Main Text

scene 3

Antigone, who is looking off, interrupts.
310

antigone O Zeus, what shall I say? What, father, can I think?

oedipus What is it, child Antigone?

antigone I see a woman riding here towards us on an Etna pony,

with a wide Thessalian hat° to shade her face.

What can I say? Her?… Can it be?

Link Not her? Or has my mind run wild?

I say it is… it's not… I don't know what to say.

It surely must be her: she's throwing me bright looks

320of greeting now she's getting close;

and this could only come from her, Ismene.

Link

oedipus What's that, my child?

pg 235

antigone It is your daughter, my own sister, that I see.

And now she's close enough to recognize her voice.

Enter Ismene, with one attendant, from the 'foreign' direction.

ismene My father and my sister,

Link sweetest pair of names for me to sound.

What pain and trouble I have had to track you down;

Link and now, afresh, to see you blinds my eyes with tears.

oedipus Can you be here, my child?

ismene Oh father, what a dreadful sight.

oedipus You really have appeared, my child?

ismene It's been no easy task for me

oedipus Reach out, my daughter.

Ismene embraces them both.

ismene I hold the two of you together.

330

oedipus O children, kindred sisters.°

ismene What a dismal way of life!

Link

oedipus You mean for her and me?

ismene My own has hardship too.

oedipus Why have you come, my child?

Link

ismene Because I was concerned for you.

Link

oedipus You mean through missing me?

pg 236 Link

ismene Yes that, and so that I could bring you news myself

(with the one person in the house that I could trust).

oedipus And those young men, your brothers,

where are they helping with this task?

ismene Well, where they are, they are.

These times are dark for them.

oedipus Those two behave in just the way they do in Egypt, °

both in their inner and their outer lives.

For in that land the males sit tight indoors

340and labour at the weaving, while their females

venture out to win their daily bread.

And so with you, my daughters:

those who should have laboured at these tasks

Link just lounge around at home like girls,

while you take on the burdens

of my wretched care instead of them.

Antigone, since she first ceased to be a child,

Link and reached her adult strength, has led

a constant vagrant life with me, poor thing,

and catered for an old man's daily needs.

She's wandered through the wild terrain,

deprived of food, barefoot,

350and often has put up with pelting rains and scorching sun,

regarding homely comforts as a second best,

provided that her father gets good care.

And you, my other daughter, set out once before,

without the Thebans knowing it, to tell your father

Link all the oracles concerning this poor frame of mine;

and you remained my trusty guard

Link when I was being driven from the land.

So now, Ismene, what's the news you bring?

Link what task has taken you away from home?

For I am sure you have not come with empty hands:

360might you be bringing me some cause for fear?

Link

ismene I shall pass over all the troubles, father,

pg 237that I've met in searching to discover

where you have found lodging to survive.

I have no wish to suffer twice, repeating them in words.

Link But the disasters that right now surround

your two ill-fated sons:

Link it's those I've come to tell you of.

In former times it was agreed to leave the throne

for Creon,° and so clear the city of pollution,

considering the ancient blighting of the dynasty,

Link 370which kept its hold upon your ill-starred house.

But now an evil conflict has invaded them,

the wretched fools, deriving from some god,

and from their own distorted minds,°

Link and this has made them both grasp after total power.

The younger, later-born, has stripped

his elder brother, Polynices,° of the throne,

and forced him from his native land.

And he—or so the rumour spreads among us—

has gone off in exile to the plain of Argos,

where he has contracted a new marriage-bond,

and friends to battle at his side;

this will ensure, he claims, that either he will

380occupy the land of Thebes with honour,

or else send it smoking to the sky.°

Link This is not merely piling up of words, dear father:

this is appalling action.

I cannot tell what is the way the gods

shall take some pity on your sufferings.

oedipus Why then, have you some cause to hope

the gods intend I shall one day be saved?

ismene I have, according, father, to these present oracles.

oedipus What kind of oracles?

What has been prophesied, my child?

ismene They say that one day you shall be sought out

by them, those people there in Thebes,

390alive or dead, as key to their security.

pg 238

oedipus But who might gather benefit from such a one as me?

ismene It's said that power over them will rest with you.

oedipus So when I cease to be, that's when I am the man!

ismene Yes, that's because the gods are now uplifting you,

although they brought you down before.

oedipus It's trifling to raise up an old man, who fell young.

ismene Yet still this is the reason Creon will be coming—

not far in the future, very soon.

oedipus But what to do? Explain to me, my daughter.

ismene So they can plant you near the Theban land,

400and have control of you,

Link without your setting foot across the frontier.

Link

oedipus What benefit for them from my remaining

kept outside their gates?

Link

ismene Your tomb: if it's unfavourable, then it will do them harm.

oedipus One could tell that without a god's advice.

ismene That's why they want to settle you

close to their land, and yet not where

you shall have charge of your own power.

oedipus But would they shade me under Theban soil?

ismene Your family blood-guilt would not permit that, father.

oedipus In that case they shall never gain control of me.

pg 239

ismene That shall one day prove grievous for the Thebans.

410

oedipus What will conspire to bring about that day?

Link

ismene Your anger, when they take their stand beside your tomb.°

Link

oedipus Who did you hear this from, the things you tell?

ismene From those who had consulted at the Delphic shrine.

Link

oedipus So did Apollo ratify these things concerning me?

ismene That's what they told us on return to Thebes.

oedipus And did my sons get wind of this at all?

ismene Yes, both of them, and they are well aware of it.

oedipus And even when they'd heard, the vermin valued

total power above the wish to have me back?

420

ismene It gives me pain to bring this message,° yet I must.

oedipus Then may the gods not quench their fated clash,

and may the outcome of this coming fight,

where they are set to join in battle

spear to spear, depend on me.

For then the one who occupies the throne for now

would not stay there; nor would the one

who went away return back home again.

Link They are the sons, who, when their father,

I, was being scornfully ejected from our fatherland,

did nothing to protect or keep me there,

430but stood and watched me driven into homelessness,

proclaimed in public as a fugitive.

You might suppose the city fairly granted me

my wishes at that time? No, not at all.

pg 240°Back on that day when my emotions seethed,

I fiercely longed to die by stoning,

yet nobody emerged to help me to that fervent wish.

But in the course of time, when all that anguish

had subsided, and I realized my passion

had been too drastic for the wrongs done in the past,

440the city then was set upon expelling me by force.

Link And they, their father's sons, who had the power

to help their father, were not willing to do anything;

and for the lack of just a little word from them,

I've been condemned to lead a vagrant beggar's life.

And so it is from these unmarried girls,

so far as nature will allow them,

that I get my nourishment, and my protection

in the world, and family affection:

whilst those two boys have seized the sceptre and the throne,

and opted for unbridled power above their father's claims.

450But they'll not win this person as their fellow-fighter,

no, nor ever harvest profit from this ruling over Thebes.

I am assured of this, now that I've heard the oracle she brings,

along with thinking through Apollo's prophesies

from long ago, which he has finally confirmed.

And so they're welcome to send Creon on my trail,

and any other who has power in their state,

Link because, if you are willing, strangers, to protect me,

with these solemn goddesses of your locality,

you will recruit a strong preserver for this city here,

Link 460and troubles for this country's enemies.°

chorus-leader You do deserve our pity, Oedipus,

you and your daughters here. And since, by this account,

you pledge yourself to be a saviour for this land,

I wish to offer you instructions for your benefit.

oedipus Good friend, speak as my host, and I'll do all you say.

chorus-leader You should perform a purifying ritual

for these goddesses you came to first,

Link whose ground you've trespassed on.

pg 241

oedipus Instruct me, strangers: say what sort of rite.

chorus-leader First draw libations from the ever-flowing spring,

470touched only by pure hands.

oedipus And when I have this unpolluted draught?

chorus-leader There are the mixing-bowls, an expert craftsmen's work:

drape these around the handles and the rim.

oedipus With olive boughs, or woven wool, or in what way?

chorus-leader Using the new-shorn fleece of a ewe-lamb.

oedipus That's good. How should I then complete the ritual?

chorus-leader Pour out libations, facing where the dawn first lights.

Link

oedipus And do I pour them from these vessels that you speak of?

chorus-leader Yes, with three tippings, and the last one every drop.

480

oedipus What should I fill that with? Instruct me.

chorus-leader With water, honey too, but don't add wine.

oedipus And when the Earth, dark-shadowed, has accepted these?

chorus-leader Lay down three-times-nine olive branches

Link with both hands, and make this prayer:

oedipus I wish to hear these words, for this is cardinal.

chorus-leader 'As we name them "Benign",° may they accept

this suppliant and keep him safe with hearts that are benign.'

Pronounce this prayer yourself, or one on your behalf,

pg 242but speak it quietly, don't declaim out loud.

490Then leave and do not turn around.

Do this and I would stand firm by your side:

but, stranger, otherwise I would be full of fear for you.

oedipus My daughters, you have heard the things

these local people have explained?

Link

ismene We have. So tell us what we should do now.

oedipus I cannot go myself. I lack the strength to manage it,

and lack my sight, a double ill.

So one of you should go and do these things.

I'm confident one soul is adequate

to pay this debt for thousands,

so long as one approaches with good will.

500So set about this quickly.

But do not leave me here alone;

my body does not have the strength

to move without a guiding hand.

ismene Then I will go and carry out the ritual.

But first I need to know where I'm to find the place.

chorus-leader It's on the further side of this grove here, young woman.

If you are in need of anything, there is a warden

lives right by, and he will give advice.

ismene Then I'll be going. But, Antigone,

stay here and guard our father well.

Troubles undertaken for our parents

should not be seen as burdensome.

Exit Ismene in the 'foreign' direction.

°lyric dialogue

chorus        I know that it is hard

510       to waken from their bed

pg 243       evils of long ago.

       And yet I long to know…

oedipus        Waken? What…?

chorus        That racking, helpless grief

       which you were tangled with…

oedipus        Be good hosts; don't expose

       the pains I've had to face.

chorus        The stories spread about—

       I long to hear them straight

oedipus        A, a!

chorus        Indulge me, I implore…

oedipus        No, no!

520

chorus        I gave what you begged for.

oedipus        °Bad things I have endured,

       excessively° endured;

       and yet not one of those

       was action that I chose.

chorus        Not chose? How?

oedipus        I could not know the wife

       the city gave brought grief.

chorus        Your mother, I have heard:

       you lay in her cursed bed?

oedipus        That's death for me to hear.

       And, friends, these two girls are…

pg 244530

chorus        What? Say.

oedipus        … doomed children, birth-pains from…

chorus        Oh Zeus!

oedipus        …my mother, the same womb.

chorus        So for you they're daughters…

oedipus        … and their father's sisters.

chorus        A, a!

oedipus        Wrongs in thousands wheel.

chorus        You have suffered.

oedipus        Wounds that never heal.

chorus        The acts you did!

oedipus        I did not act.

chorus        How can that be?

oedipus        °I received a gift

540       offered by the town,

       rewarded by that gift

       I wish I'd never won.

chorus        You went on to slaughter…

oedipus        What trail are you after?

chorus        … your own father?

pg 245 Link

oedipus        Second wound on wound.

chorus        You did it.…

oedipus        I did, and yet that deed…

chorus        What can you plead?

oedipus        … was justified.

chorus        How could that be?

oedipus        °He tried to murder me:

       I, in self-defence,

       pure before the law,

       moved in innocence.

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
312–14 pony … hat: the specifications of horse and headgear are there simply to add convincing detail. Similarly, it is explained at 334 that she has one faithful attendant to protect her on her travels. Her travelling like this has called for bravery.
Editor’s Note
330 kindred sisters: there may be a hint of the incestuous kinship here.
Editor’s Note
337–41 the way they do in Egypt: this reversal of gender roles evidently featured in the Greek popular anthropology of Egypt. The account here is so close to that in Herodotus (2.35) that direct influence from the historian/ethnographer is quite likely.
Editor’s Note
367 leave the throne for Creon: I have adopted the most plausible emendation of a disputed text. Creon, first named here, seems to be regarded, as in OT, as the sensible older relation, by marriage, not by blood. But later in the play he will turn out to be a nasty piece of work.
Editor’s Note
371–2 god … minds: the way that the two brothers' fatal conflict is "doubly motivated" (see p. 7), both by a higher power and by their own flawed thinking, is made particularly explicit here.
Editor’s Note
374–6 elder brother, Polynices: in OC it is insisted that Polynices is older than Eteocles (see also 1292–8). In other versions it is the other way round; they agree to rule alternately, but Polynices reneges and goes off to recruit foreign support to invade Thebes. In both Aeschylus' Seven against Thebes and Sophocles' own Antigone Eteocles is regarded as the "good" brother, while in this play it is Polynices' case that is treated with relative sympathy—see further pp. 215–6.
Editor’s Note
381 smoking to the sky: the text and interpretation of this line is disputed.
Editor’s Note
411 beside your tomb: the danger that Oedipus' tomb threatens against the Thebans is vague at this stage. Oedipus will later spell it out more fully (see note on 607 ff.).
Editor’s Note
420 bring this message: this is an emendation of the transmitted text, which says "hear this message".
Editor’s Note
433–40 Back on that day … by force: this account of the past events recurs with variations in the play (see also 765–71 and 1354–64). This insistence on Oedipus not going into immediate exile fits with the final scenes of OT as we have them. Some scholars believe, however, that OT has been tampered with precisely to reconcile it with this account in the later play. See further p. 12 and note on OT 1515–23.
Editor’s Note
460 this country's enemies: this is an emendation of the transmitted text, which says "my enemies".
Editor’s Note
486 name them 'Benign': for the Eumenides and their titles see note on 42.
Editor’s Note
510–48 [Lyric Dialogue]: at this juncture there would conventionally have been a fully choral song, in some way stepping back from the mainstream of the play. Here there is, instead, this highly charged, rapid lyric dialogue of two pairs of stanzas in which the chorus relentlessly interrogate Oedipus on his past story. So, while dividing two scenes, those of Ismene and of Theseus, this song is also part of the continuum of the plot.
Editor’s Note
521 ff. Bad things I have endured …: this exchange directly introduces an important motif (already raised in 240): Oedipus pleads (in contrast with OT) that he is not guilty, because his acts of parricide and incest were not deliberate. See also note on 960 ff.
Editor’s Note
521–2 excessively: the transmitted text has Oedipus say "I have endured against my will", but this must be corrupt, if only for metrical reasons, and I have adopted this emendation.
Editor’s Note
539–41 I received … never won: the text is uncertain, but it makes good sense for Oedipus to reiterate that he did not choose Iocasta as his wife: she was the reward given him by Thebes for ridding them of the Sphinx.
Editor’s Note
547–8 He tried … innocence: the text here is most uncertain. I have followed the heavily emended solution favoured by Jebb (better than that in the OCT). Fortunately the important claim, "pure before the law … innocence", is not in dispute: Oedipus claims that in legal terms he is not guilty of murder.
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