Oliver Taplin (ed.), Sophocles: Four Tragedies: Oedipus the King, Aias, Philoctetes, Oedipus at Colonus
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
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,
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.
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,
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.