Revised by Alex Sens
Further Revised by Gregory Nagy
My children, latest-born wards of old Kadmos, why do you sit before me thus with wreathed branches of suppliants, while the city reeks with incense, 5 rings with prayers for health and cries of woe? I did not think it right, my children, to hear these things from the mouths of others, and have come here myself, Oedipus, with kleos among all people. Tell me, venerable old man—since it is proper that you 10 speak for these—in what mood you sit here, one of fear or of desire? Be sure that I will gladly give you all my help. I would be hard-hearted indeed if I did not pity such suppliants as these.
14 Oedipus, ruler of my land, 15 you see the ages of those who are seated 16 at your altars: some, nestlings that cannot yet get very far 17 by flying, they don’t have the strength, while others are weighted down with age. 18 The priest of Zeus, that is who I am, while these others are from the ranks of young men, 19 specially selected. The rest of the people, wearing garlands, 20 are seated at the place of assembly [agorai], at the twin buildings of Athena, 21 temples, where Ismenos gives prophetic answers with his fiery ashes. 22 This is all because the city [polis], as you yourself see, is very much 23 afflicted with a seastorm now, and it cannot lift its head 24 any longer out of the depths of the murderous churning of the sea. 25 Something that makes things wilt [phthinein] has descended on the buds containing the fruit [karpos] of the land. 26 Yes, making things wilt [phthinein], it has also descended on the herds of cattle grazing in the pastures. And on whatever is produced 27 from women, which has become lifeless. And the flaming god 28 has swooped down. He is a most hateful plague, afflicting the city [polis]; because of him the house of Kadmos is emptied, while black 30 Hādēs is enriched with sobs and laments [gooi]. 31 It is not because we rank you [= Oedipus] equal [isos] to the gods 32 that I and these children are suppliants at your hearth, 33 but because we think of you as the first among men in life’s shared fortunes, 34 judging [krinein] you that way, and first also in dealings with superhuman forces [daimones]. 35 You freed us when you came to the city of the Cadmeans [= Thebans], 36 ridding us of the tribute we had to keep on giving to the harsh female singer of songs, 37 and though you knew no more than anyone else, 38 nor had you been taught, but rather by the assistance of a god [theos], 39 it is said and it is thought that you resurrected [orthoûn ‘make straight’] our life. 40 Now, as we all address your most powerful head, the head of Oedipus, as we touch it, 41 we, your suppliants, implore you as we turn to you 42 to find some protection [alkē] for us, whether from one of the gods 43 you hear some prophetic wording [phēmē], or learn of it perhaps from some man. 44 I say this because those who are experienced, 45 thanks to the advice they give, can make—I see it—even accidental things have the power of life. 46 Come, best [aristos] among mortals, resurrect [an-orthoûn ‘make straight’] our city [polis]! 47 Come! And do be careful, since now this land here 48 calls you a savior [sōtēr], thanks to your willingness to help in the past. 49 And, concerning your rule [arkhē], do not let it happen that our memory of it will be 50 that we were first set up straight [es orthon] and then let down, falling again. 51 So give us safety and resurrect [an-orthoûn ‘make straight’] this city [polis]! 52 With a favorable omen of birds was the past good fortune 53 provided by you for us, and so become now the same person, equal [isos] to who you were, 54 since, if in fact you are to rule this land just as you have power over it now, 55 it is better to have power over men than over a wasteland. 56 Neither tower nor ship is anything, 57 if it is empty and no men dwell [sun-oikeîn] inside.
58 My piteous children, I know—they are not unknown to me— 59 the desires you have as you come to me. You see, I know well that 60 you are all sick, and that, sick as you are, when it comes to me, 61 there is not a single one of you who is as sick as I am. 62 You see, your pain [algos] goes into each one of you 63 alone, all by yourself, and into no other person, but my 64 soul [psūkhē] mourns for the city [polis], for myself, and for you—it does it all together. 65 So you are not awakening me from sleep; 66 no, I want you to know that I have by now wept many tears, 67 gone many ways in the wanderings of my thinking. 68 After giving it some good thought, I came up with one and only one remedy [iasis], 69 and I acted on it. You see, the son of Menoikeus, 70 Creon, my wife’s brother, was sent to the Pythian place, 71 sent by me to the dwellings of Phoebus [Apollo], so that he could find out what 72 I should do [drân] or say to save this city [polis] here. 73 And now, when the lapse of days is reckoned, 74 it bothers me what he might be doing, because it is beyond my expectation, 75 how much longer he is gone past the fitting length of time. 76 But when he does arrive, I will be worthless [kakos] 77 if I do not do [drân] all the things indicated by the god.
You have spoken opportunely, since at this time these people here indicate [sēmainein] that Creon is drawing near.
80 Lord Apollo, may he come to us in the brightness of saving [sōtēr] fortune, even as his face is bright!
He seems to bring comfort, since otherwise he would not be coming thickly crowned with berry-laden bay.
We will soon know: he is in range of hearing.
85 Lord, my relation, child of Menoikeus, what news have you brought us from the god?
Good news. I tell you that even troubles hard to bear will end in perfect peace if they find the right issue.
But what kind of answer [epos] was there? So far your words make me 90 neither bold nor fearful.
91 If you want to hear in the presence of these people here, 92 I am ready to speak: otherwise we can go inside.
93 Speak to all. I say this because the load I am carrying for the sake of these people here, 94 that sorrow [penthos], is more than the load I carry for my own soul [psūkhē].
95 I should tell you what I heard from the god: 96 we have been given clear orders by Phoebus [Apollo] the lord 97 to take the pollution [miasma] that he said has been nurtured in the land, 98 in this one, and to expel it, not continuing to nurture it till it cannot be healed.
99 To expel it [= the pollution] by using what kind of purification [katharmos]? What is the kind of misfortune that has happened?
100 To expel it [= the pollution] by expelling the man, or by paying back bloodshed with bloodshed. 101 That is the solution, since it is the blood that brings the tempest to our city [polis].
102 And who is the man whose fate [tukhē] he [= Apollo] thus reveals?
103 We once had, my king, Laios as the leader 104 of this land here before you started being the director [ = euthunein ‘direct’ literally means ‘make straight’] of this city [polis] here.
105 I know it well—by hearsay, for I never saw him.
106 The man is dead, and now the god gives clear orders 107 to take vengeance against those, whoever they are, who caused his death with their own hands.
108 Where on earth are they? Where will this thing be found, 109 this dim trail of an ancient guilt [aitiā]?
110 In this land, the god said. What is sought after can be caught; only that which is not watched escapes.
Was it in the house, or in the field, or on foreign soil that Laios met his bloody end?
He left our land, as he said, as an emissary [theōros] to Delphi. 115 And once he had set forth, he never again returned.
And was there none to tell? Was there no traveling companion who saw the deed, from whom tidings might have been gained and used?
All perished, save one who fled in fear, and could tell with assurance only one thing of all that he saw.
120 And what was that? One thing might hold the clue to many, if we could only get a small beginning for hope.
He said that robbers fell upon them, not in one man’s might, but with a force of many.
How then, unless some intrigue had been worked with bribes 125 from here in Thebes, would the robber have been so bold?
Such things were surmised. But once Laios was slain no avenger arose amid our evils.
But when tyranny had fallen in this way, what evil prevented a full search?
130 The riddling Sphinx had led us to let things that were obscure go, and to investigate what was at our feet.
I will start afresh, and once more cast light on these things. Worthily has Phoebus Apollo—and worthily have you—bestowed this care on the cause of the dead. And so, as is dikē, you will find me leagued with you 135 in seeking vengeance for this land, and for the god as well. I will dispel this taint not on behalf of far-off philoi, but on my own behalf. For whoever slew Laios 140 might wish to take vengeance on me also with a hand as fierce. Therefore by avenging Laios I serve myself. Come, my children, as quickly as possible rise from the altar-steps, and lift these suppliant boughs. Let someone summon here Kadmos’ people, warning them that I will leave nothing untried. 145 With the god’s help our good fortune—or our fall—will stand revealed.
My children, let us rise. What we came to seek, this man promises of his own accord. And may Phoebus, who sent these oracles, 150 come to us as savior [sōtēr] and deliverer from the pestilence.
O sweetly-speaking message of Zeus, in what spirit have you come to glorious Thebes from golden Pytho? I am on the rack, terror shakes my phrēn, O Delian healer to whom wild cries rise, 155 in holy fear of you, wondering what thing you will work for me, perchance unknown before, perchance renewed with the revolving seasons [hōrai]. Tell me, immortal Voice, child of golden Hope.
First I call on you, daughter of Zeus, immortal Athena, 160 and on your sister, Artemis, guardian of our earth, who sits on her throne of good kleos above the circle of our agorā, and on far-shooting Apollo: O shine forth for me, my three-fold help against death! 165 If ever before you drove a fiery pest from our borders to stop disasters [atai] rushing upon our polis, come now also!
Alas, countless are the sorrows I bear! 170 A plague is on all our people, and thought can find no weapon for defense. The fruits of the glorious earth do not grow; by no birth of offspring do women surmount the labors [kamatoi] in which they shriek. 175 You can see life after life speed away, like a bird on the wing, swifter than irresistible fire, to the shore of the western god.
With such deaths past numbering, the polis perishes. 180 Unpitied, her children lie on the ground, spreading pestilence, with no one to mourn them. Meanwhile young wives and gray-haired mothers raise a wail at the steps of the altars, some here, some there, 185 and groan in supplication for their terrible pains [ponoi]. The prayers to the Healer ring clear, and with them the voice of lamentation. For which things, golden daughter of Zeus, send us the bright face of comfort.
190 Grant that the fierce god of death, who now, without the bronze of shields, yet amidst cries as though of battle, wraps me in the flames of his onset, may turn his back in speedy flight from our land, borne by a favorable wind to the great chamber of Amphitrite, 195 or to the Thracian waves, those waters where no xenoi find haven. For if night leaves anything undone, it comes to fulfillment [telos] by day. You who wield the 200 powers [kratos pl.] of fiery lightning, Zeus our father, slay him beneath your thunderbolt.
Lykeian Lord, would that the shafts from your bent bow’s string of woven gold might 205 go forth in their might, our champions in the face of the foe, and the flashing fires of Artemis too, with which she darts through the Lycian hills. I call him whose locks are bound with gold, 210 who is named with the name of this land, ruddy Dionysus to whom Bacchants cry, to draw near with the blaze of his shining torch, 215 our ally against the god without tīmē among the gods.
You pray. And in answer to your prayer, if you will give a loyal reception to my words [epea], and minister to your own disease, you may hope to find succor and relief from woes. These words I will speak publicly, as one who was a stranger [xenos] to the report, 220 a stranger to the deed. I would not go far on the trail if I were tracing it alone, without a clue [sumbolon]. But as it is—since it was only after the event that I was counted a Theban among Thebans—to you, Kadmeians all, I do thus proclaim:
As you have put me under oath, on my oath, my lord, I will speak. I am not the slayer, nor can I reveal him. As for the investigation, it was for Phoebus, who enjoined it, to tell us who wrought the deed.
280 Justly [dikaia] said. But no man on earth can force the gods to do what they do not want.
I would like to say what seems to me the next best course.
And if there is a third course, do not hesitate to reveal it.
I know that our lord Teiresias is the seer most like our 285 lord Apollo;
from him, my lord, an investigator might learn most clearly about these affairs.
Not even this have I left uncared for. On Creon’s suggestion, I sent a man to bring him. And I’ve been wondering for some time why he is not here.
290 Indeed—his skill apart—the words [epea] are but faint and old.
What sort are they? I am investigating every tale.
He was said to have been killed by some wayfarers.
I too have heard that. But no one sees the one who did it.
If he knows what fear is, he will not hesitate to come forward when he 295 hears your curses, so dire are they.
When a man does not shrink from a deed, neither is he scared by a word.
But there is no one to convict him. For here they bring at last the godlike seer [mantis], the only man in whom what is true [alēthēs] lives.
300 Teiresias, whose soul grasps all things, that which may be told and that which is unspeakable, the secrets of heaven and the affairs of the earth—you feel with your phrēn, though you cannot see, what a huge plague haunts our polis. From which, great prophet, we find you to be our protector and only savior [sōtēr]. 305 Now, Phoebus—if indeed you have not heard the reports—has sent answer to our question that the only way to rid ourselves of this pest that afflicts us is to discover the slayers of Laios, and then to slay or banish them from our land. 310 Do not, then, begrudge us the voice of the birds or any other path of the knowledge of the seer [mantis], but save yourself and your polis, save me, save all that is damaged by the defilement [miasma] of the dead. We are in your hands, and man’s noblest labor [ponos] is to help others 315 to the best of his means and powers.
Alas, how terrible it is to have phrenes when it does not benefit those who have it. I knew this well, but let it slip from mind; otherwise I would not have come here.
What now? How disheartened you have come!
320 Let me go home. For you will bear your own burden to the end, and I will bear mine, if you consent.
Your words are strange and unkindly to the polis which nurtured you, since you withhold this response.
I see that you, for your part, speak what is off the mark [kairos]. 325 Therefore do not speak, so I will not suffer [paskhein] the same.
For the love of the gods, don’t turn away, if you have phrenes; we all implore you on our knees as suppliants.
All of you lack phrenes. Never will I reveal my evils—not to call them yours.
330 What are you saying? Do you know the secret and refuse to tell it? Will you betray and destroy the polis?
I will grieve neither myself nor you. Why do you ask these things in vain? You will not learn the answers from me.
You would anger a stone! Most kakos of the kakoi, will you not speak out? 335 Can nothing touch you? Will you never come to an end [telos]?
You find fault with my anger, but you do not perceive your own that lives with you; no, you blame me.
Who would not be angry hearing such words [epea], 340 with which you now are slighting the polis?
Though future will come of itself, though I shroud it in silence.
Since it must come anyway, it is right that you tell it to me.
I will speak no further; rage, if you wish, with the fiercest wrath your thūmos knows.
345 In my anger I will not spare to speak all my thoughts. Know that you seem to me to have helped in plotting the deed, and to have done it, short of performing the actual murder with your own hands; if you had eye-sight, I would have said that you had done even this by yourself.
350 True [alēthēs]? I order you to abide by your own decree, and from this day forth not to speak to these men or to me, since you are the accursed defiler of this land.
So brazen with your blustering taunt? 355 Where do you think to escape to?
I have escaped. There is strength in my truth [alēthēs].
Who taught you this? Not your skill, at any rate.
You yourself. For you spurred me on to speak against my will.
What did you say? Speak again, so I may learn it better.
360 Did you not understand before, or are you talking to test me?
I cannot say I understood fully. Tell me again.
I say that you are the killer of the man whose slayer you seek.
Now you will regret that you have said such dire words twice.
365 Should I tell you more, that you might get more angry?
Say as much as you want; it will be said in vain.
I say that you have been living in unguessed shame with your most philos, and do not see to what woe you have come.
Do think that you will always be able to speak like this without smarting for it?
If indeed there is any strength in truth [alēthēs].
370 There is, except for you. You do not have that strength, since you are maimed in your ears, in your noos, and in your eyes.
And you are a poor wretch to utter taunts that every man here will soon hurl at you.
Night, endless night has you in her keeping, so that you can never hurt me 375 nor any man that sees the light of the sun.
No, it is not your fate to fall at my hands, since Apollo, to whom this matter is a concern, is sufficient.
Are these Creon’s devices, or your own?
Creon is no trouble for you; you are your own.
380 O wealth, and tyranny, and skill surpassing skill in life’s keen rivalries, how great is the envy in your keeping, if, for the sake of this power which the polis has entrusted to me, a gift unsought, 385 Creon the trustworthy, Creon my old philos, has crept upon me by stealth, yearning to overthrow me, and has suborned such a scheming juggler as this, a tricky quack, who has eyes only for gain [kerdos], but is blind in his art!
To our way of thinking, these words, both his and yours, Oedipus, 405 have been said in anger. We have no need of this, but rather we must seek how we shall best discharge the mantis-delivered words of the god.
Though you are turannos, the right of reply must be deemed the same for both; over that I have power [kratos]. 410 For I do not live as your slave, but as Loxias’. I will not stand enrolled under Creon for my patron. And I tell you, since you have taunted my blindness, that though you have sight, you do not see what evil you are in, nor where you dwell, nor with whom. 415 Do you know who your parents are? You have been an unwitting enemy to your own people, both in the Underworld and on the earth above. And the double lash of your mother’s and your father’s curse will one day drive you from this land in dreadful haste, with darkness upon those eyes of yours which now can see. 420 What place will be harbor to your cries, what part of all Kithairon will not ring with them soon, when you have learned the meaning of the nuptials in which, within that house, you found a fatal haven, after a voyage so fair? And you have not guessed a throng of other evils, 425 which will bring you level with you true self and with your own children. Therefore heap your scorn upon Creon and upon my message; no man will ever be crushed more miserably than you.
Are these taunts to be endured from him? 430 Be gone, to your ruin, be gone this instant! Will you not turn your back and leave this house?
I would not have come if you had not called me.
I did not know you would speak foolishly, for otherwise it would have been a long time before I summoned you to my home.
435 I was born like this—as you think, a fool, but in the opinion of the parents who bore you, quite in control of the phrenes.
What parents? Wait. What man is my sire?
This day will reveal your birth and bring your ruin.
What riddles [ainigma pl.], what dark words you always say.
440 Are you not the best at unraveling mysteries?
Reproach me in what you will find me to be great.
Yet it was just that fortune that undid you.
But if it saved [sōzein] this polis, I care not.
I take my leave. You, boy, lead me.
445 Yes, let him take you; here you are a hindrance, a source of trouble. When you have gone, you will vex me no more.
I will go when I have performed the errand for which I came, fearless to your frown; you can never destroy me. I tell you that the man whom you have been seeking this long while, 450 uttering threats and proclaiming a search into the murder of Laios, is here, apparently an emigrant stranger [xenos], but soon to be found a native of Thebes, unhappy about his fortune. A blind man, though now he sees, 455 a beggar, though now rich, he will make his way to a foreign land, feeling the ground before him with his staff. And he will be discovered to be at once brother and father of the children with whom he consorts; son and husband of the woman who bore him; 460 heir to his father’s bed, shedder of his father’s blood. So go in and evaluate this, and if you find that I am wrong, say then that I have no phrenes in the art of the mantis.
Who is he who the divine voice from the Delphian rock has said 465 wrought with blood-red hands horrors that no tongue can tell? It is time [hōra] that he ply in flight a foot stronger than the feet of storm-swift steeds. 470 The son of Zeus is springing upon him with fiery lightning, and with him come the dread unerring Fates.
Recently the message has flashed forth from snowy Parnassus 475 to make all search for the unknown man. He wanders under cover of the wild wood, among caves and rocks, fierce as a bull, wretched and forlorn on his joyless path, still seeking to separate himself from the words of the mantis revealed at the central shrine of the earth. 480 But that doom ever lives, ever flits around him.
The wise augur moves me, neither approving nor denying, with dread, with dread indeed. 485 I am at a loss what to say. I am fluttered with expectations, seeing neither the present nor the future clearly. Never in past days or in these have I heard how the house of Labdakos 490 or the son of Polybos had any quarrel with one another that I could bring as proof 495 in assailing the public reputation of Oedipus, seeking to avenge the line of Labdakos for the undiscovered murder.
Zeus and Apollo indeed are perceptive [sunetoi] and know the affairs of the earth. 500 But there is no true test [alēthēs krisis] of whether a mortal mantis attains more knowledge than I do, though man may surpass man in wisdom [sophiā]. 505 But until I see the word made good, I will never assent when men blame Oedipus. Before all eyes the winged maiden came against him once upon a time, and he was seen to be sophos, 510 and bore the test in welcome service to the polis. Never, therefore, will he be judged guilty of evil by my phrenes.
Fellow-citizens, having learned that Oedipus the turannos accuses me and makes terrible utterances [epea] against me, I have come, indignant. 515 If he thinks that in the present troubles he has suffered [paskhein] from me, by word or by deed, anything harmful, in truth I desire not my full term of years, when I must bear such blame as this. The wrong of this rumor 520 touches me not in one point alone, but has the largest scope, if I am to be called a kakos in the polis, kakos by you and by my philoi.
But perhaps this taunt came under the stress of anger, rather from the purpose of his phrenes.
525 Was it said that my counsels had brought the mantis to utter his falsehoods?
Such things were said—I don’t know with what meaning.
And was this charge laid against me with steady eyes and steady phrēn?
530 I don’t know. I see not what my masters do. But here comes our lord from the house.
You, how did you get here? Are you so boldfaced that you have come to my house, you who are manifestly the murderer of its master, 535 the palpable thief of my tyranny? Come, tell me, in the name of the gods, was it cowardice or folly which you saw in me and which led you to plot this thing? Did you think that I would not notice this deed of yours creeping upon me by stealth, or that if I became aware of it I would not ward it off? 540 Is your attempt not foolish, to seek the tyranny without followers or philoi—a prize which followers and property must win?
Mark me now: hear a fair reply in answer to your words, and then judge for yourself on the basis of knowledge.
545 You are apt in speech, but I am poor at learning from you, since I have found you a malignant foe.
Now hear first how I will explain this very thing.
One thing—that you are not evil [kakos]—don’t bother to explain to me.
If you think that stubbornness 550 without noos is a good gift, you do not have your phrenes straight.
If you think you can wrong a kinsman and escape the dikē, then you do not have phrenes.
Justly said, I grant you; but tell me what the wrong is that you say you are suffering [paskhein] at my hands.
555 Did you, or did you not, advise me to send for that revered mantis?
Even now I am of the same mind.
How long is it, then, since Laios…
Did what? My noos fails me.
560 Was swept out of sight by deadly violence.
The count of years would run far into the past.
Did this mantis possess this skill in those days?
He was sophos as now, and held in equal tīmē.
Did he make mention of me at that time?
565 Never, certainly, when I was within hearing.
Did you never investigate the murder?
Due search we held, of course; we learned nothing.
And how was it that this sophos man did not tell this story then.
I do not know; where I lack phrenes it is my custom to be silent.
570 This much, at least, you know, and could declare with insight enough.
What is that? If I know it, I will not deny.
That, if he had not conferred with you, he would never have named me as Laios’ slayer.
If he says this, you know best; but I deem it just [dikaia] 575 to learn from you as much as you have from me now.
Learn your fill. I will never be convicted as a murderer.
Say, then – have you married my sister?
That inquiry [historia] allows no denial.
And you rule the land as she does, with equal sway?
580 She obtains from me all that she wishes.
And do I not rank as a third peer of you two?
It’s just there that you are seen to be an evil [kakos] philos.
Not so, if you would reason with your heart as I do with mine. Weigh this first: whether you think that anyone would 585 choose to rule amid terrors rather than in unruffled peace, granted that he is to have the same powers [kratos pl.]. Now I, for one, have by nature no yearning to be turannos rather than to do the deeds of a turannos, and neither does any man I know who understands how to have moderation [sōphrosunē]. 590 For now I attain everything from you without fear, but, if I were ruler myself, I would have to do much even against my own pleasure.
He has spoken well, my lord, for one who is taking care not to fall; those who are quick in phrenes are not sure.
When the stealthy plotter is moving on me quickly, I, too, must be quick in my counterplot. 620 If I await him at leisure [hēsukhiā], his ends will have been gained, and mine lost.
What do you want then? To banish me from the land?
Hardly. I desire your death, not your exile, so that I might show what a thing is envy.
625 Are you resolved not to yield or believe?
[Oedipus’ response is missing.]
I see you are not in possession of phrenes.
Sane, at least, in my own interest.
But you should be so in mine also.
You are kakos.
But if you understand nothing?
Still I must rule.
Not if you rule badly.
O polis, polis!
630 The polis is mine too, not yours alone.
Cease, lords. Just in time I see Iocasta coming from the house, with whose help you should resolve your present feud.
Misguided men, why have you raised 635 such foolish strife [stasis] of tongues? Are you not ashamed, while the land is so sick, to stir up ills of your own? Come, go into the house—and you, Creon, go to yours—and stop making so much of a petty grief.
Kinswoman, Oedipus your husband 640 wants to do one of two terrible evils to me, either to thrust me from the land of my fathers or to arrest and slay me.
Yes indeed, for I have caught him, lady, working evil against my person with his evil craft.
May I get no benefit, 645 but perish accursed, if I have done any of the things of which you charge me.
In the name of the gods, believe it, Oedipus; first have respect [aidōs] for this oath of the gods, then for me, and for these men who stand before you.
Consent, have phrenes, listen, my lord. I beg you.
650 What would you have me grant you?
Respect him who was in the past not inept [nēpios], and who now is strong in his oath.
Do you understand what you crave?
655 Tell me what you mean.
That you should never use an unproved rumor to cast a dishonoring charge on the philos who has bound himself with a curse.
Then be very sure that when you seek this you are seeking death or exile from this land.
660 No, by the god foremost among all the gods, by the Sun! Without gods, without philoi, may I die the worst possible death, if I have this thought in my phrenes! 665 But my unhappy soul is worn by the withering of the land, as well as by the thought that our old woes should be crowned by new ones arising from the two of you.
Then let him go, though I am surely doomed to death, 670 or to be thrust without tīmē from the land by force. Your words, not his, move me to compassion.
You are truly sullen in yielding, as you are vehement in the excesses of your thūmos. But such natures are 675 justly most difficult for themselves to bear.
Then will you not be gone and leave me in peace?
I will go on my way. I have found you undiscerning, but in the view of these men I am just.
Woman, why do you hesitate to take this man into the house?
680 I will, when I have learned what has happened.
Blind suspicion arose, bred of talk, and injustice inflicts wounds.
On both sides?
And what was the story?
685 It is enough, I think, enough, when our land is already vexed, that the matter should rest where it ceased.
Do you see to what you have come, though noble [agathos] in intention, in seeking to relax and blunt my zeal?
Lord, I have said it more than once: 690 be sure that I would be shown to be a madman, bankrupt in sane counsel [phrenes], if ever I forsake you, who gave a true course to my philē country when it was 695 distraught with pains [ponoi], and who now are likely to prove our prospering guide.
In the name of the gods, tell me, lord, the reason that you have conceived this steadfast mēnis.
700 That I will do, for I respect you, wife, above these men. Creon is the cause, and the plots he has laid against me.
Come, tell me how the quarrel began.
He says that I am the murderer of Laios.
On his own knowledge or on hearsay from another?
705 He has made a rascal mantis his mouth-piece; as for himself, he keeps his lips wholly pure.
Then absolve yourself of the things about which you are speaking. Listen to me, and take comfort in learning that nothing of mortal birth is a partaker in the art of the mantis. 710 I will give you a pithy indication [sēmeia] of this: An oracle came to Laios once—I will not say from Phoebus himself, but from his ministers—saying that he would suffer his fate at the hands of the child to be born to him and me. 715 And he—as the rumor goes—was murdered one day by strange [xenoi] robbers at a place where the three highways meet. The child’s birth was not yet three days past, when Laios pinned his ankles together and had it thrown, by others’ hands, on a remote mountain. 720 So, in that case, Apollo did not bring it to pass that the child should become the slayer of his father, or that Laios should suffer [paskhein] that which he feared: death at the hands of his child; thus the messages of the seer’s art had foretold. Pay them no regard. Whatever necessary event 725 the god seeks, he himself will easily bring to light.
What restlessness of psūkhē, wife, what tumult has come upon my phrenes since I heard you speak!
What anxiety has startled you, that you say this?
I thought that I heard this from you: that Laios 730 was slain where the three roads meet.
Yes, that was the report, and it has not yet ceased.
And where is the place where this event [pathos] occurred?
The land is called Phocis; the branching forks lead to the same spot from Delphi and from Daulia.
735 And how much time has passed since these events took place?
The news was announced to the polis shortly before you were first seen in power over this land.
O Zeus, what have you decreed to do to me?
Why, Oedipus, does this matter weigh upon your heart?
740 Don’t ask me yet. Tell me rather what stature Laios had, and how ripe his manhood was.
He was tall—the silver just lightly strewn among his hair—and his form was not greatly unlike your own.
Unhappy that I am! I think that I have 745 laid myself under a terrible curse without realizing it.
How do you mean? I tremble when I look at you, my lord.
I have dread fears that the mantis can see. But you will reveal the matter better if you tell me one thing more.
Indeed, though I tremble, I will hear and answer all that you ask.
750 Did he go with a small force, or like a chieftain, with many armed followers?
Five they were in all—a herald [kērux] among them—and there was one carriage which bore Laios.
755 Alas! It’s all clear now! Who gave you these tidings, lady?
A servant, the only survivor who returned home.
Is he perchance in the house now?
No. Soon after he returned and found you holding power [kratos pl.] in Laios’ stead, 760 he pleaded with me, with hand laid on mine, to send him to the fields, to the pastures of the flocks, that he might be far from the sight of this city. And I sent him; he was worthy, for a slave, to win even a larger favor [kharis] than that.
765 Then may he return to us without delay!
That is easy. But why do you enjoin this?
I fear, lady, that my words have been rash, and therefore I wish to behold him.
He will come. But I think that 770 I too have a claim to learn what lies heavy on your heart, my lord.
It will not be kept from you, now that my foreboding have advanced so far. To whom more than to you would I speak in suffering such a fortune as this? My father was Polybos of Corinth, 775 my mother the Dorian Merope. I was considered the greatest man among the townspeople there, until a chance befell me, worthy of wonder, though not worthy of my own haste regarding it. At a banquet, a man drunk with wine 780 cast it at me that I was not the true son of my father. And I, vexed, restrained myself for that day as best as I could, but on the next went to my mother and father and questioned them. They were angry at the one who had let this taunt fly. 785 So I had comfort about them, but the matter rankled in my heart, for such a rumor still spread widely. I went to Delphi without my parents’ knowledge, and Phoebus sent me forth without giving me the tīmē of the knowledge for which I had come, 790 but in his response set forth other things, full of sorrow and terror and woe: that I was fated to defile my mother’s bed, that I would reveal to men a brood which they could not endure to behold, and that I would slay the father that sired me. When I heard this, I turned in flight from the land of Corinth, 795 from then on thinking of it only by its position under the stars, to some spot where I should never see fulfillment [telos] of the infamies foretold in my evil doom. And on my way I came to the land in which you say that this turannos perished. 800 Now, wife, I will tell you the truth [alēthēs]. When on my journey I was near those three roads, there I met a herald [kērux], and a man in a carriage drawn by colts, as you have described. The leader and the old man 805 himself tried to thrust me by force from the path. Then, in anger, I struck the one pushing me aside, the driver, and when the old man saw this, he watched for the moment I was passing, and from his carriage, brought his double goad full down on my head. 810 Yet he was paid back with interest: with one swift blow from the staff in this hand he rolled right out of the carriage onto his back. I slew every one of them. But if this xenos had any tie of kinship to Laios, 815 who is now more wretched than this man before you? What mortal could be proved more hateful to heaven? No xenos, no citizen, is allowed to receive him at home, it is unlawful for anyone to accost him, and all must push him from their homes. And this—this curse— 820 was laid on me by no other mouth than my own. And I pollute the bed of the slain man with my hands by which he perished. Am I now kakos? Oh, am I not utterly unclean, seeing that I must be banished, and in banishment neither see my own people, 825 nor set foot in my own land, or else be joined in wedlock to my mother, and slay my father Polybos, who sired and reared me. Then would he not speak correctly about Oedipus, who judged these things to be sent down by some cruel daimōn? 830 Forbid, forbid, you pure and awe-inspiring gods, that I should ever see that day! No, may I be swept away from all men, before I see myself visited with that brand of doom.
To us, lord, these things are fraught with fear. Yet have hope, until at least you have gained full knowledge 835 from the one who saw the deed.
I have, in truth, this much hope alone: I await the man summoned from the pastures.
And what do you want from him when he appears?
I will tell you. If his story is found 840 to tally with yours, I will stand clear of suffering [pathos].
And what special note did you hear from me?
You said that he spoke of Laios as slain by robbers. If he still speaks of several as before, I was not the slayer: 845 a solitary man could not be considered the same as that band. But if he names one lonely wayfarer, then beyond doubt this deed is leaning in my direction.
Be assured that thus the story [epos] was first told. He cannot revoke that, 850 for the polis heard it, not I alone. But even if he should diverge somewhat from his former story, never, lord, can he show that the murder of Laios is justly [dikaia] square with the prophecy, for Loxias plainly said that he was to die at the hand of my child. 855 How was it then that that poor innocent never slew him, but perished first? So henceforth, as far as the words of a mantis are concerned, I would not look to my right hand or my left.
You judge well. But nevertheless send someone to fetch the peasant, 860 and neglect not this matter.
I will send without delay. But let us go into the house: nothing will I do save what is philon to you.
May fate [moira] still find me winning the praise of reverent purity in all words and 865 deeds sanctioned by those laws [nomoi] of range sublime, called into life through the high clear sky, whose father is Olympus alone. The mortal nature of men did not beget them, 870 nor shall oblivion ever lay them to sleep: the god is mighty in them, and he grows not old.
Hubris breeds the turannos. Hubris, once vainly stuffed with wealth 875 that is not proper or good for it, when it has scaled the topmost ramparts, is hurled to a dire doom, where no use of the feet serves to good advantage. But I pray that the god never 880 quell such rivalry as benefits the polis. The god I will ever hold for our protector.
But if any man walks haughtily in deed or word, 885 with no fear of dikē, no reverence for the images of daimones, may an evil fate seize him for his ill-starred pride, if he will not get his profit [kerdos] with dikē, 890 or avoid unholy deeds, but seeks to lay profaning hands on things untouchable. Where such things occur, what mortal shall boast any more that he can ward off the arrow of the gods from his psūkhē ? 895 If such deeds are held in tīmē, why should I be part of the khoros?
No longer will I go reverently to the earth’s central and inviolate shrine, no more to Abae’s temple or to Olympia, 900 if these oracles do not fit the outcome, so that all mortals shall point at them with their fingers. 905 No, wielder of power—if thus you are rightly called—Zeus, Lord of all, may it not escape you and your deathless power! The old prophecies concerning Laios are fading; already men annul them, and nowhere is Apollo glorified with tīmai; 910 the worship of the gods is perishing.
Lords of the land, the thought has come to me to visit the shrines of the daimones, with this wreathed branch and these gifts of incense in my hands. For Oedipus excites his thūmos excessively with all sorts of griefs, 915 and does not judge the new things from the old, like a man of noos, but is under the control of the speaker, if he speaks of frightful things. Since I can do no good by counsel, to you, Lykeian Apollo—for you are nearest— 920 I have come as a suppliant with these symbols of prayer, that you may find us some riddance from uncleanness. For now we are all afraid looking upon him, like those who see the pilot [kubernētēs] of their ship stricken with panic.
Can you tell me, xenoi, where 925 the palace of the turannos Oedipus is? Or better still, tell me where he himself is, if you know.
This is his dwelling, and he himself, xenos, is within. This woman here is the mother of his children.
Then may she be ever fortunate [olbia] in a prosperous [olbios] home, 930 since she is his spouse in ritual fullness [telos].
May you be likewise, xenos; your fair greeting deserves this. But say what you have come to seek or to indicate [sēmainein].
Good tidings, woman, for your house and your husband.
935 What are they? From whom have you come?
From Corinth, and at the message I will give now you will doubtless rejoice, yet haply grieve.
What is it? Why has it this double potency?
The people will make him turannos of the 940 Isthmian land, as it was said there.
How then? Is the aged Polybos no longer in power [kratos]?
No. For death holds him in the tomb.
What do you mean? Is Polybos dead, old man?
If I am not speaking the truth [alēthēs], I am content to die.
945 Handmaid, away with all speed, and tell this to your master! O you mantis-delivered words of the gods, where do you stand now? It is this man that Oedipus long feared he would slay. And now this man has died in the course of destiny, not by his hand.
950 Iocasta, most philē wife, why have you summoned me forth from these doors?
Hear this man, and judge, as you listen, to what the awe-inspiring mantis-delivered words have come.
Who is he and what news does he have for me?
955 He comes from Corinth to tell you that your father Polybos lives no longer, but has perished.
How, xenos? You be the one who indicates [sēmainein] it.
If I must first make these tidings plain, know indeed that he is dead and gone.
960 By treachery, or from illness?
A light tilt of the scale brings the aged to their rest.
Ah, he died, it seems, of sickness?
Yes, and of the long years that he had lived.
Alas, alas! Why indeed, my wife, should one look to the 965 hearth of the Pythian mantis, or to the birds that scream above our heads, who declared that I was doomed to slay my sire? But he is dead, and lies beneath the earth, and here I am, not having put my hand to any spear—unless, perhaps, he was killed by longing for me; 970 thus I would be the cause of his death. But the oracles as they stand Polybos has swept with him to his rest in Hādēs. They are worth nothing.
Did I not long ago foretell this to you?
You did, but I was mislead by my fear.
975 Now no longer keep any of those things in your thūmos.
But surely I must fear my mother’s bed.
What should a mortal man fear, for whom the decrees of Fortune are supreme, and who has clear foresight of nothing? It is best to live at random, as one may. 980 But fear not that you will wed your mother. Many men before now have so fared in dreams. But he to whom these things are as though nothing bears his life most easily.
All these words of yours would have been well said, 985 were my mother not alive. But as it is, since she lives, I must necessarily fear, though you speak well.
Your father’s death is a great sign for us to take cheer.
Great, I know. But my fear is of her who lives.
And who is the woman about whom you fear?
990 Merope, old man, the consort of Polybos.
And what is it in her that moves your fear?
A heaven-sent mantis-delivered word of dread import, xenos.
Lawful, or unlawful, for another to know?
Lawful, surely. Loxias once said that I was 995 doomed to marry my own mother, and to shed with my own hands my father’s blood. For which reasons I long shirked my home in Corinth—with a happy outcome, to be sure, but still it is sweet to see the face of one’s parents.
1000 Was it really for fear of this that you became an exile from that polis?
And because I did not wish, old man, to be the murderer of my father.
Why did I not release you from this fear right away, lord? After all, I have come here with a noos that is favorable to you.
And you would get a worthy return [kharis] from me.
1005 Why, that is the biggest reason for my coming, so that I would do well because of your coming back home.
But I would never go back to them, from whose seed I originate.
My child, it is in a good way that you are unaware of what you are doing.
How do you mean, old man. I ask you by the gods, inform me!
1010 If it is on account of these that you shun going home.
Fearing that the message of Phoebus may have a clear outcome.
Is it that you fear contracting a pollution [miasma] from those whose seed gave you birth?
That’s it, old man! That is what gives me eternal fear.
Do you know, then, that your fears are wholly vain?
1015 How so, if I was born of those parents?
Because you had no family tie in common with Polybos .
What are you saying? Was Polybos not my sire?
Just as much, and no more, than he who speaks to you.
And how can my sire be level with him who is as though nothing to me?
1020 No, he fathered you not at all, any more than I.
How, then, did he call me his son?
Long ago he received you as a gift from my hands.
And yet he loved me so dearly, who came from another’s hand?
His former childlessness won him over.
1025 And had you bought me or found me by chance, when you gave me to him?
I found you in Kithairon’s winding glens.
And why were you roaming those regions?
I was in charge of mountain flocks.
You were a shepherd, a vagrant hireling?
1030 But your savior [sōtēr], my son, in that time.
And what was my pain when you took me in your arms?
The ankles of your feet might bear witness.
Ah me, why do you speak of that old woe?
I freed you when you had your ankles pinned together.
1035 It was a dread brand of shame that I took from my cradle.
So much that from that fortune you were called by that name which you still bear.
Oh, in the name of the gods, was the deed my mother’s or father’s? Speak!
I know not. He who gave you to me knows better of that than I.
What, you got me from another? You did not light on me yourself?
1040 No. Another shepherd gave you to me.
Who was he? Can you tell clearly?
I think he was said to be one of the household of Laios.
The turannos who ruled this country long ago?
The same. The man was a herdsman in his service.
1045 Is he still alive, that I might see him?
You natives of this country should know best.
Is there any of you here present that knows the herdsman of whom he speaks, having seen him either in the pastures or here in town? Indicate [sēmainein]! 1050 The time [kairos] has come for these things to be revealed at long last.
I think he speaks of no other than the peasant you already wanted to see. But Iocasta herself might best tell you that.
Wife, do you know in your noos the one whom we summoned lately? 1055 Is it of him that this man speaks?
Why ask of whom he spoke? Regard it not—waste not a thought on what he said—it would be vain.
It must not happen, with such clues [sēmeia] in my grasp, that I should fail to bring my origin [genos] to light.
1060 For the gods’ sake, if you have any care for your own life, forgo this search! My anguish is enough.
Be of good courage. Even if I should be found the son of a servile mother—a slave by three descents—you will not be proved base [kakē].
Hear me, I implore you: do not do this.
1065 I will not hear of not discovering the whole truth.
Yet I wish you well; I counsel you for the best.
These best counsels, then, vex my patience.
Ill-fated man, may you never know who you are!
Go, some one, fetch me the herdsman. 1070 Leave this woman to glory in her wealthy ancestry [genos].
Alas, alas, miserable man—that word alone can I say to you—and no other word ever again!
Why has this woman gone, Oedipus, rushing off in wild grief? I fear 1075 a storm of evils will soon break forth from this silence.
Break forth what will! Be my seed ever so lowly, I crave to learn it. That woman perhaps—for she is proud with more than a woman’s pride—feels ashamed of my lowly birth [genos]. But I, who hold myself son of Fortune 1080 that gives good, will not be left without tīmē. She is the mother from whom I spring, and the months, my kinsmen, have marked me sometimes lowly, sometimes great. Such being my heritage, never more can I prove 1085 false to it, and not search out the secret of my birth [genos].
If I am a mantis or wise of heart, 1090 Kithairon, you will not fail—by heaven, you will not—to know at tomorrow’s full moon that Oedipus honors you as native to him, as his nurse, and his mother, and that you are celebrated in our khoros, 1095 because you are well-pleasing to our turannos. O Phoebus, to whom we cry, may these things find favor in your sight!
Who was it, my son, who of the race whose years are many, that bore you in wedlock with 1100 Pan, the mountain-roaming father? Or was it a bride of Loxias that bore you? For philai to him are all the upland pastures. 1105 Or perhaps it was Kyllene’s lord, the god of the Bacchants, dweller on the hill-tops, that received you, a new-born joy, from one of the Nymphs of Helikon, with whom he most often sports.
1110 Elders, if it is right for me, who have never met the man, to guess, I think I see the herdsman of whom we have been long in quest. In his venerable old age he tallies with this man’s years, and moreover I recognize those who bring him, I think, as servants of mine. 1115 But perhaps you have an advantage in knowledge over me, if you have seen the herdsman before.
Yes, I know him, be sure. He was in the service of Laios—trusty as any shepherd.
I ask you first, Corinthian xenos, if this is the man you mean.
1120 He is, the one you are looking at.
You, old man—look this way and answer all that I ask—were you once in the service of Laios?
I was—not a bought slave, but reared in his house.
Employed in what labor, or what way of life?
1125 For the better part of my life I tended the flocks.
And what regions did you most frequently haunt?
Sometimes Kithairon, sometimes the neighboring ground.
Are you aware of ever having seen this man in these parts?
Doing what? What man do you mean?
1130 This man here. Have you ever met him before?
Not so that I could speak at once from memory.
And no wonder, master. But I will bring clear recollection to his ignorance. I am sure he knows well of the time we spent together in the region of Kithairon 1135 for six-month periods, from spring to Arktouros, he with two flocks, and I with one. And then for the winter I used to drive my flock to my own fold, and he took his to the fold of Laios. 1140 Did any of this happen as I tell it, or did it not?
You speak the truth [alēthēs], though it was long ago.
Come, tell me now: do you remember having given me a boy in those days, to be reared as my own foster-son?
What now? Why do you inquire [historeîn] about this?
1145 This man, my friend, is he who then was young.
Plague seize you. Be silent once and for all.
Rebuke him not, old man. Your words need rebuking more than his.
And in what way, most noble master, do I offend?
1150 In not telling of the boy of whom he inquires [historeîn].
He speaks without knowledge, but labors [poneîn] in vain.
You will not speak as a favor [kharis], but you will in pain.
No, in the name of the gods, do not mistreat an old man.
Ho, some one – tie his hands behind him this instant!
1155 Alas, why? What do you want to learn?
Did you give this man the child about whom he inquires [historeîn]?
I did. Would that I had perished that day!
Well, you will come to that, unless you say whatever has dikē in it.
But if I speak I will be destroyed all the more.
1160 This man is bent, I think, on more delays.
No, no! I said before that I gave it to him.
Where did you get it from? From your own house, or from another?
It was not my own; I received it from another.
From whom of the citizens here? From what home?
1165 For the love of the gods, master, inquire [historeîn] no more!
You are lost if I have to question you again.
It was a child, then, of the house of Laios.
A slave? Or one of his own family [genos]?
Alas! I am on the dreaded brink of speech.
1170 And I of hearing; I must hear nevertheless.
You must know then, that it was said to be his own child. But your wife within could say best how these matters lie.
How? Did she give it to you?
Yes, my lord.
For what purpose?
That I should do away with it.
1175 Her own child, the wretched woman?
Yes, from fear of the evil prophecies.
What were they?
The tale ran that he would slay his father.
Why, then, did you give him to this old man?
Out of pity, master, thinking that he would carry him to another land, from where he himself came. But he saved [sōzein] him for the direst woes. 1180 For if you are what this man says, be certain that you were born ill-fated.
Oh, oh! All brought to pass, all true. Light, may I now look on you for the last time—I who have been found to be accursed in birth, 1185 accursed in wedlock, accursed in the shedding of blood.
Alas, generations of mortals, how mere a shadow I count your life! Where, where is the mortal who 1190 attains a happiness [eudaimoniā] which is more than apparent and doomed to fall away to nothing? The example [paradeigma] of your fortune [daimōn] warns me—yours, unhappy Oedipus—to call no 1195 earthly creature blessed.
For he, O Zeus, shot his shaft with peerless skill, and won the prize of an entirely happy prosperity [eudaimōn olbos], having slain the maiden with crooked talons who sang darkly. 1200 He arose for our land like a tower against death. And from that time, Oedipus, you have been called our king, and have been given tīmē supremely, holding sway in great Thebes.
But now whose story is more grievous in men’s ears? 1205 Who is a more wretched slave to troubles [ponoi] and fierce calamities [atai], with all his life reversed? Alas, renowned Oedipus! The same bounteous harbor was sufficient for you, both as child and as father, to make your nuptial couch in. Oh, how can the soil 1210 in which your father sowed, unhappy man, have endured you in silence for so long?
Time the all-seeing has found you out against your will, and he judges the monstrous marriage in which 1215 parent and child have long been one. Alas, child of Laios, would that I had never seen you! I wail as one who pours a dirge from his lips. 1220 It was you who gave me new life, to speak directly, and through you darkness has fallen upon my eyes.
You who receive most tīmē in this land, what deeds you will hear, what deeds you will behold, what burden of suffering [penthos] will be yours, 1225 if, true to your genos, you still care for the house of Labdakos. For I think that neither the Istros nor the Phasis could wash this house clean, so many are the evils that it shrouds, or will soon bring to light, wrought not unwittingly, but on purpose. 1230 And those griefs smart the most which are seen to be of our own choice.
The troubles which we knew before are far from being easy to bear. Besides them, what do you have to announce?
This is the shortest tale to tell and hear: 1235 our divine Iocasta is dead.
Alas, wretched woman! From what cause [aitiā]?
By her own hand. The worst pain of that which has happened is not for you, since you do not behold the events. Nevertheless, so far as my memory serves, 1240 you will learn that unhappy woman’s suffering [pathos].
And does the sufferer have any respite from evil now?
He cries for some one to unbar the gates and show to all the Kadmeians his father’s slayer, his mother’s—the words must not pass my lips— 1290 in order to banish himself from the land and not to remain in the palace under the curse that he himself pronounced. And yet he lacks strength, and one to guide his steps, for the anguish is more than he can bear. He will soon show this to you: look, the bars of the gates are withdrawn, 1295 and soon you will behold a sight which even he who abhors it must pity.
O dread suffering [pathos] for men to see, O most dreadful of all that I have set my eyes on! Unhappy one, what madness has come upon you? 1300 What daimōn, with a leap of more than mortal range, has made your ill-fated destiny his prey? Alas, alas, you hapless man! I cannot even look on you, though there is much I desire to ask, much I desire to learn, 1305 much that draws my wistful gaze; with such a shuddering do you fill me!
Woe is me! Alas, alas, wretched that I am! Where, where am I carried in my misery? 1310 How is my voice swept abroad on the wings of the air? Oh, daimōn, how far you have sprung!
To a dread place, dire in men’s ears, dire in their sight.
Oh horror of darkness that enfolds me, unspeakable visitant, 1315 resistless, sped by a wind too fair! Oh me! and once again, Oh me! How my soul is pierced by the stab of these goads and by the memory of evils!
No wonder that amidst these woes 1320 you endure sorrow [penthos] and bear double evils.
Ah, philos, you still are steadfast in your care for me, you still have patience to tend the blind man! Ah me! 1325 Your presence is not hidden from me—no, blind though I am, nevertheless I know your voice full well.
You who have done [drân] such terrible things, how could you bring yourself 1328 to extinguish [marainein] your eyesight? Who among the superhuman powers [daimones] urged you on?
It was Apollo, dear ones [philoi], Apollo 1330 who brought to fulfillment [teleîn] these evil, evil experiences [pathos plural] of mine. 1331–1334 But no one with his own hand did the striking. I myself, did that, wretch that I am! Why was I to see, 1335 when eyesight showed me nothing sweet?
These things were just as you say.
What, philoi, can I behold any more, what can I love, what greeting can touch my ear with joy? Hurry, philoi, 1340 lead me from this place, lead me away, the utterly lost, 1345 the thrice-accursed, the mortal most hated by heaven!
Wretched alike for your misfortune and for your noos of it, would that I had never known you!
Perish the man, whoever he was, that freed me in the past years from the cruel shackle on my feet—a deed bringing no gratitude [kharis]! Had I died then, 1355 I would not have been so sore a grief [akhos] to my philoi and to my own self.
I too would have it thus.
In this way I would not have come to shed my father’s blood, or been known among men as the spouse of the woman from whom I was born. 1360 Now I am forsaken by the gods, son of a defiled mother, successor to the bed of the man who gave me my own wretched being; 1365 if there is a woe surpassing woe, it has become Oedipus’ lot.
I know not how I can say that you have counseled well; you would have been better dead than living and blind.
Don’t tell me that things have not been best done in this way; 1370 give me counsel no more. If I had sight, I know not with what eyes I could even have looked on my father, when I came to the house of Hādēs, or on my miserable mother, since against both I have committed such crimes as hanging myself could not punish. 1375 But do you think that the sight of children, born as mine were, was lovely for me to look upon? No, no, never lovely to my eyes! No, neither was this city with its towering walls, nor the sacred statues of the daimones, since I, thrice wretched that I am— 1380 I, noblest of the sons of Thebes—have doomed myself to know these no more, by my own command that all should reject the impious one, the one whom the gods have revealed as unholy, a member of Laios’ own family [genos]! After baring such a stain upon myself, 1385 was I to look with steady eyes on these people? Not in the least! Were there a way to choke the fount of hearing, I would not have hesitated to make a fast prison of this wretched frame, so that I should have known neither sight nor sound. 1390 It is sweet that our thought should dwell beyond the sphere of evils. Alas, Kithairon, why did you provide a shelter for me? When I was given to you, why did you not slay me straightaway, that I might never reveal to men whence I am born? Ah, Polybos , ah, Corinth, and you that was called the ancient house of my father, 1395 how fair-seeming was I your nursling, and what evils were festering underneath! Now I am found kakos, and born from evils [kaka]. You three roads, and you secret glen, you, thicket, and narrow way where three paths met— 1400 you who drank my father’s blood from my own hands—do you remember, perhaps, what deeds I have performed in your sight, and then what fresh deeds I went on to do when I came here? O marriage ritual [telos], you gave me birth, and when you had brought me forth, 1405 you again bore children to your child, you created an incestuous kinship of fathers, brothers, sons, brides, wives, and mothers – all the foulest deeds that are wrought among men! But it is improper to name what it is improper to do— 1410 hurry, for the love of the gods, hide me somewhere beyond the land, or slay me, or cast me into the sea, where you will never behold me any longer! Approach—deign to lay your hands on a wretched man—listen and fear not: my woes can rest 1415 on no other mortal.
But here is Creon in good time to plan and perform that which you request. He alone is left to guard the land in your place.
Ah me, what word [epos] will I speak to him? 1420 What claim to credence can be shown on my part? For in the past I have proved to be wholly kakos to him.
I have not come to mock or reproach you with any past evils.
But you, if you no longer respect the children of men, 1425 revere at least the all-nurturing flame of our lord the Sun, and do not show so openly such a pollution as this, one which neither earth, nor holy rain, nor the light can welcome. Take him into the house as quickly as you can: it best accords with reverence that 1430 relations alone, members of the family, should see and hear these woes.
By the gods—since you have done a gentle violence to my prediction, coming as a most noble [aristos] man to me, a man most kakos—grant me a favor: I will speak for your own good, not mine.
1435 And what do you wish so eagerly to get from me?
Cast me out of this land with all speed, to a place where no mortal shall be found to greet me.
This I could have done, to be sure, except I craved first to learn from the god all my duty.
1440 But his behest has been set forth in full: to let me perish, the parricide, unholy one that I am.
Thus it was said. But since we have come to such a pass, it is better to learn clearly what should be done.
Will you, then, seek a response on behalf of such a wretch as I?
1445 Yes, for even you yourself will now surely put faith in the god.
Yes. And on you I lay this charge, to you I make this entreaty: give to the woman within such burial as you wish—you will properly render the last rites to your own. But never let this city of my father be condemned 1450 to have me dwelling within, as long as I live. No, allow me to live in the hills, where Kithairon, famed as mine, sits, which my mother and father, while they lived, fixed as my appointed tomb, so that I may die according to the decree of those who sought to slay me. 1455 And yet I know this much, that neither sickness nor anything else can destroy me; for I would never have been saved [sōzein] from death, except in order to suffer some terrible evil. Let my fate [moira]go where it will. Regarding my children, Creon, I beg you to take no care of my sons: 1460 they are men, so they will never lack the means to live wherever they may be. My two girls, poor hapless ones—who never knew my table spread separately, or lacked their father’s presence, but always had a share of all that reached my hands— 1465 I implore you to take care of them. And, if you can, allow me to touch them with my hands, and to indulge my grief for these woes. Grant it, lord, grant it, noble in birth. Ah, if I could but once touch them with my hands, I would think that I had them 1470 just as when I had sight.
You are. I have brought this about, for I knew the joy which you have long had from them—the joy you now have.
Bless you, and for this errand may a daimōn prove a kinder guardian to you than it has to me. 1480 My children, where are you? Come, here, here to the hands of the one whose mother was your own, the hands that have made your father’s once bright eyes to be such orbs as these – he who, seeing nothing, inquiring [historeîn] not at all, 1485 became your father by her from whom he was born! For you also do I weep, though I cannot see you, when I think of the bitter life that men will make you live in days to come. To what company of the citizens will you go, to what festival, 1490 from which you will not return home in tears, instead of participating [being a theōros] in the festivities? But when you reach a ripe age for marriage, who shall he be, who shall be the man, my daughters, to hazard taking upon himself the reproaches 1495 that will certainly be baneful to my offspring and yours? What misery is lacking? Your father killed his own father, and begot you from the same place he himself was born! 1500 Such are the taunts that will be cast at you. And who then will you wed? The man does not live—no, it cannot be, my children, but you will wither in barren maidenhood. Son of Menoikeus, hear me: since you are the only father left to them—we, their parents, are both gone— 1505 do not allow them to wander poor and unwed, for they are your own relations, and do not abase them to the level of my woes. But pity them, seeing them deprived of everything at such an age, except for you. 1510 Promise, noble man, and touch them with your hand. To you, children, I would have given much advice [parainesis], if your phrenes were mature. But now pray that you may live where occasion allows, and that the life which is your lot may be happier than your father’s.
1515 Your grief has had a sufficient scope; pass into the house.
I must obey, though I do it in no way gladly.
Yes, for all things are good at the right time.
Do you know on what terms I will go?
You will tell me, and then I will know when I have heard them.
See that you send me to dwell outside this land.
You ask for what the god must give.
But to the gods I have become most hateful.
Then you will quickly get your wish.
So you consent?
It is not my way to say idly what I do not mean.
1520 Then it is time to lead me away.
Come, then, but let your children go.
No, do not take them from me!
Do not wish to be master in all things: the mastery which you did attain has not followed you through life.
Inhabitants of our native Thebes, behold, this is Oedipus, 1525 who knew the riddles [ainigma pl.] of great renown [kleos], and was a most mighty man. What citizen did not gaze on his fortune with envy? See into what a stormy sea of troubles he has come! Therefore, while our eyes wait to see the day of telos, we must call no mortal blessed [olbios] until 1530 he has crossed life’s border without having suffered [paskhein] any pain.