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Sophocles
Oedipus the King

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This translation by Ian Johnston of Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia, has certain copyright restrictions.  For information please use the following link: Copyright.  For comments or question please contact Ian Johnston.   

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For a catalogue of other translations by Ian Johnston, please use the following link: Index 

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE

In the following text the numbers in square brackets refer to the Greek text; the numbers without brackets refer to the English text. The asterisks indicate links to explanatory notes inserted by the translator.

The translator would like to acknowledge the invaluable help provided by Sir Richard Jebb’s translation and commentary.

For an introductory lecture on Oedipus the King, please use the following link: Oedipus.

BACKGROUND NOTE

Sophocles (495 BC-405 BC) was a famous and successful Athenian writer of tragedies in his own lifetime. Of his 120 plays, only 7 have survived. Oedipus the King, also called Oedipus Tyrannos or Oedipus Rex, written around 420 BC, has long been regarded not only as his finest play but also as the purest and most powerful expression of Greek tragic drama.

Oedipus, a stranger to Thebes, became king of the city after the murder of king Laius, about fifteen or sixteen years before the start of the play. He was offered the throne because he was successful in saving the city from the Sphinx, an event referred to repeatedly in the text of the play. He married Laius’ widow, Jocasta, and had four children with her, two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices, and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene.

OEDIPUS THE KING

Dramatis Personae

OEDIPUS: king of Thebes
PRIEST: the high priest of Thebes
CREON: Oedipus’ brother-in-law
CHORUS of Theban elders
TEIRESIAS: an old blind prophet
BOY: attendant on Teiresias
JOCASTA: wife of Oedipus, sister of Creon
MESSENGER: an old man
SERVANT: an old shepherd
SECOND MESSENGER: a servant of Oedipus
ANTIGONE: daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, a child
ISMENE: daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, a child
SERVANTS and ATTENDANTS on Oedipus and Jocasta

[The action takes place in Thebes in front of the royal palace. The main doors are directly facing the audience. There are altars beside the doors. A crowd of citizens carrying branches decorated with laurel garlands and wool and led by the PRIEST has gathered in front of the altars, with some people sitting on the altar steps. OEDIPUS enters through the palace doors]

OEDIPUS
      My children, latest generation born from Cadmus,
      why are you sitting here with wreathed sticks
      in supplication to me, while the city
      fills with incense, chants, and cries of pain?
1
      Children, it would not be appropriate for me
      to learn of this from any other source,
      so I have come in person—I, Oedipus,
      whose fame all men acknowledge. But you there,
      old man, tell me—you seem to be the one
      who ought to speak for those assembled here.                       
10         [10]
      What feeling brings you to me—fear or desire?
      You can be confident that I will help.
      I shall assist you willingly in every way.
      I would be a hard-hearted man indeed,
      if I did not pity suppliants like these.

PRIEST
      Oedipus, ruler of my native land,
      you see how people here of every age
      are crouching down around your altars,
      some fledglings barely strong enough to fly
      and others bent by age, with priests as well—                         
20
      for I’m priest of Zeus—and these ones here,
      the pick of all our youth. The other groups
      sit in the market place with suppliant sticks
      or else in front of Pallas’ two shrines,                                                  
[20]
      or where Ismenus prophesies with fire.
2
      For our city, as you yourself can see,
      is badly shaken—she cannot raise her head
      above the depths of so much surging death.
      Disease infects fruit blossoms in our land,
      disease infects our herds of grazing cattle,                              
30
      makes women in labour lose their children.
      And deadly pestilence, that fiery god,
      swoops down to blast the city, emptying
      the House of Cadmus, and fills black Hades                                     
[30]
      with groans and howls. These children and myself
     
now sit here by your home, not because we think
      you’re equal to the gods. No. We judge you
      the first of men in what happens in this life
      and in our interactions with the gods.
      For you came here, to our Cadmeian city,                                
40
      and freed us from the tribute we were paying
      to that cruel singer—and yet you knew
      no more than we did and had not been taught.
3
      In their stories, the people testify
      how, with gods’ help, you gave us back our lives.
      So now, Oedipus, our king, most powerful                                        
[40]
      in all men’s eyes, we’re here as suppliants,
      all begging you to find some help for us,
      either by listening to a heavenly voice,
      or learning from some other human being.                             
50
      For, in my view, men of experience
      provide advice which gives the best results.
      So now, you best of men, raise up our state.
      Act to consolidate your fame, for now,
      thanks to your eagerness in earlier days,
      the city celebrates you as its saviour.
      Don’t let our memory of your ruling here                                           
[50]
      declare that we were first set right again,
      and later fell. No. Restore our city,
      so that it stands secure. In those times past                             
60
      you brought us joy—and with good omens, too.
      Be that same man today. If you’re to rule
      as you are doing now, it’s better to be king
      in a land of men than in a desert.
      An empty ship or city wall is nothing
      if no men share your life together there.

OEDIPUS
      My poor children, I know why you have come—
      I am not ignorant of what you yearn for.
      For I well know that you are ill, and yet,                                             
[60]
      sick as you are, there is not one of you                                      
70
      whose illness equals mine. Your agony
      comes to each one of you as his alone,
      a special pain for him and no one else.
      But the soul inside me sorrows for myself,
      and for the city, and for you—all together.
      You are not rousing me from a deep sleep.
      You must know I’ve been shedding many tears
      and, in my wandering thoughts, exploring
      many pathways. After a careful search
      I followed up the one thing I could find                                   
80
      and acted on it. So I have sent away
      my brother-in-law, son of Menoeceus,
      Creon, to Pythian Apollo’s shrine,                                                       
[70]
      to learn from him what I might do or say
      to save our city. But when I count the days—
      the time he’s been away—I now worry
      what he’s doing. For he’s been gone too long,
      well past the time he should have taken.
      But when he comes, I’ll be a wicked man
      if I do not act on all the god reveals.                                          
90

PRIEST
      What you have said is most appropriate,
      for these men here have just informed me
      that Creon is approaching.

OEDIPUS
                                              Lord Apollo,                                                     
[80]
      as he returns may fine shining fortune,
      bright as his countenance, attend on him.

PRIEST
      It seems the news he brings is good—if not,
      he would not wear that wreath around his head,
      a laurel thickly packed with berries.
4

OEDIPUS
      We’ll know soon enough—he’s within earshot.

[Enter CREON. OEDIPUS calls to him as he approaches]

      My royal kinsman, child of Menoeceus,                                   100
      what message from the god do you bring us?

CREON
      Good news.
I tell you even troubles
      difficult to bear will all end happily
      if events lead to the right conclusion.

OEDIPUS
      What is the oracle? So far your words
      inspire in me no confidence or fear.                                                    
[90]

CREON
      If you wish to hear the news in public,
      I’m prepared to speak. Or we could step inside.

OEDIPUS
      Speak out to everyone. The grief I feel
      for these citizens is even greater                                                
110
      than any pain I feel for my own life.

CREON
      Then let me report what I heard from the god.
      Lord Phoebus clearly orders us to drive away
      the polluting stain this land has harboured—
      which will not be healed if we keep nursing it.

OEDIPUS
      What sort of cleansing? And this disaster—
      how did it happen?

CREON
                                                              By banishment—                            
[100]
      or atone for murder by shedding blood again.
      This blood brings on the storm which blasts our state.

OEDIPUS
      And the one whose fate the god revealed—                             
120
      what sort of man is he?

CREON
                                    Before you came, my lord,
      to steer our ship of state, Laius ruled this land.

OEDIPUS
      I have heard that, but I never saw the man.

CREON
      Laius was killed. And now the god is clear:
      those murderers, he tells us, must be punished,
      whoever they may be.

OEDIPUS
                                             And where are they?
      In what country? Where am I to find a trace
      of this ancient crime? It will be hard to track.

CREON
      Here in Thebes, so said the god. What is sought
      is found, but what is overlooked escapes.                                
130        [110]

OEDIPUS
      When Laius fell in bloody death, where was he—
      at home, or in his fields, or in another land?

CREON
      He was abroad, on his way to Delphi—
      that’s what he told us. He began the trip,
      but did not return.

OEDIPUS
                                          Was there no messenger—
      no companion who made the journey with him
      and witnessed what took place—a person
      who might provide some knowledge men could use?

CREON
      They all died—except for one who was afraid
      and ran away. There was only one thing                                   
140
      he could inform us of with confidence
      about the things he saw.

OEDIPUS
                                                   What was that?
      We might get somewhere if we had one fact—                                 
[120]
      we could find many things, if we possessed
      some slender hope to get us going.

CREON
      He told us it was robbers who attacked them—
      not just a single man, a gang of them—
      they came on with force and killed him.

OEDIPUS
      How would a thief have dared to do this,
      unless he had financial help from Thebes?                              
150

CREON
      That’s what we guessed. But once Laius was dead
      we were in trouble, so no one sought revenge.

OEDIPUS
      When the ruling king had fallen in this way,
      what bad trouble blocked your path, preventing you
      from looking into it?

CREON
                                                         It was the Sphinx—                             
[130]
      she sang her enigmatic song and thus forced us
      to put aside something we found obscure
      to look into the urgent problem we now faced.

OEDIPUS
      Then I will start afresh, and once again
      shed light on darkness. It is most fitting                                  
160
      that Apollo demonstrates his care
      for the dead man, and worthy of you, too.
      And so, as is right, you will see how I
      work with you, seeking vengeance for this land,
      as well as for the god. This polluting stain
      I will remove, not for some distant friend,
      but for myself. For whoever killed this man
      may soon enough desire to turn his hand                                           
[140]
      in the same way against me, too, and kill me.
      Thus, in avenging Laius, I serve myself.                                    
170
      But now, my children, as quickly as you can
      stand up from these altar steps and take
      your suppliant branches. Someone must call
      the Theban people to assemble here.
      I’ll do everything I can. With the god’s help
      this will all come to light successfully,
      or else it will prove our common ruin.

[OEDIPUS and CREON go into the palace]

PRIEST
      Let us get up, children. For this man
      has willingly declared just what we came for.
      And may Phoebus, who sent this oracle,                                   
180
      come as our saviour and end our sickness.                                        
[150]

[The PRIEST and the CITIZENS leave. Enter the CHORUS OF THEBAN ELDERS]

CHORUS
                        Oh sweet speaking voice of Zeus,
       you have come to glorious Thebes from golden Pytho
                            but what is your intent?
       My fearful heart twists on the rack and shakes with fear.
                  O Delian healer, for whom we cry aloud
                           in holy awe, what obligation
              will you demand from me, a thing unknown
               or now renewed with the revolving years?
                Immortal voice, O child of golden Hope,                       
190
                                     speak to me!

                First I call on you, Athena the immortal,
               daughter of Zeus, and on your sister, too,                                  
[160]
                  Artemis, who guards our land and sits
          on her glorious round throne in our market place,
             and on Phoebus, who shoots from far away.
                  O you three guardians against death,
                                    appear to me!
                 If before now you have ever driven off
                    a fiery plague to keep away disaster                            
200
                     from the city and have banished it,
                      then come to us this time as well!

                  Alas, the pains I bear are numberless—
                    my people now all sick with plague,
                      our minds can find no weapons                                           
[170]
               to serve as our defence. Now the offspring
                 of our splendid earth no longer grow,
                nor do our women crying out in labour
             get their relief from a living new-born child.
          As you can see—one by one they swoop away,                    
210
          off to the shores of the evening god, like birds
                faster than fire which no one can resist.

         Our city dies—we’ve lost count of all the dead.
           Her sons lie in the dirt unpitied, unlamented.                              
[180]
      Corpses spread the pestilence, while youthful wives
             and grey-haired mothers on the altar steps
               wail everywhere and cry in supplication,
                 seeking to relieve their agonizing pain.
                     Their solemn chants ring out—
                 they mingle with the voices of lament.                          
220
                          O Zeus’ golden daughter,
                      send your support and strength,
                           your lovely countenance!

               And that ravenous Ares, god of killing,
              who now consumes me as he charges on
          with no bronze shield but howling battle cries,
        let him turn his back and quickly leave this land,
                with a fair following wind to carry him
                 to the great chambers of Amphitrite
                   or inhospitable waves of Thrace.
5                                  230
             For if destruction does not come at night,
               then day arrives to see it does its work.
            O you who wield that mighty flash of fire,                                   
[200]
               O father Zeus, with your lighting blast
                               let Ares be destroyed!

         O Lyceian lord, how I wish those arrows
            from the golden string of your bent bow
        with their all-conquering force would wing out
               to champion us against our enemy,
            and the blazing fires of Artemis, as well,                            
240
         with which she races through the Lycian hills.
6
           I call the god who binds his hair with gold,
             the one whose name our country shares,                                     
[210]
        the one to whom the Maenads shout their cries,
                  Dionysus with his radiant face—
          may he come to us with his flaming torchlight,
                         our ally against Ares,
                  a god dishonoured among gods.
7

[Enter OEDIPUS from the palace]

OEDIPUS
      You pray. But if you listen now to me,
      you’ll get your wish. Hear what I have to say                           
250
      and treat your own disease—then you may hope
      to find relief from your distress. I shall speak
      as one who is a stranger to the story,
      a stranger to the crime. If I alone
      were tracking down this act, I’d not get far                                         
[220]
      without a single clue. That being the case,
      for it was after the event that I became
      a citizen of Thebes, I now proclaim
      the following to all of you Cadmeians:
      Whoever among you knows the man it was                             
260
      who murdered Laius, son of Labdacus,
      I order him to reveal it all to me.
      And if the murderer’s afraid, I tell him
      to avoid the danger of the major charge
      by speaking out against himself. If so,
      he will be sent out from this land unhurt—
      and undergo no further punishment.
      If someone knows the killer is a stranger,                                           
[230]
      from some other state, let him not stay mute.
      As well as a reward, he’ll earn my thanks.                                
270
      But if he remains quiet, if anyone,
      through fear, hides himself or a friend of his
      against my orders, here’s what I shall do—
      so listen to my words. For I decree
      that no one in this land, in which I rule
      as your own king, shall give that killer shelter
      or talk to him, whoever he may be,
      or act in concert with him during prayers,
      or sacrifice, or sharing lustral water.
8                                                  [240]
      Ban him from your homes, every one of you,                          
280
      for he is our pollution, as the Pythian god
      has just revealed to me. In doing this,
      I’m acting as an ally of the god
      and of dead Laius, too. And I pray
      whoever the man is who did this crime,
      one unknown person acting on his own
      or with companions, the worst of agonies
      will wear out his wretched life. I pray, too,
      that, if he should become a honoured guest
      in my own home and with my knowledge,                               
290       [250]
      I may suffer all those things I’ve just called down
      upon the killers. And I urge you now
      to make sure all these orders take effect,
      for my sake, for the sake of the god,
      and for our barren, godless, ruined land.
      For in this matter, even if a god
      were not prompting us, it would not be right
      for you to simply leave things as they are,
      and not to purify the murder of a man
      who was so noble and who was your king.                               
300
      You should have looked into it. But now I
      possess the ruling power which Laius held
      in earlier days.
I have his bed and wife—                                            
[260]
      she would have borne his children, if his hopes
      to have a son had not been disappointed.
      Children from a common mother might have linked
      Laius and myself. But as it turned out,
      fate swooped down onto his head. So now I
      will fight on his behalf, as if this matter
      concerned my father, and I will strive                                       
310
      to do everything I can to find him,
      the man who spilled his blood, and thus avenge
      the son of Labdacus and Polydorus,
      of Cadmus and Agenor from old times.9
      As for those who do not follow what I urge,
      I pray the gods send them no fertile land,
      no, nor any children in their women’s wombs—                               
[270]
      may they all perish in our present fate
      or one more hateful still. To you others,
      you Cadmeians who support my efforts,                                  
320
      may Justice, our ally, and all the gods
      attend on us with kindness always.

CHORUS LEADER
      My lord, since you extend your oath to me,
      I will say this. I am not the murderer,
      nor can I tell you who the killer is.
      As for what you’re seeking, it’s for Apollo,
      who launched this search, to state who did it.

OEDIPUS
      That is well said. But no man has power                                            
[280]
      to force the gods to speak against their will.

CHORUS LEADER
      May I then suggest what seems to me                                      
330
      the next best course of action?

OEDIPUS
                                                               You may indeed,
      and if there is a third course, too, don’t hesitate
      to let me know.

CHORUS LEADER
                                                    Our lord Teiresias,
      I know, can see into things, like lord Apollo.
      From him, my king, a man investigating this
      might well find out the details of the crime.

OEDIPUS
      I’ve taken care of that—it’s not something
      I could overlook. At Creon’s urging,
      I have dispatched two messengers to him
      and have been wondering for some time now                         
340
      why he has not come.

CHORUS LEADER
                                                           Apart from that,
      there are rumours—but inconclusive ones                                         
[290]
      from a long time ago.

OEDIPUS
                               What kind of rumours?
      I’m looking into every story.

CHORUS LEADER
                                                              It was said
      that Laius was killed by certain travellers.

OEDIPUS
      Yes, I heard as much. But no one has seen
      the one who did it.

CHORUS LEADER
                                                                 Well, if the killer
      has any fears, once he hears your curses on him,
      he will not hold back, for they are serious.

OEDIPUS
      When a man has no fear of doing the act,                                
350
      he’s not afraid of words.

CHORUS LEADER
                                                  No, not in the case
      where no one stands there to convict him.
      But at last Teiresias is being guided here,
      our god-like prophet, in whom the truth resides
      more so than in all other men.

[Enter TEIRESIAS led by a small BOY]

OEDIPUS
                                                                                    Teiresias,                     
[300]
      you who understand all things—what can be taught
      and what cannot be spoken of, what goes on
      in heaven and here on the earth—you know,
      although you cannot see, how sick our state is.
      And so we find in you alone, great seer,                                   360
      our shield and saviour.
For Phoebus Apollo,
      in case you have not heard the news, has sent us
      an answer to our question: the only cure
      for this infecting pestilence is to find
      the men who murdered Laius and kill them
      or else expel them from this land as exiles.
      So do not withhold from us your prophecies                                     
[310]
      in voices of the birds or by some other means.
      Save this city and yourself. Rescue me.
      Deliver us from this pollution by the dead.                             
370
      We are in your hands. For a mortal man
      the finest labour he can do is help
      with all his power other human beings.

TEIRESIAS
      Alas, alas! How dreadful it can be
      to have wisdom when it brings no benefit
      to the man possessing it. This I knew,
      but it had slipped my mind. Otherwise,
      I would not have journeyed here.

OEDIPUS
      What’s wrong? You’ve come, but seem so sad.

TEIRESIAS
      Let me go home. You must bear your burden                        
380        [320]
      to the very end, and I will carry mine,
      if you’ll agree with me.

OEDIPUS
                                       What you are saying
      is not customary and shows little love
      toward the city state which nurtured you,
      if you deny us your prophetic voice.

TEIRESIAS
      I see your words are also out of place.
      I do not speak for fear of doing the same.

OEDIPUS
      If you know something, then, by heaven,
      do not turn away. We are your suppliants—
      all of us—we bend our knees to you.                                        
390

TEIRESIAS
      You are all ignorant. I will not reveal
      the troubling things inside me, which I can call
      your grief as well.

OEDIPUS
                                                     What are you saying?                               
[330]
      Do you know and will not say? Do you intend
      to betray me and destroy the city?

TEIRESIAS
      I will cause neither me nor you distress.
      Why do you vainly question me like this?
      You will not learn a thing from me.

OEDIPUS
      You most disgraceful of disgraceful men!
      You’d move something made of stone to rage!                       
400
      Will you not speak out? Will your stubbornness
      never have an end?

TEIRESIAS
                                                  You blame my temper,
      but do not see the one which lives within you.
      Instead, you are finding fault with me.

OEDIPUS
      What man who listened to these words of yours
      would not be enraged—you insult the city!                                       
[340]

TEIRESIAS
      Yet events will still unfold, for all my silence.

OEDIPUS
      Since they will come, you must inform me.

TEIRESIAS
      I will say nothing more. Fume on about it,
      if you wish, as fiercely as you can.                                             
410

OEDIPUS
      I will. In my anger I will not conceal
      just what I make of this. You should know
      I get the feeling you conspired in the act,
      and played your part, as much as you could do,
      short of killing him with your own hands.
      If you could use your eyes, I would have said
      that you had done this work all by yourself.

TEIRESIAS
      Is that so? Then I would ask you to stand by                                     
[350]
      the very words which you yourself proclaimed
      and from now on not speak to me or these men.                    
420
      For the accursed polluter of this land is you.

OEDIPUS
      You dare to utter shameful words like this?
      Do you think you can get away with it?

TEIRESIAS
      I am getting away with it. The truth
      within me makes me strong.

OEDIPUS
                                   Who taught you this?
      It could not have been your craft.

TEIRESIAS
                                                                      You did.
      I did not want to speak, but you incited me.

OEDIPUS
      What do you mean? Speak it again,
      so I can understand you more precisely.

TEIRESIAS
      Did you not grasp my words before,                                        
430
      or are you trying to test me with your question?                               
[360]

OEDIPUS
      I did not fully understand your words.
      Tell me again.

TEIRESIAS
                               I say that you yourself
      are the very man you’re looking for.

OEDIPUS
      That’s twice you’ve stated that disgraceful lie—
      something you’ll regret.

TEIRESIAS
                                     Shall I tell you more,
      so you can grow even more enraged?

OEDIPUS
      As much as you desire. It will be useless.

TEIRESIAS
      I say that with your dearest family,
      unknown to you, you are living in disgrace.                            
440
      You have no idea how bad things are.

OEDIPUS
      Do you really think you can just speak out,
      say things like this, and still remain unpunished?

TEIRESIAS
      Yes, I can, if the truth has any strength.

OEDIPUS
      It does, but not for you. Truth is not in you—                                   
[370]
      for your ears, your mind, your eyes are blind!

TEIRESIAS
      You are a wretched fool to use harsh words
      which all men soon enough will use to curse you.

OEDIPUS
      You live in endless darkness of the night,
      so you can never injure me or any man                                    
450
      who can glimpse daylight.

TEIRESIAS
                                            It is not your fate
      to fall because of me. It’s up to Apollo
      to make that happen. He will be enough.

OEDIPUS
      Is this something Creon has devised,
      or is it your invention?

TEIRESIAS
                                                Creon is no threat.
      You have made this trouble on your own.

OEDIPUS
      O riches, ruling power, skill after skill                                               
[380]
      surpassing all in this life’s rivalries,
      how much envy you must carry with you,
      if, for this kingly office, which the city                                      
460
      gave me, for I did not seek it out,
      Creon, my old trusted family friend,
      has secretly conspired to overthrow me
      and paid off a double-dealing quack like this,
      a crafty bogus priest, who can only see
      his own advantage, who in his special art
      is absolutely blind. Come on, tell me                                                   
[390]
      how you have ever given evidence
      of your wise prophecy. When the Sphinx,
      that singing bitch, was here, you said nothing                        
470
      to set the people free. Why not? Her riddle
      was not something the first man to stroll along
      could solve—a prophet was required. And there
      the people saw your knowledge was no use—
      nothing from birds or picked up from the gods.
      But then I came, Oedipus, who knew nothing.
      Yet I finished her off, using my wits
      rather than relying on birds. That’s the man
      you want to overthrow, hoping, no doubt,
      to stand up there with Creon, once he’s king.                         
480        [400]
      But I think you and your conspirator in this
      will regret trying to usurp the state.
      If you did not look so old, you’d find
      the punishment your arrogance deserves.

CHORUS LEADER
      To us it sounds as if Teiresias
      has spoken in anger, and, Oedipus,
      you have done so, too. That’s not what we need.
      Instead we should be looking into this:
      How can we best carry out the god’s decree?

TEIRESIAS
      You may be king, but I have the right                                      
490
      to answer you—and I control that right,
      for I am not your slave. I serve Apollo,                                               
[410]
      and thus will never stand with Creon,
      signed up as his man. So I say this to you,
      since you have chosen to insult my blindness—
      you have your eyesight, and you do not see
      how miserable you are, or where you live,
      or who it is who shares your household.
      Do you know the family you come from?
      Without your knowledge you’ve become                                 
500
      the enemy of your own kindred,
      those in the world below and those up here,
      and the dreadful feet of that two-edged curse
      from father and mother both will drive you
      from this land in exile. Those eyes of yours,
      which now can see so clearly, will be dark.
      What harbour will not echo with your cries?                                     
[420]
      Where on Cithaeron will they not soon be heard,
      once you have learned the truth about the wedding
      by which you sailed into this royal house—                            
510
      a lovely voyage, but the harbour’s doomed?
10
      You’ve no idea of the quantity
      of other troubles which will render you
      and your own children equals. So go on—
      keep insulting Creon and my prophecies,
      for among all living mortals no one
      will be destroyed more wretchedly than you.

OEDIPUS
      Must I tolerate this insolence from him?
      Get out, and may the plague get rid of you!                                        
[430]
      Off with you! Now! Turn your back and go!                            
520
      And don’t come back here to my home again.

TEIRESIAS
      I would not have come, but you summoned me.

OEDIPUS
      I did not know you would speak so stupidly.
      If I had, you would have waited a long time
      before I called you here.

TEIRESIAS
                                                 I was born like this.
      You think I am a fool, but to your parents,
      the ones who made you, I was wise enough.

OEDIPUS
      Wait! My parents? Who was my father?

TEIRESIAS
      This day will reveal that and destroy you.

OEDIPUS
      Everything you speak is all so cryptic—                                  
530
      like a riddle.

TEIRESIAS
                       Well, in solving riddles,                                                        
[440]
      are you not the best there is?

OEDIPUS
                                         Mock my excellence,
      but you will find out I am truly great.

TEIRESIAS
      That quality of yours now ruins you.

OEDIPUS
      I do not care, if I have saved the city.

TEIRESIAS
      I will go now. Boy, lead me away.

OEDIPUS
      Yes, let him guide you back. You’re in the way.
      If you stay, you’ll just provoke me. Once you’re gone,
      you won’t annoy me further.

TEIRESIAS
                                                     I’m going.
      But first I shall tell you why I came.                                          
540
      I do not fear the face of your displeasure—
      there is no way you can destroy me. I tell you,
      the man you have been seeking all this time,
      while proclaiming threats and issuing orders                                    
[450]
      about the one who murdered Laius—
      that man is here. According to reports,
      he is a stranger who lives here in Thebes.
      But he will prove to be a native Theban.
      From that change he will derive no pleasure.
      He will be blind, although he now can see.                             
550
      He will be a poor, although he now is rich.
      He will set off for a foreign country,
      groping the ground before him with a stick.
      And he will turn out to be the brother
      of the children in his house—their father, too,
      both at once, and the husband and the son
      of the very woman who gave birth to them.
      He sowed the same womb as his father
      and murdered him. Go in and think on this.                                      
[460]
      If you discover I have spoken falsely,                                        
560
      you can say I lack all skill in prophecy.

[Exit TEIRESIAS led off by the BOY. OEDIPUS turns and goes back into the palace]

CHORUS
      Speaking from the Delphic rock
      the oracular voice intoned a name.
      But who is the man, the one
      who with his blood-red hands
      has done unspeakable brutality?
      The time has come for him to flee—
      to move his powerful foot
      more swiftly than those hooves
      on horses riding on the storm.                                                   
570
      Against him Zeus’ son now springs,                                                    
[470]
      armed with lightning fire and leading on
      the inexorable and terrifying Furies.
11

      From the snowy peaks of Mount Parnassus
      the message has just flashed, ordering all
      to seek the one whom no one knows.
12
      Like a wild bull he wanders now,
      hidden in the untamed wood,
      through rocks and caves, alone
      with his despair on joyless feet,                                                 
580
      keeping his distance from that doom
      uttered at earth’s central navel stone.                                                  
[480]
      But that fatal oracle still lives,
      hovering above his head forever.

      That wise interpreter of prophecies
      stirs up my fears, unsettling dread.
      I cannot approve of what he said
      and I cannot deny it.
      I am confused. What shall I say?
      My hopes flutter here and there,
      with no clear glimpse of past or future.                                   
590
      I have never heard of any quarrelling,
      past or present, between those two,
      the house of Labdacus and Polybus’ son,
      which could give me evidence enough
      to undermine the fame of Oedipus,
      as he seeks vengeance for the unsolved murder
      for the family of Labdacus.
13

      Apollo and Zeus are truly wise—
      they understand what humans do.
      But there is no sure way to ascertain                                         600
      if human prophets grasp things any more
      than I do, although in wisdom one man                                             [500]
      may leave another far behind.

      But until I see the words confirmed,
      I will not approve of any man
      who censures Oedipus, for it was clear
      when that winged Sphinx went after him
      he was a wise man then. We witnessed it.
      He passed the test and endeared himself
      to all the city. So in my thinking now                                        610        [510]
      he never will be guilty of a crime.

[Enter CREON]

CREON
      You citizens, I have just discovered
      that Oedipus, our king, has levelled charges
      against me, disturbing allegations.
      That I cannot bear, so I have come here.
      In these present troubles, if he believes
      that he has suffered any injury from me,
      in word or deed, then I have no desire
      to continue living into ripe old age
      still bearing his reproach. For me                                              
620
      the injury produced by this report
      is no single isolated matter—                                                               
[520]
      no, it has the greatest scope of all,
      if I end up being called a wicked man
      here in the city, a bad citizen,
      by you and by my friends.

CHORUS LEADER
 
                                        Perhaps he charged you
      spurred on by the rash power of his rage,
      rather than his mind’s true judgment.

CREON
      Was it publicized that my opinions
      convinced Teiresias to utter lies?                                               
630

CHORUS LEADER
      That’s what was said. I have no idea
      just what that meant.

CREON
                                                           Did he accuse me
      and announce the charges with a steady gaze,
      in a normal state of mind?

CHORUS LEADER
                                                  I do not know.                                              
[530]
      What those in power do I do not see.
      But he’s approaching from the palace—
      here he comes in person.

[Enter OEDIPUS from the palace]

OEDIPUS
                                    You! How did you get here?
      Has your face grown so bold you now come
      to my own home—you who are obviously
      the murderer of the man whose house it was,                        
640
      a thief who clearly wants to steal my throne?
      Come, in the name of all the gods, tell me this—
      did you plan to do it because you thought
      I was a coward or a fool? Or did you think
      I would not learn about your actions
      as they crept up on me with such deceit—
      or that, if I knew, I could not deflect them?
      This attempt of yours, is it not madness—                                         
[540]
      to chase after the king’s place without friends,
      without a horde of men, to seek a goal                                     
650
      which only gold or factions could attain?

CREON
      Will you listen to me? It’s your turn now
      to hear me make a suitable response.
      Once you know, then judge me for yourself.

OEDIPUS
      You are a clever talker. But from you
      I will learn nothing. I know you now—
      a troublemaker, an enemy of mine.

CREON
      At least first listen to what I have to say.

OEDIPUS
      There’s one thing you do not have to tell me—
      you have betrayed me.

CREON
                                  If you think being stubborn                           
660
      and forgetting common sense is wise,
      then you’re not thinking as you should.                                              
[550]

OEDIPUS
      And if you think you can act to injure
      a man who is a relative of yours
      and escape without a penalty
      then you’re not thinking as you should.

CREON
      I agree. What you’ve just said makes sense.
      So tell me the nature of the damage
      you claim you’re suffering because of me.

OEDIPUS
      Did you or did you not persuade me                                        
670
      to send for Teiresias, that prophet?

CREON
      Yes.
And I’d still give you the same advice.

OEDIPUS
      How long is it since Laius . . . [pauses]

CREON
                                                              Did what?
      What’s Laius got to do with anything?

OEDIPUS
      . . . since Laius was carried off and disappeared,
      since he was killed so brutally?                                                            
[560]

CREON
                                           That was long ago—
      many years have passed since then.

OEDIPUS
                                                    At that time,
      was Teiresias as skilled in prophecy?

CREON
      Then, as now, he was honoured for his wisdom.

OEDIPUS
      And back then did he ever mention me?                                 
680

CREON: No, never—not while I was with him.

OEDIPUS: Did you not investigate the killing?

CREON: Yes, of course we did. But we found nothing.

OEDIPUS: Why did this man, this wise man, not speak up?

CREON: I do not know. And when I don’t know something,
      I like to keep my mouth shut.

OEDIPUS
                                                  You know enough—                                  
[570]
      at least you understand enough to say . . .

CREON
      What? If I really do know something
      I will not deny it.

OEDIPUS
                                                                               If Teiresias
      were not working with you, he would not name me              
690
      as the one who murdered Laius.

CREON
                                                          If he says this,
      well, you’re the one who knows. But I think
      the time has come for me to question you
      the way that you’ve been questioning me.

OEDIPUS
      Ask all you want. You’ll not prove
      that I’m the murderer.

CREON
                                               Then tell me this—
      are you not married to my sister?

OEDIPUS
      Since you ask me, yes. I don’t deny that.

CREON
      And you two rule this land as equals?

OEDIPUS
      Whatever she desires, she gets from me.                                
700        [580]

CREON
      And am I not third, equal to you both?

OEDIPUS
      That’s what makes your friendship so deceitful.

CREON
      No, not if you think this through, as I do.
      First, consider this. In your view, would anyone
      prefer to rule and have to cope with fear
      rather than live in peace, carefree and safe,
      if his powers were the same? I, for one,
      have no natural desire to be king
      in preference to performing royal acts.
      The same is true of any other man                                            
710
      whose understanding grasps things properly.
      For now I get everything I want from you,                                          
[590]
      but without the fear. If I were king myself,
      I’d be doing many things against my will.
      So how can being a king be sweeter to me
      than royal power without anxiety?
      I am not yet so mistaken in my mind
      that I want things which bring no benefits.
      Now I greet all men, and they all welcome me.
      Those who wish to get something from you                            
720
      now flatter me, since I’m the one who brings
      success in what they want. So why would I
      give up such benefits for something else?
      A mind that’s wise will not turn treacherous.                                    
[600]
      It’s not my nature to love such policies.
      And if another man pursued such things,
      I’d not work with him. I couldn’t bear to.
      If you want proof of this, then go to Delphi.
      Ask the prophet if I brought back to you
      exactly what was said. At that point,                                         
730
      if you discover I have planned something,
      that I’ve conspired with Teiresias,
      then arrest me and have me put to death,
      not just on your own authority,
      but on mine as well, a double judgment.
      Do not condemn me on an unproved charge.
      It’s not fair to judge these things by guesswork,
      to assume bad men are good or good men bad.                                
[610]
      In my view, to throw away a noble friend
      is like a man who parts with his own life,                                
740
      the thing most dear to him. Give it some time.
      Then you’ll see clearly, since only time
      can fully validate a man who’s true.
      A bad man is exposed in just one day.

CHORUS LEADER
      For a man concerned about being killed,
      my lord, he has spoken eloquently.
      Those who are unreliable give rash advice.

OEDIPUS
      If some conspirator moves against me,
      in secret and with speed, I must be quick
      to make my counter plans. If I just rest                                    
750
      and wait for him to act, then he’ll succeed                                         
[620]
      in what he wants to do, and I’ll be finished.

CREON
      What do you want—to exile me from here?

OEDIPUS
      No.
I want you to die, not just run off—
      so I can demonstrate what envy means.

CREON
      You are determined not to change your mind
      or listen to me?

OEDIPUS
                                 You’ll not convince me,
      for there’s no way that I can trust you.

CREON
      I can see that you’ve become unbalanced.
14

OEDIPUS
      I’m sane enough to defend my interests.                                
760

CREON
      You should be protecting mine as well.

OEDIPUS
      But you’re a treacherous man. It’s your nature.

CREON
      What if you are wrong?

OEDIPUS
                                          I still have to govern.

CREON
      Not if you do it badly.

OEDIPUS
                                           O Thebes—
      my city!

CREON
      I have some rights in Thebes as well—                                              
[630]
      it is not yours alone.

[The palace doors open]

CHORUS LEADER
                                    My lords, an end to this.
      I see Jocasta coming from the palace,
      and just in time. With her assistance
      you should bring this quarrel to a close.

[Enter JOCASTA from the palace]

JOCASTA
      You foolish men, why are you arguing                                    
770
      in such a silly way? With our land so sick,
      are you not ashamed to start a private fight?
      You, Oedipus, go in the house, and you,
      Creon, return to yours. Why blow up
      a trivial matter into something huge?

CREON
      Sister, your husband Oedipus intends
      to punish me in one of two dreadful ways—                                     
[640]
      to banish me from my fathers’ country
      or arrest me and then have me killed.

OEDIPUS
                                                         That’s right.
      Lady, I caught him committing treason,                                  
780
      conspiring against my royal authority.

CREON
      Let me not prosper but die a man accursed,
      if I have done what you accuse me of.

JOCASTA
                                                                 Oedipus,
      for the sake of the gods, trust him in this.
      Respect that oath he made before all heaven—
      do it for my sake and for those around you.

CHORUS LEADER
      I beg you, my lord, consent to this—
      agree with her.                                                                                         
[650]

OEDIPUS
                                                       What is it then
      you’re asking me to do?

CHORUS LEADER
                                                   Pay Creon due respect.
      He has not been foolish in the past, and now                         
790
      that oath he’s sworn has power.

OEDIPUS
                                                        Are you aware
      just what you’re asking?

CHORUS LEADER
                                                 Yes.
I understand.

OEDIPUS
      Then tell me exactly what you’re saying.

CHORUS LEADER
      You should not accuse a friend of yours
      and thus dishonour him with a mere story
      which may not be true, when he’s sworn an oath
      and therefore could be subject to a curse.

OEDIPUS
      By this point you should clearly understand,
      when you request this, what you are doing—
      seeking to exile me from Thebes or kill me.                            
800

CHORUS LEADER
      No, no, by sacred Helios, the god                                                         
[660]
      who stands pre-eminent before the rest,
      may I die the most miserable of deaths,
      abandoned by the gods and by my friends,
      if I have ever harboured such a thought!
      But the destruction of our land wears down
      the troubled heart within me—and so does this,
      if you two add new problems to the ones
      which have for so long been afflicting us.

OEDIPUS
      Let him go, then, even though it’s clear                                  
810
      I must be killed or sent from here in exile,
      forced out in disgrace. I have been moved                                         
[670]
      to act compassionately by what you said,
      not by Creon’s words. But if he stays here,
      he will be hateful to me.

CREON
                                        You are obstinate—
      obviously unhappy to concede,
      and when you lose your temper, you go too far.
      But men like that find it most difficult
      to tolerate themselves. In that there’s justice.

OEDIPUS
      Why not go—just leave me alone?

CREON
                                                                I’ll leave—                           
820
      since I see you do not understand me.
      But these men here know I’m a reasonable man.

[Exit CREON away from the palace, leaving OEDIPUS and JOCASTA and the CHORUS on stage]

CHORUS LEADER
      Lady, will you escort our king inside?

JOCASTA
      Yes, once I have learned what happened here.                                 
[680]

CHORUS LEADER
                                                                          They talked—
      their words gave rise to uninformed suspicions,
      an all-consuming lack of proper justice.

JOCASTA
      From both of them?

CHORUS LEADER
                                                  Yes.

JOCASTA
                                                                  What caused it?

CHORUS LEADER
      With our country already in distress,
      it is enough, it seems to me, enough
      to leave things as they are.

OEDIPUS
                                                                       Now do you see            
830
      the point you’ve reached thanks to your noble wish
      to dissolve and dull my firmer purpose?

CHORUS LEADER
      My lord, I have declared it more than once,                                      
[690]
      so you must know it would have been quite mad
      if I abandoned you, who, when this land,
      my cherished Thebes, was in great trouble,
      set it right again and who, in these harsh times
      which now consume us, should prove a trusty guide.

JOCASTA
      By all the gods, my king, let me know
      why in this present crisis you now feel                                     
840
      such unremitting rage.

OEDIPUS
                                                 To you I’ll speak, lady,                                 
[700]
      since I respect you more than I do these men.
      It’s Creon’s fault. He conspired against me.

JOCASTA
      In this quarrel what was said? Tell me.

OEDIPUS
      Creon claims that I’m the murderer—
      that I killed Laius.

JOCASTA
                                 Does he know this first hand,
      or has he picked it up from someone else?

OEDIPUS
      No.
He set up that treasonous prophet.
      What he says himself sounds innocent.

JOCASTA
      All right, forget about those things you’ve said.                    
850
      Listen to me, and ease your mind with this—
      no human being has skill in prophecy.
      I’ll show you why with this example.                                                   
[710]
      King Laius once received a prophecy.
      I won’t say it came straight from Apollo,
      but it was from those who do assist the god.
      It said Laius was fated to be killed
      by a child conceived by him and me.
      Now, at least according to the story,
      one day Laius was killed by foreigners,                                    
860
      by robbers, at a place where three roads meet.
      Besides, before our child was three days old,
      Laius fused his ankles tight together
      and ordered other men to throw him out
      on a mountain rock where no one ever goes.
      And so Apollo’s plan that he’d become                                               
[720]
      the one who killed his father didn’t work,
      and Laius never suffered what he feared,
      that his own son would be his murderer,
      although that’s what the oracle had claimed.                          
870
      So don’t concern yourself with prophecies.
      Whatever gods intend to bring about
      they themselves make known quite easily.

OEDIPUS
      Lady, as I listen to these words of yours,
      my soul is shaken, my mind confused . . .

JOCASTA
      Why do you say that? What’s worrying you?

OEDIPUS
      I thought I heard you say that Laius
      was murdered at a place where three roads meet.                            
[730]

JOCASTA
      That’s what was said and people still believe.

OEDIPUS
      Where is this place? Where did it happen?                            
880

JOCASTA
      In a land called Phocis. Two roads lead there—
      one from Delphi and one from Daulia.

OEDIPUS
      How long is it since these events took place?

JOCASTA
      The story was reported in the city
      just before you took over royal power
      here in Thebes.

OEDIPUS
                         O Zeus, what have you done?
      What have you planned for me?

JOCASTA
                                                                  What is it,
      Oedipus? Why is your spirit so troubled?

OEDIPUS
                                                               Not yet,                                            
[740]
      no questions yet.
Tell me this—Laius,
      how tall was he? How old a man?                                              
890

JOCASTA
      He was big—his hair was turning white.
      In shape he was not all that unlike you.

OEDIPUS
      The worse for me! I may have just set myself
      under a dreadful curse without my knowledge!

JOCASTA
      What do you mean? As I look at you, my king,
      I start to tremble.

OEDIPUS
                                                      I am afraid,
      full of terrible fears the prophet sees.
      But you can reveal this better if you now
      will tell me one thing more.

JOCASTA
                                                  I’m shaking,
      but if you ask me, I will answer you.                                         
900

OEDIPUS
      Did Laius have a small escort with him                                             
[750]
      or a troop of soldiers, like a royal king?

JOCASTA
      Five men, including a herald, went with him.
      A carriage carried Laius. 

OEDIPUS
                                                               Alas! Alas!
      It’s all too clear! Lady, who told you this?

JOCASTA
      A servant—the only one who got away.

      He came back here.

OEDIPUS
                                          Is there any chance
      he’s in our household now?

JOCASTA
                                                                                No.

      Once he returned and understood that you
      had now assumed the power of slaughtered Laius,               
910
      he clasped my hands, begged me to send him off                            
[760]
      to where our animals graze out in the fields,
      so he could be as far away as possible
      from the sight of town. And so I sent him.
      He was a slave but he’d earned my gratitude.
      He deserved an even greater favour.

OEDIPUS
      I’d like him to return back here to us,
      and quickly, too.

JOCASTA
                                                         That can be arranged—
      but why’s that something you would want to do?

OEDIPUS
      Lady, I’m afraid I may have said too much.                            
920
      That’s why I want to see him here in front of me.

JOCASTA
      Then he will be here. But now, my lord,
      I deserve to learn why you are so distressed.                                     
[770]

OEDIPUS
      My forebodings now have grown so great
      I will not keep them from you, for who is there
      I should confide in rather than in you
      about such a twisted turn of fortune.
      My father was Polybus of Corinth,
      my mother Merope, a Dorian.
      There I was regarded as the finest man                                    
930
      in all the city, until, as chance would have it,
      something really astonishing took place,
      though it was not worth what it caused me to do.
      At a dinner there a man who was quite drunk
      from too much wine began to shout at me,
      claiming I was not my father’s real son.                                              
[780]
      That troubled me, but for a day at least
      I said nothing, though it was difficult.
      The next day I went to ask my parents,
      my father and my mother. They were angry                            
940
      at the man who had insulted them this way,
      so I was reassured. But nonetheless,
      the accusation always troubled me—
      the story had become well known all over.
      And so I went in secret off to Delphi.
      I didn’t tell my mother or my father.
      Apollo sent me back without an answer,
      so I didn’t learn what I had come to find.
      But when he spoke he uttered monstrous things,                             
[790]
      strange terrors and horrific miseries—                                    
950
      it was my fate to defile my mother’s bed,
      to bring forth to men a human family
      that people could not bear to look upon,
      to murder the father who engendered me.
      When I heard that, I ran away from Corinth.
      From then on I thought of it just as a place
      beneath the stars. I went to other lands,
      so I would never see that prophecy fulfilled,
     
the abomination of my evil fate.
      In my travelling I came across that place                                 
960
      in which you say your king was murdered.
      And now, lady, I will tell you the truth.                                               
[800]
      As I was on the move, I passed close by
      a spot where three roads meet, and in that place
      I met a herald and a horse-drawn carriage.

      Inside there was a man like you described.
      The guide there tried to force me off the road—
      and the old man, too, got personally involved.
      In my rage, I lashed out at the driver,
      who was shoving me aside. The old man,                                
970
      seeing me walking past him in the carriage,
      kept his eye on me, and with his double whip
      struck me on my head, right here on top.
      Well, I retaliated in good measure—                                                   
[810]
      I hit him a quick blow with the staff I held
      and knocked him from his carriage to the road.
      He lay there on his back. Then I killed them all.
      If that stranger was somehow linked to Laius,
      who is now more unfortunate than me?

      What man could be more hateful to the gods?                       
980
      No stranger and no citizen can welcome him
      into their lives or speak to him. Instead,
      they must keep him from their doors, a curse
      I laid upon myself. With these hands of mine,                                  
[820]
      these killer’s hands, I now contaminate
      the dead man’s bed. Am I not depraved?
      Am I not utterly abhorrent?
      Now I must fly into exile and there,
      a fugitive, never see my people,
      never set foot in my native land again—                                  
990
      or else I must get married to my mother
      and kill my father, Polybus, who raised me,
      the man who gave me life. If anyone
      claimed this came from some malevolent god,
      would he not be right? O you gods,
      you pure, blessed gods, may I not see that day!                                
[830]
      Let me rather vanish from the sight of men,
      before I see a fate like that roll over me.

CHORUS LEADER
      My lord, to us these things are ominous.
      But you must sustain your hope until you hear                      
1000
      the servant who was present at the time.

OEDIPUS
      I do have some hope left, at least enough
      to wait for the man we’ve summoned from the fields.

JOCASTA
      Once he comes, what do you hope to hear?

OEDIPUS
      I’ll tell you. If we discover what he says
      matches what you say, then I’ll escape disaster.                               
[840]

JOCASTA
      What was so remarkable in what I said?

OEDIPUS
      You said that in his story the man claimed
      Laius was murdered by a band of thieves.
      If he still says that there were several men,                             
1010
      then I was not the killer, since one man
      could never be mistaken for a crowd.
      But if he says it was a single man,
      then I’m the one responsible for this.

JOCASTA
      Well, that’s certainly what he reported then.
      He cannot now withdraw what he once said.
      The whole city heard him, not just me alone.                                    
[850]
      But even if he changes that old news,
      he cannot ever demonstrate, my lord,
      that Laius’ murder fits the prophecy.                                        
1020
      For Apollo clearly said the man would die
      at the hands of an infant born from me.
      Now, how did that unhappy son of ours
      kill Laius, when he’d perished long before?
      So as far as these oracular sayings go,
      I would not look for confirmation anywhere.

OEDIPUS
      You’re right in what you say. But nonetheless,
      send for that peasant. Don’t fail to do that.                                        
[860]

JOCASTA
      I’ll call him here as quickly as I can.
      Let’s go inside. I’ll not do anything                                           
1030
      which does not meet with your approval.

[OEDIPUS and JOCASTA go into the palace together]

CHORUS
      I pray fate still finds me worthy,
      demonstrating piety and reverence
      in all I say and do—in everything
      our loftiest traditions consecrate,
      those laws engendered in the heavenly skies,
      whose only father is Olympus.
      They were not born from mortal men,
      nor will they sleep and be forgotten.                                                   
[870]
      In them lives an ageless mighty god.                                        
1040

      Insolence gives birth to tyranny—
      that insolence which vainly crams itself
      and overflows with so much stuff
      beyond what’s right or beneficial,
      that once it’s climbed the highest rooftop,
      it’s hurled down by force—such a quick fall
      there’s no safe landing on one’s feet.
      But I pray the god never will abolish
      the rivalry so beneficial to our state.                                                   
[880]
      That god I will hold on to always,                                             
1050
      the one who stands as our protector.
15

      But if a man conducts himself
      disdainfully in what he says and does,
      and manifests no fear of righteousness,
      no reverence for the statues of the gods,
      may miserable fate seize such a man
      for his disastrous arrogance,
      if he does not behave with justice                                                       
[890]
      when he strives to benefit himself,
      appropriates all things impiously,                                             
1060
      and, like a fool, profanes the sacred.
      What man is there who does such things
      who can still claim he will ward off
      the arrow of the gods aimed at his heart?
      If such actions are considered worthy,
      why should we dance to honour god?

      No longer will I go in reverence
      to the sacred stone, earth’s very centre,
      or to the temple at Abae or Olympia,                                                  
[900]
      if these prophecies fail to be fulfilled                                       
1070
      and manifest themselves to mortal men.
      But you, all-conquering, all-ruling Zeus,
      if by right those names belong to you,
      let this not evade you and your ageless might.
      For ancient oracles which dealt with Laius
      are withering—men now set them aside.

      Nowhere is Apollo honoured publicly,
      and our religious faith is dying away.                                                  
[910]

[JOCASTA enters from the palace and moves to an altar to Apollo which stands outside the palace doors.
She is accompanied by one or two SERVANTS]

JOCASTA
      You leading men of Thebes, I think
      it is appropriate for me to visit                                                  
1080
      our god’s sacred shrine, bearing in my hands
      this garland and an offering of incense.
      For Oedipus has let excessive pain
      seize on his heart and does not understand
      what’s happening now by thinking of the past,
      like a man with sense. Instead he listens to
      whoever speaks to him of dreadful things.
      I can do nothing more for him with my advice,
      and so, Lycean Apollo, I come to you,
      who stand here beside us, a suppliant,                                     
1090      [920]
      with offerings and prayers for you to find
      some way of cleansing what corrupts us.
      For now we are afraid, just like those
      who on a ship see their helmsman terrified.

[JOCASTA sets her offerings on the altar. A MESSENGER enters, an older man]

MESSENGER
      Strangers, can you tell me where I find
      the house of Oedipus, your king? Better yet,
      if you know, can you tell me where he is?

CHORUS LEADER
      His home is here, stranger, and he’s inside.
      This lady is the mother of his children.

MESSENGER
      May her happy home always be blessed,                                
1100
      for she is his queen, true mistress of his house.                                
[930]

JOCASTA
      I wish the same for you, stranger. Your fine words
      make you deserve as much. But tell us now
      why you have come. Do you seek information,
      or do you wish to give us some report?

MESSENGER
      Lady, I have good news for your whole house—
      and for your husband, too.

JOCASTA
                                              What news is that?
      Where have you come from?

MESSENGER
                                      I’ve come from Corinth.
      I’ll give you my report at once, and then
      you will, no doubt, be glad, although perhaps                        
1110
      you will be sad, as well.

JOCASTA
                                                 What is your news?
      How can it have two such effects at once?

MESSENGER
      The people who live there, in the lands
     
beside the Isthmus, will make him their king.
16
      They have announced it.                                                                       
[940]

JOCASTA
                                                       What are you saying?
      Is old man Polybus no longer king?

MESSENGER
      No. He’s dead and in his grave.

JOCASTA
                                                            What?
      Has Oedipus’ father died?

MESSENGER
                                                                     Yes.
      If what I’m telling you is not the truth,
      then I deserve to die.

JOCASTA [to a servant]
                                         
                   You there—                            
1120
      go at once and tell this to your master.

[SERVANT goes into the palace]

      O you oracles of the gods, so much for you.
      Oedipus has for so long been afraid
      that he would murder him. He ran away.
      Now Polybus has died, killed by fate
      and not by Oedipus.

[Enter OEDIPUS from the palace]

OEDIPUS
                                                                       Ah, Jocasta,
      my dearest wife, why have you summoned me                                  
[950]
      to leave our home and come out here?

JOCASTA
      You must hear this man, and as you listen,
      decide for yourself what these prophecies,                               
1130
      these solemn proclamations from the gods,
      amount to.

OEDIPUS
                                        Who is this man? What report
      does he have for me?

JOCASTA
                                     He comes from Corinth,
      bringing news that Polybus, your father,
      no longer is alive. He’s dead.

OEDIPUS
                                                                      What?
      Stranger, let me hear from you in person.

MESSENGER
      If I must first report my news quite plainly,
      then I should let you know that Polybus
      has passed away. He’s gone.

OEDIPUS
                                                  By treachery,
      or was it the result of some disease?                                         
1140       [960]

MESSENGER
      With old bodies a slight weight on the scales
      brings final peace.

OEDIPUS
                                                  Apparently his death
      was from an illness?

MESSENGER
                                        Yes, and from old age.

OEDIPUS
      Alas! Indeed, lady, why should any man
      pay due reverence to Apollo’s shrine,
      where his prophet lives, or to those birds
      which scream out overhead? For they foretold
      that I was going to murder my own father.

      But now he’s dead and lies beneath the earth,
      and I am here. I never touched my spear.                                 
1150
      Perhaps he died from a desire to see me—
      so in that sense I brought about his death.                                        
[970]
      But as for those prophetic oracles,
      they’re worthless. Polybus has taken them
      to Hades, where he lies.

JOCASTA
                                                   Was I not the one
      who predicted this some time ago?

OEDIPUS
                                                               You did,
      but then I was misguided by my fears.

JOCASTA
      You must not keep on filling up your heart
      with all these things.

OEDIPUS
                                                 But my mother’s bed—
      I am afraid of that. And surely I should be?                             
1160

JOCASTA
      Why should a man whose life seems ruled by chance
      live in fear—a man who never looks ahead,
      who has no certain vision of his future?
      It’s best to live haphazardly, as best one can.
      Do not worry you will wed your mother.                                             
[980]
      It’s true that in their dreams a lot of men
      have slept with their own mothers, but someone
      who ignores all this bears life more easily.

OEDIPUS
      Everything you say would be commendable,
      if my mother were not still alive.                                               
1170
      But since she is, I must remain afraid,
      although what you are saying is right.

JOCASTA
                                                                       But still,
      your father’s death is a great comfort to us.

OEDIPUS
      Yes, it is good, I know. But I do fear
      that lady—she is still alive.

MESSENGER
                                             This one you fear,
      what kind of woman is she?

OEDIPUS
                                                           Old man,
      her name is Merope, wife to Polybus.                                                  
[990]

MESSENGER
      And what in her makes you so fearful?

OEDIPUS
                                                              Stranger,
      a dreadful prophecy sent from the god.

MESSENGER
      Is it well known? Or something private,                                   1180
      which another person has no right to know?

OEDIPUS
      No, no.
It’s public knowledge. Loxias
      once said it was my fate that I would marry
      my own mother and shed my father’s blood
      with my own hands.
17 That’s why, many years ago,
      I left my home in Corinth. Things turned out well,
      but nonetheless it gives the sweetest joy
      to look into the eyes of one’s own parents.

MESSENGER
      And because you were afraid of her                                                   
[1000]
      you stayed away from Corinth?

OEDIPUS
                                                          And because                              
1190
      I did not want to be my father’s killer.

MESSENGER
      My lord, since I came to make you happy,
      why don’t I relieve you of this fear?

OEDIPUS
      You would receive from me a worthy thanks.

MESSENGER
      That’s really why I came—so your return
      might prove a benefit to me back home.

OEDIPUS
      But I will never go back to my parents.

MESSENGER
      My son, it is so clear you have no idea
      what you are doing . . .

OEDIPUS [interrupting]
                
             What do you mean, old man?
      In the name of all the gods, tell me.                                          
1200

MESSENGER
      . . . if that’s the reason you’re a fugitive                                              
[1010]
      and won’t go home.

OEDIPUS
                                           I feared Apollo’s prophecy
      might reveal itself in me.

MESSENGER
                                                                           You were afraid
      you might become corrupted through your parents?

OEDIPUS
      That’s right, old man. That was my constant fear.

MESSENGER
      Are you aware these fears of yours are groundless?

OEDIPUS
      And why is that? If I was born their child . . .

MESSENGER
      Because you and Polybus were not related.

OEDIPUS
      What do you mean? Was not Polybus my father?

MESSENGER
      He was as much your father as this man here,                       
1210
      no more, no less.

OEDIPUS
                                          But how can any man
      who means nothing to me be the same
      as my own father?

MESSENGER
                                                            But Polybus
      was not your father, no more than I am.                                             
[1020]

OEDIPUS
      Then why did he call me his son?

MESSENGER
                                                  If you must know,
      he received you many years ago as a gift.
      I gave you to him.

OEDIPUS
                                                    He really loved me.
      How could he if I came from someone else?

MESSENGER
      Well, before you came, he had no children—
      that made him love you.

OEDIPUS
                                          When you gave me to him,                      
1220
      had you bought me or found me by accident?

MESSENGER
      I found you in Cithaeron’s forest valleys.

OEDIPUS
      What were you doing wandering up there?

MESSENGER
      I was looking after flocks of sheep.

OEDIPUS
      You were a shepherd, just a hired servant
      roaming here and there?

MESSENGER
                                                          Yes, my son, I was.
      But at that time I was the one who saved you.                                   
[1030]

OEDIPUS
      When you picked me up and took me off,
      what sort of suffering was I going through?

MESSENGER
      The ankles on your feet could tell you that.                            
1230

OEDIPUS
      Ah, my old misfortune.
Why mention that?

MESSENGER
      Your ankles had been pierced and tied together.
      I set them free.

OEDIPUS
                                      My dreadful mark of shame—
      I’ve had that scar there since I was a child.

MESSENGER
      That’s why fortune gave you your very name,
      the one which you still carry.
18

OEDIPUS
                                                                         Tell me,
      in the name of heaven, why did my parents,
      my father or my mother, do this to me?

MESSENGER
      I don’t know. The man who gave you to me
      knows more of that than I do.

OEDIPUS
                                                                You mean to say                  
1240
      you got me from someone else? It wasn’t you
      who stumbled on me?

MESSENGER
                                           No, it wasn’t me.
      Another shepherd gave you to me.                                                      
[1040]

OEDIPUS
                                                                              Who?
      Who was he? Do you know? Can you tell me
      any details, ones you know for certain?

MESSENGER
      Well, I think he was one of Laius’ servants—
      that’s what people said.

OEDIPUS
                                                  You mean king Laius,
      the one who ruled this country years ago?

MESSENGER
      That’s right. He was one of the king’s shepherds.

OEDIPUS
      Is he still alive? Can I still see him?                                          
1250

MESSENGER
      You people live here. You’d best answer that.

OEDIPUS [turning to the Chorus] 
      Do any of you here now know the man,
      this shepherd he describes? Have you seen him,
      either in the fields or here in Thebes?
      Answer me. It’s critical, time at last
      to find out what this means.                                                                 
[1050]

CHORUS LEADER
                                            The man he mentioned
      is, I think, the very peasant from the fields
      you wanted to see earlier. But of this
      Jocasta could tell more than anyone.

OEDIPUS
      Lady, do you know the man we sent for—                              
1260
      just minutes ago—the one we summoned here?
      Is he the one this messenger refers to?

JOCASTA
      Why ask me what he means? Forget all that.
      There’s no point in trying to sort out what he said.

OEDIPUS
      With all these indications of the truth
      here in my grasp, I cannot end this now.
      I must reveal the details of my birth.

JOCASTA
      In the name of the gods, no! If you have                                            
[1060]
      some concern for your own life, then stop!
      Do not keep investigating this.                                                   
1270
      I will suffer—that will be enough.

OEDIPUS
      Be brave. Even if I should turn out to be
      born from a shameful mother, whose family
      for three generations have been slaves,
      you will still have your noble lineage.

JOCASTA
      Listen to me, I beg you. Do not do this.

OEDIPUS
      I will not be convinced I should not learn
      the whole truth of what these facts amount to.

JOCASTA
      But I care about your own well being—
      what I tell you is for your benefit.                                             
1280

OEDIPUS
      What you’re telling me for my own good
      just brings me more distress.

JOCASTA
                                                 O you unhappy man!
      May you never find out who you really are!

OEDIPUS [to Chorus] 
      Go, one of you, and bring that shepherd here.
      Leave the lady to enjoy her noble family.                                           
[1070]

JOCASTA
      Alas, you poor miserable man!
      There’s nothing more that I can say to you.
      And now I’ll never speak again.

[JOCASTA runs into the palace]

CHORUS LEADER
      Why has the queen rushed off, Oedipus,
      so full of grief? I fear a disastrous storm                                   
1290
      will soon break through her silence.

OEDIPUS
                                           Then let it break,
      whatever it is. As for myself,
      no matter how base born my family,
      I wish to know the seed from where I came.
      Perhaps my queen is now ashamed of me
      and of my insignificant origin—
      she likes to play the noble lady.
      But I will never feel myself dishonoured.                                           
[1080]
      I see myself as a child of fortune—
      and she is generous, that mother of mine                                
1300
      from whom I spring, and the months, my siblings,
      have seen me by turns both small and great.
      That’s how I was born. I cannot change
      to someone else, nor can I ever cease
      from seeking out the facts of my own birth.

CHORUS
      If I have any power of prophecy
      or skill in knowing things,
      then, by the Olympian deities,
      you, Cithaeron, at tomorrow’s moon                                                   
[1090]
      will surely know that Oedipus                                                   
1310
      pays tribute to you as his native land
      both as his mother and his nurse,
      and that our choral dance and song
      acknowledge you because you are
      so pleasing to our king.
      O Phoebus, we cry out to you—
      may our song fill you with delight!

      Who gave birth to you, my child?
      Which one of the immortal gods
      bore you to your father Pan,                                                      
1320       [1100]
      who roams the mountainsides?
      Was it some daughter of Apollo,
      the god who loves all country fields?
      Perhaps Cyllene’s royal king?
      Or was it the Bacchanalian god
      dwelling on the mountain tops
      who took you as a new-born joy
      from maiden nymphs of Helicon
      with whom he often romps and plays?
19

OEDIPUS [looking out away from the palace]
      You elders, although I’ve never seen the man                         
1330       [1110]
      we’ve been looking for a long time now,
      if I had to guess, I think I see him.
      He’s coming here. He looks very old—
      as is appropriate, if he’s the one.
      And I know the people coming with him,
      servants of mine. But if you’ve seen him before,
      you’ll recognize him better than I will.

CHORUS LEADER
      Yes, I recognize the man. There’s no doubt.
      He worked for Laius—a trusty shepherd.

[Enter SERVANT, an old shepherd]

OEDIPUS
      Stranger from Corinth, let me first ask you—                        
1340
      is this the man you mentioned?

MESSENGER
                                                           Yes, he is—
      he’s the man you see in front of you.                                                  
[1120]

OEDIPUS
      You, old man, over here. Look at me.
      Now answer what I ask. Some time ago
      did you work for Laius?

SERVANT
                                                                  Yes, as a slave.

      But I was not bought. I grew up in his house.

OEDIPUS
      How did you live? What was the work you did?

SERVANT
      Most of my life I’ve spent looking after sheep.

OEDIPUS
      Where? In what particular areas?

SERVANT
      On Cithaeron or the neighbouring lands.
                                1350

OEDIPUS
      Do you know if you came across this man
      anywhere up there?

SERVANT
                                                       Doing what?

      What man do you mean?

OEDIPUS
                                          The man over here—
      this one.
Have you ever run into him?                                                 [1130]

SERVANT
      Right now I can’t say I remember him.

MESSENGER
      My lord, that’s surely not surprising.
      Let me refresh his failing memory.
      I think he will remember all too well
      the time we spent around Cithaeron.
      He had two flocks of sheep and I had one.                               
1360
      I was with him there for six months at a stretch,
      from early spring until the autumn season.
      In winter I’d drive my sheep down to my folds,
      and he’d take his to pens that Laius owned.
      Isn’t that what happened—what I’ve just said?                                 
[1140]

SERVANT
      You spoke the truth. But it was long ago.

MESSENGER
      All right, then. Now, tell me if you recall
      how you gave me a child, an infant boy,
      for me to raise as my own foster son.

SERVANT
      What? Why ask about that?

MESSENGER
                       This man here, my friend,                                         
1370
      was that young child back then.

SERVANT
                                                                Damn you!
      Can’t you keep quiet about it!

OEDIPUS
                                                 Hold on, old man.
      Don’t criticize him. What you have said
      is more objectionable than his account.

SERVANT
      My noble master, what have I done wrong?

OEDIPUS
      You did not tell us of that infant boy,                                                 
[1150]
      the one he asked about.

SERVANT
                                                    That’s what he says,
      but he knows nothing—a useless busybody.

OEDIPUS
      If you won’t tell us of your own free will,
      once we start to hurt you, you will talk.                                    
1380

SERVANT
      By all the gods, don’t torture an old man!

OEDIPUS
      One of you there, tie up this fellow’s hands.

SERVANT
      Why are you doing this? It’s too much for me!
      What is it you want to know?

OEDIPUS
                                              That child he mentioned—
      did you give it to him?

SERVANT
                                                     I did. How I wish
      I’d died that day!

OEDIPUS
                                          Well, you’re going to die
      if you don’t speak the truth.

SERVANT
                                                                         And if I do,
      there’s an even greater chance that I’ll be killed.

OEDIPUS
      It seems to me the man is trying to stall.                                           
[1160]

SERVANT
      No, no, I’m not. I’ve already told you—                                     
1390
      I did give him the child.

OEDIPUS
                                                           Where did you get it?
      Did it come from your home or somewhere else?

SERVANT
      It was not mine—I got it from someone.

OEDIPUS
      Which of our citizens? Whose home was it?

SERVANT
      In the name of the gods, my lord, don’t
ask!
      Please, no more questions!

OEDIPUS
                                          If I have to ask again,
      then you will die.

SERVANT
                              The child was born in Laius’ house.

OEDIPUS
      From a slave or from some relative of his?

SERVANT
      Alas, what I’m about to say now . . .
      it’s horrible.

OEDIPUS
                                  And I’m about to hear it.                                 
1400       [1170]
      But nonetheless I have to know this.

SERVANT
      If you must know, they said the child was his.
      But your wife inside the palace is the one
      who could best tell you what was going on.

OEDIPUS
      You mean she gave the child to you?

SERVANT
                                                 Yes, my lord.

OEDIPUS
      Why did she do that?

SERVANT
                                     So I would kill it.

OEDIPUS
      That wretched woman was the mother?

SERVANT
                                                                          Yes.

      She was afraid of dreadful prophecies.

OEDIPUS
      What sort of prophecies?

SERVANT
                                                     The story went
      that he would kill his father.

OEDIPUS
                                                            If that was true,                       
1410
      why did you give the child to this old man?

SERVANT
      I pitied the boy, master, and I thought
      he’d take the child off to a foreign land
      where he was from. But he rescued him,
      only to save him for the greatest grief of all.                                      
[1180]
      For if you’re the one this man says you are                                       
      you know your birth carried an awful fate.

OEDIPUS
      Ah, so it all came true. It’s so clear now.
      O light, let me look at you one final time,
      a man who stands revealed as cursed by birth,                       
1420
      cursed by my own family, and cursed
      by murder where I should not kill.

[OEDIPUS moves into the palace]

CHORUS
      O generations of mortal men,
      how I count your life as scarcely living.

      What man is there, what human being,
      who attains a greater happiness                                                           
[1190]
      than mere appearances, a joy
      which seems to fade away to nothing?
      Poor wretched Oedipus, your fate
      stands here to demonstrate for me                                            
1430
      how no mortal man is ever blessed.

      Here was a man who fired his arrows well—
      his skill was matchless—and he won
      the highest happiness in everything.
      For, Zeus, he slaughtered the hook-taloned Sphinx
      and stilled her cryptic song. For our state,
      he stood there like a tower against death,                                          
[1200]
      and from that moment, Oedipus,
      we have called you our king
      and honoured you above all other men,                                   
1440
      the one who rules in mighty Thebes.

      But now who is there whose story
      is more terrible to hear? Whose life
      has been so changed by trouble,
      by such ferocious agonies?
      Alas, for celebrated Oedipus,
      the same spacious place of refuge
      served you both as child and father,
      the place you entered as a new bridegroom.                                      
[1210]
      How could the furrow where your father planted,                 
1450
      poor wretched man, have tolerated you
      in such silence for so long?

      Time, which watches everything
      and uncovered you against your will,
      now sits in judgment of that fatal marriage,
      where child and parent have been joined so long.
      O child of Laius, how I wish
      I’d never seen you—now I wail
      like one whose mouth pours forth laments.                                       
[1220]
      To tell it right, it was through you                                            
1460
      I found my life and breathed again,
      and then through you my eyesight failed.

[The Second Messenger enters from the palace]

SECOND MESSENGER
      O you most honoured citizens of Thebes,
      what actions you will hear about and see,
      what sorrows you will bear, if, as natives here,
      you are still loyal to the house of Labdacus!
      I do not think the Ister or the Phasis rivers
      could cleanse this house. It conceals too much
      and soon will bring to light the vilest things,
      brought on by choice and not by accident.
20                            1470       [1230]
      What we do to ourselves brings us most pain.

CHORUS LEADER
      The calamities we knew about before
      were hard enough to bear. What can you say
      to make them worse?

SECOND MESSENGER
                                                         I’ll waste no words—
      know this—noble Jocasta, our queen, is dead.

CHORUS LEADER
      That poor unhappy lady! How did she die?

SECOND MESSENGER
      She killed herself. You did not see it,
      so you’ll be spared the worst of what went on.
      But from what I recall of what I saw
      you’ll learn how that poor woman suffered.                            
1480      [1240]
      She left here frantic and rushed inside,
      fingers on both hands clenched in her hair.

      She ran through the hall straight to her marriage bed.
      She went in, slamming both doors shut behind her
      and crying out to Laius, who’s been a corpse
      a long time now. She was remembering
      that child of theirs born many years ago—
      the one who killed his father, who left her
      to conceive cursed children with that son.
      She lay moaning by the bed, where she,                                   
1490
      poor woman, had given birth twice over—
      a husband from a husband, children from a child.                          
[1250]
      How she died after that I don’t fully know.
      With a scream Oedipus came bursting in.
      He would not let us see her suffering,
      her final pain. We watched him charge around,
      back and forth. As he moved, he kept asking us
      to give him a sword, as he tried to find
      that wife who was no wife—whose mother’s womb
      had given birth to him and to his children.                              
1500
      As he raved, some immortal power led him on—
      no human in the room came close to him.
      With a dreadful howl, as if someone                                                   
[1260]
      had pushed him, he leapt at the double doors,
      bent the bolts by force out of their sockets,
      and burst into the room. Then we saw her.
      She was hanging there, swaying, with twisted cords
      roped round her neck. When Oedipus saw her,
      with a dreadful groan he took her body
      out of the noose in which she hung, and then,                        
1510
      when the poor woman was lying on the ground—
      what happened next was a horrific sight—
      from her clothes he ripped the golden brooches
      she wore as ornaments, raised them high,
      and drove them deep into his eyeballs,                                              
[1270]
      crying as he did so: “You will no longer see
      all those atrocious things I suffered,
      the dreadful things I did! No. You have seen
      those you never should have looked upon,
      and those I wished to know you did not see.                            
1520
      So now and for all future time be dark!”
      With these words he raised his hand and struck,
      not once, but many times, right in the sockets.
      With every blow blood spurted from his eyes
      down on his beard, and not in single drops,
      but showers of dark blood spattered like hail.                                   
[1280]
      So what these two have done has overwhelmed
      not one alone—this disaster swallows up
      a man and wife together. That old happiness
      they had before in their rich ancestry                                        
1530
      was truly joy, but now lament and ruin,
      death and shame, and all calamities
      which men can name are theirs to keep.

CHORUS LEADER
      And has that suffering man found some relief
      to ease his pain?

SECOND MESSENGER
                                  He shouts at everyone
      to open up the gates and thus reveal
      to all Cadmeians his father’s killer,
      his mother’s . . . but I must not say those words.
      He wants them to cast him out of Thebes,                                         
[1290]
      so the curse he laid will not come on this house                    
1540
      if he still lives inside. But he is weak
      and needs someone to lead him on his way.
      His agony is more than he can bear—
      as he will show you—for on the palace doors
      the bolts are being pulled back. Soon you will see
      a sight which even a man filled with disgust
      would have to pity.

[OEDIPUS enters through the palace doors]

CHORUS LEADER
      An awful fate for human eyes to witness,
      an appalling sight—
the worst I’ve ever seen.
      O you poor man, what madness came on you?                       
1550
      What eternal force pounced on your life                                            
[1300]
      and, springing further than the longest leap,
      brought you this awful doom? Alas! Alas!
      You unhappy man! I cannot look at you.
      I want to ask you many things—there’s much
      I wish to learn. You fill me with such horror,
      yet there is so much I must see.

OEDIPUS
      Aaaiiii, aaaiii . . . Alas! Alas!
      How miserable I am . . . such wretchedness . . .
      Where do I go? How can the wings of air                                 
1560      [1310]
      sweep up my voice? O my destiny,
      how far you have sprung now!

CHORUS LEADER
      To a fearful place from which men turn away,
      a place they hate to look upon.

OEDIPUS
      O the dark horror wrapped around me,
      this nameless visitor I can’t resist
      swept here by fair and fatal winds.
      Alas for me! And yet again, alas for me!
      The agony of stabbing brooches
      pierces me! The memory of aching shame!                             
1570

CHORUS LEADER
      In your distress it’s not astonishing
      you bear a double load of suffering,                                                    
[1320]
      a double load of pain.

OEDIPUS
                                                Ah, my friend,
      so you still care for me, as always,
      and with patience nurse me now I’m blind.
      Alas! Alas! You are not hidden from me—
      I recognize you all too clearly.
      Though I am blind, I know that voice so well.

CHORUS LEADER
      You have carried out such dreadful things—
      how could you dare to blind yourself this way?                      
1580
      What god drove you to it?

OEDIPUS
                                                    It was Apollo, friends,
      it was Apollo. He brought on these troubles—                                 
[1330]
      the awful things I suffer. But the hand
      which stabbed out my eyes was mine alone.
      In my wretched life, why should I have eyes
      when nothing I could see would bring me joy?

CHORUS LEADER
      What you have said is true enough.

OEDIPUS
      What is there for me to see, my friends?
      What can I love? Whose greeting can I hear
      and feel delight? Hurry now, my friends,                                 
1590      [1340]
      lead me away from Thebes—take me somewhere,
      a man completely lost, utterly accursed,
      the mortal man the gods despise the most.

CHORUS LEADER
      Unhappy in your fate and in your mind
      which now knows all.
Would I had never known you!

OEDIPUS
      Whoever the man is who freed my feet,
      who released me from that cruel shackle                                           
[1350]
      and rescued me from death, may that man die!
      It was a thankless act. Had I perished then,
      I would not have brought such agony                                       
1600
      to myself or to my friends.

CHORUS LEADER
                                                                        I agree—
      I would have preferred your death, as well.

OEDIPUS
      I would not have come to kill my father,
      and men would not see in me the husband
      of the woman who gave birth to me.
      Now I am abandoned by the gods,                                                      
[1360]
      the son of a corrupted mother,
      conceiving children with the woman
      who gave me my own miserable life.
      If there is some suffering more serious                                    
1610
      than all the rest, then it too belongs
      in the fate of Oedipus.

CHORUS LEADER
                                                  I do not believe
      what you did to yourself is for the best.
      Better to be dead than alive and blind.

OEDIPUS
      Don’t tell me what I’ve done is not the best.
      And from now on spare me your advice.                                             
[1370]
      If I could see, I don’t know how my eyes
      could look at my own father when I come
      to Hades or could see my wretched mother.
      Against those two I have committed acts                                 
1620
      so vile that even if I hanged myself
      that would not be sufficient punishment.
      Perhaps you think the sight of my own children
      might give me joy? No! Look how they were born!
      They could never bring delight to eyes of mine.
      Nor could the city or its massive walls,
      or the sacred images of its gods.

      I am the most abhorred of men, I,
      the finest one of all those bred in Thebes,                                         
[1380]
      I have condemned myself, telling everyone                             
1630
      they had to banish for impiety
      the man the gods have now exposed
      as sacrilegious—a son of Laius, too.
      With such polluting stains upon me,
      could I set eyes on you and hold your gaze?
      No. And if I could somehow block my ears
      and kill my hearing, I would not hold back.
      I’d make a dungeon of this wretched body,
      so I would never see or hear again.
      For there is joy in isolated thought,                                           1640
      sealed off from a world of sorrow.
                                                      
[1390]
      O Cithaeron, why did you shelter me?
      Why, when I was handed over to you,
      did you not do away with me at once,
      so I would never then reveal to men
      the nature of my birth? Ah Polybus,
      and Corinth, the place men called my home,
      my father’s ancient house, you raised me well—
      so fine to look at, so corrupt inside!
      Now I’ve been exposed as something bad,                               
1650
      contaminated in my origins.
      Oh you three roads and hidden forest grove,
      you thicket and defile where three paths meet,
      you who swallowed down my father’s blood                                      
[1400]
      from my own hands, do you remember me,
      what I did there in front of you and then
      what else I did when I came here to Thebes?
      Ah, you marriage rites—you gave birth to me,
      and then when I was born, you gave birth again,
      children from the child of that same womb,                            
1660
      creating an incestuous blood family
      of fathers, brothers, children, brides,
      wives and mothers—the most atrocious act
      that human beings commit! But it is wrong
      to talk about what it is wrong to do,
      so in the name of all the gods, act quickly—
      hide me somewhere outside the land of Thebes,                             
[1410]
      or slaughter me, or hurl me in the sea,
      where you will never gaze on me again.
      Come, allow yourself to touch a wretched man.                     
1670
      Listen to me, and do not be afraid—
      for this disease infects no one but me.

CHORUS LEADER
      Creon is coming. He is just in time
      to plan and carry out what you propose.
      With you gone he’s the only one who’s left
      to act as guardian of Thebes.

OEDIPUS
                                                                          Alas,
      how will I talk to him? How can I ask him
      to put his trust in me? Not long ago                                                    
[1420]
      I treated him with such contempt.

[Enter Creon]

CREON
      Oedipus, I have not come here to mock                                  
1680
      or blame you for disasters in the past.
      But if you can no longer value human beings,
      at least respect our lord the sun, whose light
      makes all things grow, and do not put on show
      pollution of this kind in such a public way,
      for neither earth nor light nor sacred rain
      can welcome such a sight.

[Creon speaks to the attending servants]

                                       Take him inside the house
      as quickly as you can. The kindest thing
      would be for members of his family                                                    
[1430]
      to be the only ones to see and hear him.                                  
1690

OEDIPUS
      By all the gods, since you are acting now
      so differently from what I would expect
      and have come here to treat me graciously,
      the very worst of men, do what I ask.

      I will speak for your own benefit, not mine.

CREON
      What are you so keen to get from me?

OEDIPUS
      Cast me out as quickly as you can,
      away from Thebes, to a place where no one,
      no living human being, will cross my path.

CREON
      That is something I could do, of course,                                 
1700
      but first I wish to know what the god says
      about what I should do.

OEDIPUS
                                                               But what he said                             
[1440]
      was all so clear—the man who killed his father
      must be destroyed. And that corrupted man
      is me.

CREON
                             Yes, that is what was said. But now,
      with things the way they are, the wisest thing
      is to ascertain quite clearly what to do.

OEDIPUS
      Will you then be making a request
      on my behalf when I am so depraved?

CREON
      I will. For even you must now trust in the gods.                    
1710

OEDIPUS
      Yes, I do. And I have a task for you
      as I make this plea—that woman in the house,
      please bury her as you see fit. You are the one
      to give your own the proper funeral rites.
      But never let my father’s city be condemned
      to have me living here while I still live.                                               
[1450]
      Let me make my home up in the mountains
      by Cithaeron, whose fame is now my own.
      When my father and mother were alive,
      they chose it as my special burying place—                            
1720
      and thus, when I die, I’ll be following
      the orders of the ones who tried to kill me.
      And yet I know this much—no disease
      nor any other suffering can kill me—
      for I would never have been saved from death
     
unless I was to suffer a strange destiny.
      But wherever my fate leads, just let it go.
      As for my two sons, Creon, there’s no need
      for you to care for them on my behalf—
      they are men—thus, no matter where they are,                      
1730      [1460]
      they’ll always have enough to live on.
21
      But my two poor daughters have never known
      my dining table placed away from them
      or lacked their father’s presence. They shared
      everything I touched—that’s how it’s always been.
      So take care of them for me. But first let me
      feel them with my hands and then I’ll grieve.
      Oh my lord, you noble heart, let me do that—
      if my hands could touch them it would seem
      as if I were with them when I still could see.                           
1740      [1470]

[Some SERVANTS lead ANTIGONE and ISMENE out of the palace]

      What’s this? By all the gods I hear something—
      is it my two dear children crying . . . ?
      Has Creon taken pity on me
      and sent out the children, my dear treasures?
      Is that what’s happening?

CREON
                                               Yes.
I sent for them.
      I know the joy they’ve always given you—
      the joy which you feel now.

OEDIPUS
                                                              I wish you well.
      And for this act, may the god watch over you
      and treat you better than he treated me.
      Ah, my children, where are you? Come here,                          
1750      [1480]
      come into my arms—you are my sisters now—
      feel these hands which turned your father’s eyes,
      once so bright, into what you see now,
      these empty sockets. He was a man, who,
      seeing nothing, knowing nothing, fathered you
      with the woman who had given birth to him.
      I weep for you. Although I cannot see,
      I think about your life in days to come,
      the bitter life which men will force on you.
      What citizens will associate with you?                                     
1760
      What feasts will you attend and not come home
      in tears, with no share in the rejoicing?                                              
[1490]
      When you’re mature enough for marriage,
      who will be there for you, my children,
      what husband ready to assume the shame
      tainting my children and their children, too?
      What perversion is not manifest in us?
      Your father killed his father, and then ploughed
      his mother’s womb—where he himself was born—
      conceiving you where he, too, was conceived.                        
1770
      Those are the insults they will hurl at you.                                        
[1500]
      Who, then, will marry you? No one, my children.
      You must wither, barren and unmarried.
      Son of Menoeceus, with both parents gone,
      you alone remain these children’s father.
      Do not let them live as vagrant paupers,
      wandering around unmarried. You are
      a relative of theirs—don’t let them sink
      to lives of desperation like my own.
      Have pity. You see them now at their young age                     
1780
      deprived of everything except a share
      in what you are. Promise me, you noble soul,
      you will extend your hand to them. And you,                                    
[1510]
      my children, if your minds were now mature,
      there’s so much I could say. But I urge you—
      pray that you may live as best you can
      and lead your destined life more happily
      than your own father.

CREON
                                                You have grieved enough.
      Now go into the house.

OEDIPUS
                                                                   I must obey,
      although that’s not what I desire.

CREON
                                                         In due time                                 
1790
      all things will work out for the best.

OEDIPUS
                                                         I will go.
      But you know there are conditions.

CREON
                                                                   Tell me.
      Once I hear them, I’ll know what they are.

OEDIPUS
      Send me away to live outside of Thebes.

CREON
      Only the god can give you what you ask.

OEDIPUS
      But I’ve become abhorrent to the gods.

CREON
      Then you should quickly get what you desire.

OEDIPUS
      So you agree?                                                                                           
[1520]

CREON
                                                  I don’t like to speak
      thoughtlessly and say what I don’t mean.

OEDIPUS
      Come then, lead me off.

CREON
                                                          All right,                                    
1800
      but let go of the children.

OEDIPUS
                                                      No, no!
      Do not take them away from me.

CREON
      Don’t try to be in charge of everything.
      Your life has lost the power you once had.

[CREON, OEDIPUS, ANTIGONE, ISMENE, and ATTENDANTS all enter the palace]22

CHORUS
      You residents of Thebes, our native land,
      look on this man, this Oedipus, the one
      who understood that celebrated riddle.
      He was the most powerful of men.
      All citizens who witnessed this man’s wealth
      were envious. Now what a surging tide                                    
1810
      of terrible disaster sweeps around him.
      So while we wait to see that final day,
      we cannot call a mortal being happy
      before he’s passed beyond life free from pain.                                  
[1530]



NOTES

1Cadmus: legendary founder of Thebes. Hence, the citizens of Thebes were often called children of Cadmus or Cadmeians[Back to Text]

2Pallas: Pallas Athena. There were two shrines to her in Thebes. Ismenus: A temple to Apollo Ismenios where burnt offerings were the basis for the priest’s divination. [Back to text]

3cruel singer: a reference to the Sphinx, a monster with the body of a lion, wings, and the head and torso of a woman. After the death of king Laius, the Sphinx tyrannized Thebes by not letting anyone into or out of the city, unless the person could answer the following riddle: “What walks on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?” Those who could not answer were killed and eaten. Oedipus provided the answer (a human being), and thus saved the city. The Sphinx then committed suicide. [Back to text]

4berries: a suppliant to Apollo’s shrine characteristically wore such a garland if he received favourable news. [Back to text]

5Ares, god of war and killing, was often disapproved of by the major Olympian deities. Amphitrite: was a goddess of the sea, married to Poseidon. [Back to text]

6Lyceian Lord: a reference to Apollo, god of light. [Back to text]

7. . . among gods: Dionysus was also called Bacchus, and Thebes was sometimes called Baccheia (belonging to Bacchus). The Maenads are the followers of Dionysus. [Back to text]

8lustral water: water purified in a communal religious ritual. [Back to text]

9Agenor: founder of the Theban royal family; his son Cadmus moved from Sidon in Asia Minor to Greece and founded Thebes. Polydorus: son of Cadmus, father of Labdacus, and hence grandfather of Laius. [Back to text]

10Cithaeron: the sacred mountain outside Thebes. [Back to text]

11Zeus’ son: a reference to Apollo. The Furies are the goddesses of blood revenge. [Back to text]

12Parnassus: a famous mountain some distance from Thebes, but visible from the city. [Back to text]

13Polybus: ruler of Corinth, who raised Oedipus and is thus believed to be his father. The house of Labdacus is the Theban royal family (i.e., Laius, Jocasta, and Creon). [Back to text]

14There is some argument about who speaks which lines in 622-626 of the Greek text. I follow Jebb’s suggestions, ascribing 625 to Creon, to whom it seems clearly to belong (in spite of the manuscripts) and adding a line to indicate Oedipus’ response. [Back to text]

15This part of the choral song makes an important distinction between two forms of self-assertive action: the first breeds self-aggrandizement and greed; the second is necessary for the protection of the state. [Back to text]

16Isthmus: The city of Corinth stood on the narrow stretch of land (the Isthmus) connecting the Peloponnese with mainland Greece, a very strategic position. [Back to text]

17Loxias: a common name for Apollo. [Back to the text]

18. . . still carry: the name Oedipus can be construed to mean either “swollen feet” or “knowledge of one’s feet.” Both terms evoke a strongly ironic sense of how Oedipus, for all his fame as a man of knowledge, is ignorant about his origin. [Back to text]

19Cyllene’s king is the god Hermes, who was born on Mount Cyllene; the Bacchanalian god is Dionysus. [Back to text]

20This line refers, not the entire story, but to what Jocasta and Oedipus have just done to themselves. [Back to the text]

21Oedipus’ two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices, would probably be fifteen or sixteen years old at this time, not old enough to succeed Oedipus. [Back to text]

22It is not entirely clear from these final lines whether Oedipus now leaves Thebes or not. According to Jebb’s commentary (line 1519), in the traditional story on which Sophocles is relying, Oedipus was involuntarily held at Thebes for some time before the citizens and Creon expelled him from the city. Creon’s lines suggest he is going to wait to hear from the oracle before deciding about Oedipus. However, there is a powerful dramatic logic in having Oedipus stumble off away from the palace. In Book 23 of the Iliad, Homer indicates that Oedipus died at Thebes, and there were funeral games held in his honour in that city. [Back to text]

 

 

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