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I.

A THEBAN CITIZEN LAMENTS THE CITY’S MISERTY AND HIS OWN DURING THE THEBAN PLAGUE

How the savage Fates are oppressing the poor House of Labdacus! How occursed this land! What strange monstrosities are always harrying Thebes! How many there were even before its settlement! Cadmus, its founder, long wandered as an outcast, but made an end to his flight because of the ill-omened cow. Behold, his comrades were swiftly killed by the snake, and the dragon-born generation of soldiers was born from the earth. Then the city was established, its founder soon became a snake himself. In after times, what was it worth to have been king at Thebes? Cadmus’ grandson was made novel prey for his hounds when he took on the appearance of a stag. Amphion, equal in rank to the founder, died by his own hand, along with his entire family. But his raging mother tore apart proud Pentheus. To these you may add Laius, recently killed by criminal deceit. What should I say of the Sphinx? Can anyone imagine the gods could devise anything greater than these evils? But behold a worse: for a long time a horrible plague has been oppressing Thebes. I shall not mention the public misfortune, as I can scarcely bewail my own suffering.
For behold, this pestilence has emptied my home. I have buried five sons, my wife, three daughters, the like number of servants. My whole herd is dead, and behold, my father and one son were left. I am preparing to add them to the pyre, but now fire is lacking for my piety. Now no forest is adequate for our pyres — another form of slaughter — and I have no wood for both their funerals, scarcely enough for a single pyre.
Alas, a twofold piety tears my mind apart. Which is to be burned? On the one hand there is my son, on the other my father. Both are dear. Will you lack a pyre, father? Or you, my son? The prospect of wrongdoing arises in either case. But I shall set aside my shame — what good is shame for a wretch? — and hasten to the fires. I shall cremate my son on someone else’s fire, and than I shall finally offer myself for the last funeral of all.

II.

OEDIPUS, PALAEMON

OED. Come, tell me, I pray by all the great gods, by the laws of kings, by the great catastrophe of our nation, going to ruin, by the loyalty you always display towards me, has Creon told me the truth, or did he invent this, aiming at my throne? Dispense with falsehood — do you think you can easily deceive Oedipus? I dispelled the Sphinx’ deceits. I absolve you of your guilt. Even if until now you have made a big thing of lying, find out what royal favor can accomplish.
PAL. Great-hearted prince, what point is there in delaying my words? Creon told the truth.
OED. Laius named me?
PAL. He named you
OED. Oedipus?
PAL. Just so.
OED. Who rules mighty Thebes?
PAL. The ruler of Thebes.
OED. Who despoiled the Sphinx?
PAL. The man who routed the Sphinx.
OED. He said I am the son of Laius?
PAL. Yes, his son.
OED. And that he was my father?
PAL. Indeed, your father.
OED. Born of his wife?
PAL. Born of his wife and your own.
OED. Then Jocasta is my mother and my wife?                      
PAL. So she is.
OED. And I am guilty of his murder?
PAL. You are guilty.
OED. And of her debauchery?
PAL. And of her debauchery.
OED. And responsible for the plague?
PAL. And responsible for the plague.
OED. Say these things again, I shall repeat them. Laius named me? Me, Oedipus? The king of Thebes? Me, Oedipus? The man famous for killing the Sphinx? What? He PAL I am his son? He my father? Born of his wife? Born of Jocasta my mother? Responsible for the plague? For his murder? And guilty of debauchery?
PAL. Laius named you, Oedipus, the king of Thebes, famous for killing the Sphinx, and said you are his son and himself your father. You are born of his wife, born of Jocasta your mother, responsible for the plague and his murder, guilty of debauchery.
 

III.

POLYNICES, ETEOCLES, JOCASTA

POL. Power is well purchased at any price.
ET. And rule is well retained by any kind of law.
POL. Even somebody else’s rule?
ET. But one in my possession.
POL. But what you possess is snatched by force.
ET. You man of peace, does force now displease you, who signalled the Greeks from our ancestral walls?
POL. You false man, do you obtain the nation for your wickedness?
ET. And what are you doing for yours?
POL. The gods, my witnesses, and our sworn pact absolve me from guilt.
ET. Should a man with your pedigree care about gods and agreements?
POL. Are you forgetful of your brother’s sworn oath, and of your family? ET. Unclean man, remember your mother and father. For Jocasta is our mother, Oedipus our father, and Polynices your brother. Whatever crime has occurred is to be imputed to our lineage. Should such a sanctified offspring cultivate piety? Should one ex­pect such children to be pious? I ask you, Polynices, let us openly confess our vices and seem to be what we really are. I know your nature. We are equally unclean, equally impi­ous and hungry for power. You grieve because I stole a march on you in evildoing. Either you or I had to go into exile, the crime lay available for whichever acted first. I know what you were complaining about — not that I exiled you from the kingdom, but that you failed to exile me. This was your intent, you had the same will. This one thing stood in your way: I acted first, I was more fortunate.
POL. Oh impudent man, infamous creature, traitor, who befouls your family and race! ET. This is the animus of an exile?
POL. Who was thrust into exile by your evildoing.
ET. And who will go into exile again.
POL. If you have your wish.
ET. Presumably Adrastus gives you your high spirits.
POL. And our mother gives you yours. How timidly, fearing for yourself, you dragged her to the battle, the one person who could put off the fight by her interposition!
ET. I should fear your power? So that our mother can achieve something, and our nation be freed from the carnage of an evil war, I challenge you to single combat. Let the weight of this war fall on our heads.
POL. Now you make me happy. I accept. But what guarantee of good faith do you pledge?
ET. The matter itself guarantees faith.
POL. The faith you have broken?
ET. My second show of faith will sanction my first — to your great loss.
JOC. In my misery, so far I have kept silent in the hope that the words hurled on either side would mollify your great madness. Often the sea grows calm after a great storm. Thus when great spirits become laden with hatreds, their grave threats afterwards cease. I pray you, at length dispel this fierce loathing.
failed to exile me. This was your intent, you had the same will. This one thing stood in your way: I acted first, I was more fortunate.
POL. Oh impudent man, infamous creature, traitor, who befouls your family and race!
ET. This is the animus of an exile?
POL. Who was thrust into exile by your evildoing.
ET. And who will go into exile again.
POL. If you have your wish.
ET. Presumably Adrastus gives you your high spirits.
POL. And our mother gives you yours. How timidly, fearing for yourself, you dragged her to the battle, the one person who could put off the fight by her interposition!
ET. I should fear your power? So that our mother can achieve something, and our nation be freed from the carnage of an evil war, I challenge you to single combat. Let the weight of this war fall on our heads.
POL. Now you make me happy. I accept. But what guarantee of good faith do you pledge?
ET. The matter itself guarantees faith.
POL. The faith you have broken?
ET. My second show of faith will sanction my first — to your great loss.
JOC. In my misery, so far I have kept silent in the hope that the words hurled on either side would mollify your great madness. Often the sea grows calm after a great storm. Thus when great spirits become laden with hatreds, their grave threats afterwards cease. I pray you, at length dispel this fierce loathing.
ET. Leave off, mother. Today you will either see me the certain ruler or see me given over to certain death.
POL. This day will make me king — or nothing.

IV.

JOCASTA, DEPLORING HER WOES

Oh, the evils of our harsh fortune, which no tears can match! Who can suitably bemoan all my losses? In my misery why should I recall yours, fury-driven Agave, or yours, Niobe? A more baleful fortune wanted to make me an example of great misery. Fortune made me her butt, against whom she wantonly shot her frequent darts, and through various misfor­tunes in her hatred she has hounded me until this very day.
The least of my misfortunes was to have my only son torn from his mother’s bosom, and to have the little boy exposed to wild beasts. But behold, that killing engendered so much slaughter. There followed the secret murder of my Laius. But so far this was a light matter, if he were to not killed by the hand of our son. But even that was a trifle. What? Did these monstrosities cease? See what butchery was committed by the Sphinx, contriving her ob­scure riddles, weaving her snares! But this monster was put down. Evidently it came in or­der to pave the way for a worse. For this man took his murdered father’s scepter and also his mother’s bed, and as children for himself, the father, sired brothers. What similar mon­strosity ever existed? Then a dire plague ravaged Thebes, and poor Oedipus, voluntarily putting out his eyes, wanders as an exile. His daughter accompanies her father, and her brothers are waging civil war against each other. I am left alone to myself. What can be added to these miseries?

V.

A MAIDSERVANT ANNOUNCING THE DEATH OF JOCASTA, CREON

MAID Now, when she had perceived the brothers were contemplating mutual slaughter, and that these impious men could not be controlled, she furiously entered her chamber, uttering her complaint in a loud voice. With her nails she tore her hair and gashed her face. Soon she said “my slaves, leave this chamber quickly.” She insisted, impatient of any delay. Grudgingly, we obeyed, in our unhappiness not fearing enough, nor yet completely free of anxiety. She closed the doors herself. But we pretended an obedient departure; however, in our fear we soon crept back, and attentively clapped our ears to the chinks. Then she called on the shades of Laius, saying piteous things, often recalling Oedipus and her children, saying many indistinct things which her groans brought to our ears. Suddenly the plaints and weeping ceased within. Now the muttering stopped, even the least sound, as when the wind abates its raging threats and the sea flows waveless. We were amazed, pricking up our ears, and now a doubtful terror increasingly invaded our minds. We called out “mistress Jocasta, queen!” but she made no reply. Fear for her lent us courage. We beat on the door, but behold, there was no response. Then, in truth, a greater dread came over our hearts, and numbness overwhelmed us in our terror. We set aside our timidity and strove to break down the bars of the door. The shattered portals opened and all at once the dire crime stood revealed. Jocasta had hanged herself from a rafter.
CRE. O gods, always hard, oh harsh fortune! This land is horrible, unlucky, founded by that ill-omened heifer. Oh great Thebes, household gods of Cadmus! Oh Cadmus’ un-lucky house! Could you desert your brother, sister? Oh evil, similar to our family’s other catastrophes and your own misfortunes! Sister, you have been allotted a death equal to your life and your woes.
But alas, the entire day is being vainly squandered on lamentations. The confused condition of the kingdom and its uncertain state warns me to think of public affairs.

Finis