5 Oedipus Rex (Text)



Oedipus the King Sophocles

Translated by David Grene


OEDIPUS,  King of Thebes                FIRST MESSENGER JOCASTA, His Wife                                                              SECOND MESSENGER

CREON, His Brother-in-Law              A HERDSMAN







Scene: In front of the palace of Oedipus at Thebes. To the Right of the stage near the altar stands the PRIEST with a crowd of children.

OEDIPUS emerges from the central door.


OEDIPUS: Children, young sons and daughters of old Cadmus,1

why do you sit here with your suppliant crowns?2

the town is heavy with a mingled burden

of sounds and smells, of groans and hymns and incense;

5 I did not think it fit that I should hear

of this from messengers but came myself,-I Oedipus whom all men call the Great.


[He returns to the PRIEST.]


You’re old and they are young; come, speak for them.

What do you fear or want, that you sit here 10 suppliant? Indeed I’m willing to give all that you may need; I would be very hard should I not pity suppliants like these.


PRIEST: O ruler of my country, Oedipus, You see our company around the altar;

15 you see our ages; some of us, like these, who cannot yet fly far, and some of us

heavy with age; these children are the chosen among the young, and I the priest of Zeus.

Within the market place sit others crowned

20 with suppliant garlands3, at the double shrine of Pallas4 and the temple where Ismenus

gives oracles by fire5. King, you yourself

have seen our city reeling like a wreck



1 Cadmus n. mythical founder and first king of Thebes, a city in central Greece where the play takes place

2 suppliant crowns wreaths worn by people who ask favors of

the gods.

3 suppliant garlands branches wound in wool, which were placed on the altar and left there until the suppliant’s request was granted.

4 double shrine of Pallas the two temples of Athena.

5 temple where Isemenus gives oracles by fire Temple of Apollo, located by Ismenus, the Theban river, where the priests

studied patterns in the ashes of sacrificial victims to foretell the future.

already; it can scarcely lift its prow

25 out of the depths, out of the bloody surf. A blight is on the fruitful plants of the earth. A blight is on the cattle in the fields,

a blight is on our women that no children are born to them; a God that carries fire, 30 a deadly pestilence, is on our town,

strikes us and spears us not, and the house of Cadmus is emptied of its people while black Death

grows rich in groaning and in lamentation.6

We have not come as suppliants to this altar 35 because we thought of you as a God,

but rather judging you the first of men in all the chances of this life and when

we mortals have to do with more that man. You came and by your coming saved our city,

40 freed us from the tribute which we paid of old to the Sphinx,7 cruel singer. This you did

in virtue of no knowledge we could give you, in virtue of no teaching; it was God

that aided you, men say, and you are held

45 with God’s assistance to have saved our lives.

Now Oedipus, Greatest in all men’s eyes, here falling at your feet we all entreat you, find us some strength for rescue.

Perhaps you’ll hear a wise word from some God. 50 perhaps you will learn something from a man (for I have seen that for the skilled of the practice the outcome of their counsels live the most).

Noblest of men, go, and raise up our city,

go,-and give heed. For now this land of ours 55 calls you its savior since you saved it once.

So, let us never speak about your reign as of a time when first our feet were set secure on high, but later fell to ruin.

Raise up our city, save it  and raise it up.



6 lamentation n. expression of deep sorrow

7 Sphinx winged female monster at Thebes that ate men who could not answer her riddle: “what is it that walks on four legs

at dawn, two legs at midday, and three legs in the evening, and has only one voice; when it walks on most feet, is it weakest?” Creon, appointed ruler of Thebes, offered the kingdom and the hand of his sister, Jocasta, to anyone who could answer the riddle. Oedipus saved Thebes by answering correctly, “Man, who crawls in infancy, walks upright in his prime, and leans on a cane in old age.” Outraged, the Sphinx destroyed herself, and Oedipus became King of Thebes


60 Once you have brought us luck with happy omen; be no less now in fortune.

If you will rule this land, as now you rule it, better to rule it full of men than empty.

For neither tower nor ship is anything

65 when empty, and none live in it together.


OEDIPUS: I pity you, children. You have come full of longing,

but I have  known the story before you told it only too well. I know you are all sick,

yet there is not one of you, sick though you are, 70 that is as sick as myself.

Your several sorrows each have single scope and touch but one of you. My spirit groans for city and myself and you at once.

You have not roused me like a man from sleep; 75 know that I have given many tears to this, gone many ways wandering in thoughts,

but as I thought I found only one remedy and that I took. I sent Menoeceus’ son Creon, Jocasta’s brother, to Apollo,

80 to his Pythian temple,8

that he might learn there by what act or word I could save this city. As I count the days,

it vexes me what ails him; he is gone

far longer than he needed for the journey.

85 But when he comes, than may I prove a villain, if I shall not do all the God commands.


PRIEST: Thanks for your gracious words. Your servants here signal that Creon is this moment coming.


OEDIPUS: His face is bright. O holy Lord Apollo, 90 grant that his news too may be bright for us and bring us safety.


PRIEST: It is happy news,

I think, for else his head would not be crowned with sprigs of fruitful laurel.9


OEDIPUS: We will know soon,

96 he’s within hail. Lord Creon, my good brother,

what is the word you bring us from the God? [ CREON enters.]

CREON: A good word, –for things hard to bear themselves if in the final issue all is well

100 I count complete good fortune.


OEDIPUS: What do you mean?

What have you said so far


8 Pythian temple shrine of Apollo at Delphi, below Mount Parnassus in central Greece

9 sprigs of fruitful laurel Laurel symbolized triumph; a crown of

laurel signified good news.

leaves me uncertain whether to trust or fear.


CREON: If you will hear my news before these others 105 I am ready to speak, or else to go within.


OEDIPUS: Speak it to all;

the grief I bear, I bear it more for these than for my own hear.


CREON: I will tell you, then,

110 what I heard from the God.

King Phoebus10 in plain words commanded us to drive out a pollution from our land, pollution grown ingrained within the land; drive it out, said the God, not cherish it,

115 till it’s past cure.


OEDIPUS: What is the rite

of purification? How shall it be done?


CREON: By banishing a man, or expiation11 of blood by blood, since it is murder guilt

120 which holds our city in this destroying storm.


OESIPUS: Who is this man whose fate the God pronounces?


CREON: My lord, before you piloted the state we had a king called Laius.


OEDIPUS: I know of him by hearsay. I have not seen him.


CREON: The God commanded clearly: let some one

126 punish with force this dead man’s murderers.


OEDIPUS: Where are they in the world? Where would a trace of this old crime be found? It would be hard

to guess where.


CREON: The clue is in this land; 131 that which is sought is found; the unheeded thing escapes:

so said the God.


OEDIPUS: Was it at home,

or in the country that death came upon him, 135 or in another country travelling?


CREON: He went, he said himself, upon an embassy,12 but never returned when he set out from home.


OEDIPUS: Was there no messenger, no fellow traveler who knew what happened? Such a one might tell


10 King Phoebus Apollo, god of the sun.

11 expiation n. The act of making amends for wrongdoing.

12 embassy n. important mission or errand


140 something of use.


CREON: They were all killed save one. He fled in terror and he could tell us nothing in clear terms

of what he knew, nothing, but one thing only.


OEDIPUS: What was it?

145 If we could even find a slim beginning in which to hope, we might discover much.


CREON: This man said the robbers they encountered were many and the hands that did the murder

were many; it was no man’s single power.


OEDIPUS:  How could a robber date a deed like this 151 Were he not helped with money from the city, Money and treachery?


CREON: That indeed was thought.

But Laius was dead and in our trouble There was none to help.


OEDIPUS: What trouble was so great to hinder you 157  inquiring out the murder of your king?


CREON: The riddling Sphinx induced us to neglect mysterious crimes and rather seek solution

160 of troubles at our feet.


OEDIPUS: I will bring this to light again. King Phoebus fittingly took this care about the dead,

and you to fittingly.

And justly you will see in me an ally,

165 a champion of my country and the God. For when I drive pollution from the land

I will not serve a distant friend’s advantage,


but act in my own interest. Whoever he was that killed the king may readily

170 wish to dispatch me with his murderous hand; so helping the dead king I help myself.

Come, children, take your suppliant boughs and go; up from the altars now. Call the assembly

and let it meet upon the understanding

175 that I’ll do everything. God will decide

whether we prosper or remain in sorrow.


PRIEST: Rise, children—it was this we came to seek, which of himself the king now offers us.

May Phoebus who gave us the oracle

180 come to our rescue and stay the plague. [Exit all but the CHORUS.]


What is the sweet spoken word of God from the shrine of Pytho rich in gold

that has come to glorious Thebes?

I am stretched on the rack of doubt, and terror and trembling hold

my heart, O Delian Healer,13 and I worship full of fears

185 for what doom you will bring to pass, new or renewed in the revolving years.

Speak to me, immortal voice, child of golden Hope.



First I call on you, Athene, deathless daughter of Zeus, and Artemis, Earth Upholder,

190 who sits in the midst of the market place in the throne which men call Fame,

and Phoebus, the Far Shooter, three averters of Fate, come to us now, if ever before, when ruin rushed upon the state,

you drove destruction’s flame away out

of our land.



195 Our sorrows defy number;

all the ship’s timbers are rotten;

taking of thought is no spear for the driving away of  the plague

There are no growing children in this famous land; there are no women bearing the pangs of childbirth.

200 You may see them one with another, like birds swift on the wing,

quicker than fire unmastered,

speeding away to the coast of the Western God.14



In the unnumbered death of its people the city dies;

205 those children that are born lie dead on the naked earth

unpitied, spreading contagion of death; and gray-haired mothers and wives

everywhere stand at the altar’s edge, suppliant, moaning; the hymn to the healing God15 rings out but with it the wailing voices are blended.

From these our sufferings grant us, O golden Daughter of Zeus,16

210 glad-faced deliverance.



There is no clash of brazen17 shields but our fight is with the War God,18


13 Delian Healer Born on the island of Delos, Apollo’s title was “healer”; he caused and averted plagues.

14 Western God Since the sun sets in the west, this is the god of

night, or Death.

15  healing God Apollo.

16  golden Daughter of Zeus Athena.

17  brazen adj. of brass or like brass in color

18 War God Ares


a War God ringed with the cries of men, a savage God who burns us;

grant that he turn in racing course backwards out of our

country’s bounds

to the great palace of Amphitrite19 or where the waves of the Thracian sea

215 deny the stranger safe anchorage.

Whatsoever escapes the night   at last the light of day revisits;

so smite the War God, Father Zeus, beneath your thunderbolt,

220 for you are the Lord of the lightning, the lightning that carries fire.



And your unconquered arrow shafts, winged by the golden corded bow,

Lycean King20, I beg to be at our side for help;

and the gleaming torches of Artemis with which she scours the Lycean hills,

and I call on the God with the turban of gold21, who gave his name to this country of ours.

225 the Bacchic God with the wind flushed face22,

Evian One,23 who travel with the Maenad company,24

combat the God that burns us with your torch of pine;

230 for the God that is our enemy is a God unhonored among the Gods


[OEDIPUS returns.]


OEDIPUS: For what you ask me—if you will hear my words,

and hearing welcome them and fight the plague, you will find strength and lightening of your load. Hark to me; what I say to you, I say

235 as one that is a stranger to the story as stranger to the deed. For I would not be far upon the track if I alone

were tracing it without a clue. But now, since after all was finished, I became 240 a citizen among you, citizens—

now I proclaim to all the men of Thebes:


19 Amphitrite sea goddess who was the wife of Poseidon, god of the sea.

20 Lycean King Apollo, whose title Lykios means “god of light.”

21 God with turban of gold Dionysus, god of wine, who was born of Zeus and a woman of Thebes, the first Greek city to

honor him. He wears an oriental turban because he has come from the East.

22 Bacchic God with the wind flushed face refers to Dionysus,

who had a youthful, rosy complexion; Bacchus means “riotous god”

23 Evian One Dionysus, called Evios because his followers

addressed him with the ritual cry “evoi”

24 Maenad company female followers of Dionysus.

who so among you knows the murderer by whose hand Laius, son of Labdacus, died—I command him to tell everything

245 to me,-yes, though he fears himself to take the blame

on his own head; for bitter punishment

he shall have none, but leave this land unharmed. Or if he knows the murderer, another,

a foreigner, still let him speak the truth. 250 For I will pay him and be grateful, too.


But if you shall keep silence, if perhaps some one of you, to shield a guilty friend, some one of you, to shield reject my words – hear what I shall do then:

255 I forbid that man, whoever he be, my land, my land where I hold sovereignty25and throne; and I forbid any to welcome him

or cry him greeting or make him a sharer in sacrifice or offering to the Gods,

260 or give him water for his hands to wash. I command all to drive him from their homes, since he is our pollution, as the oracle

of Pytho’s God26 proclaimed him now to me. So I stand forth a champion of the God

265 and of the man who died.

Upon the murderer I invoke this curse— whether he is one man and all unknown, or one of many—may he wear out his life in misery to miserable doom!

270 If with my knowledge he lives at my hearth I pray that I myself may feel my curse.

On you I lay my charge to fulfill all this

for me, for the God, and for this land of ours destroyed and blighted, by the God forsaken. 275 Even were this no matter of God’s ordinance      it would not fit you so to leave it lie,

unpurified, since a good man is dead and one that was a king. Search it out. Since I am now the holder of his office,

280 And have his bed and wife that once was his, and had his line not been unfortunate

we would have common children—(fortune leaped upon his head)—because of all these things,

I fight in his defense as for my father,

285 and I shall try all means to take the murderer of Laius the son of Labdacus

the son of Polydorus and before him of Cadmus and before him of Agenor.

Those who do not obey me, may the Gods

290 grant no crops springing from the ground they plow

nor children to their women! May a fate

like this, or one still worse than this consume them! For you whom these words please, the other Thebans,


25 sovereignty n. supreme authority

26 Pytho’s God Apollo


may Justice as your ally and all the Gods

295 live with you, blessing you now and for ever!


CHORUS: As you have held me to my oath, I speak:

I neither killed the king nor can declare the killer; but since Phoebus set the quest it is his part to tell who the man is.


OEDIPUS: Right; but to put compulsion27 on the Gods 301 against their will—no man can do that

CHORUS: May I then say what I think second best? OEDIPUS: If there’s a third best, too, spare not to tell it CHORUS: I know that what the Lord Teiresias

305 sees, is most often what the Lord Apollo

sees. If you should inquire of this from him you might find out most clearly.


OEDIPUS: Even in this my actions have not been sluggard28

On Creon’s word I have sent two messengers 310  and why the prophet is not here already I have been wondering.


CHORUS: His skill apart

there is besides only an old faint story.


OEDIPUS: What is it?

315I look at every story.


CHORUS: It was said

that he was killed by certain wayfarers.


OEDIPUS: I heard that, too, but no one saw the killer.


CHORUS:  Yet if he has a share of fear at all,

320 his courage will not stand firm, hearing your curse.


OEDIPUS: The man who in the doing did not shrink will fear no word.


CHORUS: Here comes his prosecutor:

led by your men the godly prophet comes

325 in whom alone of mankind truth is native. [Enter TEIRESIAS, led by a little boy]

OEDIPUS: Teiresias, you are versed in everything, things teachable and things not to be spoken, things of the heaven and earth-creeping things.

You have no eyes but in your mind you know 330 with what a plague our city is afflicted.

My lord, in you alone we find a champion,


27 compulsion n. driving force; coercion.

28 sluggard adj. lazy or idle

in you alone on that can rescue us.

Perhaps you have not heard the messengers,

but Phoebus sent in answer to our sending 335 an oracle declaring that our freedom

from this disease would only come when we

should learn the names of those who killed King Laius, and kill them or expel them from our country.

Do not begrudge us oracle from birds, 340 or any other way of prophecy

within your skill; save yourself and the city, save me; redeem the debt of our pollution that lies on us because of this dead man.

We are in your hands; pains are most nobly taken345 to help another when you have means and power.


TEIRESIAS: Alas, how terrible is wisdom when

it brings no profit to the man that’s wise! This I knew well, but had forgotten it, else I would not have come here.


OEDIPUS: What is this?

351 How sad you are now you have come!



go home, It will be easiest for us both to bear our several destinies to the end 355 if you will follow my advice.


OEDIPUS: You’d rob us

of this your gift of prophecy? You talkas one who had no care for law nor love

for Thebes who reared you.


TEIRESIAS:  Yes, but I see that even your own words 361 miss the mark; therefore I must fear for mine.


OEDIPUS:  For God’s sake if you know of anything,

do not turn from us; all of us kneel to you, all of us  here, your suppliants.


TEIRESIAS:  All of you here know nothing. I will not 366 bring to light of day my troubles, mine—

rather than call them yours.


OEDIPUS: What do you mean?

You know of something but refuse to speak. Would you betray us and destroy the city?


TEIRESIAS: I will not bring this pain upon us both, 371 neither on you nor on myself. Why is it

you question me and waste your labor? I will tell you nothing.


OEDIPUS: You would provoke a stone! Tell us, you villain,

375 tell us, and do not stand there quietly


unmoved and balking29 at the issue.


TEIRESIAS: You blame my temper but you do not see your own that lives within you; it is me

you chide.30


OEDIPUS: Who would not feel this temper rise

381 at words like these with which you shame our city?


TEIRESIAS: Of themselves things will come, although I hide them

and breathe no word of them.


OEDIPUS: Since they will come 386 tell them to me.


TEIRESIAS: I will say nothing further.

Against this answer let your temper rage as wildly as you will.


OEDIPUS: Indeed I am

391 so angry I shall not hold back a jot

of what I think. For I would have you know I think you were complotter31 of the deed and doer of the deed save in so far

395 as for the actual killing. Had you had eyes I would have said alone you murdered him.


TEIRESIAS: Yes? Then I warn you faithfully to keep the letter of your proclamation and

from this day forth to speak no word of greeting

400 to these nor me; you are the land’s pollution.


OEDIPUS:  How shamelessly you started up this taunt!

How do you think you will escape?



I have escaped; the truth is what I cherish

405 and that’s my strength.


OEDIPUS: And who has taught you truth? Not your profession surely!


TEIRESIAS:  You have taught me,

for you have made me speak against my will.


OEDIPUS: Speak what? Tell me again that I may learn it better.


TEIRESIAS: Did you not understand before or would you

412 provoke me into speaking?


OEDIPUS: I did not grasp it.


29  balking v. obstinately refusing to act.

30  chide v. scold.

31 complotter n. person who plots against another person.

not so to call it known. Say it again.


TEIRESIAS: I say you are the murderer of the king 416 whose murderer you seek.


OEDIPUS: Not twice you shall

say calumnies32 like this and stay unpunished.


TEIRESIAS: Shall I say more to tempt your anger more?


OEDIPUS: As much as you desire; it will be said 21 in vain


TEIRESIAS: I say with those you love best you live in foulest shame unconsciously and do not see where you are n calamity.33


OEDIPUS: Do you imagine you can always talk 426 like this, and live to laugh at it hereafter?


TEIRESIAS: Yes, if the truth has anything of strength.


OEDIPUS: It has, but not for you; it has no strength for you because you are blind in mind and ears 430 as well as in your eyes.


TEIRESIAS: You are a poor wretch

to taunt me with the very insults which every one soon will heap upon yourself.


OEDIPUS:  Your life is one long night so that you cannot 435 hurt me or any other who sees the light.


TEIRESIAS: It is not fate that I should be your ruin,

Apollo is enough; it is his care to work this out.


OEDIPUS: Was this your own design

440 or Creon’s?


TEIRESIAS: Creon is no hurt to you, but you are yourself.


OEDIPUS: Wealth, sovereignty and skill outmatching skill

for the contrivance34 of an envied life!

445 Great store of jealousy fill your treasury chests, if my friend Creon, friend from this and loyal,

thus secretly attacks me, secretly desires to drive me out and secretly

suborns35 this juggling trick devising quack, 450 this wily beggar who has only eyes



32 calumnies n. false and malicious statements; slander.

33  calamity n. extreme misfortune that leads to disaster.

34 contrivance n. act of devising or scheming.

35 suborns v. instigates a person to commit perjury.


for his own gains, but blindness in his skill.

For, tell me, where have you seen clear, Teiresias, with your prophetic eyes? When the dark singer, the sphinx, was in your country, did you speak 455 word of deliverance to its citizens?

And yet the riddle’s answer was not the province

of a chance comer. It was a prophet’s task and plainly you had no such gift of prophecy from birds nor otherwise from any God

460 to glean a word of knowledge. But I came, Oedipus, who knew nothing, and I stopped her. I solved the riddle by my own wit alone.

Mine was no knowledge got from birds. And now you would expel me,

465 because you think that you will find a place by Creon’s throne. I think you will be sorry, both you and your accomplice, for your plot

to drive me out. And did I not regard you

as an old man, some suffering would have taught you 470 that what was in your heart was treason.


CHORUS: We look at this man’s words and yours, my

king, and we find both have spoken  them in anger.

We need no angry words but only thought

how we may best hit the God’s meaning for us.


TEIRESIAS:  If you are king, at least I have the right 476 no less to speak in my defense against you.

Of that much I am master. I am no slave of yours, but Loxias’, and so I shall not enroll myself with Creon for my patron.

480 Since you have taunted me with being blind, here is my word for you.

You have your eyes but see not where you are

in sin, nor where you live, nor whom you live with. Do you know who your parents are? Unknowing 485 you are an enemy to kith and kin

in death, beneath the earth, and in this life. A deadly footed, double striking curse,

from father and mother both, shall drive you forth out of this land, with darkness on your eyes,

490 that now have such straight vision. Shall there be a place will not be harbor to your cries,36

a corner of Cithaeron37 will not ring in echo to your cries, soon, soon,–

when you shall learn the secret of your marriage, 495 which steered you to a haven in this house,-haven no haven, after lucky voyage?

And of the multitude of other evils establishing a grim equality

between you and your children, you know nothing. 500 So, muddy with contempt my words and Creon’s! Misery shall grind no man as it will you.


36 Shall. . . . cries is there any place that won’t be full of your


37 Cithaeron n. mountain near Thebes on which Oedipus was abandoned as an infant.

OEDIPUS: Is it endurable that I should hear

such words from him? Go and a curse go with you! Quick, home with you! Out of my house at once!


TEIRESIAS: I would not have come either had you not call me.


OEDIPUS: I did not know then you would talk like a fool—

507 or it would have been long before I called you.


TEIRESIAS: I am a fool then, as it seems to you— but to the parents who have bred you, wise.


OEDIPUS: What parents? Stop! Who are they of all the world?


TEIRESIAS: This day will show your birth and will destroy you.


OEDIPUS: How needlessly your riddles darken everything.


TEIRESIAS: But it’s in riddle answering you are



OEDIPUS:  Yes. Taunt me where you will find me great. TEIRESIAS: It is this very luck that has destroyed you. OEDIPUS: I do not care, if it has saved this city.

TEIRESIAS: Well, I will go. Come, boy, lead me away.


OEDIPUS: Yes, lead him off. So long as you are here,

you’ll be a stumbling block and a vexation;

520 once gone, you will not trouble me again.


TEIRESIAS: I have said

what I came here to say not fearing your countenance; there is no way you can hurt me. I tell you, king, this man, this murderer

525 (whom you have long declared you are in search


indicting him in threatening proclamation as murderer of Laius)—he is here.

In name he is a stranger among citizens But soon he will be shown to be a citizen

530 true native Theban, and he’ll have no joy.

of the discovery: blindness for sight and beggary for riches his exchange,

he shall go journeying to a foreign country tapping his way before him with a stick.

535 He shall be proved father and brother both to his own children in his own house; to her that gave him birth, a son and husband both;

a fellow sower in his father’s bed


with that same father that he murdered.

540 Go within, reckon that out, and if you find me mistaken, say I have no skill in prophecy


[exit separately TEIRESIAS and OEDIPUS]



who is the man proclaimed

by Delphi’s prophetic rock

as the bloody handed murderer,

545 the doer of deeds that none dare name?

Now is the time for him to run with a stronger foot

than Pegasus38

for the child of Zeus leaps in arms upon him 550 with fire and the lightning bolt,

and terribly close on his heels are the Fates that never miss.



Lately from snowy Parnassus clearly the voice flashed forth,

555 bidding each Theban track him down, the unknown murderer.

In the savage forests he lurks and in the caverns like

the mountain bull

560 He is sad and lonely, his feet

that carry him far from the navel of earth;39 but its prophecies, ever living,

flutter around his head.



The augur40 has spread confusion, 565 terrible confusion;

I do not approve what was said nor can I deny it.

I do not know what to say;

I am in a flutter of foreboding; 570 I never heard in the present nor past of a quarrel between

the sons of Labdacus and Polybus, that I might bring as proof

in attacking the popular fame 575 of Oedipus, seeking

to take vengeance for undiscovered death in the line of Labdacus.



Truly Zeus and Apollo are wise and in human things all knowing;


38 Pegasus mythical winged horse.

39 navel of earth fissure, or crack, on Mount Parnassus from which mysterious vapors arose to inspire Pythia, priestess of the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi.

40 augur n. fortuneteller or prophet; refers here to Teiresias

580 but amongst men there is no

distinct judgment, between the prophetand me—which of us is right.

One man may pass another in wisdom but I would never agree

585 with those that find fault with the king till I should see the word

proved right beyond doubt. For once in visible form the Sphinx

came on him and all of us

590 saw his wisdom and in that test

he saved the city. So he will not be condemned by my mind.


[Enter CREON.]


CREON: Citizens, I have come because I heard deadly words spread about me, that the king accuses me. I cannot take that from him.

595 If he believes that in these present troubles

he has been wronged by me in word or deed  I do not want to live on with the burden

of such a scandal on me. The report injures me doubly and most vitally— 600 for I’ll be called a traitor to my city and traitor also to my friends and you.


CHORUS: Perhaps it was a sudden gust of anger that forced that insult from him, and no judgment.


CREON: But did he say that it was a compliances

605 with schemes of mine that the seer told him lies?


CHORUS: Yes, he said that, but why, I do not know. CREON: Were his eyes straight in his head? Was his mind right

when he accused me in this fashion?


CHORUS: I do not know; I have no eyes to see

610 what princes do. Here comes the king himself. [Enter OEDIPUS]

OEDIPUS: You, sir, how is it you come here? Have you so much

brazen faced daring that you venture in

my house although you are proved manifestly41 the murderer of that man, and though you tried, 615 openly, highway robbery of my crown?

For God’s sake, tell me what you saw in me,  what cowardice or what stupidity,

that made you lay a plot like this against me? Did you imagine I should not observe

620 the crafty scheme that stole upon me or seeing it, take no means to counter it?



41  proved manifestly clearly proved with evidence.


Was it not stupid of you to make the attempt, to try to hunt down royal power without

the people at your back or friends? For only 625 with the people at your back or money can the hunt end in the capture of a crown.



CREON: Do you know what you’re doing? Will you


to words to answer yours, and then pass judgment?


OEDIPUS: You’re quick to speak, but I am slow to grasp


630 for I have found you dangerous,—and my foe.


CREON: First of all hear what I shall say to that.


OEDIPUS: At least don’t tell me that you are not guilt.


CREON: If you think obstinacy42 without wisdom a valuable possession, you are wrong.


OEDIPUS: And you are wrong if you believe that one, 636 a criminal, will not be punished only

because he is my kinsman.


CREON: This is but just –

but tell me, then, of what offense I’m guilty?


OEDIPUS: Did you or did you not urge me to send 641 to this prophetic mumbler?


CREON: I did indeed,

and I shall stand by what I told you.


OEDIPUS: How long ago is it since Laius. . . . CREON: What about Laius? I don’t understand. OEDIPUS: Vanished—died—was murdered?

CREON: It is long,

648 a long, long time to reckon.


OEDIPUS: Was this prophet 650 in the profession then?


CREON: He was, and honored as highly as he is today.


OEDIPUS: At that time did he say a word about me?


CREON: Never, at least not when I was near him.



42 obstinacy n. stubbornness; state of being unyielding to reason. Creon means that Oedipus cannot see—or refuses to see—the facts

OEDIPUS: You never made a search for the dead man?


CREON: We searched, indeed, but never learned of anything.


OEDIPUS: Why did our wise old friend not say this then?


CREON: I don’t know; and when I know nothing, I

659 usually hold my tongue.


OEDIPUS: You know this much,

661 and can declare this much if you are loyal.


CREON: What is it? If I know, I’ll not deny it.


OEDIPUS: That he would not have said that I killed Laius

had he not met you first.


CREON: You know yourself

666 whether he said this, but I demand that I should hear as much from you as you from me.


OEDIPUS: Then hear, — I’ll not be proved a murderer.


CREON: Well, then. You’re married to my sister.




671 that I am not disposed to deny.


CREON: You rule

this country giving her an equal share in the government?


OEDIPUS: Yes, everything she wants 676 she has from me.


CREON: And I, as thirdsman to you, am rated as the equal of you two?


OEDIPUS: Yes, and it’s there you’ve proved yourself

false friend.


CREON: Not if you will reflect on it as I do. 681 Consider, first, if you think any one would choose to rule and fear rather than rule and sleep untroubled by a feat if power

were equal in both cases. I, at least,

685 I was not born with such a frantic yearning to be a king—but to do what kings do.

And so it is with every one who has learned wisdom and self-control. As it stands now, the prizes are all mine—and without fear. 690 But if I were the king myself, I must


do much that went against the grain.  How should despotic43 rule seem sweeter to me

than painless power and an assured authority? I am not so besotted44 yet that I

695 want other honors than those that come with profit. Now every man’s my pleasure; every man greets me; now those who are your suitors fawn on me, —

success for them depends upon my favor. Why should I let all this go to win that?

700 My mind would not be traitor if it’s wise;

I am no treason lover, of my nature,   nor would I ever dare to join a plot.

Prove what I say. Go to the oracle

at Pytho and inquire about the answers, 705 if they are as I told you. For the rest,

if you discover that I laid any plot   together with the seer, kill me, I say,

not only by your vote but by my own. But do not charge me on obscure opinion

710 without some proof to back it. It’s not just

lightly to count your knaves as honest men,          nor with honest men as knaves. To throw away

an honest friend is, as it were, to throw your life away, which a man loves the best.

715 In the time you will know all with certainty;

time is the only test of honest men,  one day is space enough to know a rogue.


CHORUS: His words are wise, king, if one fears to fall.

Those who are quick of temper are not safe.


OEDIPUS: When he that plots against me secretly 721 moves quickly, I must quickly counterplot.


If I wait taking no decisive measure

his business will be done, and mine be spoiled.

CREON: What do you want to do then? Banish me? OEDIPUS: No, certainly; kill you, not banish you. CREON: I do not think you’ve your wits about you.

OEDIPUS: For my own interests, yes.


CREON: But for mine, too,

729 you should think equally.


OEDIPUS: You are a rogue.


CREON:  Suppose you do not understand?


OEDIPUS:  But yet

I must be ruler.


CREON: Not if you rule badly.

OEDIPUS: O, city, city!


CREON: I too have some share

737 in the city; it is not yours alone.


CHORUS: Stop, my lords! Here—and in the nick of time I see Jocasta coming from the house;

740 with her help lay the quarrel that now stirs you. [Enter JOCASTA.]

JOCASTA:  For shame! Why have you raised this foolish squabbling

brawl? Are you not ashamed to air your private griefs when the country’s sick? Go in, you, Oedipus, and you, too, Creon, into the house. Don’t magnify 745 your nothing troubles.


CREON: Sister, Oedipus,

your husband, thinks he has the right to do terrible wrongs—he has but to choose between two terrors: banishing or killing me.


OEDIPUS: He’s right, Jocasta; for I find him plotting

751 with knavish45 tricks against my person.


CREON: That God may never bless me! May I die accursed, if I have been guilty of

one tittle46 of the charge you bring against me!


JOCASTA: I beg you, Oedipus, trust him in this, 756 spare him for the sake of this his oath to God, for my sake, and the sake of those who stand here.


CHORUS: Be gracious, be merciful, we beg you.


OEDIPUS: In what would you have me yield?


CHORUS: He has been no silly child in the past.

762 he is strong in his oath now. Spare him.


OEDIPUS: Do you know what you ask?




OEDIPUS: Tell me then.


CHORUS: He has been your friend before all men’s eyes;

do not cast

him away dishonored on an obscure conjecture.





43  despotic adj. absolute; unlimited; tyrannical.

44 besotted v. stupefied; foolish.

45  knavish adj. deceitful.

46 tittle n. a very small particle.


OEDIPUS: I would have you know that this request of yours

really requests my death or banishment.


CHORUS: May the Sun God,47 king of Gods, forbid! May I die

772 without God’s blessing, without friends’ help, if I

had any such

thought. But my spirit is broken by my unhappiness for my

wasting country; and this would but add troubles 775 amongst ourselves to the other troubles.


OEDIPUS: Well, let him go then—if I must die ten times for it,

or be sent out dishonored into exile.

It is your lips that prayed for him pitied, not his; wherever he is, I shall hate him.



CREON: I see you sulk in yielding and you’re dangerous

781 when you are out of temper; natures like yours are justly heaviest for themselves to bear.


OEDIPUS: Leave me alone! Take yourself off, I tell you.


CREON: I’ll go you have not known me, but they have,

785 and they have known my innocence.




CHORUS: Won’t you take him inside, lady?


JOCASTA: Yes, when I’ve found out what was the



CHORUS: There was some misconceived suspicion of a story, and

on the other side the sting of injustice.


JOCASTA: So, on both sides?




JOCASTA: What was the story?


CHORUS: I think it best, in the interests of the country, to leave it

794 where it ended.


OEDIPUS: You see where you have ended, straight of judgment

796 although you are, by softening my anger.


CHORUS: Sir, I have said before and I say again— be sure that I


47 Sun God Apollo

would have been proved a madman, bankrupt in sane council, if I

should put you away, you  who steered the country I love safely

800 when she was crazed with troubles. God grant that now, too, you

may prove a fortunate guide for us.


JOCASTA: Tell me, my lord, I beg of you, what was it that roused your anger so?


OEDIPUS: Yes, I will tell you.

805 I honor you more than I honor them.

It was Creon and the plots he laid against me.


JOCASTA: Tell me—if you can clearly tell the quarrel—


OEDIPUS: Creon says

that I’m the murder of Laius.


JOCASTA: Of his own knowledge or on information?


OEDIPUS: He sent this rascal prophet to me, since he keeps his own mouth clean of any guilt.


JOCASTA: Do not concern yourself about this matter; listen to me and learn that human beings

815 have no part in the craft of prophecy.

Of that I’ll show you a short proof.

There was an oracle once that came to Laius, —

I will not say that it was Phoebus’ own,

but it was from his servants— and it told him 820 that it was fate that he should die a victim at the hands of his own son, a son to be born of Laius and me. But, see now, he,

the king, was killed by foreign  highway robbers

at a place where three roads meet—so goes the story; 825 and for the son—before three days were out after his birth King Laius pierced his ankles

and by the hands of others cast him forth upon a pathless hillside. So Apollo failed to fulfill his oracle to the son,

830 that he should kill his father, and to Laius also proved false in that the thing he feared, death at his son’s hands, never came to pass. So clear in this case were the oracles,

so clear and false. Give them no heed, I say; 835 what God discovers need of, easily

he shows to us himself.


OEDIPUS: O dear Jocasta,

as I hear this from you, there comes upon me a wandering of the soul—I could run mad.


JOCASTA: What trouble is it, that you turn again 841 and speak like this?


OEDIPUS: I thought I heard you say that Laius was killed at a crossroads.


JOCASTA:  Yes, that was how the story went and still 845 that word goes round.


OEDIPUS: Where is this place, Jocasta, where he was murdered?


JOCASTA: Phocis is the country

and the road splits there, one of two roads from Delphi, 850 another comes from Daulia.


OEDIPUS: How long ago is this?


JOCASTA: The news came to the city just before you became king and all men’s eyes looked to you. 854 What is it, Oedipus, that’s in your mind?


OEDIPUS: What have you designed, O Zeus, to do with me?


JOCASTA: What is the thought that troubles your heart?


OEDIPUS: Don’t ask me yet—tell me of Laius— How did he look? How old or young was he?


JOCASTA: He was a tall man and his hair was grizzled 860 already—nearly white—and in his form

not unlike you.


OEDIPUS: O God, I think I have

called curses upon myself in ignorance.


JOCASTA: What do you mean? I am terrified 865 when I look at you.


OEDIPUS: I have a deadly fear

that the old seer had eyes. You’ll show me more

if you can tell me one more thing.


JOCASTA:  I will.

870 I’m frightened, —but if I can understand,

I’ll tell you all you ask.


OEDIPUS:  How was his company?

Had he few with him when he went this journey, or many servants, as would suit a prince?


JOCASTA: In all there were but five, and among them 876 a herald;48 and one carriage for the king.


OEDIPUS: It’s plain—it’s plain—who was it told you this?



48  herald n. person who makes proclamations and carries messages.

JOCASTA: The only servant that escaped safe home.


OEDIPUS: Is he at home now?


JOCASTA: No, when he came home again 881 and saw you king and Laius was dead,

he came to me and touched my had and begged that I should send him to the fields to be

my shepherd and so he might see the city 885 as far off as he might. So I

sent him away. He was an honest man, as slaves go, and was worthy of far more that what he asked of me.


OEDIPUS:  O,  how  I  wish  that  he  could  come  back quickly!


JOCASTA: He can. Why is your hear so set on this?


OEDIPUS: O dear Jocasta, I am full of fears

892 that I have spoken far too much; and therefore I wish to see this shepherd.


JOCASTA: He will come;

895 but, Oedipus, I think I’m worthy too

to know what it is that disquiets you.


OEDIPUS: It shall not be kept from you, since my mind has gone so far with its forebodings. Whom

should I confide in rather than you, who is there 900 of more importance to me who have passed through such a fortune?

Polybus was my father, king of Corinth,49 and Merope, the Dorian,50 my mother.

I was held greatest of the citizens

905 in Corinth till a curious chance befell me as I shall tell you—curious, indeed,

but hardly worth the store set upon it. There was a dinner and at it a man,

a drunken man, accused me in his drink 910 of being bastard. I was furious

but held my temper under for that day.

Next day I went and taxed51 my parents with it; they took the insult very ill from him,

the drunken fellow who had uttered it. 915 So I was comforted for their part, but

still this thing rankled52 always, for the story crept about widely. And I went at last

to Pytho, though my parents did not know. But Phoebus sent me home again unhonored


49 Corinth city at the western end of the isthmus (Greece) that joins the Peloponnesus to Boeotia

50 Dorian n. one of the main branches of the Hellenes; the

Dorians invaded the Peloponnesus.

51 taxed v. imposed a burden on; put a strain on.

52  rankled v. caused to have long-lasting anger and resentment.


920 in what I came to learn, but he foretold other and desperate horrors to befall me, that I was fated to lie with my mother,

and show to daylight an accursed breed

which men would not endure, and I was doomed 925 to be murdered of the father that begot me.

When I heard this I fled, and in the days that followed I would measure from the stars the whereabouts of Corinth—yes, I fled

to somewhere where I should not see fulfilled 930 the infamies53 told in that dreadful oracle.

And as I journeyed I came to the place

where, as you say, this king met with his death. Jocasta, I will tell you the whole truth.

When I was near the branching of the crossroads, 935 going on foot, I was encountered by

a herald and a carriage with a man in it, just as you tell me. He that led the way

and the old man himself wanted to thrust me out of the road by force. I became angry

940 and struck the coachman who was pushing me. When the old man saw this he watched his moment, and as I passed he struck me from his carriage,

full on the head with his two pointed goad.54 But he was pain in full and presently

945 my stick had struck him backwards from the car and he rolled out of it. And then I killed them

all. If it happened there was any tie of kinship twixt this man and Laius,

who is then now more miserable than I,

950 what man on earth so hated by the Gods, since neither citizen nor foreigner

may welcome me at home or even greet me, but drive me out of doors? And it is I,

I and no other have so cursed myself. 955 And I pollute the bed of him I killed

by the hands that killed him. Was I not born evil?

Am I not utterly unclean? I had to fly and in my banishment not even see

my kindred not set foot in my own country, 960 or otherwise my fate was to be yoked

in marriage with my mother and kill my father, Polybus who begot me and had reared me.

Would not one rightly judge and say that on me these things were sent by some malignant God? 965 O no, no , no—O holy majesty

of God on high, may I not see that day! May I be gone out of men’s sight before I see the deadly taint of this disaster come upon me.


CHORUS: Sir, we too fear these things. But until you see this man

971 face to face and hear his story, hope.

OEDIPUS: Yes, I have just this much hope—to wait until the herdsman comes.


JOCASTA:  And when he comes, what do you want with him?


OEDIPUS: I’ll tell you; if I find that his story is the same as yours, I

975 at least will be clear of this guilt.


JOCASTA:  Why what so particularly did you learn from my story?


OEDIPUS: You said that he spoke of highway robbers who killed Laius. Now if he uses the same number, it was not I who killed him. One man cannot 980 be the same as many. But if he speaks of a man travelling alone, then clearly the burden of the

guilt inclines toward me.


JOCASTA:  Be sure, at least, that this was how he told the story. He cannot unsay it now, for every 985 one in the city heard it—not I alone. But, Oedipus, even if he diverges from what he said then,

he shall never prove that the murder of Laius squares rightly with the prophecy—for Loxias declared  that the king should be killed by his own 990 son. And that poor creature did not kill him surely, —for he died himself first. So as far as prophecy goes, henceforward I shall not look to the right hand or the left.


OEDIPUS: Right. But yet, send some one for the peasant to bring

995 him here; do not neglect it.


JOCASTA: I will send quickly. Now let me go indoors. I will do

nothing except what pleases you.


[Exit. ]



May destiny ever find me pious in word and deed

995 prescribed by the laws that live on high: laws begotten in the clear air of heaven, whose only father is Olympus;

no mortal nature brought them to birth, no forgetfulness shall lull them to sleep;

1000 for God is great in them and grows not old.



Insolence55 breeds the tyrant, insolence




53 infamies n. items of notorious disgrace and dishonor.

54 goad n. sharp, pointed stick used to drive animals.

55 insolence n. arrogance; bold disrespectfulness.


if it is glutted with a surfeit,56 unseasonable, unprofitable,

climbs to the roof-top and plunges sheer down to the ruin that must be, 1005 and there its feet are no service.

But I pray that the God may never

abolish the eager ambition that profits the state.

For I shall never cease to hold the God as our protector.



If a man walks with haughtiness

1010 of hand or word and gives no heed to Justice and the shrines of Gods despises—may an evil doom

smite him for hiss ill-starred pride of heart! —


if he reaps gains without justice 1015 and will not hold from impiety

and his fingers itch for untouchable things.

When such things are done, what man shall contriveto shield his soul from the shafts of the God?

When such deeds are held in honor,

1020 why should I honor the Gods in the dance?




JOCASTA:  Princes of the land, I have had the thought to go

my prayer: grant us escape free of the curse. 1045 Now when we look to him we are all afraid;

he’s pilot of our ship and he is frightened.




MESSENGER: Might I learn from you, sirs, where is the house of Oedipus? Or best

of all, if you know, where is the king himself?


CHORUS: This is his house and he is within doors. This lady is his wife and mother

1050 of his children.


MESSENGER: God bless you, lady,  and God bless your household! God bless

Oedipus’ noble wife!


JOCASTA: God bless you, sir, for your kind greeting!

What do you

want of us that you have come here? What have you to tell us?


MESSENGER: Good news, lady. Good for your house and for your

1056 husband.


JOCASTA: What is your news? Who sent you to us?


MESSENGER: I come from Corinth and the news I bring will give

you pleasure. Perhaps a little pain too.


JOCASTA: What is this news of double meaning? MESSENGER: The people of the Isthmus will choose Oedipus to be

1062 their king. That is the rumor there.


JOCASTA: Nut isn’t their king still old Polybus?


MESSENGER:  No. He is in his grave. Death has got him.


to the Gods’ temples, bringing in my hand 1035 garlands and gifts of incense, as you see.

For Oedipus excites himself too much

at every sort of trouble, not conjecturing,57

like a man of sense, what will e from what was,

but he is always at speaker’s mercy, 1040 when he speaks terrors. I can do no good

by my advice, and so I came as suppliant to you, Lycaean Apollo, who are nearest.

These are the symbols of my prayer and this



56 surfeit n. excessive supply

57 conjecturing v. inferring or prediction from incomplete evidence.

JOCASTA: Is that the truth? Is Oedipus’ father dead?


MESSENGER:  May I die myself if it be otherwise!


JOCASTA: [to a SERVANT]: Be quick and run to the King with the

news! O oracles of the Gods, where are you now? It was from

this man Oedipus fled, lest he should be his murderer!


1070 now he is dead, in the course of nature, and not killed by Oedipus.


[Enter OEDIPUS.]


OEDIPUS: Dearest Jocasta, why have you sent for me?


JOCASTA: Listen to this man and when you hear reflect what is the

outcome of the holy oracles of the Gods.


OEDIPUS: Who is he? What is his message for me?


JOCASTA: He is from Corinth and he tells us that 1076 your father Poly bus is dead and gone.


OEDIPUS: What’s this you say, sir? Tell me yourself.


MESSENGER: Since this is the first matter you  want clearly told:

Polybus has gone down to death. You may be sure of



OEDIPUS: By treachery or sickness?


MESSENGER: A small thing will put old bodies asleep.


OEDIPUS: So he died of sickness, it seems, —poor old man!


MESSENGER: Yes, and of age—the long years he had 1085 measured.


OEDIPUS: Ha! Ha! O dear Jocasta, why should one look to the Pythian hearth?58 Why should one lookto

the birds screaming overhead? They prophesied that I should kill my father! But he’s dead, 1090 and hidden deep in earth, and I stand here

who never laid a hand on a spear against him,— unless perhaps he died of longing for me,


and thus I am his murderer. But they,

the oracles, as they stand—he’s taken them

1095 away with him, they’re dead as he himself is,

and worthless.


JOCASTA: That I told you before now.


OEDIPUS: You did, but I was misled by my fear.


JOCASTA: But surely I must fear my mother’s bed?


OEDIPUS: Why should man fear since chance is all in all 1101 for him, and he can clearly foreknow nothing?

Best to live lightly, as one can, unthinkingly. As to

your mother’s marriage bed, —don’t fear it.

1105 Before this, in dreams too, as well as oracles, many a man has lain with his own mother.

But he to whom such things are nothing bears his life most easily.


58 Pythian hearth n. the Delphic oracle that prophesied

Oedipus’ crime.

OEDIPUS: All that you say would be said perfectly 1110 if she were dead; but since she lives I must still fear, although you talk so well, Jocasta:


JOCASTA: Still in your father’s death there’s light of



OEDIPUS: Great light of comfort; but I fear the living.


MESSENGER:  Who  is  the  woman  that  makes  you afraid?


OEDIPUS: Merope, old man, Polybus’ wife.


MESSENGER: What about her frightens the queen and you?


OEDIPUS: A terrible oracle, stranger, from the Gods.


MESSENGER: Can it be told? Or does the sacred law 1120 forbid another to have knowledge of it?


OEDIPUS: O no! Once on a time Loxias said that I should lie with my own mother and take on my hands the blood of my own father.  And so for these long years I’ve lived away

1125 from Corinth; it has been to my great happiness;

but yet it’s sweet to see the face of parents.


MESSENGER: This was the fear which drove you out of Corinth?


OEDIPUS: Old man, I did not wish to kill my father.


MESSENGER: Why should I not free you from this fear, sir.

1130 since I have come to you in all goodwill?


OEDIPUS: You would not find me thankless if you did.


MESSENGER: Why, it was just for this I brought the news, —

to earn your thanks when you had come safe home.


OEDIPUS: No, I will never come near my parents.



1136 it’s very plain you don’t know what you’re doing.


OEDIPUS: What do you mean, old man? For God’s sake,

tell me.


MESSENGER: If your homecoming is checked by fears like these.


OEDIPUS: Yes, I’m afraid that Phoebus may prove right.


MESSENGER: The murder and the incest?


OEDIPUS: Yes, old man;

1142 that is my constant terror.


MESSENGER: Do you know that all your fears are empty?


OEDIPUS: How is that,

1146 if they are father and mother and I their son?


MESSENGER: Because Polybus was no kin to you in blood.


OEDIPUS: What, was not Polybus my father?


MESSENGER: No more than I but just so much.


OEDIPUS: How can

1151 my father be my father as much as one

that’s nothing to me?

OEDIPUS: Why do you speak of that old pain?


MESSENGER: I loosed you;

1175  the  tendons  of  your  feet  were  pierced  and fettered, —


OEDIPUS: My swaddling60   clothes  brought  me a rare disgrace.


MESSENGER:  So  that  from  this  you’re  called  your

present name.   61


OEDIPUS: Was this my father’s doing or my mother’s?

For God’s sake, tell me.


MESSENGER: I don’t know, but he

1181 who gave you to me has more knowledge than I.


OEDIPUS: You yourself did not find me then? You took me



MESSENGER: Neither he nor I begat you.


OEDIPUS: Why then did he call me son?


MESSENGER: A gift he took you from these hands of mine.


OEDIPUS:  Did  he  love  so  much  what  he  took  from

another’s hand?


MESSENGER: His childlessness before persuaded him.


OEDIPUS: Was I a child you bought or found when I 1159 was given to him?


MESSENGER: On Cithaeron’s slopes

in the twisting thickets you were found.


OEDIPUS: And why

were you a traveler in those parts?


MESSENGER: I was in charge of mountain flocks.


OEDIPUS: You were a shepherd?

1167 a hireling vagrant?59


MESSENGER: Yes, but at least at that time the man that saved your life, son.


OEDIPUS: What ailed me when you took me in your arms?

from someone else?


MESSENGER: Yes, from another shepherd.


OEDIPUS: Who was he? Do you know him well enough to tell?


MESSENGER: He was called Laius’ man.


OEDIPUS: You mean the king who reigned here in the old days?


MESSENGER: Yes, he was that man’s shepherd.


OEDIPUS: Is he alive

1190 still, so that I could see him?


MESSENGER: You who live here would know best.


OEDIPUS: Do any of you here

know of this shepherd whom he speaks about 1195 in town or in the fields? Tell me. It’s time that this was found out once for all.


CHORUS: I think he is none other than the peasant whom you have sought to see already; but Jocasta here can tell us best of that.


OEDIPUS: Jocasta, do you know about this man

1201  whom  we  have  sent  for?  Is  he  the  man  he mentions?



MESSENGER: In that your ankles should be witnesses.

60 swaddling clothes long, narrow bands of cloth wrapped


59  hireling vagrant person who wanders from place to place and works at odd jobs.

around infants in ancient times.

61 your present name Oedipus means “swollen foot”


JOCASTA: Why ask of whom he spoke? Don’t give it


nor try to keep in mind what has been said. It will be wasted labor.


OEDIPUS: With such clues

1206 I could not fail to bring my birth to light.


JOCASTA: I beg you—do not hunt this out—I beg you, if you have any care for your own life.

What I am suffering is enough.


OEDIPUS: Keep up

1211 your heart, Jocasta. Though I’m proved a slave, thrice slave, and though my mother is thrice slave, you’ll not be shown to be of lowly lineage.


JOCASTA: O be persuaded by me, I entreat you; 1215 do not do this.


OEDIPUS: I will not be persuaded to let be

the chance of finding out the whole thing clearly.


JOCASTA: It is because I wish you well that I

give you this counsel—and it’s the best counsel.


OEDIPUS: Then the best counsel vexes me, and has 1221 for some while since.


JOCASTA: O Oedipus, God help you!

God keep you from the knowledge of who you are!


OEDIPUS: Here, some one, go and fetch the shepherd for me;

1225 and let her find her joy in her rich family!


JOCASTA: O Oedipus, unhappy Oedipus! that is all I can call you, and the last thing that I shall ever call you.




CHORUS: Why has the queen gone, Oedipus, in wild 1230 grief rushing from us? I am afraid that trouble will break out of this silence.


OEDIPUS: Break out what will! I at least shall be willing to see my ancestry, though humble.

Perhaps she is ashamed of my low birth,

1235 for she has all a woman’s high-flown pride. But I account myself a child of Fortune,62 beneficent Fortune, and I shall not be

1240 and now again as mighty. Such is my breeding, and I shall never prove so false to it,

as not to find the secret of my birth.



If I am a prophet and wise of heart you shall not fail, Cithaeron,

1245 by the limitless sky, you shall not!— to know at tomorrow’s full moon

that Oedipus honors you,

as native to him and mother and nurse at once;

and that you are honored in dancing by us, as finding favor in sight of our king.

1250  Apollo,  to  whom  we  cry,  find  these  things pleasing!



Who was it bore you, child? One of

the long-lived nymphs63 who lay with Pan64— the father who treads the hills?

Or  was  she  a  bride  of  Loxias,  your  mother?  The grassy slopes

1255 are all of them dear to him. Or perhaps Cyllene’s


or the Bacchaants’ God that lives on the tops

of the hills received you a gift from some

one of the Helicon Nymphs, with whom he mostly plays?


{Enter an OLD MAN, lead by OEDIPUS’ SERVANTS.]


OEDIPUS: If some one like myself who never met him 1260 may make a guess, —I think this is the herdsman, whom we were seeking. His old age is consonant

with the other. And besides, the men who bring him I recognize as my own servants. You

perhaps may better me in knowledge since

1265 you’ve seen the man before.


CHORUS: You can be sure

I recognize him. For if Laius

had ever an honest shepherd, this was he.


OEDIPUS: You, sir, from Corinth, I must ask you first, 1270 is this the man you spoke of?


MESSENGER: This is he before your eyes.


OEDIPUS: Old man, look here at me

and tell me what I ask you. Were you ever


dishonored.She’sthe motherfromwhomIspring;


the months, my brothers, marked me, now as small


62 child of Fortune Since Fortune, or good luck, saved him from death, Oedipus refuses to feel shame at being illegitimate or of humble origins.

63 nymphs n. minor female divinities with youthful, beautiful,

and amorous qualities; “nymph” means young woman.

64  Pan Arcadian shepherd god who lived in the mountains, danced and sang with the nymphs, and played his pipes.

65 Cyllene’s King Hermes, the messenger god.


1275 a servant of King Laius?


HERDSMAN: I was, —

no slave he bought but reared in his own house.


OEDIPUS: What did you do as work? How did you live?


HERDSMAN:  Most  of  my  life  was  spent  among  the flocks.


OEDIPUS: In what part of the country did you live?


HERDSMAN: Cithaeron and the places near to it.


OEDIPUS: And somewhere there perhaps you knew this man?


HERDSMAN: What was his occupation? Who?


OEDIPUS: This man here,

1285 have you had any dealings with him?



not such that I can quickly call to mind.


MESSENGER: That is no wonder, master. But I’ll make

him remember

what he does not know. For I know, that he well knows the country of

1290 Cithaeron, how he with two flocks, I with one kept company for three

years—each  year  half  a  year—from  spring  till  autumn time and then

when winter came I drove my flocks to our fold home again and he to

Laius’ steadings. Well—am I right or not in what I said we did?

HERDSMAN: You’re right—although it’s a long time



MESSENGER: Do you remember giving me a child 1296 to bring up as my foster child?


HERDSMAN: What’s this?

Why do you ask the question?


MESSENGER: Look old man,

1300 here he is—here’s the man who was that child!


HERDSMAN:  Death  take  you!  Won’t  you  hold  your



OEDIPUS: No, no,

do not find fault with him, old man. Your words are more at fault than his.


HERDSMAN: O best of masters, 1306 how do I give offense?

OEDIPUS: When you refuse

to speak about the child of whom he asks you.


HERDSMAN: He speaks out of his ignorance, without meaning.


OEDIPUS: If you’ll not talk to gratify me, you

1311 will talk with pain to urge you.


HERDSMAN: O please, sir,

don’t hurt an old man, sir.


OEDIPUS [to the SERVANTS]: Here, one of you, 1315 twist his hands behind him.


HERDSMAN: Why, God help me, why?

What do you want to know?


OEDIPUS: You gave a child

to him, —the child he asked you of?



1321 I wish I’d died the day I did.


OEDIPUS: You will unless you tell me truly.


HERDSMAN: And I’ll die

1325 far worse if I should tell you.


ODEPIPUS: This fellow

is bent on more delays, as it would seem.


HERDSMAN: O no, no! I have told you that I gave it.


OEDIPUS: Where did you get this child from? Was 1330 it your own or did you get it from another?



my own at all; I had it from some one.


OEDIPUS: One of these citizens? or from what house?


HERDSMAN:  O  master,  please—I  beg  you,  master, please

1335 don’t ask me more.


OEDIPUS: You’re a dead man if I

ask you again.


HERDSMAN: It was one of the children of Laius.


OEDIPUS: A slave? Or born in wedlock?


HERDSMAN:  O  God,  I  am  on  the  brink  of  frightful speech.



OEDIPUS: And I of frightful hearing. But I must hear.


HERDSMAN: The child was called his child; but she within,

1344 your wife would tell you best how all this was.


OEDIPUS: She gave it to you? HERDSMAN: Yes, she did, my lord. OEDIPUS: To do what with?

HERDSMAN: Make away with it.


OEDIPUS: She was so hard—its mother?


HERDSMAN: Aye through fear 1351 of evil oracles.



HERDSMAN: They said that he should kill his parents. OEDIPUS: How was it that yougave it to this old man? HERDSMAN: O master,

I pitied it, and thought that I could send it off to another country and this man

1360 was from another country. But he saved it for the most terrible troubles. If you are

the man he says you are, you’re bred to misery.


OEDIPUS: O, O, O, they will all come,

all come out clearly! Light of the sun, let me 1365 look upon you no more after today!

I who first saw the light bred of a match accursed and accursed in my living

with them I lived with, cursed in my killing. [Exit all but the CHORUS.]


O generations of men, how I

1370 count you as equal with those who live not at all!

What man, What man on earth wins more of happiness than a seeming

and after that turning away?

1375 Oedipus, you are my pattern of this, Oedipus, you and your fate!

Luckless Oedipus, whom of all men I envy not at all.



In as much as he shot his bolt

1380 beyond the others and won the prize

of happiness complete—

O Zeus—and killed and reduced to nought

the hooked taloned maid of the riddling speech,66 standing a tower against death for my land;

1385 hence he was called my king and hence was honored the highest of all

honors; and hence he ruled in the great city of Thebes.



But now whose tale is more miserable? 1390 Who is there lives with a savager fate? Whose troubles so reverse his life as his?

O Oedipus, the famous prince for whom a great have

the same both as a father and son 1395 sufficed for generation,

how, O how, have the furrows plowed

by  your  father  endured  to  bear  you,  poor  wretch, and hold their peace so long?



Time who sees all has found you out

1400 against your will; judges your marriage accursed, begetter and begot at one in it.

O child of Laius,

would I had never seen you. I weep for you and cry 1405 a dirge of lamentation.

To speak directly, I drew my breath from you at the first and so now I lull my mouth to sleep with your name.




SECOND MESSENGER: O Princes always honored by our country,

1410 what deeds you’ll hear of and what horrors see, what grief you’ll feel, if you as true born Thebans, care for the house of Labdacus’s sons.

Phasts nor Ister67 cannot purge68 this house, I think, with all their streams, such things

1415 it hides, such evils shortly will bring forth into the light, whether they will or not;

and troubles hurt the most when they prove self-inflicted.


CHORUS: What we had known before did not fall short

1420 of bitter groaning’s worth; what’s more to tell?


SECOND MESSENGER: Shortest to hear and tell—our

glorious queen Jocasta’s dead.



66  the hooked taloned maid of the riddling speech the Sphinx; talons are claws.

67 Phasis nor Ister rivers that flow to the Black Sea.

68 purge v. cleanse of guilt or sin.



CHORUS: Unhappy woman! How?


SECOND MESSENGER: By her own hand. The worst of what was done

1425 you cannot know. You did not see the sight.

Yet in so far as I remember it

you’ll hear the end of our unlucky queen. When she came raging into the house she went straight to her marriage bed, tearing her hair

1430 with both her hands, and crying upon Laius long dead—Do you remember, Laius,

that night long past which bred a child for us to send you to your death and leave

a mother making children with her son?

1435     And then she groaned and cursed the bed in which

she brought forth husband by her husband, children by her own child, an infamous double bond.

How after that she died I do not know, —

for Oedipus distracted us from seeing.

1440 He burst upon us shouting and we looked to him as he paced frantically around,

begging us always: Give me a sword, I say, to find this wife no wife, this mother’s womb, this field of double sowing whence I sprang

1445 and where I sowed my children! As he raved some god showed him the way—none of us there.

Bellowing terribly and led by some

invisible guide he rushed on the two doors, —

wrenching the hollow bolts out of their sockets,

1450 he charged inside. There, there, we saw his wife hanging, the twisted rope around her neck.

When he saw her, he cried out fearfully

and cut the dangling noose. Then as she lay,

poor woman, on the ground, what happened after. 1455 was terrible to see. He tore the brooches— the gold chased brooches fastening her robe— away from her and lifting them up high

dashed them on his own eyeballs, shrieking out such things as: they will never see the crime 1460 I have committed or had done upon me!

Dark eyes, now in the days to come look on forbidden faces, do not recognize    those

whom you long for—with such imprecations69 he struck his eyes again and yet again

1465  with  the  brooches.  And  the  bleeding  eyeballs gushed

and stained his beard—no sluggish oozing drops

but  a  black  rain  and  bloody  hail  poured  down.

So it has broken—and not on one head

but troubles mixed for husband and for wife. 1470 The fortune of the days gone was true good fortune—but today groans and destruction and death and shame—of all ills can be named not one is missing.


69 imprecations n. acts of cursing and invoking evil.

CHORUS: Is he now in any ease from pain?



1476 for some one to unbar the doors and show him to all the men of Thebes, his father’s killer,

his mother’s—no I cannot say the word, it is unholy—for he’ll cast himself,

1480 out of the land, he says, and not remain to bring a curse upon his house, the curse

he called upon it in his proclamation. But

he wants for strength, aye, and some one to guide him; his sickness is too great to bear. You, too,

1485 will be shown that. The bolts are opening.

Soon you will see a sight to waken pity even in the horror of it.


[Enter the blinded Oedipus.]


CHORUS: This is a terrible sight for men to see!

I never found a worse!

1490 Poor wretch, what madness came upon you!

What evil spirit leaped upon your life

to your ill-luck—a leap beyond man’s strength!

Indeed I pity you, but I cannot

look at you, though there’s much I want to ask

1495 and much to learn and much to see. I shudder at the sight of you.



where am I going? Where is my voice borne on the wind to and fro?

1500 Spirit, how far have you sprung?


CHORUS: To a terrible place whereof men’s ears

may not hear, nor their eyes behold it.


OEDIPUS: Darkness!

Horror of darkness enfolding, resistless unspeakable visitant sped by an ill wind in haste!

1505 madness and stabbing pain and memory of evil deeds I have done!


CHORUS: In such misfortunes it’s no wonder

if double weighs the burden of your grief.


OEDIPUS: My friend,

15110you are the only steadfast, the one that attends on me;

you still stay nursing the blind man.

Your care is not unnoticed. I can know

your voice, although this darkness is my world.


CHORUS: Doer of dreadful deeds, how did you dare 1515 so far to do despite to your own eyes?

What spirit urged you to it?


OEDIPUS: It was Apollo, friends, Apollo,


that  brought  this  bitter  bitterness,  my  sorrows  to completion.

But the hand that struck me 1520 was none but my own.

Why should I see

whose vision shoed me nothing sweet to see?

CHORUS: These things are as you say.


OEDIPUS: What can I see to love?

1525 What greeting can touch my ears with joy?

Take me away, and haste—to the place out of the way! Take me away, my friends, the greatly miserable,

the most accursed, whom God too hates above all men on earth!


CHORUS: Unhappy in your mind and your misfortune, 1531 would I had never known you!


OEDIPUS: Curse on the man who took

the cruel bonds from off my legs, as I lay in the field. He stole me from death and saved me,

1535 no kindly service. Had I died then

I would not be so burdensome to friends.


CHORUS: I, too, could have wished it had been so.


OEDIPUS: Then I would not have come

1540   to   kill   my   father   and   marry   my   mother infamously.

Now I am godless and child of impurity,

begetter in the same seed that created my wretched self. If there is any ill worse than ill,

that is the lot of Oedipus.


CHORUS: I cannot say your remedy was good;

1546 you would be better dead than blind and living.


OEDIPUS: What I have done here was best done—don’t tell me

otherwise, do not give me further counsel. I do not know with what eyes I could look 1550 upon my father when I die and go

under the earth, nor yet my wretched mother— those two to whom I have done things deserving worse punishment than hanging. Would the sight of children bred as mine are, gladden me?

1555 No, not these eyes, never. And my city, its towers and sacred places of the Gods,

of these I robbed my miserable self  when I commanded all to drive him out, the criminal since proved by God impure 1560 and of the race of Laius.

To this guilt I bore witness against myself— with what eyes shall I look upon my people? No. If there were a means to choke the fountain

of hearing I would not have stayed my hand 1565 from locking up my miserable carcass,70 seeing and hearing nothing; it is sweet

to keep your thoughts out of the range of hurt. Cithaeron, why did you receive me? why having received me did you not kill me straight?

1570  And  so  I  had  not  shown  to  men  my  birth. O Polybus and Corinth and the house,

the old house that I used to call my father’s—

what fairness you were nurse to, and what foulness festered beneath! Now I am found to be

1575 a sinner and a son of sinners. Crossroads, and hidden glade, oak and the narrow way

at the crossroads, that drank my father’s blood offered you by my hands, do you remember still what I did as you looked on, and what

1580 I did when I came here? O marriage, marriage! you bred me and again when you had

bred children of your child and showed to men brides, wives and mothers and the foulest deeds that can be in this world of ours.

1585 Come—it’s unfit to say what is unfit

to do. —I beg of you in God’s name hide me somewhere outside your country, yes, or kill me, or throw me into the sea, to be forever

out of your sight. Approach and deign to touch me 1590 for all my wretchedness, and do not fear.

No man but I can bear my evil doom.


CHORUS: Here Creon comes in fit time to perform or give advice in what you ask of us.

Creon is left as sole ruler in your stead.


OEDIPUS: Creon! Creon! What shall I say to him? 1596 How can I justly hope that he will trust me? In what is past I have been proved towards him an utter liar.


[Enter CREON.]


CREON: Oedipus, I’ve come

1600 not so that I might laugh at you nor taunt you with evil of the past. But if you still

are without shame before the face of men reverence at least the flame that gives all life, our Lord the Sun, and do not show unveiled 1605 to him pollution such that neither land nor holy rain nor light of day can welcome.




Be quick and take him in. It is most decent that only kin should see and hear the troubles of kin.



70 carcass n. dead body of an animal; here, scornful references

to Oedipus’ own body.


OEDIPUS: I beg you, since you’ve torn me from 1611 my dreadful expectations and have come in a most noble spirit to a man

that has used you vilely71—do a thing for me.

I shall speak for your own good, not for my own.


CREON: What do you need that you would ask of me?


OEDIPUS: Drive me from here with all the speed you can

to where I may not hear a human voice.

CREON: Be sure, I would have done this had not I wished first of all to learn from the God the course 1620 of action I should follow.


OEDIPUS: But his word

has been quite clear to let the parricide,72 the sinner, die.


CREON: Yes, that indeed was said.

1625 But in the present need we have best discover what we should do.


OEDIPUS: And will you ask about a man so wretched?


CREON: Now even you will trust 1630 the God.


OEDIPUS: So. I command you—and will beseech you— to her that lies inside that house give burial

as you would have it; she is yours and rightly you will perform the rites for her. For me— 1635 never let this my father’s city have me living a dweller in it. Leave me live

in the mountains where Cithaeron is, that’s called

my mountain, which my mother and father

while they were living would have made my tomb. 1640 So I may die by their decree who sought indeed to kill me. Yet I know this much:

no sickness and no other thing will kill me.

I  would  not  have  been  saved  from  death  if  not For some strange evil fate. Well, let my fate

1645 go where it will.

Creon, you need not care

about my sons; they’re men and so wherever

they are, they will not lack a livelihood. But my two girls—so sad and pitiful—

150 whose table never stood apart from mine, and everything I touched they always shared— O Creon, have a thought for them! And most

I wish that you might suffer me to touch them and sorrow with them.

[Enter   ANTIGONE   and   ISMENE,   OEDIPUS’   two


1655 O my lord! O true noble Creon! Can I really be touching them, as when I saw?

What shall I say?

Yes, I can hear them sobbing—my two darlings! and Creon has had pity and has sent me

1660 what I loved most?     Am I right?


CREON: You’re right: it was I gave you this

because I knew from old days how you loved them as I see now.


OEDIPUS: God bless you for it, Creon,

1666 and may God guard you better on your road that he did me!

O children,

where are you? Come here, come to my hands,

1670 a brothers hands which turned your father’s eyes,

those bright eyes you knew once, to what you see, a father seeing nothing, knowing nothing, begetting you from his own source of life.

I weep for you—I cannot see your faces— 1675 I weep when I think of the bitterness there will be in your lives, how you must live before the world. At what assemblages

gay company will you go and not come home 1680 in tears instead of sharing in the holiday?          And when you’re ripe for marriage, who will he be the man who’ll risk to take such infamy

as shall cling to my children, to bring hurt

on them and those that marry with them? What

1685 curse is not there? ―Your father killed his father

and sowed the seed where he had sprung himself and begot you out of the womb that held him.‖

These insults you will hear. Then who will marry you? No one, my children; clearly you are doomed

1690 to waste away in barrenness unmarried. Son of Menoeceus,73 since you are all the father left these two girls, and we, their parents, both are dread to them—do not allow them wander like beggars, poor and husbandless.

1695 They are of your own blood.

And do not make them equal with myself in wretchedness; for you can see them now so young, so utterly alone, save you only. Touch my hand, noble Creon, and say yes. 1700 If you were older, children, and wiser,

there’s much advice I’d give you. But as it is, let this be what you pray: give me a life wherever there is opportunity

to live, and better than was my father’s.


CREON: Your tears have had enough of scope; no go within the house.




71 vilely adv. wickedly.

72 parricide n. one who murders one’s father.

73 Son of Menoeceus Creon.


OEDIPUS: I must obey, though bitter of heart.


CREON: In season, all is good.


OEDIPUS: Do you know on what conditions I obey?


CREON: You tell me them,

1710 and I shall know them when I hear.


OEDIPUS: That you shall send me out to live away from Thebes.


CREON: That gift you must ask of the God. OEDIPUS: But I’m now hated by the Gods. CREON: So quickly you’ll obtain your prayer. OEDIPUS: You consent then?

CREON: What I do not mean, I do not use to say.

OEDIPUS: Now lead me away from here. CREON: Let go the children, then, and come. OEDIPUS: Do not take them from me.

CREON: Do not seek to be master in everything,

1722 for the things you mastered did not follow you throughout your life.


[As CREON and OEDIPUS go out.]


CHORUS: You that live in my

ancestral Thebes, behold this    Oedipus, —

Him who knew the famous riddles and was a man most masterful;

1725 not a citizen who did not look with envy on his lot—

see  him  now  and  see  the  breakers  of  misfortune swallow him!

Look upon that last day always. Count no mortal happy till he has passed the final limit of his life secure from pain.


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