Friday, June 19, 2015

SOPHOCLES - ANTIGONE - Translation by F. Storr (Part I)



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Sophocles  497/496 BC - 406/405 BC


Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides. According to the Suda, a 10th-century encyclopedia, Sophocles wrote 123 plays during the course of his life, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, The Women of Trachis, Oedipus the King, Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus. For almost 50 years, Sophocles was the most-fêted playwright in the dramatic competitions of the city-state of Athens that took place during the religious festivals of the Lenaea and the Dionysia. He competed in around 30 competitions, won perhaps 24, and was never judged lower than second place. Aeschylus won 14 competitions, and was sometimes defeated by Sophocles, while Euripides won only 4 competitions.

The most famous tragedies of Sophocles feature Oedipus and also Antigone: they are generally known as the Theban plays, although each play was actually a part of a different tetralogy, the other members of which are now lost. Sophocles influenced the development of the drama, most importantly by adding a third actor, thereby reducing the importance of the chorus in the presentation of the plot. He also developed his characters to a greater extent than earlier playwrights such as Aeschylus.



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 ANTIGONE   and   ISMENE 


ANTIGONE


ARGUMENT

Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, the late king of Thebes, in defiance of Creon who rules in his stead, resolves to bury her brother Polyneices, slain in his attack on Thebes. She is caught in the act by Creon's watchmen and brought before the king. She justifies her action, asserting that she was bound to obey the eternal laws of right and wrong in spite of any human ordinance. Creon, unrelenting, condemns her to be immured in a rock-hewn chamber. His son Haemon, to whom Antigone is betrothed, pleads in vain for her life and threatens to die with her. Warned by the seer Teiresias Creon repents him and hurries to release Antigone from her rocky prison. But he is too late: he finds lying side by side Antigone who had hanged herself and Haemon who also has perished by his own hand. Returning to the palace he sees within the dead body of his queen who on learning of her son's death has stabbed herself to the heart.


DRAMATIS PERSONAE

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



   ANTIGONE and ISMENE before the Palace gates.


ANTIGONE


 Ismene, sister of my blood and heart,
See'st thou how Zeus would in our lives fulfill
The weird of Oedipus, a world of woes!
For what of pain, affliction, outrage, shame,
Is lacking in our fortunes, thine and mine?
And now this proclamation of today
Made by our Captain-General to the State,
What can its purport be?  Didst hear and heed,
Or art thou deaf when friends are banned as foes?


ISMENE



 To me, Antigone, no word of friends
Has come, or glad or grievous, since we twain
Were reft of our two brethren in one day
By double fratricide; and since i' the night
Our Argive leaguers fled, no later news
Has reached me, to inspirit or deject.


ANTIGONE


 I know 'twas so, and therefore summoned thee
Beyond the gates to breathe it in thine ear.





ISMENE


 What is it ?  Some dark secret stirs thy breast.


ANTIGONE



 What but the thought of our two brothers dead,
The one by Creon graced with funeral rites,
The other disappointed?  Eteocles
He hath consigned to earth (as fame reports)
With obsequies that use and wont ordain,
So gracing him among the dead below.
But Polyneices, a dishonored corse,
(So by report the royal edict runs)
No man may bury him or make lament—
Must leave him tombless and unwept, a feast
For kites to scent afar and swoop upon.
Such is the edict (if report speak true)
Of Creon, our most noble Creon, aimed
At thee and me, aye me too; and anon
He will be here to promulgate, for such
As have not heard, his mandate; 'tis in sooth
No passing humor, for the edict says
Whoe'er transgresses shall be stoned to death.
So stands it with us; now 'tis thine to show
If thou art worthy of thy blood or base.


ISMENE


 But how, my rash, fond sister, in such case
Can I do anything to make or mar?


ANTIGONE


 Say, wilt thou aid me and abet?  Decide.


ISMENE


 In what bold venture?  What is in thy thought?


ANTIGONE


 Lend me a hand to bear the corpse away.


ISMENE



 What, bury him despite the interdict?


ANTIGONE


 My brother, and, though thou deny him, thine
No man shall say that I betrayed a brother.


ISMENE


 Wilt thou persist, though Creon has forbid?


ANTIGONE


 What right has he to keep me from my own?


ISMENE

 Bethink thee, sister, of our father's fate,
Abhorred, dishonored, self-convinced of sin,
Blinded, himself his executioner.
Think of his mother-wife (ill sorted names)
Done by a noose herself had twined to death
And last, our hapless brethren in one day,
Both in a mutual destiny involved,
Self-slaughtered, both the slayer and the slain.
Bethink thee, sister, we are left alone;
Shall we not perish wretchedest of all,
If in defiance of the law we cross
A monarch's will?—weak women, think of that,
Not framed by nature to contend with men.
Remember this too that the stronger rules;
We must obey his orders, these or worse.
Therefore I plead compulsion and entreat
The dead to pardon.  I perforce obey
The powers that be.  'Tis foolishness, I ween,
To overstep in aught the golden mean.


ANTIGONE


 I urge no more; nay, wert thou willing still,
I would not welcome such a fellowship.
Go thine own way; myself will bury him.
How sweet to die in such employ, to rest,—
Sister and brother linked in love's embrace—
A sinless sinner, banned awhile on earth,
But by the dead commended; and with them
I shall abide for ever.  As for thee,
Scorn, if thou wilt, the eternal laws of Heaven.


ISMENE


 I scorn them not, but to defy the State
Or break her ordinance I have no skill.


ANTIGONE


 A specious pretext.  I will go alone
To lap my dearest brother in the grave.


ISMENE


 My poor, fond sister, how I fear for thee!


ANTIGONE


 O waste no fears on me; look to thyself.


ISMENE


 At least let no man know of thine intent,
But keep it close and secret, as will I.


ANTIGONE


 O tell it, sister; I shall hate thee more
If thou proclaim it not to all the town.


ISMENE


 Thou hast a fiery soul for numbing work.


ANTIGONE


 I pleasure those whom I would liefest please.


ISMENE


 If thou succeed; but thou art doomed to fail.


ANTIGONE



 When strength shall fail me, yes, but not before.


ISMENE


 But, if the venture's hopeless, why essay?


ANTIGONE


 Sister, forbear, or I shall hate thee soon,
And the dead man will hate thee too, with cause.
Say I am mad and give my madness rein
To wreck itself; the worst that can befall
Is but to die an honorable death.


ISMENE


 Have thine own way then; 'tis a mad endeavor,
Yet to thy lovers thou art dear as ever.
[Exeunt]


CHORUS

 (Str. 1)
Sunbeam, of all that ever dawn upon
          Our seven-gated Thebes the brightest ray,
               O eye of golden day,
How fair thy light o'er Dirce's fountain shone,
Speeding upon their headlong homeward course,
Far quicker than they came, the Argive force;
               Putting to flight
The argent shields, the host with scutcheons white.
Against our land the proud invader came
To vindicate fell Polyneices' claim.
          Like to an eagle swooping low,
          On pinions white as new fall'n snow.
With clanging scream, a horsetail plume his crest,
The aspiring lord of Argos onward pressed.


(Ant. 1)
Hovering around our city walls he waits,
His spearmen raven at our seven gates.
But ere a torch our crown of towers could burn,
Ere they had tasted of our blood, they turn
Forced by the Dragon; in their rear
The din of Ares panic-struck they hear.
For Zeus who hates the braggart's boast
Beheld that gold-bespangled host;
As at the goal the paean they upraise,
He struck them with his forked lightning blaze.


(Str. 2)
To earthy from earth rebounding, down he crashed;
     The fire-brand from his impious hand was dashed,
As like a Bacchic reveler on he came,
Outbreathing hate and flame,
And tottered.  Elsewhere in the field,
Here, there, great Area like a war-horse wheeled;
          Beneath his car down thrust
          Our foemen bit the dust.

Seven captains at our seven gates
Thundered; for each a champion waits,
Each left behind his armor bright,
Trophy for Zeus who turns the fight;
Save two alone, that ill-starred pair
One mother to one father bare,
Who lance in rest, one 'gainst the other
Drave, and both perished, brother slain by brother.


(Ant. 2)
Now Victory to Thebes returns again
And smiles upon her chariot-circled plain.
          Now let feast and festal should
          Memories of war blot out.
          Let us to the temples throng,
          Dance and sing the live night long.
          God of Thebes, lead thou the round.
          Bacchus, shaker of the ground!
          Let us end our revels here;
          Lo! Creon our new lord draws near,
          Crowned by this strange chance, our king.
          What, I marvel, pondering?
          Why this summons?  Wherefore call
          Us, his elders, one and all,
          Bidding us with him debate,
          On some grave concern of State?
[Enter CREON]


CREON

 Elders, the gods have righted one again
Our storm-tossed ship of state, now safe in port.
But you by special summons I convened
As my most trusted councilors; first, because
I knew you loyal to Laius of old;
Again, when Oedipus restored our State,
Both while he ruled and when his rule was o'er,
Ye still were constant to the royal line.
Now that his two sons perished in one day,
Brother by brother murderously slain,
By right of kinship to the Princes dead,
I claim and hold the throne and sovereignty.
Yet 'tis no easy matter to discern
The temper of a man, his mind and will,
Till he be proved by exercise of power;
And in my case, if one who reigns supreme
Swerve from the highest policy, tongue-tied
By fear of consequence, that man I hold,
And ever held, the basest of the base.
And I contemn the man who sets his friend
Before his country.  For myself, I call
To witness Zeus, whose eyes are everywhere,
If I perceive some mischievous design
To sap the State, I will not hold my tongue;
Nor would I reckon as my private friend
A public foe, well knowing that the State
Is the good ship that holds our fortunes all:
Farewell to friendship, if she suffers wreck.
Such is the policy by which I seek
To serve the Commons and conformably
I have proclaimed an edict as concerns
The sons of Oedipus; Eteocles
Who in his country's battle fought and fell,
The foremost champion—duly bury him
With all observances and ceremonies
That are the guerdon of the heroic dead.
But for the miscreant exile who returned
Minded in flames and ashes to blot out
His father's city and his father's gods,
And glut his vengeance with his kinsmen's blood,
Or drag them captive at his chariot wheels—
For Polyneices 'tis ordained that none
Shall give him burial or make mourn for him,
But leave his corpse unburied, to be meat
For dogs and carrion crows, a ghastly sight.
So am I purposed; never by my will
Shall miscreants take precedence of true men,
But all good patriots, alive or dead,
Shall be by me preferred and honored.


CHORUS

 Son of Menoeceus, thus thou will'st to deal
With him who loathed and him who loved our State.
Thy word is law; thou canst dispose of us
The living, as thou will'st, as of the dead.


CREON

 See then ye execute what I ordain.


CHORUS


 On younger shoulders lay this grievous charge.


CREON


 Fear not, I've posted guards to watch the corpse.


CHORUS


 What further duty would'st thou lay on us?


CREON


 Not to connive at disobedience.


CHORUS
No man is mad enough to court his death.


CREON


 The penalty is death:  yet hope of gain
Hath lured men to their ruin oftentimes.
[Enter GUARD]


GUARD


 My lord, I will not make pretense to pant
And puff as some light-footed messenger.
In sooth my soul beneath its pack of thought
Made many a halt and turned and turned again;
For conscience plied her spur and curb by turns.
"Why hurry headlong to thy fate, poor fool?"
She whispered.  Then again, "If Creon learn
This from another, thou wilt rue it worse."
Thus leisurely I hastened on my road;
Much thought extends a furlong to a league.
But in the end the forward voice prevailed,
To face thee.  I will speak though I say nothing.
For plucking courage from despair methought,
'Let the worst hap, thou canst but meet thy fate.'


CREON


 What is thy news?  Why this despondency?


GUARD


 Let me premise a word about myself?
I neither did the deed nor saw it done,
Nor were it just that I should come to harm.


CREON

 Thou art good at parry, and canst fence about
Some matter of grave import, as is plain.


GUARD


 The bearer of dread tidings needs must quake.


CREON


 Then, sirrah, shoot thy bolt and get thee gone.


GUARD


 Well, it must out; the corpse is buried; someone
E'en now besprinkled it with thirsty dust,
Performed the proper ritual—and was gone.


CREON


 What say'st thou?  Who hath dared to do this thing?


GUARD


 I cannot tell, for there was ne'er a trace
Of pick or mattock—hard unbroken ground,
Without a scratch or rut of chariot wheels,
No sign that human hands had been at work.
When the first sentry of the morning watch
Gave the alarm, we all were terror-stricken.
The corpse had vanished, not interred in earth,
But strewn with dust, as if by one who sought
To avert the curse that haunts the unburied dead:
Of hound or ravening jackal, not a sign.
Thereat arose an angry war of words;
Guard railed at guard and blows were like to end it,
For none was there to part us, each in turn
Suspected, but the guilt brought home to none,
From lack of evidence.  We challenged each
The ordeal, or to handle red-hot iron,
Or pass through fire, affirming on our oath
Our innocence—we neither did the deed
Ourselves, nor know who did or compassed it.
Our quest was at a standstill, when one spake
And bowed us all to earth like quivering reeds,
For there was no gainsaying him nor way
To escape perdition:  Yeareboundtotell
TheKing,yecannothideit; so he spake.
And he convinced us all; so lots were cast,
And I, unlucky scapegoat, drew the prize.
So here I am unwilling and withal
Unwelcome; no man cares to hear ill news.


CHORUS


 I had misgivings from the first, my liege,
Of something more than natural at work.


CREON

 O cease, you vex me with your babblement;
I am like to think you dote in your old age.
Is it not arrant folly to pretend
That gods would have a thought for this dead man?
Did they forsooth award him special grace,
And as some benefactor bury him,
Who came to fire their hallowed sanctuaries,
To sack their shrines, to desolate their land,
And scout their ordinances?  Or perchance
The gods bestow their favors on the bad.
No! no! I have long noted malcontents
Who wagged their heads, and kicked against the yoke,
Misliking these my orders, and my rule.
'Tis they, I warrant, who suborned my guards
By bribes.  Of evils current upon earth
The worst is money.  Money 'tis that sacks
Cities, and drives men forth from hearth and home;
Warps and seduces native innocence,
And breeds a habit of dishonesty.
But they who sold themselves shall find their greed
Out-shot the mark, and rue it soon or late.
Yea, as I still revere the dread of Zeus,
By Zeus I swear, except ye find and bring
Before my presence here the very man
Who carried out this lawless burial,
Death for your punishment shall not suffice.
Hanged on a cross, alive ye first shall make
Confession of this outrage.  This will teach you
What practices are like to serve your turn.
There are some villainies that bring no gain.
For by dishonesty the few may thrive,
The many come to ruin and disgrace.


GUARD

 May I not speak, or must I turn and go
Without a word?—


CREON


 Begone! canst thou not see
That e'en this question irks me?


GUARD


 Where, my lord?
Is it thy ears that suffer, or thy heart?


CREON


 Why seek to probe and find the seat of pain?


GUARD


 I gall thine ears—this miscreant thy mind.


CREON

 What an inveterate babbler! get thee gone!


GUARD

 Babbler perchance, but innocent of the crime.


CREON


 Twice guilty, having sold thy soul for gain.


GUARD


 Alas! how sad when reasoners reason wrong.


CREON


 Go, quibble with thy reason.  If thou fail'st
To find these malefactors, thou shalt own
The wages of ill-gotten gains is death.
[Exit CREON]

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"Antigone covering the body of Polynices"- painting by  Marie Stillman (1844 - 1927)


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