ANTIGONE and ISMENE—daughters of Oedipus and sisters of Polyneices and Eteocles. CREON, King of Thebes. HAEMON, Son of Creon, betrothed to Antigone. EURYDICE, wife of Creon. TEIRESIAS, the prophet. CHORUS, of Theban elders. A WATCHMAN A MESSENGER A SECOND MESSENGER
I pray he may be found.
But caught or not
(And fortune must determine that) thou never
Shalt see me here returning; that is sure.
For past all hope or thought I have escaped,
And for my safety owe the gods much thanks.
(Str. 1) Many wonders there be, but naught more wondrous than man; Over the surging sea, with a whitening south wind wan, Through the foam of the firth, man makes his perilous way; And the eldest of deities Earth that knows not toil nor decay Ever he furrows and scores, as his team, year in year out, With breed of the yoked horse, the ploughshare turneth about. (Ant. 1) The light-witted birds of the air, the beasts of the weald and the wood He traps with his woven snare, and the brood of the briny flood. Master of cunning he: the savage bull, and the hart Who roams the mountain free, are tamed by his infinite art; And the shaggy rough-maned steed is broken to bear the bit. (Str. 2) Speech and the wind-swift speed of counsel and civic wit, He hath learnt for himself all these; and the arrowy rain to fly And the nipping airs that freeze, 'neath the open winter sky. He hath provision for all: fell plague he hath learnt to endure; Safe whate'er may befall: yet for death he hath found no cure. (Ant. 2) Passing the wildest flight thought are the cunning and skill, That guide man now to the light, but now to counsels of ill. If he honors the laws of the land, and reveres the Gods of the State Proudly his city shall stand; but a cityless outcast I rate Whoso bold in his pride from the path of right doth depart; Ne'er may I sit by his side, or share the thoughts of his heart. What strange vision meets my eyes, Fills me with a wild surprise? Sure I know her, sure 'tis she, The maid Antigone. Hapless child of hapless sire, Didst thou recklessly conspire, Madly brave the King's decree? Therefore are they haling thee? [Enter GUARD bringing ANTIGONE] GUARD Here is the culprit taken in the act Of giving burial. But where's the King? CHORUS There from the palace he returns in time. [Enter CREON] CREON Why is my presence timely? What has chanced? GUARD No man, my lord, should make a vow, for if He ever swears he will not do a thing, His afterthoughts belie his first resolve. When from the hail-storm of thy threats I fled I sware thou wouldst not see me here again; But the wild rapture of a glad surprise Intoxicates, and so I'm here forsworn. And here's my prisoner, caught in the very act, Decking the grave. No lottery this time; This prize is mine by right of treasure-trove. So take her, judge her, rack her, if thou wilt. She's thine, my liege; but I may rightly claim Hence to depart well quit of all these ills. CREON Say, how didst thou arrest the maid, and where? GUARD Burying the man. There's nothing more to tell. CREON Hast thou thy wits? Or know'st thou what thou say'st?
GUARD I saw this woman burying the corpse Against thy orders. Is that clear and plain? CREON But how was she surprised and caught in the act? GUARD It happened thus. No sooner had we come, Driven from thy presence by those awful threats, Than straight we swept away all trace of dust, And bared the clammy body. Then we sat High on the ridge to windward of the stench, While each man kept he fellow alert and rated Roundly the sluggard if he chanced to nap. So all night long we watched, until the sun Stood high in heaven, and his blazing beams Smote us. A sudden whirlwind then upraised A cloud of dust that blotted out the sky, And swept the plain, and stripped the woodlands bare, And shook the firmament. We closed our eyes And waited till the heaven-sent plague should pass. At last it ceased, and lo! there stood this maid. A piercing cry she uttered, sad and shrill, As when the mother bird beholds her nest Robbed of its nestlings; even so the maid Wailed as she saw the body stripped and bare, And cursed the ruffians who had done this deed. Anon she gathered handfuls of dry dust, Then, holding high a well-wrought brazen urn, Thrice on the dead she poured a lustral stream. We at the sight swooped down on her and seized Our quarry. Undismayed she stood, and when We taxed her with the former crime and this, She disowned nothing. I was glad—and grieved; For 'tis most sweet to 'scape oneself scot-free, And yet to bring disaster to a friend Is grievous. Take it all in all, I deem A man's first duty is to serve himself. CREON Speak, girl, with head bent low and downcast eyes, Does thou plead guilty or deny the deed? ANTIGONE Guilty. I did it, I deny it not. CREON (to GUARD) Sirrah, begone whither thou wilt, and thank Thy luck that thou hast 'scaped a heavy charge. (To ANTIGONE) Now answer this plain question, yes or no, Wast thou acquainted with the interdict? ANTIGONE I knew, all knew; how should I fail to know? CREON And yet wert bold enough to break the law? ANTIGONE Yea, for these laws were not ordained of Zeus, And she who sits enthroned with gods below, Justice, enacted not these human laws. Nor did I deem that thou, a mortal man, Could'st by a breath annul and override The immutable unwritten laws of Heaven. They were not born today nor yesterday; They die not; and none knoweth whence they sprang. I was not like, who feared no mortal's frown, To disobey these laws and so provoke The wrath of Heaven. I knew that I must die, E'en hadst thou not proclaimed it; and if death Is thereby hastened, I shall count it gain. For death is gain to him whose life, like mine, Is full of misery. Thus my lot appears Not sad, but blissful; for had I endured To leave my mother's son unburied there, I should have grieved with reason, but not now. And if in this thou judgest me a fool, Methinks the judge of folly's not acquit. CHORUS A stubborn daughter of a stubborn sire, This ill-starred maiden kicks against the pricks. CREON Well, let her know the stubbornest of wills Are soonest bended, as the hardest iron, O'er-heated in the fire to brittleness, Flies soonest into fragments, shivered through. A snaffle curbs the fieriest steed, and he Who in subjection lives must needs be meek. But this proud girl, in insolence well-schooled, First overstepped the established law, and then— A second and worse act of insolence— She boasts and glories in her wickedness. Now if she thus can flout authority Unpunished, I am woman, she the man. But though she be my sister's child or nearer Of kin than all who worship at my hearth, Nor she nor yet her sister shall escape The utmost penalty, for both I hold, As arch-conspirators, of equal guilt. Bring forth the older; even now I saw her Within the palace, frenzied and distraught. The workings of the mind discover oft Dark deeds in darkness schemed, before the act. More hateful still the miscreant who seeks When caught, to make a virtue of a crime. ANTIGONE Would'st thou do more than slay thy prisoner? CREON Not I, thy life is mine, and that's enough. ANTIGONE Why dally then? To me no word of thine Is pleasant: God forbid it e'er should please; Nor am I more acceptable to thee. And yet how otherwise had I achieved A name so glorious as by burying A brother? so my townsmen all would say, Where they not gagged by terror, Manifold A king's prerogatives, and not the least That all his acts and all his words are law. CREON Of all these Thebans none so deems but thou. ANTIGONE These think as I, but bate their breath to thee. CREON Hast thou no shame to differ from all these? ANTIGONE To reverence kith and kin can bring no shame. CREON Was his dead foeman not thy kinsman too? ANTIGONE One mother bare them and the self-same sire. CREON Why cast a slur on one by honoring one? ANTIGONE The dead man will not bear thee out in this. CREON Surely, if good and evil fare alive. ANTIGONE The slain man was no villain but a brother. CREON The patriot perished by the outlaw's brand. ANTIGONE Nathless the realms below these rites require. CREON Not that the base should fare as do the brave. ANTIGONE Who knows if this world's crimes are virtues there? CREON Not even death can make a foe a friend. ANTIGONE My nature is for mutual love, not hate. CREON Die then, and love the dead if thou must; No woman shall be the master while I live. [Enter ISMENE] CHORUS Lo from out the palace gate, Weeping o'er her sister's fate, Comes Ismene; see her brow, Once serene, beclouded now, See her beauteous face o'erspread With a flush of angry red. CREON Woman, who like a viper unperceived Didst harbor in my house and drain my blood, Two plagues I nurtured blindly, so it proved, To sap my throne. Say, didst thou too abet This crime, or dost abjure all privity? ISMENE I did the deed, if she will have it so, And with my sister claim to share the guilt. ANTIGONE That were unjust. Thou would'st not act with me At first, and I refused thy partnership. ISMENE But now thy bark is stranded, I am bold To claim my share as partner in the loss. ANTIGONE Who did the deed the under-world knows well: A friend in word is never friend of mine. ISMENE O sister, scorn me not, let me but share Thy work of piety, and with thee die. ANTIGONE Claim not a work in which thou hadst no hand; One death sufficeth. Wherefore should'st thou die? ISMENE What would life profit me bereft of thee? ANTIGONE Ask Creon, he's thy kinsman and best friend. ISMENE Why taunt me? Find'st thou pleasure in these gibes? ANTIGONE 'Tis a sad mockery, if indeed I mock. ISMENE O say if I can help thee even now. ANTIGONE No, save thyself; I grudge not thy escape. ISMENE Is e'en this boon denied, to share thy lot? ANTIGONE Yea, for thou chosed'st life, and I to die. ISMENE Thou canst not say that I did not protest. ANTIGONE Well, some approved thy wisdom, others mine. ISMENE But now we stand convicted, both alike. ANTIGONE Fear not; thou livest, I died long ago Then when I gave my life to save the dead. CREON Both maids, methinks, are crazed. One suddenly Has lost her wits, the other was born mad. ISMENE Yea, so it falls, sire, when misfortune comes, The wisest even lose their mother wit. CREON I' faith thy wit forsook thee when thou mad'st Thy choice with evil-doers to do ill. ISMENE What life for me without my sister here? CREON Say not thy sister here: thy sister's dead. ISMENE What, wilt thou slay thy own son's plighted bride? CREON Aye, let him raise him seed from other fields. ISMENE No new espousal can be like the old. CREON A plague on trulls who court and woo our sons. ANTIGONE O Haemon, how thy sire dishonors thee! CREON A plague on thee and thy accursed bride! CHORUS What, wilt thou rob thine own son of his bride? CREON 'Tis death that bars this marriage, not his sire. CHORUS So her death-warrant, it would seem, is sealed. CREON By you, as first by me; off with them, guards, And keep them close. Henceforward let them learn To live as women use, not roam at large. For e'en the bravest spirits run away When they perceive death pressing on life's heels. CHORUS (Str. 1) Thrice blest are they who never tasted pain! If once the curse of Heaven attaint a race, The infection lingers on and speeds apace, Age after age, and each the cup must drain. So when Etesian blasts from Thrace downpour Sweep o'er the blackening main and whirl to land From Ocean's cavernous depths his ooze and sand, Billow on billow thunders on the shore. (Ant. 1) On the Labdacidae I see descending Woe upon woe; from days of old some god Laid on the race a malison, and his rod Scourges each age with sorrows never ending. The light that dawned upon its last born son Is vanished, and the bloody axe of Fate Has felled the goodly tree that blossomed late. O Oedipus, by reckless pride undone! (Str. 2) Thy might, O Zeus, what mortal power can quell? Not sleep that lays all else beneath its spell, Nor moons that never tire: untouched by Time, Throned in the dazzling light That crowns Olympus' height, Thou reignest King, omnipotent, sublime. Past, present, and to be, All bow to thy decree, All that exceeds the mean by Fate Is punished, Love or Hate. (Ant. 2) Hope flits about never-wearying wings; Profit to some, to some light loves she brings, But no man knoweth how her gifts may turn, Till 'neath his feet the treacherous ashes burn. Sure 'twas a sage inspired that spake this word; If evil good appear To any, Fate is near; And brief the respite from her flaming sword. Hither comes in angry mood Haemon, latest of thy brood; Is it for his bride he's grieved, Or her marriage-bed deceived, Doth he make his mourn for thee, Maid forlorn, Antigone? [Enter HAEMON] CREON Soon shall we know, better than seer can tell. Learning may fixed decree anent thy bride, Thou mean'st not, son, to rave against thy sire? Know'st not whate'er we do is done in love?
HAEMON O father, I am thine, and I will take Thy wisdom as the helm to steer withal. Therefore no wedlock shall by me be held More precious than thy loving goverance. CREON Well spoken: so right-minded sons should feel, In all deferring to a father's will. For 'tis the hope of parents they may rear A brood of sons submissive, keen to avenge Their father's wrongs, and count his friends their own. But who begets unprofitable sons, He verily breeds trouble for himself, And for his foes much laughter. Son, be warned And let no woman fool away thy wits. Ill fares the husband mated with a shrew, And her embraces very soon wax cold. For what can wound so surely to the quick As a false friend? So spue and cast her off, Bid her go find a husband with the dead. For since I caught her openly rebelling, Of all my subjects the one malcontent, I will not prove a traitor to the State. She surely dies. Go, let her, if she will, Appeal to Zeus the God of Kindred, for If thus I nurse rebellion in my house, Shall not I foster mutiny without? For whoso rules his household worthily, Will prove in civic matters no less wise. But he who overbears the laws, or thinks To overrule his rulers, such as one I never will allow. Whome'er the State Appoints must be obeyed in everything, But small and great, just and unjust alike. I warrant such a one in either case Would shine, as King or subject; such a man Would in the storm of battle stand his ground, A comrade leal and true; but Anarchy— What evils are not wrought by Anarchy! She ruins States, and overthrows the home, She dissipates and routs the embattled host; While discipline preserves the ordered ranks. Therefore we must maintain authority And yield to title to a woman's will. Better, if needs be, men should cast us out Than hear it said, a woman proved his match. CHORUS To me, unless old age have dulled wits, Thy words appear both reasonable and wise. HAEMON Father, the gods implant in mortal men Reason, the choicest gift bestowed by heaven. 'Tis not for me to say thou errest, nor Would I arraign thy wisdom, if I could; And yet wise thoughts may come to other men And, as thy son, it falls to me to mark The acts, the words, the comments of the crowd. The commons stand in terror of thy frown, And dare not utter aught that might offend, But I can overhear their muttered plaints, Know how the people mourn this maiden doomed For noblest deeds to die the worst of deaths. When her own brother slain in battle lay Unsepulchered, she suffered not his corse To lie for carrion birds and dogs to maul: Should not her name (they cry) be writ in gold? Such the low murmurings that reach my ear. O father, nothing is by me more prized Than thy well-being, for what higher good Can children covet than their sire's fair fame, As fathers too take pride in glorious sons? Therefore, my father, cling not to one mood, And deemed not thou art right, all others wrong. For whoso thinks that wisdom dwells with him, That he alone can speak or think aright, Such oracles are empty breath when tried. The wisest man will let himself be swayed By others' wisdom and relax in time. See how the trees beside a stream in flood Save, if they yield to force, each spray unharmed, But by resisting perish root and branch. The mariner who keeps his mainsheet taut, And will not slacken in the gale, is like To sail with thwarts reversed, keel uppermost. Relent then and repent thee of thy wrath; For, if one young in years may claim some sense, I'll say 'tis best of all to be endowed With absolute wisdom; but, if that's denied, (And nature takes not readily that ply) Next wise is he who lists to sage advice. CHORUS If he says aught in season, heed him, King. (To HAEMON) Heed thou thy sire too; both have spoken well. CREON What, would you have us at our age be schooled, Lessoned in prudence by a beardless boy? HAEMON I plead for justice, father, nothing more. Weigh me upon my merit, not my years. CREON Strange merit this to sanction lawlessness! HAEMON For evil-doers I would urge no plea. CREON Is not this maid an arrant law-breaker? HAEMON The Theban commons with one voice say, No. CREON What, shall the mob dictate my policy? HAEMON 'Tis thou, methinks, who speakest like a boy. CREON Am I to rule for others, or myself? HAEMON A State for one man is no State at all. CREON The State is his who rules it, so 'tis held. HAEMON As monarch of a desert thou wouldst shine. CREON This boy, methinks, maintains the woman's cause. HAEMON If thou be'st woman, yes. My thought's for thee. CREON O reprobate, would'st wrangle with thy sire? HAEMON Because I see thee wrongfully perverse. CREON And am I wrong, if I maintain my rights? HAEMON Talk not of rights; thou spurn'st the due of Heaven CREON O heart corrupt, a woman's minion thou! HAEMON Slave to dishonor thou wilt never find me. CREON Thy speech at least was all a plea for her. HAEMON And thee and me, and for the gods below. CREON Living the maid shall never be thy bride. HAEMON So she shall die, but one will die with her. CREON Hast come to such a pass as threaten me? HAEMON What threat is this, vain counsels to reprove? CREON Vain fool to instruct thy betters; thou shall rue it. HAEMON Wert not my father, I had said thou err'st. CREON Play not the spaniel, thou a woman's slave. HAEMON When thou dost speak, must no man make reply? CREON This passes bounds. By heaven, thou shalt not rate And jeer and flout me with impunity. Off with the hateful thing that she may die At once, beside her bridegroom, in his sight. HAEMON Think not that in my sight the maid shall die, Or by my side; never shalt thou again Behold my face hereafter. Go, consort With friends who like a madman for their mate. [Exit HAEMON] CHORUS Thy son has gone, my liege, in angry haste. Fell is the wrath of youth beneath a smart. CREON Let him go vent his fury like a fiend: These sisters twain he shall not save from death. CHORUS Surely, thou meanest not to slay them both? CREON I stand corrected; only her who touched The body. CHORUS And what death is she to die? CREON She shall be taken to some desert place By man untrod, and in a rock-hewn cave, With food no more than to avoid the taint That homicide might bring on all the State, Buried alive. There let her call in aid The King of Death, the one god she reveres, Or learn too late a lesson learnt at last: 'Tis labor lost, to reverence the dead. CHORUS (Str.) Love resistless in fight, all yield at a glance of thine eye, Love who pillowed all night on a maiden's cheek dost lie, Over the upland holds. Shall mortals not yield to thee? (Ant). Mad are thy subjects all, and even the wisest heart Straight to folly will fall, at a touch of thy poisoned dart. Thou didst kindle the strife, this feud of kinsman with kin, By the eyes of a winsome wife, and the yearning her heart to win. For as her consort still, enthroned with Justice above, Thou bendest man to thy will, O all invincible Love. Lo I myself am borne aside, From Justice, as I view this bride. (O sight an eye in tears to drown) Antigone, so young, so fair, Thus hurried down Death's bower with the dead to share. ANTIGONE (Str. 1) Friends, countrymen, my last farewell I make; My journey's done. One last fond, lingering, longing look I take At the bright sun. For Death who puts to sleep both young and old Hales my young life, And beckons me to Acheron's dark fold, An unwed wife. No youths have sung the marriage song for me, My bridal bed No maids have strewn with flowers from the lea, 'Tis Death I wed. CHORUS But bethink thee, thou art sped, Great and glorious, to the dead. Thou the sword's edge hast not tasted, No disease thy frame hath wasted. Freely thou alone shalt go Living to the dead below. ANTIGONE (Ant. 1) Nay, but the piteous tale I've heard men tell Of Tantalus' doomed child, Chained upon Siphylus' high rocky fell, That clung like ivy wild, Drenched by the pelting rain and whirling snow, Left there to pine, While on her frozen breast the tears aye flow— Her fate is mine. CHORUS She was sprung of gods, divine, Mortals we of mortal line. Like renown with gods to gain Recompenses all thy pain. Take this solace to thy tomb Hers in life and death thy doom.
ANTIGONE (Str. 2) Alack, alack! Ye mock me. Is it meet Thus to insult me living, to my face? Cease, by our country's altars I entreat, Ye lordly rulers of a lordly race. O fount of Dirce, wood-embowered plain Where Theban chariots to victory speed, Mark ye the cruel laws that now have wrought my bane, The friends who show no pity in my need! Was ever fate like mine? O monstrous doom, Within a rock-built prison sepulchered, To fade and wither in a living tomb, And alien midst the living and the dead. CHORUS (Str. 3) In thy boldness over-rash Madly thou thy foot didst dash 'Gainst high Justice' altar stair. Thou a father's guild dost bear. ANTIGONE (Ant. 2) At this thou touchest my most poignant pain, My ill-starred father's piteous disgrace, The taint of blood, the hereditary stain, That clings to all of Labdacus' famed race. Woe worth the monstrous marriage-bed where lay A mother with the son her womb had borne, Therein I was conceived, woe worth the day, Fruit of incestuous sheets, a maid forlorn, And now I pass, accursed and unwed, To meet them as an alien there below; And thee, O brother, in marriage ill-bestead, 'Twas thy dead hand that dealt me this death-blow. CHORUS Religion has her chains, 'tis true, Let rite be paid when rites are due. Yet is it ill to disobey The powers who hold by might the sway. Thou hast withstood authority, A self-willed rebel, thou must die. ANTIGONE Unwept, unwed, unfriended, hence I go, No longer may I see the day's bright eye; Not one friend left to share my bitter woe, And o'er my ashes heave one passing sigh. CREON If wail and lamentation aught availed To stave off death, I trow they'd never end. Away with her, and having walled her up In a rock-vaulted tomb, as I ordained, Leave her alone at liberty to die, Or, if she choose, to live in solitude, The tomb her dwelling. We in either case Are guiltless as concerns this maiden's blood, Only on earth no lodging shall she find. ANTIGONE O grave, O bridal bower, O prison house Hewn from the rock, my everlasting home, Whither I go to join the mighty host Of kinsfolk, Persephassa's guests long dead, The last of all, of all more miserable, I pass, my destined span of years cut short. And yet good hope is mine that I shall find A welcome from my sire, a welcome too, From thee, my mother, and my brother dear; From with these hands, I laved and decked your limbs In death, and poured libations on your grave. And last, my Polyneices, unto thee I paid due rites, and this my recompense! Yet am I justified in wisdom's eyes. For even had it been some child of mine, Or husband mouldering in death's decay, I had not wrought this deed despite the State. What is the law I call in aid? 'Tis thus I argue. Had it been a husband dead I might have wed another, and have borne Another child, to take the dead child's place. But, now my sire and mother both are dead, No second brother can be born for me. Thus by the law of conscience I was led To honor thee, dear brother, and was judged By Creon guilty of a heinous crime. And now he drags me like a criminal, A bride unwed, amerced of marriage-song And marriage-bed and joys of motherhood, By friends deserted to a living grave. What ordinance of heaven have I transgressed? Hereafter can I look to any god For succor, call on any man for help? Alas, my piety is impious deemed. Well, if such justice is approved of heaven, I shall be taught by suffering my sin; But if the sin is theirs, O may they suffer No worse ills than the wrongs they do to me. CHORUS The same ungovernable will Drives like a gale the maiden still. CREON Therefore, my guards who let her stay Shall smart full sore for their delay. ANTIGONE Ah, woe is me! This word I hear Brings death most near. CHORUS I have no comfort. What he saith, Portends no other thing than death. ANTIGONE My fatherland, city of Thebes divine, Ye gods of Thebes whence sprang my line, Look, puissant lords of Thebes, on me; The last of all your royal house ye see. Martyred by men of sin, undone. Such meed my piety hath won. [Exit ANTIGONE] CHORUS (Str. 1) Like to thee that maiden bright, Danae, in her brass-bound tower, Once exchanged the glad sunlight For a cell, her bridal bower. And yet she sprang of royal line, My child, like thine, And nursed the seed By her conceived Of Zeus descending in a golden shower. Strange are the ways of Fate, her power Nor wealth, nor arms withstand, nor tower; Nor brass-prowed ships, that breast the sea From Fate can flee. (Ant. 1) Thus Dryas' child, the rash Edonian King, For words of high disdain Did Bacchus to a rocky dungeon bring, To cool the madness of a fevered brain. His frenzy passed, He learnt at last 'Twas madness gibes against a god to fling. For once he fain had quenched the Maenad's fire; And of the tuneful Nine provoked the ire. (Str. 2) By the Iron Rocks that guard the double main, On Bosporus' lone strand, Where stretcheth Salmydessus' plain In the wild Thracian land, There on his borders Ares witnessed The vengeance by a jealous step-dame ta'en The gore that trickled from a spindle red, The sightless orbits of her step-sons twain. (Ant. 2) Wasting away they mourned their piteous doom, The blasted issue of their mother's womb. But she her lineage could trace To great Erecththeus' race; Daughter of Boreas in her sire's vast caves Reared, where the tempest raves, Swift as his horses o'er the hills she sped; A child of gods; yet she, my child, like thee, By Destiny That knows not death nor age—she too was vanquished. [Enter TEIRESIAS and BOY] TEIRESIAS Princes of Thebes, two wayfarers as one, Having betwixt us eyes for one, we are here. The blind man cannot move without a guide. CREON Why tidings, old Teiresias? TEIRESIAS I will tell thee; And when thou hearest thou must heed the seer. CREON Thus far I ne'er have disobeyed thy rede. TEIRESIAS So hast thou steered the ship of State aright. CREON I know it, and I gladly own my debt. TEIRESIAS Bethink thee that thou treadest once again The razor edge of peril. CREON What is this? Thy words inspire a dread presentiment. TEIRESIAS The divination of my arts shall tell. Sitting upon my throne of augury, As is my wont, where every fowl of heaven Find harborage, upon mine ears was borne A jargon strange of twitterings, hoots, and screams; So knew I that each bird at the other tare With bloody talons, for the whirr of wings Could signify naught else. Perturbed in soul, I straight essayed the sacrifice by fire On blazing altars, but the God of Fire Came not in flame, and from the thigh bones dripped And sputtered in the ashes a foul ooze; Gall-bladders cracked and spurted up: the fat Melted and fell and left the thigh bones bare. Such are the signs, taught by this lad, I read— As I guide others, so the boy guides me— The frustrate signs of oracles grown dumb. O King, thy willful temper ails the State, For all our shrines and altars are profaned By what has filled the maw of dogs and crows, The flesh of Oedipus' unburied son. Therefore the angry gods abominate Our litanies and our burnt offerings; Therefore no birds trill out a happy note, Gorged with the carnival of human gore. O ponder this, my son. To err is common To all men, but the man who having erred Hugs not his errors, but repents and seeks The cure, is not a wastrel nor unwise. No fool, the saw goes, like the obstinate fool. Let death disarm thy vengeance. O forbear To vex the dead. What glory wilt thou win By slaying twice the slain? I mean thee well; Counsel's most welcome if I promise gain. CREON Old man, ye all let fly at me your shafts Like anchors at a target; yea, ye set Your soothsayer on me. Peddlers are ye all And I the merchandise ye buy and sell. Go to, and make your profit where ye will, Silver of Sardis change for gold of Ind; Ye will not purchase this man's burial, Not though the winged ministers of Zeus Should bear him in their talons to his throne; Not e'en in awe of prodigy so dire Would I permit his burial, for I know No human soilure can assail the gods; This too I know, Teiresias, dire's the fall Of craft and cunning when it tries to gloss Foul treachery with fair words for filthy gain. TEIRESIAS Alas! doth any know and lay to heart— CREON Is this the prelude to some hackneyed saw? TEIRESIAS How far good counsel is the best of goods? CREON True, as unwisdom is the worst of ills. TEIRESIAS Thou art infected with that ill thyself. CREON I will not bandy insults with thee, seer. TEIRESIAS And yet thou say'st my prophesies are frauds. CREON Prophets are all a money-getting tribe. TEIRESIAS And kings are all a lucre-loving race. CREON Dost know at whom thou glancest, me thy lord? TEIRESIAS Lord of the State and savior, thanks to me. CREON Skilled prophet art thou, but to wrong inclined. TEIRESIAS Take heed, thou wilt provoke me to reveal The mystery deep hidden in my breast. CREON Say on, but see it be not said for gain. TEIRESIAS Such thou, methinks, till now hast judged my words. CREON Be sure thou wilt not traffic on my wits. TEIRESIAS Know then for sure, the coursers of the sun Not many times shall run their race, before Thou shalt have given the fruit of thine own loins In quittance of thy murder, life for life; For that thou hast entombed a living soul, And sent below a denizen of earth, And wronged the nether gods by leaving here A corpse unlaved, unwept, unsepulchered. Herein thou hast no part, nor e'en the gods In heaven; and thou usurp'st a power not thine. For this the avenging spirits of Heaven and Hell Who dog the steps of sin are on thy trail: What these have suffered thou shalt suffer too. And now, consider whether bought by gold I prophesy. For, yet a little while, And sound of lamentation shall be heard, Of men and women through thy desolate halls; And all thy neighbor States are leagues to avenge Their mangled warriors who have found a grave I' the maw of wolf or hound, or winged bird That flying homewards taints their city's air. These are the shafts, that like a bowman I Provoked to anger, loosen at thy breast, Unerring, and their smart thou shalt not shun. Boy, lead me home, that he may vent his spleen On younger men, and learn to curb his tongue With gentler manners than his present mood. [Exit TEIRESIAS] CHORUS My liege, that man hath gone, foretelling woe. And, O believe me, since these grizzled locks Were like the raven, never have I known The prophet's warning to the State to fail. CREON I know it too, and it perplexes me. To yield is grievous, but the obstinate soul That fights with Fate, is smitten grievously. CHORUS Son of Menoeceus, list to good advice. CHORUS What should I do. Advise me. I will heed. CHORUS Go, free the maiden from her rocky cell; And for the unburied outlaw build a tomb. CREON Is that your counsel? You would have me yield? CHORUS Yea, king, this instant. Vengeance of the gods Is swift to overtake the impenitent. CREON Ah! what a wrench it is to sacrifice My heart's resolve; but Fate is ill to fight. CHORUS Go, trust not others. Do it quick thyself. CREON I go hot-foot. Bestir ye one and all, My henchmen! Get ye axes! Speed away To yonder eminence! I too will go, For all my resolution this way sways. 'Twas I that bound, I too will set her free. Almost I am persuaded it is best To keep through life the law ordained of old. [Exit CREON] CHORUS (Str. 1) Thou by many names adored, Child of Zeus the God of thunder, Of a Theban bride the wonder, Fair Italia's guardian lord; In the deep-embosomed glades Of the Eleusinian Queen Haunt of revelers, men and maids, Dionysus, thou art seen. Where Ismenus rolls his waters, Where the Dragon's teeth were sown, Where the Bacchanals thy daughters Round thee roam, There thy home; Thebes, O Bacchus, is thine own. (Ant. 1) Thee on the two-crested rock Lurid-flaming torches see; Where Corisian maidens flock, Thee the springs of Castaly. By Nysa's bastion ivy-clad, By shores with clustered vineyards glad, There to thee the hymn rings out, And through our streets we Thebans shout, All hall to thee Evoe, Evoe! (Str. 2) Oh, as thou lov'st this city best of all, To thee, and to thy Mother levin-stricken, In our dire need we call; Thou see'st with what a plague our townsfolk sicken. Thy ready help we crave, Whether adown Parnassian heights descending, Or o'er the roaring straits thy swift was wending, Save us, O save! (Ant. 2) Brightest of all the orbs that breathe forth light, Authentic son of Zeus, immortal king, Leader of all the voices of the night, Come, and thy train of Thyiads with thee bring, Thy maddened rout Who dance before thee all night long, and shout, Thy handmaids we, Evoe, Evoe! [Enter MESSENGER] MESSENGER Attend all ye who dwell beside the halls Of Cadmus and Amphion. No man's life As of one tenor would I praise or blame, For Fortune with a constant ebb and rise Casts down and raises high and low alike, And none can read a mortal's horoscope. Take Creon; he, methought, if any man, Was enviable. He had saved this land Of Cadmus from our enemies and attained A monarch's powers and ruled the state supreme, While a right noble issue crowned his bliss. Now all is gone and wasted, for a life Without life's joys I count a living death. You'll tell me he has ample store of wealth, The pomp and circumstance of kings; but if These give no pleasure, all the rest I count The shadow of a shade, nor would I weigh His wealth and power 'gainst a dram of joy. CHORUS What fresh woes bring'st thou to the royal house? MESSENGER Both dead, and they who live deserve to die. CHORUS Who is the slayer, who the victim? speak. MESSENGER Haemon; his blood shed by no stranger hand. CHORUS What mean ye? by his father's or his own? MESSENGER His own; in anger for his father's crime. CHORUS O prophet, what thou spakest comes to pass. MESSENGER So stands the case; now 'tis for you to act. CHORUS Lo! from the palace gates I see approaching Creon's unhappy wife, Eurydice. Comes she by chance or learning her son's fate? [Enter EURYDICE] EURYDICE Ye men of Thebes, I overheard your talk. As I passed out to offer up my prayer To Pallas, and was drawing back the bar To open wide the door, upon my ears There broke a wail that told of household woe Stricken with terror in my handmaids' arms I fell and fainted. But repeat your tale To one not unacquaint with misery. MESSENGER Dear mistress, I was there and will relate The perfect truth, omitting not one word. Why should we gloze and flatter, to be proved Liars hereafter? Truth is ever best. Well, in attendance on my liege, your lord, I crossed the plain to its utmost margin, where The corse of Polyneices, gnawn and mauled, Was lying yet. We offered first a prayer To Pluto and the goddess of cross-ways, With contrite hearts, to deprecate their ire. Then laved with lustral waves the mangled corse, Laid it on fresh-lopped branches, lit a pyre, And to his memory piled a mighty mound Of mother earth. Then to the caverned rock, The bridal chamber of the maid and Death, We sped, about to enter. But a guard Heard from that godless shrine a far shrill wail, And ran back to our lord to tell the news. But as he nearer drew a hollow sound Of lamentation to the King was borne. He groaned and uttered then this bitter plaint: "Am I a prophet? miserable me! Is this the saddest path I ever trod? 'Tis my son's voice that calls me. On press on, My henchmen, haste with double speed to the tomb Where rocks down-torn have made a gap, look in And tell me if in truth I recognize The voice of Haemon or am heaven-deceived." So at the bidding of our distraught lord We looked, and in the craven's vaulted gloom I saw the maiden lying strangled there, A noose of linen twined about her neck; And hard beside her, clasping her cold form, Her lover lay bewailing his dead bride Death-wedded, and his father's cruelty. When the King saw him, with a terrible groan He moved towards him, crying, "O my son What hast thou done? What ailed thee? What mischance Has reft thee of thy reason? O come forth, Come forth, my son; thy father supplicates." But the son glared at him with tiger eyes, Spat in his face, and then, without a word, Drew his two-hilted sword and smote, but missed His father flying backwards. Then the boy, Wroth with himself, poor wretch, incontinent Fell on his sword and drove it through his side Home, but yet breathing clasped in his lax arms The maid, her pallid cheek incarnadined With his expiring gasps. So there they lay Two corpses, one in death. His marriage rites Are consummated in the halls of Death: A witness that of ills whate'er befall Mortals' unwisdom is the worst of all. [Exit EURYDICE] CHORUS What makest thou of this? The Queen has gone Without a word importing good or ill. MESSENGER I marvel too, but entertain good hope. 'Tis that she shrinks in public to lament Her son's sad ending, and in privacy Would with her maidens mourn a private loss. Trust me, she is discreet and will not err. CHORUS I know not, but strained silence, so I deem, Is no less ominous than excessive grief. MESSENGER Well, let us to the house and solve our doubts, Whether the tumult of her heart conceals Some fell design. It may be thou art right: Unnatural silence signifies no good. CHORUS Lo! the King himself appears. Evidence he with him bears 'Gainst himself (ah me! I quake 'Gainst a king such charge to make) But all must own, The guilt is his and his alone. CREON (Str. 1) Woe for sin of minds perverse, Deadly fraught with mortal curse. Behold us slain and slayers, all akin. Woe for my counsel dire, conceived in sin. Alas, my son, Life scarce begun, Thou wast undone. The fault was mine, mine only, O my son! CHORUS Too late thou seemest to perceive the truth. CREON (Str. 2) By sorrow schooled. Heavy the hand of God, Thorny and rough the paths my feet have trod, Humbled my pride, my pleasure turned to pain; Poor mortals, how we labor all in vain! [Enter SECOND MESSENGER] SECOND MESSENGER Sorrows are thine, my lord, and more to come, One lying at thy feet, another yet More grievous waits thee, when thou comest home. CREON What woe is lacking to my tale of woes? SECOND MESSENGER Thy wife, the mother of thy dead son here, Lies stricken by a fresh inflicted blow. CREON (Ant. 1) How bottomless the pit! Does claim me too, O Death? What is this word he saith, This woeful messenger? Say, is it fit To slay anew a man already slain? Is Death at work again, Stroke upon stroke, first son, then mother slain? CHORUS Look for thyself. She lies for all to view. CREON (Ant. 2) Alas! another added woe I see. What more remains to crown my agony? A minute past I clasped a lifeless son, And now another victim Death hath won. Unhappy mother, most unhappy son! SECOND MESSENGER Beside the altar on a keen-edged sword She fell and closed her eyes in night, but erst She mourned for Megareus who nobly died Long since, then for her son; with her last breath She cursed thee, the slayer of her child. CREON (Str. 3) I shudder with affright O for a two-edged sword to slay outright A wretch like me, Made one with misery. SECOND MESSENGER 'Tis true that thou wert charged by the dead Queen As author of both deaths, hers and her son's.
CREON In what wise was her self-destruction wrought? SECOND MESSENGER Hearing the loud lament above her son With her own hand she stabbed herself to the heart. CREON (Str. 4) I am the guilty cause. I did the deed, Thy murderer. Yea, I guilty plead. My henchmen, lead me hence, away, away, A cipher, less than nothing; no delay! CHORUS Well said, if in disaster aught is well His past endure demand the speediest cure. CREON (Ant. 3) Come, Fate, a friend at need, Come with all speed! Come, my best friend, And speed my end! Away, away! Let me not look upon another day! CHORUS This for the morrow; to us are present needs That they whom it concerns must take in hand. CREON I join your prayer that echoes my desire. CHORUS O pray not, prayers are idle; from the doom Of fate for mortals refuge is there none. CREON (Ant. 4) Away with me, a worthless wretch who slew Unwitting thee, my son, thy mother too. Whither to turn I know now; every way Leads but astray, And on my head I feel the heavy weight Of crushing Fate. CHORUS Of happiness the chiefest part Is a wise heart: And to defraud the gods in aught With peril's fraught. Swelling words of high-flown might Mightily the gods do smite. Chastisement for errors past Wisdom brings to age at last.