naught without the other.
It shall be done; I will away to our seven towers and post
captains at the gates, as thou advisest, pitting them man for man against
the foe. To tell thee each one's name were grievous waste of time, when
the foe is camped beneath our very walls. But I will go, that my hands
may no longer hang idle. May I meet my brother face to face, and encounter
him hand to hand, e'en to the death, for coming to waste my country! But
if I suffer any mischance, thou must see to the marriage 'twixt Antigone
my sister and Haemon, thy son; and now, as I go forth to battle, I ratify
their previous espousal. Thou art my mother's brother, so why need I say
more? take care of her, as she deserves, both for thy own sake and mine.
As for my sire he hath been guilty of folly against himself in putting
out his eyes; small praise have I for him; by his curses maybe he will
slay us too. One thing only have we still to do, to ask Teiresias, the
seer, if he has aught to tell of heaven's will. Thy son Menoeceus, who
bears thy father's name, will I send to fetch Teiresias hither, Creon;
for with the he will readily converse, though I have ere now so scorned
his art prophetic to his face, that he has reasons to reproach me. This
commandment, Creon, I lay upon the city and thee; should my cause prevail,
never give Polyneices' corpse a grave in Theban soil, and if so be some
friend should bury him, let death reward the man. Thus far to thee; and
to my servants thus, bring forth my arms and coat of mail, that I may start
at once for the appointed combat, with right to lead to victory. To save
our city we will pray to Caution, the best goddess to serve our end.
ETEOCLES and his retinue go out.
TEIRESIAS enters, led by his daughter. They are accompanied by
O Ares, god of toil and trouble! why, why art thou possessed by love of
blood and death, out of harmony with the festivals of Bromius? 'Tis for
no crowns of dancers fair that thou dost toss thy youthful curls to the
breeze, singing the while to the lute's soft breath a strain to charm the
dancers' feet; but with warriors clad in mail thou dost lead thy sombre
revelry, breathing into Argive breasts lust for Theban blood; with no wild
waving of the thyrsus, clad in fawnskin thou dancest, but with chariots
and bitted steeds wheelest thy charger strong of hoof. O'er the waters
of Ismenus in wild career thou art urging thy horses, inspiring Argive
breasts with hate of the earth-born race, arraying in brazen harness against
these stone-built walls a host of warriors armed with shields. Truly Strife
is a goddess to fear, who devised these troubles for the princes of this
land, for the much-enduring sons of Labdacus.
O Cithaeron, apple of the eye of Artemis, holy vale of leaves, amid whose
snows full many a beast lies couched, would thou hadst never reared the
child exposed to die, Oedipus the fruit of Jocasta's womb, when as a babe
he was cast forth from his home, marked with golden brooch; and would the
Sphinx, that winged maid, fell monster from the hills, had never come to
curse our land with inharmonious strains; she that erst drew nigh our walls
and snatched the sons of Cadmus away in her taloned feet to the pathless
fields of light, a fiend sent by Hades from hell to plague the men of Thebes;
once more unhappy strife is bursting out between the sons of Oedipus in
city and home. For never can wrong be right, nor children of unnatural
parentage come as a glory to the mother that bears them, but as a stain
on the marriage of him who is father and brother at once.
O earth, thou once didst bear,-so long ago I heard the story told by foreigners
in my own home,-a race which sprang of the teeth of a snake with blood-red
crest, that fed on beasts, to be the glory and reproach of Thebes. In days
gone by the sons of heaven came to the wedding of Harmonia, and the walls
of Thebes arose to the sound of the lyre and her towers stood up as Amphion
played, in the midst between the double streams of Dirce, that watereth
the green meadows fronting the Ismenus; and Io, our horned ancestress was
mother of the kings of Thebes; thus our city through an endless succession
of divers blessings has set herself upon the highest pinnacle of martial
Lead on, my daughter; for thou art as an eye to my blind feet,
as certain as a star to mariners; lead my steps on to level ground; then
go before, that we stumble not, for thy father has no strength; keep safe
for me in thy maiden hand the auguries I took in the days I observed the
flight and cries of birds seated in my holy prophet's chair. Tell me, young
Menoeceus, son of Creon, how much further toward the city is it ere reach
thy father? for my knees grow weary, and I can scarce keep up this hurried
Take heart, Teiresias, for thou hast reached thy moorings and
art near thy friends; take him by the hand, my child; for just as every
carriage has to wait for outside help to steady it, so too hath the step
Enough; I have arrived; why, Creon, dost thou summon me so
I have not forgotten that; but first collect thyself and regain
breath, shaking off the fatigue of thy journey.
I am indeed worn out, having arrived here only yesterday from
the court of the Erechtheidae; for they too were at war, fighting with
Eumolpus, in which contest I insured the victory of Cecrops' sons; and
I received the golden crown, which thou seest me wearing, as first-fruits
of the enemy's spoil.
I take thy crown of victory as an omen. We, as thou knowest,
are exposed to the billows of an Argive war, and great is the struggle
for Thebes. Eteocles, our king, is already gone in full harness to meet
Mycenae's champions, and hath bidden me inquire of thee our best course
to save the city.
For Eteocles I would have closed my lips and refrained from
all response, but to thee I will speak, since 'tis thy wish to learn. This
country, Creon, has been long afflicted, ever since Laius became a father
in heaven's despite, begetting hapless Oedipus to be his own mother's husband.
That bloody outrage on his eyes was planned by heaven as an ensample to
Hellas; and the sons of Oedipus made a gross mistake in wishing to throw
over it the veil of time, as if forsooth they could outrun the gods' decree;
for by robbing their father of his due honour and allowing him no freedom,
they enraged their luckless sire; so he, stung by suffering and disgrace
as well, vented awful curses against them; and I, because I left nothing
undone or unsaid to prevent this, incurred the hatred of the sons of Oedipus.
But death inflicted by each other's hands awaits them, Creon; and the many
heaps of slain, some from Argive, some from Theban missiles, shall cause
bitter lamentation in the land of Thebes. Alas! for thee, poor city, thou
art being involved in their ruin, unless I can persuade one man. The best
course was to prevent any child of Oedipus becoming either citizen or king
in this land, since they were under a ban and would overthrow the city.
But as evil has the mastery of good, there is still one other way of safety;
but this it were unsafe for me to tell, and painful too for those whose
high fortune it is to supply their city witb the saving cure. Farewell!
I will away; amongst the rest must I endure my doom, if need be; for what
will become of me?
Stay here, old man.
Hold me not.
Abide, why dost thou seek to fly?
'Tis thy fortune that flies thee, not I.
Tell me what can save Thebes and her citizens.
Though this be now thy wish, it will soon cease to be.
Not wish to save my country? how can that be?
Art thou still eager to be told?
Yea; for wherein should I show greater zeal?
Then straightway shalt thou hear my words prophetic. But first
would fain know for certain where Menoeceus is, who led me hither.
Here, not far away, but at thy side.
Let him retire far from my prophetic voice.
He is my own son and will preserve due silence.
Wilt thou then that I tell thee in his presence?
Yea, for he will rejoice to hear the means of safety.
Then hear the purport of my oracle, the which if ye observe
ye shall save the city of Cadmus. Thou must sacrifice Menoeceus thy son
here for thy country, since thine own lips demand the voice of fate.
What mean'st thou? what is this thou hast said, old man?
To that which is to be thou also must conform.
O the eternity of woe thy minute's tale proclaims!
Yes to thee, but to thy country great salvation.
I shut my ears; I never listened; to city now farewell!
Ha! the man is changed; he is drawing back.
Go in peace; it is not thy prophecy I need.
Is truth dead, because thou art curst with woe?
By thy knees and honoured locks I implore thee!
Why implore me? thou art craving a calamity hard to guard against.
Keep silence; tell not the city thy news.
Thou biddest me act unjustly; I will not hold my peace.
What wilt thou then do to me? slay my child?
That is for others to decide; I have but to speak.
Whence came this curse on me and my son?
Thou dost right to ask me and to test what I have said. In
yonder lair, where the earth-born dragon kept watch and ward o'er Dirce's
springs, must this youth be offered and shed his life-blood on the ground
by reason of Ares' ancient grudge against Cadmus, who thus avenges the
slaughter of his earth-born snake. If ye do this, ye shall win Ares as
an ally; and if the earth receive crop for crop and human blood for blood,
ye shall find her kind again, that erst to your sorrow reared from that
dragon's seed a crop of warriors with golden casques; for needs must one
sprung from the dragon's teeth be slain. Now thou art our only survivor
of the seed of that sown race, whose lineage is pure alike on mother's
and on father's side, thou and these thy sons. Haemon's marriage debars
him from being the victim, for he is no longer single; for even if he have
not consummated his marriage, yet is he betrothed; but this tender youth,
consecrated to the city's service, might by dying rescue his country; and
bitter will he make the return of Adrastus and his Argives, flinging o'er
their eyes death's dark pall, and will glorify Thebes. Choose thee one
of these alternatives; either save the city or thy son.
His daughter leads TEIRESIAS out.
Now hast thou all I have to say. Daughter, lead me home. A fool,
the man who practises the diviner's art; for if he should announce an adverse
answer, he makes himself disliked by those who seek to him; while, if from
pity he deceives those who are consulting him, he sins against Heaven.
Phoebus should have been man's only prophet, for he fears no man.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Why so silent, Creon, why are thy lips hushed and dumb? I too
am no less stricken with dismay.
Why, what could one say? 'Tis clear what my words must be.
For will never plunge myself so deeply into misfortune as to devote my
son to death for the city; for love of children binds all men to life,
and none would resign his own son to die. Let no man praise me into slaying
my children. I am ready to die myself-for I am ripe in years-to set my
country free. But thou, my son, ere the whole city learn this, up and fly
with all haste away from this land, regardless of these prophets' unbridled
utterances; for he will go to the seven gates and the captains there and
tell all this to our governors and leaders; now if we can forestall him,
thou mayst be saved, but if thou art too late, we are undone and thou wilt
Whither can I fly? to what city? to which of our guest-friends?
Fly where thou wilt be furthest removed from this land.
'Tis for thee to name a place, for me to carry out thy bidding.
After passing Delphi-
Whither must I go, father?
To the land of Thesprotia.
To Dodona's hallowed threshold?
Thou followest me.
What protection shall I find me there?
The god will send thee on thy way.
How shall I find the means?
I will supply thee with money.
A good plan of thine, father. So go; for I will to thy sister,
Jocasta, at whose breast I was suckled as a babe when reft of my mother
and left a lonely orphan, to give her kindly greeting and then will I seek
my safety. Come, come! be going, that there be no hindrance on thy part.
How cleverly, ladies, I banished my father's fears by crafty words to gain
my end; for he is trying to convey me hence, depriving the city of its
chance and surrendering me to cowardice. Though an old man may be pardoned,
yet in my case there is no excuse for betraying the country that gave me
birth. So I will go and save the city, be assured thereof, and give my
life up for this land. For this were shame, that they whom no oracles bind
and who have not come under Fate's iron law, should stand there, shoulder
to shoulder, with never a fear of death, and fight for their country before
her towers, while I escape the kingdom like a coward, a traitor to my father
and brother and city; and wheresoe'er I live, I shall appear a dastard.
Nay, by Zeus and all his stars, by Ares, god of blood, who 'stablished
the warrior-crop that sprung one day from earth as princes of this land,
that shall not be! but go I will, and standing on the topmost battlements,
will deal my own death-blow over the dragon's deep dark den, the spot the
seer described, and will set my country free. I have spoken. Now I go to
make the city a present of my life, no mean offering, to rid this kingdom
of its affliction. For if each were to take and expend all the good within
his power, contributing it to his country's weal, our states would experience
fewer troubles and would for the future prosper.
MENOECEUS goes out.
The FIRST MESSENGER enters.
Thou cam'st, O winged fiend, spawn of earth and hellish viper-brood, to
prey upon the sons of Cadmus, rife with death and fraught with sorrow,
half a monster, half a maid, a murderous prodigy, with roving wings and
ravening claws, that in days gone by didst catch up youthful victims from
the haunts of Dirce, with discordant note, bringing a deadly curse, a woe
of bloodshed to our native land. A murderous god he was who brought all
this to pass. In every house was heard a cry of mothers wailing and of
wailing maids, lamentation and the voice of weeping, as each took up the
chant of death from street to street in turn. Loud rang the mourners' wail,
and one great cry went up, whene'er that winged maiden bore some victim
out of sight from the city.
At last came Oedipus, the man of sorrow, on his mission from Delphi to
this land of Thebes, a joy to them then but afterwards cause of grief;
for, when he had read the riddle triumphantly, he formed with his mother
an unhallowed union, woe to him! polluting the city; and by his curses,
luckless wight, he plunged his sons into a guilty strife, causing them
to wade through seas of blood. All reverence do we feel for him, who is
gone to his death in his country's cause, bequeathing to Creon a legacy
of tears, but destined to crown with victory our seven fenced towers. May
our motherhood be blessed with such noble sons, O Pallas, kindly queen,
who with well-aimed stone didst spill the serpent's blood, rousing Cadmus
as thou didst to brood upon the task, whereof the issue was a demon's curse
that swooped upon this land and harried it.
Ho there! who is at the palace-gates? Open the door, summon
Jocasta forth. Ho there! once again I call; spite of this long delay come
forth; hearken, noble wife of Oedipus; cease thy lamentation and thy tears
JOCASTA enters from the palace in answer to his call.
Surely thou art not come, my friend, with the sad news of Eteocles'
death, beside whose shield thou hast ever marched, warding from him the
foeman's darts? What tidings art thou here to bring me? Is my son alive
or dead? Declare that to me.
To rid thee of thy fear at once, he lives; that terror banish.
Next, how is it with the seven towers that wall us in?
They stand unshattered still; the city is not yet a prey.
Have they been in jeopardy of the Argive spear?
Aye, on the very brink; but our Theban warriors proved too
strong for Mycenae's might.
One thing tell me, I implore; knowest thou aught of Polyneices,
is he yet alive? for this too I long to learn.
As yet thy sons are living, the pair of them.
God bless thee! How did you succeed in beating off from our
gates the Argive hosts, when thus beleaguered? Tell me, that I may go within
and cheer the old blind man, since our city is still safe.
After Creon's son, who gave up life for country, had taken
his stand on the turret's top and plunged a sword dark-hilted through his
throat to save this land, thy son told off seven companies with their captains
to the seven gates to keep watch on the Argive warriors, and stationed
cavalry to cover cavalry, and infantry to support infantry, that assistance
might be close at hand for any weak point in the walls. Then from our lofty
towers we saw the Argive host with their white shields leaving Teumessus,
and, when near the trench, they charged up to our Theban city at the double.
In one loud burst from their ranks and from our battlements rang out the
battle-cry and trumpet-call. First to the Neistian gate, Parthenopaeus,
son of the huntress maid, led a company bristling with serried shields,
himself with his own peculiar badge in the centre of his targe, Atalanta
slaying the Aetolian boar with an arrow shot from far. To the gates of
Proetus came the prophet Amphiaraus, bringing the victims on a chariot;
no vaunting blazon he carried, but weapons chastely plain. Next, prince
Hippomedon came marching to the Ogygian port with this device upon his
boss, Argus the all-seeing with his spangled eyes upon the watch whereof
some open with the rising stars, while others he closes when they set,
as one could see after he was slain. At the Homoloian gates Tydeus was
posting himself, a lion's skin with shaggy mane upon his buckler, while
in his right hand he bore a torch, like Titan Prometheus, to fire the town.
Thy own son Polyneices led the battle 'gainst the Fountain gate; upon his
shield for blazon were the steeds of Potniae galloping at frantic speed,
revolving by some clever contrivance on pivots inside the buckler close
to the handle, so as to appear distraught. At Electra's gate famed Capaneus
brought up his company, bold as Ares for the fray; this device his buckler
bore upon its iron back, an earth-born giant carrying on his shoulders
a whole city which he had wrenched from its base, hint to us of the fate
in store for Thebes. Adrastus was stationed at the seventh gate; a hundred
vipers filled his shield with graven work, as he bore on his left arm that
proud Argive badge, the hydra, and serpents were carrying off in their
jaws the sons of Thebes from within their very walls. Now I was enabled
to see each of them, as I carried the watch-word along the line to the
leaders of our companies. To begin with, we fought with bows and thonged
javelins, with slings that shoot from far and showers of crashing stones;
and as we were conquering, Tydeus and thy son on sudden cried aloud, "Ye
sons of Argos, before being riddled by their fire, why delay to fall upon
the gates with might and main, the whole of you, light-armed and horse
and charioteers?" No loitering then, soon as they heard that call; and
many a warrior fell with bloody crown, and not a few of us thou couldst
have seen thrown to the earth like tumblers before the walls, after they
had given up the ghost, bedewing the thirsty ground with streams of gore.
Then Atalanta's son, who was not an Argive but an Arcadian, hurling himself
like a hurricane at the gates, called for fire and picks to raze the town;
but Periclymenus, son of the ocean-god, stayed his wild career, heaving
on his head a waggon-load of stone, even the coping torn from the battlements;
and it shattered his head with the hair and crashed through the sutures
of the skull, dabbling with blood his cheek just showing manhood's flush;
and never shall he go back alive to his fair archer-mother, the maid of
Thy son then, seeing these gates secure, went on to the next, and
I with him. There I saw Tydeus and his serried ranks of targeteers hurling
their Aetolian spears into the opening at the top of the turrets, with
such good aim that our men fled and left the beetling battlements: but
thy son rallied them once more, as a huntsman cheers his hounds, and made
them man the towers again. And then away we hastened to other gates, after
stopping the panic there. As for the madness of Capaneus, how am I to describe
it? There was he, carrying with him a long scaling-ladder and loudly boasting
that even the awful lightning of Zeus would not stay him from giving the
city to utter destruction; and even as he spoke, he crept up beneath the
hail of stones, gathered under the shelter of his shield, mounting from
rung to rung on the smooth ladder; but, just as he was scaling the parapet
of the wall, Zeus smote him with a thunderbolt; loud the earth re-echoed,
and fear seized every heart; for his limbs were hurled from the ladder
far apart as from a sling, his head toward the sky, his blood toward earth,
while his legs and arms went spinning round like Ixion's wheel, till his
charred corpse fell to the ground. But when Adrastus saw that Zeus was
leagued against his army, he drew the Argive troops outside the trench
and halted them. Meantime our horse, marking the lucky omen of Zeus, began
driving forth their chariots, and our men-at-arms charged into the thick
of the Argives, and everything combined to their discomfiture; men were
falling and hurled headlong from chariots, wheels flew off, axles crashed
together, while ever higher grew the heaps of slain; so for to-day at least
have we prevented the destruction of our country's bulwarks; but whether
fortune will hereafter smile upon this land, that rests with Heaven; for,
even as it is, it owes its safety to some deity.
Victory is fair; and if the gods are growing kinder, it would be
well with me.
Heaven and fortune smile; for my sons are yet alive and my
country hath escaped ruin. But Creon seems to have reaped the bitter fruit
of my marriage with Oedipus, by losing his son to his sorrow, a piece of
luck-for Thebes, but bitter grief to him. Prithee to thy tale again and
say what my two sons next intend.
Forbear to question further; all is well with thee so far.
Thy words but rouse my suspicions; I cannot leave it thus.
Hast thou any further wish than thy sons' safety?
Yea, I would learn whether in the sequel I am also blest.
Let me go; thy son is left without his squire.
There is some evil thou art hiding, veiling it in darkness.
Maybe; I would not add ill news to the good thou hast heard.
Thou must, unless thou take wings and fly away.
Ah! why didst thou not let me go after announcing my good news,
instead of forcing me to disclose evil? Those two sons of thine are resolved
on deeds of shameful recklessness, a single combat apart from the host,
addressing to Argives and Thebans alike words I would they had never uttered.
Eteocles, taking his stand on a lofty tower, after ordering silence to
be proclaimed to the army, began on this wise, "Ye captains of Hellas,
chieftains of Argos here assembled, and ye folk of Cadmus, barter not your
lives for Polyneices or for me! For I myself excuse you from this risk,
and will engage my brother in single combat; and if I slay him, will possess
my palace without rival, but if I am worsted I will bequeath the city to
him. Ye men of Argos, give up the struggle and return to your land, nor
lose your lives here; of the earth-sown folk as well there are