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Oedipus at Colonus
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Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2015
Copyright © 2015 Sovereign Classic
OEDIPUS AT COLONUS
OEDIPUS, banished King of Thebes
ANTIGONE, his daughter
ISMENE, his daughter
THESEUS, King of Athens
CREON, brother of Jocasta, now reigning at Thebes
POLYNEICES, elder son of Oedipus
STRANGER, a native of Colonus
MESSENGER, an attendant of Theseus
OEDIPUS AT COLONUS
In front of the grove of the Eumenides.
Enter the blind OEDIPUS led by his daughter, ANTIGONE.
Child of an old blind sire, Antigone,
What region, say, whose city have we reached?
Who will provide today with scanted dole
This wanderer? ‘Tis little that he craves,
And less obtains—that less enough for me;
For I am taught by suffering to endure,
And the long years that have grown old with me,
And last not least, by true nobility.
My daughter, if thou seest a resting place
On common ground or by some sacred grove,
Stay me and set me down. Let us discover
Where we have come, for strangers must inquire
Of denizens, and do as they are bid.
Long-suffering father, Oedipus, the towers
That fence the city still are faint and far;
But where we stand is surely holy ground;
A wilderness of laurel, olive, vine;
Within a choir or songster nightingales
Are warbling. On this native seat of rock
Rest; for an old man thou hast traveled far.
Guide these dark steps and seat me there secure.
If time can teach, I need not to be told.
Say, prithee, if thou knowest, where we are.
Athens I recognize, but not the spot.
That much we heard from every wayfarer.
Shall I go on and ask about the place?
Yes, daughter, if it be inhabited.
Sure there are habitations; but no need
To leave thee; yonder is a man hard by.
What, moving hitherward and on his way?
Say rather, here already. Ask him straight
The needful questions, for the man is here.
O stranger, as I learn from her whose eyes
Must serve both her and me, that thou art here
Sent by some happy chance to serve our doubts—
First quit that seat, then question me at large:
The spot thou treadest on is holy ground.
What is the site, to what god dedicate?
Inviolable, untrod; goddesses,
Dread brood of Earth and Darkness, here abide.
Tell me the awful name I should invoke?
The Gracious Ones, All-seeing, so our folk
Call them, but elsewhere other names are rife.
Then may they show their suppliant grace, for I
From this your sanctuary will ne’er depart.
What word is this?
The watchword of my fate.
Nay, ‘tis not mine to bid thee hence without
Due warrant and instruction from the State.
Now in God’s name, O stranger, scorn me not
As a wayfarer; tell me what I crave.
Ask; your request shall not be scorned by me.
How call you then the place wherein we bide?
Whate’er I know thou too shalt know; the place
Is all to great Poseidon consecrate.
Hard by, the Titan, he who bears the torch,
Prometheus, has his worship; but the spot
Thou treadest, the Brass-footed Threshold named,
Is Athens’ bastion, and the neighboring lands
Claim as their chief and patron yonder knight
Colonus, and in common bear his name.
Such, stranger, is the spot, to fame unknown,
But dear to us its native worshipers.
Thou sayest there are dwellers in these parts?
Surely; they bear the name of yonder god.
Ruled by a king or by the general voice?
The lord of Athens is our over-lord.
Who is this monarch, great in word and might?
Theseus, the son of Aegeus our late king.
Might one be sent from you to summon him?
Wherefore? To tell him aught or urge his coming?
Say a slight service may avail him much.
How can he profit from a sightless man?
The blind man’s words will be instinct with sight.
Heed then; I fain would see thee out of harm;
For by the looks, marred though they be by fate,
I judge thee noble; tarry where thou art,
While I go seek the burghers—those at hand,
Not in the city. They will soon decide
Whether thou art to rest or go thy way.
Tell me, my daughter, has the stranger gone?
Yes, he has gone; now we are all alone,
And thou may’st speak, dear father, without fear.
Stern-visaged queens, since coming to this land
First in your sanctuary I bent the knee,
Frown not on me or Phoebus, who, when erst
He told me all my miseries to come,
Spake of this respite after many years,
Some haven in a far-off land, a rest
Vouchsafed at last by dread divinities.
“There,” said he, “shalt thou round thy weary life,
A blessing to the land wherein thou dwell’st,
But to the land that cast thee forth, a curse.”
And of my weird he promised signs should come,
Earthquake, or thunderclap, or lightning flash.
And now I recognize as yours the sign
That led my wanderings to this your grove;
Else had I never lighted on you first,
A wineless man on your seat of native rock.
O goddesses, fulfill Apollo’s word,
Grant me some consummation of my life,
If haply I appear not all too vile,
A thrall to sorrow worse than any slave.
Hear, gentle daughters of primeval Night,
Hear, namesake of great Pallas; Athens, first
Of cities, pity this dishonored shade,
The ghost of him who once was Oedipus.
Hush! for I see some grey-beards on their way,
Their errand to spy out our resting-place.
I will be mute, and thou shalt guide my steps
Into the covert from the public road,
Till I have learned their drift. A prudent man
Will ever shape his course by what he learns.
Ha! Where is he? Look around!
Every nook and corner scan!
He the all-presumptuous man,
Whither vanished? search the ground!
A wayfarer, I ween,
A wayfarer, no countryman of ours,
That old man must have been;
Never had native dared to tempt the Powers,
Or enter their demesne,
The Maids in awe of whom each mortal cowers,
Whose name no voice betrays nor cry,
And as we pass them with averted eye,
We move hushed lips in reverent piety.
But now some godless man,
‘Tis rumored, here abides;
The precincts through I scan,
Yet wot not where he hides,
The wretch profane!
I search and search in vain.
I am that man; I know you near
Ears to the blind, they say, are eyes.
O dread to see and dread to hear!
Oh sirs, I am no outlaw under ban.
Who can he be—Zeus save us!—this old man?
No favorite of fate,
That ye should envy his estate,
O, Sirs, would any happy mortal, say,
Grope by the light of other eyes his way,
Or face the storm upon so frail a stay?
Wast thou then sightless from thy birth?
Evil, methinks, and long
Thy pilgrimage on earth.
Yet add not curse to curse and wrong to wrong.
I warn thee, trespass not
Within this hallowed spot,
Lest thou shouldst find the silent grassy glade
Where offerings are laid,
Bowls of spring water mingled with sweet mead.
Thou must not stay,
Come, come away,
Tired wanderer, dost thou heed?
(We are far off, but sure our voice can reach.)
If aught thou wouldst beseech,
Speak where ‘tis right; till then refrain from speech.
Daughter, what counsel should we now pursue?
We must obey and do as here they do.
Thy hand then!
Here, O father, is my hand,
O Sirs, if I come forth at your command,
Let me not suffer for my confidence.
Against thy will no man shall drive thee hence.
Shall I go further?
What further still?