Introductions and Translations to the Plays of Sophocles and Euripides : Vol. I [1 ed.] 9781443846615, 9781847180629

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Introductions and Translations to the Plays of Sophocles and Euripides : Vol. I [1 ed.]
 9781443846615, 9781847180629

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Introductions and Translations to the Plays of Sophocles and Euripides

Introductions and Translations to the Plays of Sophocles and Euripides Vol. I

Introduced and translated by

Harry Love

CAMBRIDGE SCHOLARS PRESS

Introductions and Translations to the Plays of Sophocles and Euripides: Vol. I, introduced and translated by Harry Love This book first published 2006 by Cambridge Scholars Press 15 Angerton Gardens, Newcastle, NE5 2JA, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2006 by Harry Love

All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN 1-84718-063-9

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction........................................................................................................... 1 Introduction: Oedipus the King........................................................................... 15 Sophocles’ Oedipus the King.............................................................................. 37 Introduction: Oedipus at Colonus ....................................................................... 90 Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus .......................................................................... 98 Introduction: Antigone...................................................................................... 165 Sophocles’ Antigone ......................................................................................... 181 Appendix: Sophocles ........................................................................................ 227

Line numbers in all the play-texts refer to the corresponding lines in the Greek texts.

INTRODUCTION

The seven plays and accompanying essays that comprise these two volumes are the result of some twelve years of translating and staging ancient drama for the Department of Classics at the University of Otago. Though leavened with a couple of Aristophanic romps (Clouds, Lysistrata) and some Terentian acid (Eunuch), the focus has been on the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides. Putting these plays before a modern audience is generally considered a worthy, if slightly eccentric, activity. And they will, if the weather’s not too cold, attract a reasonable audience ranging from the well-informed, but classically starved, through modest platoons of students of classical studies, to the simply curious. Responses are, usually, gratifying, a testament to both the ancient playwrights (has anyone, for example, ever demonstrated greater dramatic acumen than Sophocles in Oedipus the King?) and to the theatrical skills of some excellent performers. A question that does frequently arise, however, is, why do we need new translations, given that renditions of these generally better known Greek plays are innumerable and multiplying by the week? There are three answers. Firstly, asking a further question, as an actor, would you feel comfortable standing up on a stage and saying this, or this…? In many cases the answer was ‘no’ (and what does it mean anyway?). The challenge, therefore, and it is a perennial one, is to find some register of the ephemeral phenomenon that is modern English that can reflect some of the essential dramatic characteristics of ancient Greek with sufficient comfort for the tongue of an actor and the ear of an audience. Secondly, it’s a lot of fun. Thirdly (and here candour is called for) as these productions have all been filmed and the resulting video-tapes and dvds distributed to institutions far and wide, problems of copyright are avoided. The translations, then, have arisen primarily from practical considerations. The success of considerations two and three is easily demonstrated, whereas that of 1 must rely on whoever is prepared to stand up on a stage and say this, or this…, and whoever is prepared to listen. But translating, as hardly needs to be pointed out, is not merely substituting the words of one language for another, especially for something as conceptually complex as a drama. In effect the translation isn’t finished until the piece has been enacted because not only are we shifting it into a new linguistic medium, but into a new theatrical medium (and even further if we put it on a screen). The whole process raises many thorny questions about the nature of the original, of the new version

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Introduction

and of the relation between them, questions about exactly what is being ‘translated’ into what? Ruminations on such things have given rise to the collection of occasional essays that preface each of the plays. These reflect, too, something about the process that bridges the gap between page and stage. Given the material a text gives you to use (and to what interpretive lengths can you stretch that?) what do you want an audience to feel and to think and how do you use the available theatrical resources to achieve it? There’s not much in the essays on the latter, as resources, material and human, vary greatly, but I do incline to the notion that a text (we won’t talk of authors just yet) has designs on an audience, and that the various components of its language and structure comprise a dramatic rhetoric that it is the task of a director to facilitate. The essays are largely an attempt to articulate and analyse dramatic rhetoric. It follows, then, that the essence of a dramatic translation is to maintain as far as possible the rhetorical dynamic of the original in a form that allows it to work on those who have access to neither its language nor its theatrical conditions.

The Substance of Tragedy It is a continuing mystery to many that plays from so long ago and far away, even without the cloak of contemporary ‘issues’ draped over them, can work so powerfully on audiences who may be quite unfamiliar with Greek tragedy. There are, without going down the trail of some kind of universalist psychology, good reasons for this. It is, of course, true that the Greeks, along with everyone else, noticed that human beings, individually and collectively, die, are subject to the forces of nature in their huge variety of manifestations, and are both blessed and burdened with passions and intellect. What they have done in tragic drama is to have invented an aesthetic form that is not merely about this state of human affairs, but presents it in a characteristic mode that is reflected in the aesthetic and philosophic history of modern Europe. This is a dramatic tradition which, though eclipsed for long periods of time since the fifth century BC, has revived itself through the evolution of theatrical traditions from the Renaissance on. Philosophically the focus of tragic drama is on the tension between the emotional lives of individuals and the ‘objective’ world that surrounds them, natural and/or divine and social, with all its epistemological, ethical, political and metaphysical implications. Theatrically, as conventions, technology and expectations change, there is a tension, or at least a fluctuation in the relation between content, the dramatic enactment of emotional life, and the forms that

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contain it, or, perhaps more accurately, shape the relation between the aesthetic object and those who observe it.1 Emotions, then, lie at the heart of the tragic project, as both the subject matter of tragedy and the dynamic that drives a particular kind of theatrical experience. Aristotle saw this in the theatre at Athens and approved: Plato saw it and did not. What they both saw but evaluated differently was the part emotions play in human perception, that our experience, our knowledge of the world is achieved through a veil of feelings, a fact which renders individual human beings weak and vulnerable in relation to the world around them. Plato most certainly considered emotions to be the weaker part of humanity and found the theatre’s evocation of them a threat to his rational enterprise. Aristotle, like the tragedians whose plays he analysed, could find some value in this ambivalent and very human characteristic and in the theatrical evocation and “catharsis of emotions”.2 Emotions and their dynamics are, therefore, at the heart of a translation of tragedy, not simply in the sense that one is attempting to reproduce an experience, but that emotions are evoked such that an audience can ‘see’ and evaluate them, assign them some kind of meaning. The experience of watching Oedipus stagger blind and bloody onto the stage, or Polymestor, or Pentheus’ head on a stick held by his mother, and, perhaps even more importantly, hearing the graphic details of the catastrophe from an observer on the stage, is of a different order from watching a boxer beaten to a pulp or a bull-fighter gored by his bull; it is distanced, it is nuanced, it is dramatic and it is emotionally charged. And neither are we indulging in ritual, whatever the obscure and possibly ritualistic origins of Greek theatre. Speculation about the ritual stimulation of some atavistic corner of our subconscious is not, I think, fruitful. The relation between audiences and the various spectacles that confront them is principally determined by a set of mutual expectations that tend to solidify into conventional behaviours, which are themselves subject to the erosions and accretions of time. There is space here only to assert that in the invention of tragic theatre the Greeks established a form that could sustain the expression of ‘serious’ entertainment; that is, a form that appealed to a theatre 1

I do not propose here to explicate further ‘the dramatic enactment of emotional life,’ which I hope will become clear as I proceed and in the essays below. I would, however, strongly recommend two works of extraordinary depth and breadth that get to the heart of what is meant by ‘dramatic enaction’: Edward Burns. Character: Acting and Being on the Pre-Modern Stage. London: Macmillan, 1990, and E. Rozik. The Roots of Theater. Iowa City: Iowa UP, 2002. 2 For discussions of what Aristotle may have meant by referring to the “catharsis of emotions”, see Stephen Halliwell. Aristotle’s Poetics. London: Duckworth, 1986, and N. Van der Ben. “Aristotle, Poetics, 1449b27-28.” In Bremer, et al (1976) 1-15.

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Introduction

audience (neither a congregation of worshippers nor a crowd of sporting or circus spectators) by offering an experience that stimulated thought about the experience. And the theatrical relationship they created does not inhere solely in the performative elements (actors and the physical space of the theatre) but also in the fact that the dramatic poets developed a mode of writing, a dramatic form that orientates a reader in much the same way as a performance does its audience.3 Any ‘serious’ art (including, of course, the seriously funny) is about reflection, and though in practice audiences are invariably collections of mixed motives, if the expectations of art are overwhelmed by inappropriate audience expectations, art will pack up its ideas and go somewhere else to reshape itself or to challenge the conventions and expectations that constrain it. And the other way round. Theatre that loses the muscularity of its dramatic content to become mere spectacle is likely to lose at least some of its audience to other genres, then collapse when a change of fashion diverts what’s left. Such has been the oscillating relation between dramatic tragedy and its audiences over the past 2500 years.

The Shape of Tragedy According to Aristotle, tragedy was born out of the performance of dithyrambic songs; ie, narrative poems about gods and heroes, sung by a chorus and accompanied by an aulos, or double pipe. Out of this choric story-telling developed an actor, or hypokrites, ‘one who answers’, through whom the most important figure in the story speaks in the first person to the chorus. “Aeschylus,” Aristotle continues, “introduced a second actor; he diminished the importance of the chorus and assigned the leading part to dialogue. Sophocles raised the number of actors to three and added scene-painting”.4 From this small beginning a couple of points can be extracted. Firstly, while there is movement away from the essential musicality of performance, from song and dance, toward the visualisation of character played by an actor, signalled initially by costume and mask, the principal source of intelligibility remains in the sung or spoken word, in language as the primary bearer of image 3

Cf many of Robert Browning’s monologues. ‘My Last Duchess’, eg, has all the characteristics of a dramatic scene with a structural irony that populates it with at least 2 characters other than the speaker (rather like a Greek messenger speech) and manipulates the reader into a particular perspective on events, present and past, and on the emotions that have brought them about. It is perhaps significant that serious British theatre of this period was somewhat moribund, and that the best dramatic writing in English was not for the stage. 4 Poetics 1449a 9-19. Trans. S.H. Butcher. London: Macmillan, 1895, 17-19.

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and meaning, in what someone says.5 The song of the dithyramb mutates into the speech, however poetic and formalised, of identifiable characters. Hence the narrative characteristic of painting word-pictures gives way to the direct expression of thought and feeling, to the impersonation of character (ethos) as a means of enacting rather than describing an incident. Even in those elements, like messenger speeches, which clearly do have a narrative purpose, the emotional characteristics of the speaker are of equal importance to the narrative content as far as the dramatic effect and its significance are concerned. Greek messengers invariably have feelings about and views on the scenes they describe. Secondly, the idea of action is intimately tied to this expression of thought and feeling. We get to know what happens and what it means through an interplay of perspectives, supplemented on the stage by conventional signals, visual (costumes, etc) and aural (music). It is this interplay that is the essentially dramatic element because it leads to the creation of dramatic distance, that gap, expressed most often as a form of irony, between the knowledge, including the emotional knowledge, of an audience and that of the figures on the stage. The dramatic object that we see inheres in the figures who contribute to the interplay of perspectives and feelings rather than in the scene, which is a secondary visual element. Although Aristotle refers to Sophocles’ addition of scene-painting (skenographia), we know little about what it actually consisted of, or how integral it might have been to performance. Given the nature of the Greek stage, it seems unlikely that the primary visual focus would have been on anything much other than the actors, all the figures who move, speak or sing.6 The dramatic genre, this complex relation between the object and its audience, is manifested also in the texts, in a form of writing, I would argue, that the Greeks developed out of the performative tradition of choric narratives. One vivid example. In the third episode of Oedipus the King (9101088), the Corinthian messenger brings his good news, that Polybus of Corinth is dead, and, as helpful as ever, goes further to assure Oedipus that the king and queen of Corinth were not his real parents, so the prophecy of incest and parricide is nothing to fear. As the scene progresses there is an interplay of four perspectives, each with its particular emotional characteristic. The Corinthian presses on in his avuncular fashion, unaware of the significance of what he says; Oedipus, initially relieved, is then determined to resolve his personal mystery; 5

We should remember also that the elaborate visual re-creation of scenic images on the stage is a relatively recent phenomenon and that audiences (ie, those who listen) have long relied on words to create images for them. 6 Cf Shakespeare’s bare stage. A visit to the new Globe Theatre demonstrates vividly how all the visual elements (costume, properties, even objects like ropes or the two large pillars that frame the stage) actually enhance the audience’s focus on the actors.

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Introduction

Jocasta, sharing Oedipus’ relief to begin with, becomes aware of the horrible truth behind the messenger’s information; and the chorus, a little apprehensive as Jocasta departs, is then determined to put the best gloss on the situation in the concluding song as a response to Oedipus’ misreading of her departure. The dramatic structure of the scene is such that the emotional experience of the audience is not merely the sum of the contributing elements on the stage. It puts them in a position to watch the short but excruciating journey Oedipus must make through the next scene to reach their state of knowledge and to ‘see feelingly’, to use Brecht’s phrase, the emotional experience it entails. If on one level the expression of Tragedy gave rise to a dramatic genre, a shape, that has persisted through time, on another more local level Greek tragedy was bound by contemporary conventions, literary and theatrical, that do not apply in other periods. Here I would like briefly to consider some of these, particularly the chorus.7 There is a conventional form that all known Greek tragedies conform to, which appears to reflect the dithyrambic origins, and which consists of alternate scenes (or episodes) of spoken dialogue and choric songs (stasima). A play begins with a prologos, usually spoken and setting the scene, before the chorus enter, singing (the parodos), followed by three or four epeisodia, punctuated by choric stasima, after the last of which is the exodos, or exit scene. On the face of it this looks a very rigid structure, but in practice it has proved extremely flexible and a consistently effective framework for the dramatic process it supports. Within this structure the role of the chorus is gradually reduced through the fifth century, or apparently so. Aristotle asserts that Aeschylus “diminished the importance of the chorus,” but of the three playwrights whose works survive, the chorus features most in his, with more lines and an active part in the plot (see, eg, the Eumenides) as a kind of composite character. Aristotle further observes: The chorus should be taken as part of the complement of actors, engaging in the whole action, not in the manner of Euripides, but of Sophocles. Among later poets, their choral pieces are no more relevant to the one plot than to that of any 8 other tragedy. They are mere sung interludes, a trend begun by Agathon.

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Literature on Greek theatre is voluminous and I do not intend to discuss it here. See Csapo & Slater. The Context of Ancient Greek Drama. Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 1994, and for a concise account, Alan H. Sommerstein. Greek Drama and Dramatists. London: Routledge, 2002. 8 Poetics 1456a 25-30. For a concise but detailed account of the Greek chorus see, Helene Foley. “Choral Identity in Greek Tragedy.” Classical Philology 98 (2003) 1-30.

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This general diminution of the chorus, however, should not lead us to underestimate its dramatic significance, and although some of those of Euripides do seem less integrated into the action (in Hippolytus and Medea, for example), that of his last play, the Bacchae, is given a crucial role in its tragic dynamic. It is certainly the case that after the classical period the chorus becomes more decorative than functional; the chorus in Seneca’s Latin versions of the Greek plays does little more than offer more or less relevant poetic comment between acts. And insofar as such a thing as a dramatic chorus existed in the modern, post-Renaissance theatre, it had been transformed into something like a narrator, a commentator, detached from the drama, who mediates between the audience and the fictional world of the play. Shakespeare’s chorus in Henry V, or that of Anouilh in his version of Antigone are typical. The Greek chorus has in some respects been a difficult element for modern directors and audiences to deal with. Or had been until relatively recently, but as a result of a burgeoning interest in things communal and the idea of theatre as ritual, not to speak of the legacy of the 1960s and the influence of such practitioners as Richard Schechner, the chorus has come back into focus. This interest is also reflected in a renewed prominence for Euripides’ Bacchae, a play which historically had been neglected, compared with the stage histories of, say, Oedipus, Medea and Phaedra. Schechner’s own 1969 production, its influence signalled by the collection of essays, Dionysus Since 69: Greek Tragedy at the Dawn of the New Millennium,9and new versions like Wole Soyinka’s African Bacchae,10 put the chorus at the centre of the play, as both a political and aesthetic response to the individualist thrust and ‘character’ focus of more conventional theatre. This view tends to assume a conception of the chorus as somehow representative of the community, including the audience, and one means among others of ultimately dissolving the boundaries between stage and auditorium, achieving ‘catharsis’ or closure, even a quasi-religious experience, perhaps rendering the negative suffering of the protagonist into the positive of sacrifice and the triumph of the community over the individual. However, the shape of tragedy as I see it does not support such a neoNietzschian view. The chorus is a ‘character’, invariably showing the same limitations of perception and knowledge that distinguish other characters from the audience. Of the choruses we have most are characterised as groups normally marginalised in fifth century Greek society and so would have spoken with no particular social or political authority.11 And although it is generally the 9

E.Hall, F.Macintosh & A.Wrigley, eds. Oxford: OUP, 2004. The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite. New York: Norton, 1974. 11 Out of a total of 33 plays 20 have female choruses, many of them slaves or servants, 11 male and 2 (both Aeschylus) female deities. This does not reflect the predominantly male citizen composition of the contemporary audience. 10

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Introduction

case that Euripidean and Sophoclean choruses do express conventional views and feelings about the events they witness, they function principally to give an emotional underpinning to the plot, sometimes in harmony with what might be expected of an audience and sometimes not. The third stasimon of Oedipus the King (1089-1109), mentioned above, is a case in point, although after the play’s crucial revelation in the next episode the chorus take up the emotional baton and from the fourth stasimon (1188-1222) until the end are emotionally at one with the theatre audience. But there is no sense of a resolution or closure to the tragic trauma; rather a shared knowledge of the fact that there can’t be.12 The important point is that however conventional a chorus might sound, in either its feelings or judgements, it is part of the fictional world, part of the interplay of perspectives that confronts an audience. The broad shape of tragedy arises out of the dramatic relation between stage and audience. In the first instance Greek tragedy reflects its social and religious origins and a view of the world that places humanity precariously in the context of a natural (and divine) world that is infinitely powerful and functions according to non-human principles. If, as Aristotle says, tragedy is “an imitation not of men, but of action and life, – of happiness and misery,”13 then it is an imitation (perhaps we should say, representation) of interaction between human characteristics that move individuals to action and the non-human characteristics that drive the wider world (ie, the gods). The tragic stage makes the invisible world of the gods visible, or at least traceable through a pattern of action that manifests itself through the visible, human world. And if happiness and misery are the subjects, the focus is on how these are experienced. The human world is confined to fleeting impressions of the present, corrupted memories of the past and a future that consists only of hope or fear, because nothing else can be known about it. Only the gods have that sort of knowledge. That is the condition of the tragic stage, down on which an audience looks from the relative security of their wider, if still imperfect knowledge of the world of the play. This is the framework of Tragedy within which human experience is given significance. Those forces, natural or divine, exist beyond the limitations of humanity, but manifest themselves through it. For the Greeks, they were gods; for Shakespeare the pervasive presence of evil made visible in the witches of Macbeth, or the machinations of Iago, Edmund or Richard III; for Samuel Beckett, a void, made manifest through the increasingly desperate sense of isolation that besets his characters. 12

For an alternative view see Charles Segal. “Catharsis, Audience and Closure in Greek Tragedy.” In Silk. ed. (1996) 149-72. 13 Poetics 1450a 10-11.

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Human emotions are not those of the gods. The hope and fear that characterise human perception are, necessarily, the engines of action; distorted knowledge leads to mistaken action (Aristotle’s hamartia) and to tragedy. The pity and fear14 that Aristotle found so central to the idea of tragedy are characteristic of human action. When Oedipus asks the shepherd why he saved a condemned child only for it to suffer the most horrible tragedy when an adult, his answer is, “I pitied it.” And so he makes his contribution to Apollo’s pitiless justice. Similarly, it is pity for his citizens that sets Oedipus on the road to his terrible discovery, and pity that moves Teiresias to attempt to hide what could not be hidden from Oedipus. On the other hand, when Artemis tells Hippolytus that she is sorry to lose such an ardent admirer, she expresses no sense of pity, but a sense of dike, of justice, an almost mechanical restoring of the balance, that is impervious to the suffering of any individual caught up in the process, and exemplified in her promise to make one of Aphrodite’s acolytes suffer in return. It is Agave’s crazed inability to hear her son’s cry for pity, and so to recognise him for who he is, that allows her to dismember him on behalf of Dionysus. This last points to a crucial distinction between human and divine values, particularly the notion of ‘justice’, which is a pervasive theme throughout Greek tragedy. Euripides’ Hecuba makes the point most clearly when she argues to an immovable Odysseus, who behaves with god-like emotional detachment, that if necessity requires a sacrifice, it should be Helen, not her innocent daughter Polyxena. Her distinction is between justice that is fair and distinguishes between personal innocence and guilt, (qualitative justice, if you like) and justice that is mere impersonal restoration of the balance, regardless of individuals; quantitative justice. Such a distinction is, I think, the culmination of Aeschylus’ Oresteia.

The Playwrights Greek tragedy flourished, mainly in Athens, for a relatively brief period, historically, and of the hundreds, if not thousands, of plays written between 530

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Aristotle’s word, phobos, is most often translated as ‘fear’. However, in the context of emotions expressed through action, eg, the spectacle of a mutilated Oedipus or Hippolytus, or the horrors related by various messengers, the word ‘horror’ seems more appropriate. In some respects it seems that the concept of fear experienced by an audience doesn’t really make sense, and may be a relic of the neoclassical notion that tragic fear induced in an audience will lead them to avoid bad things and generally behave well.

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Introduction

BC15 and the end of the fifth century, only 34 survive more or less complete. And these few represent the work of only three playwrights among many. There is clearly much that we don’t know about the breadth and depth of this dramatic art in its native habitat. However, those we do have demonstrate over a period of about 70 years16 a general shift in focus and differences of individual style and technique within the rather fixed confines of literary and theatrical convention. The Greek drama was performed as part of a religious festival. The importance of the religious context must not be underestimated, but one must also beware of overestimating it. In contrast to various paradramatic rites and pageants found in other traditional societies, Greek drama is distinguished by its secularity. Drama developed out of ritual at a time when most of Greek society underwent a transition from a dominant rural aristocratic society to a dominant urban democratic social formation and the traditional pieties began to be replaced with a civic ideology suited to the new social structure.17

In emphasising the secularity of Greek tragedy within its religious context of performance, Csapo and Slater are underpinning the ‘dramatic’ nature of the event as opposed to ritual significance. Though part of a ritual (the religious festivals of the Dionysia or the Lenea) that celebrates or acknowledges the order of divine and civic law and custom, the dramas offer representations of breakdown of that order, tragic and comic, which are sanctioned by and articulated through the conventional occasion. On the other hand, the plays themselves put their stories in a world thickly populated with gods, some of whom actually appear on the stage. To that extent Greek tragedy is religious; at one level they are all about the interaction between men and gods. We should not, either, regard the pantheon of gods with their various fields of expertise as mere metaphors. On the stage they are representations (as a statue or a painting would be) of entities that are normally invisible to mortal eyes. And, as I have suggested, even when they don’t appear on the stage, as in Antigone, Oedipus the King and Hecuba, you can see where they have been. The shift in focus that happens through this complex mixture of the religious and secular comes about through a gradual shift in the balance between religious and human values; from, to put it simply, Aeschylus’ focus on wilful human folly that sets in train a sequence of events beyond its control, through Sophocles’ confirmation of the cruelty and grandeur of the world, yet the possibility of human greatness within the limits of human frailty, to Euripides’ focus on the intrinsic value of human 15 The date of the first dramatic competitions at the newly established Festival of Dionysus in Athens, reputedly won by Thespis. 16 From c.472 for Aeschylus’ earliest extant play, Persians, to 401 for the posthumous production of Sophocles’ last play, Oedipus at Colonus. 17 Csapo & Slater (1995) 103.

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relationships. It’s a new, more ‘humanistic’ set of values and a new focus on the human institutions, marriage, family, politics, etc, that embody them. Our two playwrights, therefore, while sharing in general terms a view of the world and the way it ticks, express a degree of individual vision that is reflected in aspects of their dramatic techniques, the manner in which they construct the dramatic rhetoric of their plays. Sophocles’ three ‘Theban’ plays, so called, are not a unified trilogy. They were written over a span of some 36 years, Antigone the earliest (c.442), though the last in the narrative sequence, followed by Oedipus the King (c.436-26) and Oedipus at Colonus, produced after his death in 401. However, taken together, the three plays present a coherent and sombre vision. Firstly, the laws of the universe are fixed and inexorable, as are the gods who facilitate them. Apollo stands behind every event, as Oedipus reveals to the chorus when they ask why he so mutilated himself: “Apollo, Apollo brought it down; but my own hand struck me” (Oedipus the King 1330-1). The eternal works through the ephemeral. Sophocles appears to present his world through a kind of cinematic lens. In the wide view is a universe that is vast, cold, inhuman and terrifying, where invisible gods are ever-present. The mid-view is the most positive, wherein human society can boast achievements almost as miraculous as the gods’, a fruitful marriage of human ingenuity and nature’s bounty, celebrated by the choruses of Antigone (333-375) and Oedipus at Colonus (668-719). The narrow focus is on the individual, whose brief existence is dominated by his capacity to feel, and, of course, his knowledge that his stay is a temporary one. Hence even pleasure is painful in the end: The man who clings to more than a Moderate portion of life is a fool: The days pile up on the way towards Grief and the pleasures you knew Are not there when you’ve limped along Longer than you should. But relief Comes to all when Hades descends Without bridesong or lyre or dance And death is the end. (Oedipus at Colonus 1211-22)

The tragic paradox, however, is in the coincidence of levels one and three, in the possibility of individual greatness, when, even as they are crushed, an Antigone or an Oedipus can seem, at least briefly, to stand above it all. But if our moral sense is touched by the injustice of what happens, by the fact that the rhetoric of the plays has induced a powerful sympathy for these figures and yet

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they suffer, Sophocles never allows his audience to question the gods, to bring them into the frame of judgement, but simply to accept that state of affairs as a fact of life. Sophocles’ dramatic technique is simple but effective. In both Antigone and Oedipus the King he uses dramatic irony to bring the plot to a point of tragic finality, in the former with Creon’s capitulation to Tereisias’ thunderous expression of the divine will (1096-1114) and in the latter with the shepherd’s revelation of Oedipus’ history (1171-87). What follows in both plays is an elaborate poetic statement of the tragic state of the world, in which pity and horror are left to hang like exposed nerve-ends, allowing the audience to both see it and feel it. There is no irony in the conclusions of these plays. Oedipus at Colonus is a little different. In some respects it is less a tragedy than a play about tragedy: Oedipus himself goes beyond the reach of tragedy, leaving the other characters behind in the quotidian world. There is a reflexive irony at the end as they all move off back to Thebes with some faint hope of reconciliation and an end to the cycle, but, as the audience would have known, the next chapter in the story is Antigone’s and we are all back where we started. Euripides’ tragedies have a different tone. He was felt to be more ‘realistic’ in his portrayal of people; as Aristotle noted, “Sophocles says he made men as they should be; whereas Euripides made them as they are.”18 Few if any of his characters achieve the kind of grandeur of Sophocles’ major figures, and his tragic world, while no less harsh and unforgiving than Sophocles’, seems also more capricious. This is at least in part due to his dramatic technique, a different kind of irony and a different way of managing an audience’s awareness of the emotional experience. Within the conventional shape of Greek tragedy, Euripides inserts a structural principle of juxtaposition. This principle works on a number of levels, both thematic, in that it asserts a three-level view of the world, similar to Sophocles’ (the wider, god-populated universe, the world of human institutions and the emotional world of the individual); and functional, as a means of manipulating his audience’s responses. More so than his older colleague, Euripides puts gods on the stage. They provide a context for action – quite literally in the case of Hippolytus, where the action takes place between statues of Aphrodite and Artemis, the two contending goddesses who drive the plot of the play. Unlike the invisible Apollo of Sophocles’ plays, these divinities, while no less powerful and ruthless, are explicitly contrasted with the feelings and actions of their human subordinates, and they do not come off very well. They are kept in the frame, so to speak, and the non- (or in-) human values that they exhibit are juxtaposed to the emotional 18

Poetics 1460b 34-6.

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lives and often confused ethics of the human players. But we are left in no doubt where our sympathies lie. And where divinities enter more directly into the action, as Dionysus does in the Bacchae and Medea at the conclusion of her play (her human attributes have been stripped away by Jason’s betrayal and the (semi-) divine grand-daughter of the Sun reacts with characteristic vigour), the juxtaposition of two inimical sets of values is made quite explicit. What the gods do in response to human transgression may be ‘just’, but it is not human, as Cadmus suggests to an uncomprehending Dionysus: CAD: We beg you, Dionysus, we have been wrong. DION: You were slow to see. When you should have, you did not. CAD: We understand. But this is harsh. (Bacchae 1345-7)

Which looks like a bit of an understatement. The structural principle is most evident in plays like Hippolytus and Hecuba, both of which have been criticised at various times for being structurally flawed, for falling into two halves which, as far as the plot is concerned, appear only tenuously related. The point is that Euripides is less concerned with consequences as such, or the fact that necessity (whether Sophocles’ moira, or the simple reality of divine omnipotence or human power over others) will produce a particular outcome, than with a variety of possible perspectives on what happens. Thus we have boxes within boxes, where actions, whatever their causal relation, more importantly reflect on each other. Within the frame of the goddesses’ pique (the first box), Phaedra struggles with her passion and decides to act to preserve her ‘character’ as wife, mother, queen, and Hippolytus, hearing from the nurse of her feelings for him, roundly condemns her, and all women (the second box); Phaedra executes a plan (and herself) to achieve this, falsely accusing Hippolytus as she does so, and Theseus, stricken by his wife’s suicide, condemns Hippolytus to death (the third box); Hippolytus, innocent, is destroyed. Within each of these boxes is a mix of ethical and emotional confusion, where innocence and guilt are inextricably tangled and the audience is ruthlessly pushed backwards and forwards between ethical condemnation and emotional sympathy. This is not the sort of irony that Sophocles indulges in. In both Hecuba and Medea Euripides manipulates powerful sympathy for the two women whose worlds are turned upside down by betrayal. Then he turns the tables on his audience in order to juxtapose their feeling and their judgement. Bacchae is perhaps the most sophisticated example of this rhetorical device. Further, with Dionysus on stage as manipulator of the plot, Euripides’ ironic structure shifts Greek tragedy to a potentially different sphere. The structure of Bacchae is the

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precursor of a comic mode, in which the clever manipulator manages the plot and exploits his special relationship with the audience. The difference is that Dionysus’ descendents have lost their divinity and joined the ranks of those they make fun of. In comedy we can laugh at the cleverness of the slave who fools his betters, confident in the knowledge that life will resume its normal rhythm at the end. Dionysus allows you no such confidence. In general terms the two dramatists may be said to share the world-view of their time, but within the limits of the artistic conventions of their milieu, they express it differently. What they share is a vision of humanity founded on the reality of emotional life in a world that does not share the experience. They differ, at least in part, in tone and style. Sophocles’ high seriousness and broad sweep, and his ability to adjust the focus down to the most initimate human experience, make him the George Eliot (or Thomas Hardy) of fifth-century Greece; Euripides’ irony, his sharp adjustments of focus and feeling, would have made him proud to have been the author of Vanity Fair.

INTRODUCTION: OEDIPUS THE KING ‘SAD FORM OF ALL OUR FATE’

The idea of a Text Presenting any classic drama to a modern audience is a challenge. Presenting the likes of Oedipus, Hippolytus, Hamlet or Lear, or the handful of other plays that represent the core of a theatrical and literary tradition stiffens the challenge still further. Such plays are generally understood as literature first and only secondarily as theatrical artifacts. It is usually as written texts that they are experienced, and the significance that we attribute to them derives from the same analytical processes that are applied to other literary forms. Given such a history, a couple of inferences can be drawn. Firstly, as landmarks in the history of ideas, these plays have become encrusted with meanings and associations which carry with them expectations about their significance that go far beyond anything their authors may have understood. Oedipus and Freud go hand in hand in a manner quite alien to anything that Sophocles and his Athenian audience could have known. Lear has been a source of moral lessons that Shakespeare, from his Renaissance perspective, might have found quite bizarre. And the very conception of a tragedy has undergone countless permutations ever since Aristotle accorded it critical notice. Insofar as these texts have become part of the texture of our ideas about the world, any interpreter foolhardy enough to risk presenting them on a stage has to confront a host of pre-judgements and expectations. Secondly, these plays are great literature. Their longevity is due, first, to the obvious fact that they have been recorded in written form, and, secondly, to their capacity to withstand the critical scrutiny that literature of all genres must undergo. Though written to be performed, they were written for stages and audiences very different from our own. And if they maintain their power in performance, it is not simply because they are theatrical as well as literary artifacts. Both stages and pages are subject to change in the way that we look at them and in the assumptions we make about what we expect to see. But the

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stage, rather more than the page, is subject to the pressures of the moment, to conventions and expectations that reflect the more localised characteristics of a society: its sense of community and entertainment; its conception of dramatic illusion and style; its technology; even its economy. Not all dramatic texts survive these changes (try, for example, to produce much of Restoration or eighteenth century tragedy credibly on a modern stage), but some do. There must, therefore, be some quality, some characteristic in the texts of those, like Oedipus, that survives the test of credibility, something which transcends translation into another theatrical environment. As any editor will confirm, all texts are variable, and dramatic texts especially so. Besides the usual interference of editors, printers, translators, even authors with changeable minds, dramatic texts undergo the interpretation and embellishment of directors and actors before the final product is put before an audience. Even so, it is the text that is the foundation upon which theatrical success is laid; or rather, particular qualities of text that embody both the general characteristics of good literature and the specific characteristics of the dramatic genre. In spite of appearances, and of the fact that theatre, as the name implies, is a visual medium, mature drama derives its essential qualities from the fact that it is, in the first instance, a written form: ...Greek drama, though orally performed, was composed as a written text and in the west was the first verbal genre, and for centuries the only verbal genre, to be controlled completely by writing.1

The peculiar qualities of this form are manifested through plot and character. The development of a complex plot of the kind described by Aristotle in the Poetics arises from dramatists’ ability to shape a series of events into a tight climactic structure, to transform the events of a ‘story’ into a complex and often ironic ‘plot’. Rather than a collection of episodes which have only a loose structural relationship and a more or less exclusive focus on events that occur within each one, the dramatic plot takes its episodes and juxtaposes them so that their significance arises from their interaction. Scenes are not self-contained episodes, and their placement is crucial to the sense and effect of the whole, even in plays as apparently loosely constructed as Shakespeare’s. This structural character conceivably has an effect on the use of language; that is, whether ‘poetic’ or naturalistic, there is potential for the intricate and reflective vocabulary and imagery that drama shares with other literary genres. Thus irony is generated. Although irony is not exclusive to drama, it is an essential 1

Walter J. Ong. Orality and Literacy: The Technologising of the Word. London: Methuen. 1982. 142. This statement is, no doubt, an oversimplification, but it does point to something significant about the way in which dramatic tragedy is conceived.

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characteristic of tragedy. And Oedipus is the Greek play in which plotgenerated irony is realised in its most sophisticated form. This is the foundation of tragic effect, of the manipulation of emotional content and expression which determines the kind of audience response that distinguishes tragedy. Secondly, character. It is axiomatic that tragic characters are complex, or ‘rounded’: The first approximations we have of the round character are in the Greek tragedies, the first verbal genre controlled entirely by writing. These deal still with essentially public leaders rather than with the ordinary, domestic characters that can flourish in the novel, but Sophocles’ Oedipus and, even more, Pentheus and Agave and Iphigenia and Orestes in Euripides’ tragedies are incomparably more complex and interiorly anguished than any of Homer’s characters. In orality-literacy perspectives, what we are dealing with here is the increasing interiorization of the world opened up by writing.2

This is not the place to discuss the ‘tragic hero’, the ‘tragic flaw’, or ‘greatness of soul’. Let us simply say that the interior anguish experienced and expressed by tragic characters points to a more sophisticated psychology than is evident in the characters of older, oral literary forms. It arises, not from any analysis or commentary offered by the author, but from the same struuctural characteristics that give us tragic irony. There would, obviously, be no tragic effect without characters, but they, in the end, cannot be distinguished from the structure of events that involve them: they grow out of that soil as the mythical first citizens of Thebes grew out of theirs. The complex dramatic plot lends to the concept of character a correspondingly complex range of perspectives and the creation of an intricate relationship between the story, the characters and the audience: it creates dramatic distance.3 In spite of the tendancy of the Greek, and particularly the Sophoclean, chorus to generalise about the world they live in, there is nothing resembling a narrator who speaks directly to an audience. There is no authoritative figure who tells the audience what to think and what to feel. Theatrically this might not always appear to be the case (who else does the chorus speak to when there is no-one else on stage?), but in the more significant context of available knowledge of events and of perspectives on feelings about those events, the chorus is invariably distinguishable from the audience. The effect is rather like that of a Shakespearian soliloquy, which may evoke sympathy from an audience, but is uttered from the unique perspective of the 2

Ong (1982) 152. Cf. H.D.F. Kitto’s suggestion that Sophocles’ introduction of the third actor is a means of creating complex perspectives on situations and on principal characters. Greek Tragedy. London: Methuen. 1961. 151-8.

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character involved. David Bain makes the point by analysing the nature of direct address in a Shakespearian chorus. He concludes: This [the opening Chorus of Henry V] with its second person plural verbs, first person plural adjectives and pronouns, and final appeal for the audience’s favour inhabits a different world from that of Greek tragedy. Shakespeare is the heir of another tradition, or rather the confluence of two traditions which both admit of address to the audience, the renaissance tradition transmitting New Comedy through the medium of Plautus and Terence to the modern stage and the native tradition of the mystery cycles.4

It should be added that such direct address is rare in Shakespeare, and absent altogether from his tragedies. There are, however, ‘choric figures’ in Shakespeare’s tragedies. These are not choruses in the Greek sense, but characters with special features which derive from native English traditions.5 The chorus will be discussed at greater length below. However, they are only one facet of Greek tragedy and, though important, not the one which bears the greatest burden of tragic effect. That is the prerogative of the major characters. It will suffice for the moment to say that the complex perspectives that form the basis of rounded characterisation are a consequence of the potential of written forms to manipulate the relationship betwen a ‘text’ (using the term very loosely, to include the written object and the stage presentation that derives from it) and an audience, to generate irony and dramatic distance. If the idea of a text is emphasised here, it is to lay a foundation for the discussion that follows. The dramatic text is important, not merely as words written down, but as something that is conceived according to the principles and potential of written literature. Other theatrical traditions may have written texts, like those of the English mystery plays, but their origins are significantly different from those of the Greek tragedies. Further, they maintain many of the characteristics of oral literature written down, and their theatricality is focussed more on emblematic display than on depth of characterisation.6 It is on the 4

David Bain. “Some Reflections on the Illusion in Greek Tragedy.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 34 (1987) 13. 5 See, L. Scragg. “Iago... Vice or Devil?” Shakespeare Survey. 21 (1968) 53-65; and H.W. Love. “Seeing the Difference: Good and Evil in the world of Macbeth’, AUMLA. 72 (1989) 204-28. 6 It should be emphasised that any particular work takes its place in a hypothetical spectrum from oral narrative to dramatic form, thus exhibiting, according to its particular traditions and period, degrees of ‘oral’ and ‘writerly’ qualities. English mystery plays, for example, do show some elements of dramatic form, but there is a long way to go before the flowering of seventeenth century English drama.

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premise of the primacy of the dramatic text that discussion of the stage, the significance of experience and emotion and the translation will be based. But first, some background to the play of Oedipus the King.

Background: the Play and the Story The story of Oedipus is well known, and any one of a number of variants of it was probably known to Sophocles’ original Athenian audience. Two lost epic poems, the Thebais and the Oedipodeia, recounted the story of the Sphinx, and of Oedipus, Jocasta and their children. Odysseus, in Hades for the duration of book XI of the Odyssey, encounters Jocasta (Epicaste) amongst a host of mournful shades. Aeschylus produced a Theban tetralogy, including the Laius, Oedipus, Seven against Thebes and a satyr play, the Sphinx. Only the Seven has survived. Other tragedians, Euripides and Theodectes, also used the Oedipus story.7 Sophocles, however, did not merely recycle the story. He modified details and shifted emphases; he restructured it to give it a character and a significance that earlier versions did not share. To that extent his play and his plot were new to his audience. Rather than presenting a series of events in the cycle of myth, or, like Aeschylus, pursuing the motif of a family curse (the tragic sequence begins with Laius’ disobedience toward Apollo’s injunction not to father a child, and follows the consequences through to the final expiation of sin and extinction of the family), Sophocles concentrates on the dynamics of character in an unprecedented manner. He uses the story of prophecy, parricide and incest as the context of action, rather than as the action itself. This is a significant distinction because it allows us to see how and why the play is structured as it is. It allows us to see the dramatic principles that underlie the creation of character and the kind of significance to be attributed to the nexus of emotions that we call ‘tragic’. It also offers actors an analytical handle on the characters they have to represent. It is perhaps too easy to see the motifs of parricide, incest and fate as the substance of Sophocles’ play. We have been encouraged to do so by innumerable schools of thought over many years. That Oedipus presents these motifs and, by means of the characters’ responses to them, tells us something about what they might mean, and what fifth century Greeks might have expected them to mean, is not in dispute. And the responses that they evoked then are largely the responses they might be expected to evoke now: moral and social evaluations of parricide and incest have changed little in the history of 7

See A. Lesky. A History of Greek Literature (trans. J.Willis and C.de Heer) London: Methuen. 1966. 79-80.

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western society, though the notion of fate, of a predetermined course of life for individuals, is perhaps a rather more vexed question. Clearly, if we thought parricide and incest trivial or funny, it would be difficult to regard Oedipus as anything other than a historical curiosity. What has changed over time is the way that writers, and dramatists in particular, have treated these motifs, and, where the story of Oedipus is the vehicle for them, the relative significance accorded to each. Richard McCabe pinpoints the source of their lasting relevance: The incest motif may thus be developed as a metaphor or analogy for any number of human problems related to changing concepts of natural, positive or divine law. Wherever desire of any kind is opposed by prohibition, wherever scepticism erodes received doctrines, the theme of incest may emerge as a powerful dramatic focus for the resulting conflict since it involves the very nature of man as a political animal – ‘political’, that is, in the widest sense of the term: the attitude of the polis to the proper relationship between governors and governed, law and licence.8

The focus on incest as a vehicle for exploring ‘law and licence’ has undergone a shift from Sophocles’ presentation of it in Oedipus. Rather than dramatising incestuous fear and the trauma of revelation, the focus shifts to a dramatisation of incestuous desire, conscious or unconscious, consummated or not. Dryden’s and Lee’s version of Oedipus, for example, has the protagonist walk and talk in his sleep in Act II, invoking “Vultures [to] gnaw out my incestuous heart,” and momentarily to imagine, while embracing Jocasta, that he holds Merope in his arms. This is a psychological interest more akin to Euripides’ treatment of the incest theme in Hippolytus, than to anything in Sophocles’ play. There is no sense in the latter of conscious or unconscious desire, but simply the fact that the relationship between Oedipus and Jocasta is illicit, and so brings down the wrath of the gods. We are concerned with pollution rather than guilt, and Oedipus is the unfortunate cause of it all, at least as far as the human actors of the play are concerned – the gods we will return to later. Such a distortion of nature is a collapse of order and the values that make society (including family) coherent: the man who is son and husband, father and brother, has no identity in the scheme of things and must be purged, whatever his degree of culpability. The parricide motif functions similarly. Given the fact that we are concerned with kings and princes, the guardians of civil and political order, the untimely death of a father might be seen to have more than personal 8

Richard A. McCabe. Incest, Drama and Nature’s Law 155 -1700 . Cambridge: CUP. 1993. 25.

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significance. Laius was, as Oedipus is, ‘father’ to his people, as much as he was father to his child: Oedipus’ reiteration of O Tekna, O Paides (children) to the citizens of Thebes is hardly accidental. Oedipus is, as the chorus continually remind us, a good king, and he was, as the exodos strongly suggests, a good father. And to all appearances he had been an exemplary son. Sophocles seems to have been at pains to separate the crime of parricide from any kind of motivation that Oedipus might have had for doing anything. He doesn’t kill his father because he wants the throne; he kills his father unwittingly and then, with all apparent propriety, is given the throne as a reward for saving the city. The significance of the death of Laius is not in why he died, or even, necessarily, what specific person did the deed, but that the father of the man and of the city has suffered murder, and Justice, a ‘law born of heaven,’ demands that a culprit be found and punished. Without justice the order of things is distorted and nature is out of joint. Clearly, the parricide and incest motifs are more intimately related at a deeper level, and as Oedipus’ investigation progresses the emphasis shifts almost imperceptibly from one to the other. The movement is from public suffering to private tragedy, but never to the extent that one displaces the other because the significance of this private tragedy is fixed firmly in the public domain. It is in this sense that both incest and parricide provide the context of the tragedy, rather than its substance. Fate is the most intractible of the trio. Tragedies of fate are commonplace, from the Greeks through to the present, whether predestination takes the form of some arbitrary fiat of the gods, Calvinistic original sin, psychological determinism, or the social determinism of more recent times. But, dramatically, fate is problematic. If drama, and tragedy in particular, relies on characters who act, who make decisions and choices that are psychologically credible, then its effect is compromised by characters who are mere cyphers for some abstract principle. And Oedipus, caged in by prophecies as he is, has been considered at various times to be the victim of fate, par excellence. Such a view is Senecan rather than Sophoclean: “...it was Seneca rather than Sophocles who transformed the myth into a thorough-going tragedy of fate, and it is Seneca Renaissance dramatists imitate when they employ the incest theme to similar effect.”9 Fate, however, should be distinguished from probability. That Oedipus’ incest and parricide are predetermined is an indisputable fact; that he should, because he is who he is, act and suffer as he does is a dramatic necessity. The internal logic of dramatic character and action necessitates, not a particular outcome, but an outcome that is psychologically consistent and 9

McCabe (1993) 75.

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credible. This is part of what it means to talk of a ‘rounded’ character. The notion that ‘Character is Destiny’ is much older than Sophocles, but the form in which he expresses it in this play takes it beyond simple determinism and invests it with a moral dimension, or at least a moral complexity, that is reflected in the achievement of a tragic effect. I use the word ‘moral’ advisedly. That is, as members of an audience we are enabled to evaluate, emotionally and intellectually, the motives, actions and experiences of the characters. An act of evaluation implies some element of choice or responsibility on the part of those being evaluated. If Oedipus is not responsible for incest and parricide, he is responsible for his motives and methods of discovery and for what he does after he has unearthed them. A tragedy of fate leaves little room for this kind of response – no evaluation, merely the vicarious experience of “blasting Fates... quaking terror of Disease, Wasting and black Pestilence, and mad Despair.” Seneca’s Oedipus rails against fate because, lacking stoic detachment, he fights against it. If his ‘crime’ is nasty, the world is nasty, and the Roman Oedipus is hardly able to rise above it.

Dramatic and Theatrical Machinery When a play appears on a stage it is driven by two, usually complementary, forces: the dramatic and theatrical machines. The first consists of elements derived from the text, like language, structure and the principles of action and character; the second consists of the features of an actual stage and a real audience. As dramatic texts are usually written with a theatre and an audience in mind, these things are likely to be reflected in the text itself, as, for example, in a modern, naturalistic play, the stage may be described in great detail in stage directions. These details are not extraneous to the dramatic character of such plays, but are explicit expressions of the theatrical machinery that is implicit, but no less important, in plays of other periods that do not have them. It is also the case that a text written for one kind of theatre may be produced in a context that distorts it out of all recognition – a common enough occurrence in modern productions of plays from other periods which tends to reflect somebody’s judgement of audience expectations; a repackaging for today’s market. In practice it is impossible to avoid this to some degree, given the fact that re-creation of theatres of past periods is difficult, and audiences, impossible. How far the link between dramatic and theatrical machinery can be stretched before it breaks will always be a matter of dispute. It is with this link in mind that I will discuss the stage, action and characterisation and the chorus of Oedipus.

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Stages, as one might expect, represent places. These may be specific or unspecific; they may be more or less realistic or symbolic; they may reflect some qualities of characters in the play, or they may invoke atmosphere or feelings that the audience is invited to enter into, to ‘empathise’ with. The space in which actors move may represent a conventional world that is relevant to the play, or it may be so shaped as to suggest a universe beyond that which the audience actually sees, but which is a necessary context for what they do see. Such was Shakespeare’s stage and so too, in a less obvious way, was Sophocles’. Greek theatre was, by our standards, only marginally naturalistic, a reflection at one level of a difference in available technology. Its sheer size and capacity, and its being an outdoor theatre, precluded the intricate effects that can be achieved in an enclosed modern theatre. The most prominent features of the stage, the skene, the orchestra and the two side entrances (eisodoi), offered relatively little scope for the kind of representational detail that we might expect from a modern stage. Only the first, the structure, which in this case would represent the facade of Oedipus’ palace, could be suitably decorated. It might have been quite elaborate, in order to reflect the stature of its occupants. The orchestra was essentially an unspecific space, the territory of the chorus, but which might have been continuous with the small area in front of the skene where most of the action took place. That this place represents a Theban street or square in front of the palace is simply inferred from what the characters say. Such a minimal degree of specificity is all that is necessary to begin to make sense of the action. As important as these details are as an immediate setting for the action, their relation to the wider significance of the stage is just as important for the sense of the plot as a whole. The eisodoi lead to a greater world outside, to Corinth, to Delphi, to a world populated by gods and people whose actions affect the protagonists. This is the larger world from which the smaller world of the stage takes its definition. Some of the people from this other world appear on the stage (Teiresias, the Corinthian messenger and the shepherd), but the gods do not, as they do in the plays of Aeschylus and Euripides. However, their presence, as from an unseen world beyond the immediate perception of the protagonists, is almost as palpable. The stage is ‘present’, spatially and temporally; the world outside is past, future and beyond, interpenetrating with the present10. And the audience exists in the wider world, knowing more and

10

Cf. Peter Arnott: “One of the most powerful aspects of Oedipus the King is the way in which past action is created for us, simultaneously with present action: past and present continually intertwine, illuminate each other and entangle, until they meet in the dreadful

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seeing more than the actors in the drama. They have, for the duration of the play, a god-like view of men and women who endure all that Fate, the gods and chance can throw at them. They can see patterns of significance emerge, which are not apparent to the actors, and which would not be apparent to themselves in their ordinary lives outside the theatre. The theatre enables them to distinguish the subjective world of the actors from the objective world outside, and so to interpret events on the stage from a privileged point of view. The distinction between the inner and outer spheres is a principle that underlies the mechanics of the plot, and which generates dramatic distance. The characters are contained within the ‘present’ of the stage, into which the outside intrudes in the forms of a plague, of prophecies, oracles and messengers’ tales, all of which have to be interpreted. From their privileged perspective the audience knows, if not the precise meanings of things, what is true and what is doubtful. When Teiresias tells Oedipus that “You are this land’s pollution,” they know he speaks the truth and can observe Oedipus’ understandable incredulity, and even sympathise with his anger and frustration. When Jocasta casts doubts on oracles, they know she must be mistaken because, however confusingly expressed, oracles must be true. The audience can watch Jocasta interpret the Corinthian’s story in one way, and Oedipus in quite another, and know which of them is deluded. Perhaps they shake their heads in disbelief as Oedipus dismisses his wife as a snob and rhapsodises about being “Fortune’s boy.” The source of the irony that is essential to tragic effect is thus built into the theatrical machinery as much as it is built into the structure of the plot. The two are complementary.

The Prologue The structure of Oedipus is relatively simple and economical, consisting of six scenes separated by choric songs. The first, the Prologue, sets the scene and the background to the action, and the following episodes present a series of conflicts between Oedipus and other characters until, at the end of the fourth, the tragic revelation is complete. The final scene (exodos) is curious in some respects. It adds very little, if anything, to the action; the plot, insofar as it consists of Oedipus’ pursuit of the truth of his origins and Laius’ death, has concluded with the shepherd’s revelation. Its purpose is to complete the emotional structure of the play, not so much as a resolution of conflicting emotions, but as a clarification of them.

moment of Oedipus’ self-realisation.” Public and Performance in the Greek Theatre. London: Routledge. 1989. 156.

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The action of the play is dominated by the protagonist to an unusual degree. Oedipus is on stage almost throughout, except for brief spells during four of the five choric songs, and at the commencement of the second and third episodes and the exodos. But even when not actually there, he dominates the stage. If tragic conflict can be seen as the clash of an irresistable force with an immovable object, Oedipus stands alone as the former, while everyone and everything else constitutes the latter. He is assailed on two levels: firstly by Fate, the gods, history (it doesn’t seem to matter too much how you describe the objective world beyond the stage, at least for the purposes of dramatic analysis); secondly, each of the other characters and the chorus all oppose, with varying degrees of awareness, his search for the truth, yet contribute to it in ways that neither he nor they expect (the priest and the attendant are obvious exceptions to this). This is the subjective, stage world, and it includes, of course, Oedipus’ own frailties of character and perception. Conflict begins on the first level and moves subtly to the second. The characters, necessarily, act and speak in the ‘present’ of the stage, while always contained and ultimately controlled by a wider, objective reality. The prologue exemplifies this adjustment of focus. The plague that afflicts Thebes is a manifestation of the power of the gods, and Oedipus confronts it with a combination of duty and compassion. He is the king and he is a man of feeling, and the priest appeals to both these aspects of him in his speech of supplication. The speech is formally rhetorical (an appeal to Oedipus in his public function), a semi-formal appeal to his sense of honour (his ego, if you like) and a personal expression of feeling that strikes an appropriate chord. Oedipus responds with an awareness of the power of each appeal: My children, I pity you. I know Your desires and your suffering; I know The pain you all feel, and I feel it threefold – For you, for my city and for myself. I have thought and I have wept.

The entrance of Creon with news of the oracle is a further intrusion of the world beyond the stage, and Oedipus’ response is similarly a mixture of his awareness of his duty as a ruler and his personal feelings. But here the balance has changed. Three points arise. Firstly, there is an enthusiasm in his step and in his voice as Creon approaches, and, in the face of Creon’s reticence toward giving his news in public, Oedipus makes a characteristic gesture: “Let us all hear. / Their suffering is more to me / Than my own life.” Secondly, and again publicly, he enters into the investigation with characteristic enthusiasm, immediately unravelling what facts are known about the death of Laius to the

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point where deeper and more difficult questions are raised. Thirdly, his very enthusiasm and depth of feeling sow the seeds of his later conflict with Creon and foreshadow the crucial misunderstandings and passions of the scene with Teiresias: OEDIPUS Thieves, mere thieves? Surely not. To kill a king without some bribe, Some encouragement from here? CREON We thought of all that. But Laius was dead, And we had troubles enough. No-one came forward. OEDIPUS What troubles could possibly override the murder of a King? CREON The Sphinx, my lord. We were constrained By the suffering we could see. The other Was too distant. OEDIPUS I will begin again. I will bring all of this to light...

The focus has shifted, so that within the wider conflict the picture of a man, passionate, certain of his abilities and obligations, and with a sure sense of the shortcomings of others, vividly emerges. The priest, in uttering his elaborate supplication and eliciting a generous response, has given the audience a platform from which to see the character of Oedipus. The dialogue with Creon has underscored this view, but in doing so has enlarged upon one facet of that character which provides a source of conflict in the subjective world of real feelings and the necessarily limited knowledge of the present. Creon, even this early in the play, is clearly the man who is conscious of and largely content with the here and now. He is aware of his limitations. Oedipus, on the other hand, is not. It is important to emphasise here that we are not referring to a ‘tragic flaw’, or, if we are, it is not a character trait that is necessarily morally dubious or unique to Oedipus. One of the particular ironies of tragedy, and of this tragedy especially, is that tragic characters have admirable qualities that contribute to their downfall. Oedipus’ quick wit, his resolute action and determined courage, and his compassion, are the very qualities that enabled him to outwit the Sphinx and become the almost ideal ‘tyrannos’ that the chorus

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continually remind us he is. If he has a flaw, it is one that he shares with the other human players in the drama: his knowledge is confined to experience, to the narrow confines of human feelings and passions. The importance of this cannot be overestimated because it touches upon almost every aspect of the play: the logic of the action; sources of conflict; themes articulated by the chorus; and the emotional elements that determine the audience’s response.

Action and Structure The series of episodes up to the shepherd’s tragic revelation follows a pattern that reflects the significance of experience, and the fact that it consists of a turbulent mess of feelings and limited perceptions. The first episode has two contrasting halves. Oedipus’ opening speech is a formal, kingly response to the priest’s supplication and the desperate prayer of the chorus. Its rhetoric is important, and its immediate audience, the chorus who stand obediently before him, respond with appropriate respect to its authority and power, on the one hand, and to its sense of personal commitment and feeling, on the other. The brief dialogue with the chorus that ensues underlines the personal element and emphasises a common bond between the king and his subjects. They both see Teiresias as the key to their limited knowledge, and the optimism of the chorus leader’s announcement of Teiresias’ arrival is echoed in Oedipus’ speech of greeting, its expression of faith and a willingness to submit to the prophet’s authority. With such a build-up Teiresias’ refusal to help must appear perverse in contrast to Oedipus’ readiness to act. It is the stage that is important here. So far the present has consisted of pain, fear, compassion and a dash of hope. The oracle has offered an incomplete answer, and Teiresias, who, like the oracle, is a representative of other knowledge and a greater world beyond the stage, intrudes rudely into this volatile situation. But Teiresias is also a man, and there he is, refusing to respond to the pleas of Oedipus and his people: “Before god, if you know, don’t turn away. We are your suppliants!” On the face of it, Teiresias’ refusal is both a dereliction of duty and an inhuman lack of feeling. Both are alien to all we know of Oedipus. And his response, of course, is to see Teiresias as a man, with human motives, which, given his apparent betrayal, must be suspicious. His reaction is swift and entirely logical. Given the one connection between Teiresias and the oracle, that is, Creon, the possibility of a conspiracy is the only way to explain an accusation that is quite beyond his comprehension. After all, as far as he knows, Teiresias’ accusation is false11. Teiresias’ human frailty, 11

David Bain comments on the apparent lack of credibility of Oedipus’ failure to respond to what might seem obvious hints about his past. He reminds us, however, that

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however, is not merely a figment of Oedipus’ imagination. His reluctance to speak is, ironically, motivated by compassion. His reaction to Oedipus’ provocative accusation is all too human, and he speaks in spite of himself: “...you forced me to speak.” Teiresias is a human conduit through which the past and future flow, and, as Oedipus and everyone else will discover, merely to know the secrets of the other world is a painful experience. A prophet’s lot is not a happy one. The emotional impasse that results from the confrontation between Oedipus and Teiresias is pivotal. The stage is where emotions happen, where individuals show fear, pride, anger and pity. It is also the only world that they can know. The brief glimpses that they have of the world beyond experience are invariably shrouded in mystery and subject to their limited ability to apprehend them. Both Creon and the chorus refer to the ‘god’s clear word’, but when it comes to doing something, here and now, the word is anything but clear. Opportunities for mistakes, misapprehensions and misinterpretations are immense because knowledge is limited and passion clouds judgement. In this respect Teiresias’ final speech is exemplary. He turns, goaded by Oedipus’ patronising dismissal: “Oh please, take him home.” When I have said it all – to your face. The man you look for, the killer Of the king is here – A foreigner among you, it seems, But Theban born. He came Seeing, will leave blind; Now rich, then poor, Stick-tapping his way out. Father and brother, son And husband; killer and Co-sower of seed. Reckon that out. If I am wrong, Then say I am no prophet.

Teiresias the man is angry and piqued, his integrity has been challenged and he will not be faced down. It is a spectacular end to the scene, where one proud and angry man over-reaches another, reducing him to stunned the pace and tension of what occurs, and the sequence in which information is revealed (eg, Oedipus’ memory of the confrontation at the crossroads) over-ride such reflective criticism. The text and the stage focus on the emotions of the scene. Actors and Audience: A Study of Asides and Related Conventions in Greek Drama. Oxford: OUP. 1977. 73-5.

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silence. The royal, reliable Oedipus who lectured the chorus is very much reduced, but not unsympathetically. He rushes off in confusion and the chorus is left to consider their tattered hopes and to rationalise, from their limited viewpoint, their faith in the king: The words of the seer perplex me: I can neither believe nor deny. I know of no ancient quarrel Between Corinth and Labdacus’ house, And know nothing of proof to doubt The shining name of the king, Or to peer at the past for revenge. Zeus and Apollo are wise in all things; Men’s judgement narrow and flawed. Who can tell beyond doubt Which seer can see truth, find blame Without proof, when we know it was he Who destroyed the Sphinx for our sake. I will not think other than good.

As ordinary human beings they must come down on the side of experience, of what they know. The audience, of course, knows differently. The cold meaning of Teiresias’ speech is quite plain underneath its riddling form and heavy overlay of emotion. The remainder of the play up to the shepherd’s revelation is a rippling mass of cross-currents of intention and emotion, where few things are certain and illusions are gripped in the effort to stay afloat. Shakespeare encapsulates the mood of Sophocles’ play in Rosse’s words to Lady Macduff: But cruel are the times, when we are traitors, And do not know ourselves: when we hold rumour From what we fear, yet know not what we fear, But float upon a wild and violent sea Each way and move –

But below this surface confusion is Oedipus’ irresistible drive to discover the truth. The clash with Creon has been set up, firstly, in the prologue, with a hint of antagonistic feeling between them, and, most clearly, in the scene with Teiresias. There is conflict in this episode, too, between Oedipus and Jocasta,

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but of a more subtle, though no less significant kind. The chorus is the key to what these conflicts have in common. Oedipus’ attack on Creon is violent and uncompromising. He launches himself into a cross-examination about Laius’ disappearence, a sequence of frantic action that has all the appearance of fearless investigation. In fact neither he nor anyone else learns anything new and the confrontation collapses into noisy futility. Oedipus might think he is pursuing the truth, but his passions, justifiable as they might seem to him, have misled him. From the point of view of the chorus he risks becoming dangerous, a tyrant (in the modern sense), who, even if he is wrong, “must rule.” With the intervention of Jocasta and the chorus Oedipus sullenly concedes and the real issue is reaffirmed; that is, the suffering that they all endure. Jocasta’s presence and Creon’s departure introduce a distinct change of mood, superficially more calm, almost at times introspective. Her attempts to reassure, however, stir other currents, fears less palpable than the manifest, if imaginary, danger of Creon. There is nothing to fear, you can’t trust oracles, at least those mediated by mere men, as the death of Laius has proved. The questioning that follows is quieter but more intense, and it reveals what the bombast earlier in the scene had failed to. The same stubbornness that moments before had prevented Oedipus compromising with Creon is brought to bear on the logic of his story. He tells the truth, that he had killed an old man and his companions where three roads join, and narrows the question of guilt down to one piece of evidence: whether or not the surviving witness’ story of a band of murderers is true. The focus of the story thus far is the death of Laius, but contained dimly within it is the complete picture of Oedipus’ history. The signs are there, clear enough for the audience, but not so clear for those whose vision is fixed by the emotions of the moment on the answer to the first compelling question. The old prophecies, rumours in Corinth, confusing words about murder and incest from the Pythian oracle, have no bearing on the problem. Like the number of men who killed the king, these things appear to be unimportant details until their place in the pattern of things can be discerned. And Jocasta’s vision, under the influence of her feelings, is focussed elsewhere. Oracles cannot be trusted because they failed to foretell Laius’ death. Oracles also cost her her first-born child: Loxias warned That my child would kill him. It was my child that died. So well divined. It’s all signs That point nowhere.

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Jocasta’s attempts to reassure Oedipus are coloured by her feelings, and her attempts to keep the past out of the present by questioning the veracity of oracles is a challenge to the gods that goes beyond the chorus’ earlier scepticism about seers. “Signs that point nowhere,” is also a challenge to Oedipus’ efforts to find the truth, which he can only do by ‘reading the signs’, by finding evidence and interpreting it as best he can. The chorus draw the strands of this episode together in the song that follows. Nothing they have witnessed so far has, or so it appears, contributed to an alleviation of their suffering. In fact the chaos that they lamented in the parodos has been immeasurably deepened by the possibility that nothing is what it seems, that Oedipus, their one hope of salvation, is not the compassionate king they once knew, but a creature of overbearing pride, bred of power. His conduct toward Creon suggests as much. And Jocasta’s bitterness toward their sacred institutions, apparently justified by misleading oracles, threatens spiritual chaos: Earth’s sacred centre I’ll no longer seek, nor Abae Nor Olympus, if omens lie And the word of god deceives us. O Zeus, overlord, old Laius is forgotten, Apollo is denied and faith grows cold.

The irony goes further, however. “Old Laius” is not forgotten, and the exercise in apparent futility that they have just experienced has in fact brought the answer to their question one step closer, and, in doing so, verifies “laws born of heaven.” There is irony of another kind, too. Jocasta follows the chorus’ song with a prayer to Apollo, a prayer born of desperation, which to all appearances is answered by the entrance of the Corinthian messenger with his good news. The succeeding two episodes are a masterpiece of structural irony and control of pace and tension. The Corinthian’s good news and his almost comic earnestness lighten the atmosphere and subtly change the focus from the question of Laius to that of Oedipus’ parentage. His characteristically forensic line of questioning peels away layers of uncertainty, and simultaneously misleads and reveals. While Oedipus and the chorus are led one way, to their facile optimism that he could be “Fortune’s boy,” a demi-god, thus justifying their long-held faith in his extraordinary powers (here they verge on sacrilege), Jocasta is led in another. She has seen the same signs, and far from leading nowhere, they have led her to see the truth of the oracle. The fourth episode is short and brutal. Jocasta’s awareness of the truth has appeared like a canker in the flowery optimism of the previous scene. Now

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it bursts forth: “All clear and all true.” The schemes of the gods have prevailed over the schemes of men, who were moved by fear to try to change the course of events. And how have the gods prevailed? Schemes inspired by one human emotion are foiled by another, by the shepherd’s pity for a child.

Emotions and Meanings: the Exodos The plot of the play is effectively complete with the shepherd’s revelation. The scene that follows is a poetic end-piece that gradually eases the tension and brings the audience closer to the emotional centre of the play. Oedipus is brought down to be raised again, but this time there is no irony. After the climactic conclusion of the plot there is a sustained emotional onslaught on the audience. The chorus is in the vanguard with their final song, followed by the attendant’s harrowing account of Oedipus’ self-mutilation; then the appearance of Oedipus himself and the chorus’ frantic ambivalence between horror and pity. Creon’s entrance with the children charges the emotional atmosphere once more – the spectacle of a bloodied Oedipus weeping with his two small daughters would do justice to the most melodramatically sentimental Victorian stage. Finally, as the tension eases and Oedipus submits to Creon’s careful authority, the children are rudely ripped away from him again. Oedipus is raised again. After his initial turmoil he asserts an element of self-control, inspired by his vision of his place in the pattern of events. He justifies his mutilation: “Could those eyes have looked / On my father in the other world...?” He begs to be removed from the sight of men: for pity’s sake, touch me, Lead me out of sight. Don’t shrink; Only I can bear this guilt.

The translation of the Greek word kaka as ‘guilt’ perhaps narrows the meaning, giving it an unduly moralistic overtone. However, it is Oedipus’ acceptance of it, his sense of responsibiliy, if not for it, then to it, that raises his anguish above self-pity. Self-awareness and humility, recognition of wrong done to Creon, his feeling for Jocasta and his children, and his acceptance of Creon’s legitimate authority are leavened with a hint of something visionary: Yet I know I won’t die just old or sick, or by any Common accident: what’s predestined Must be more than that.

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There are no villains in this play. Teiresias may seem cantankerous, but he is in an impossible position, caught between two worlds. Oedipus reveals a capacity to be overbearing and stubborn, but it passes. Jocasta, perhaps bitter, has, as she says, “suffered enough.” Creon might appear priggish, but his selfrighteousness is justified and his rigid sense of propriety is tempered with feeling at the end. Oedipus might have said of him what Tennyson’s Ulysses says of Telemachus: Most blameless he is, centred in the sphere Of common duties, decent not to fail In offices of tenderness, and pay Meet adoration to my household gods, When I am gone.

This is what the audience sees as the characters walk slowly off the stage. Order, or Justice, is restored (even though to a modern eye it might look a strange kind of justice when the innocent suffer so savagely) and the chaotic world of human passions is mediated by respect for the laws of necessity, which have their own, passionless principles. Melodrama uses emotions to generate a thrill for its own sake; tragedy puts emotions on the stage and gives them significance. In Oedipus Sophocles has avoided the facile arousal of pity and fear by giving them a meaning. Pity is a motivating force throughout the play, although some of the actions it inspires bring about terrible results. Horror is more than a shiver down the spine; it is a recognition of the experience of human beings in the face of forces beyond their control and understanding. In the theatre the audience is privileged and in a position not only to sympathise and feel with the characters as they undergo their trials, but to see what it means to do so. It is what Bertolt Brecht called “complex seeing”, and it relies on the capacity of the text to manipulate irony and dramatic distance.

The Chorus The chorus is perhaps the most difficult aspect of Greek tragedy for a modern audience to come to terms with. It is certainly the most challenging aspect of a production. There are many reasons for this, not the least of them being that the conventions and expectations of a Greek theatre are not ours. Neither is the Greek conception of a chorus. It is probably true to say that the post-Renaissance idea of a chorus envisages a detached commentator who steps out of the action of the play and speaks directly to the audience. Such a chorus is invested with authority and a special, privileged relation with the audience,

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rather like the omniscient narrator of a novel. Greek choruses seldom function in this way, and the chorus of Oedipus not at all. However much they generalise or moralise about the world, their songs and dances are integral to the action. The chorus of Oedipus does not open the play or set the scene12. The context of the action is established in the prologue, before the chorus appears. When they do enter to sing the parodos they add little to what has been said by the priest, except to express their own state of desperation and helplessness in a prayer for divine intervention. Their first dramatic function is to supply a stage audience for Oedipus, who responds to their prayer by initiating the hunt for the murderer of Laius. They set up a platform for Oedipus’ subsequent actions. In their dialogue with him following the parodos they enable Oedipus to demonstrate his sincerity and sagacity as he anticipates their suggestion to consult Teiresias. They also underscore the rumour that Laius was killed by a band of robbers. Though apparently insignificant at this point, this detail becomes crucial as the plot develops. They then stand aside to witness the confrontation between Oedipus and Teiresias. The four choric songs that follow are not mere pauses in the action. They develop out of what precedes them and provide continuity for what follows by offering a consistent point of view within the play. While this view may include moral or religious generalisations, they are expressions that grow out of situations of which the chorus, as citizens of Thebes, are a part. The first song, therefore, is a response to the scene with Teiresias as it affects them. The first strophic pair acknowledges their conventionally pious view that the gods will eventually catch up with the villain, and the second takes the form of a discussion which concludes by justifying their feelings toward Oedipus (according to what they know) and their need to believe in him: “I will not think other than good.” The following episode with Creon and then Jocasta threatens this tenuous affirmation of faith. As we have seen, Oedipus, the ideal, compassionate king, displays symptoms of tyranny. The chorus are forced to intervene when the confrontation gets out of hand, to remind him of their plight and his duty. Then, having witnessed Oedipus’ account of his history and Jocasta’s religious scepticism, their earlier faith is shaken, and the song that concludes the scene is an expression of the depth of their crisis. Perhaps the most generalised of all the songs (with the exception of the opening strophe of the fourth song), it appears to be mere commentary. But it should be remembered that these are citizens and that their city is on the rack, and though they are not individuated, their concern for the values and institutions that give 12 In the 34 extant Greek tragedies, only two (Aeschylus’ Suppliants and Persians) have the chorus open the play.

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their lives meaning is as acute and as personal as the jealousies and regrets of the principals: Let the proud man, Fearless of justice and divinity, Grasping in his profanity, Be seized by a ruinous fate: If he should escape the shafts of god, How can I step in the sacred dance?

The chorus is in the same position as the other characters at this point; they have nowhere to go and all they can do is hope that there is something out there to hear their prayers. Jocasta makes the point. She enters, having moments before expressed her contempt for oracles, to pray to Apollo because, “There is nothing I can do.” The third song takes the situation one step further. It is a brief and happy celebration of delusion. It is a delusion that they share with Oedipus, not with the audience, and it has grown out of a need to answer the potential despair expressed in the second song, and their all too willing grasp of false hope offered by the Corinthian. They need Oedipus to be a god, or at least god-like. The final song raises more difficult issues because the dramatic structure of which it is a part has become more complex. After the shepherd’s revelation, the state of things is “All clear and all true,” and there is no longer any room for situational irony. The stage and the auditorium share the same state of knowledge. The function of the chorus is to manage the emotional character of the final scene, to orientate the audience appropriately. It is the second element in a series of high emotional peaks – preceded by the shepherd’s revelation, in which pity and horror seem to explode as they converge, and followed by the attendant’s speech and the spectacle of Oedipus himself. The chorus offers a variation of tone and perspective, no less intense and moving, but less directly horrifying than the other elements around it. They articulate a perspective that the audience have had all along from their vantage overlooking the narrow world of the stage: Generations of man, were you ever More than nothing? What man Does more than touch delight For a moment seeming, A moment thought then gone?

The general arises out of the particular, then reverts to it again as the chorus articulate their own unresolved emotions:

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These two emotions remain juxtaposed and unresolved for the rest of the play.

SOPHOCLES’ OEDIPUS THE KING

The Characters Oedipus, King of Thebes Jocasta, his Queen Creon, brother of Jocasta Teiresias, a blind seer A Priest A Messenger from Corinth A Shepherd An Attendant to Jocasta Antigone and Ismene, daughters to Oedipus and Jocasta A Guard A Boy, guide to Teiresias Chorus of Theban citizens

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Scene: Before the royal palace at Thebes The PRIEST is on stage. OEDIPUS and GUARD enter from the palace OEDIPUS Children, sons and daughters of the ancient line Of Cadmus, why this supplication, These crowns and garlands? Why is the city heavy with incense and tears? It is not fit for me to hear of these things From messengers – I must learn for myself. I, Oedipus, whose name is known to all. You, old man, speak for them. What is it you want? What do you fear? I will do all That is in my power. It would be unforgivable And heartless not to hear you. PRIEST My Lord, Oedipus, ruler of my city, You see us here before your altar, Both old and young, unfledged and Heavy with age, the pick of our people, And I, as priest of Zeus. Yet more Clamour in the market place, around The shrine of Pallas and Ismenus’ burning oracle. You have seen our city reel and founder In a tide of death, a wave that blights The fruitful earth, the grazing herds And wombs of women with barrenness; And then the fire-bearing god who burns And ravages with plague, strips bare The house of Cadmus to fill hell with lamentation. I and these your children turn to you, Not as equal of the gods, but as the first Of men in the common affairs of life, And in our encounters with more than Mortal powers. You it was came new To Thebes and broke our bondage to the Sphinx; You it was, with no foreknowledge from us,

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But, so men say, inspired by god, Gave us back our lives. Now Oedipus, glorious among men, We are here, to beg you, either hearing The voice of god, or with your mortal wit, To give us strength. I see in the power Of your action, the best of all counsel. Noblest of men, raise up your city, look To your fame; as your zeal saved us once, Let it not be said that under you We were raised to fall again. Raise us, Let us share your fortune, and rule a city Of living men: an empty ship And a deserted wall are nothing. OEDIPUS My children, I pity you. I know Your desires and your suffering; I know The pain you all feel, and I feel it threefold; For you, for my city, and for myself. I have thought and I have wept. And I have not been idle. Creon, son of Menoeceus, Has been sent to the Pythian temple To learn from Apollo what I must do. His absence frets me – but when he comes I’ll stake my honour on the god’s command.

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PRIEST We thank you for your gracious words. But he’s here. Creon is here! OEDIPUS And he smiles. Lord Apollo, Let his news be good. PRIEST Is his laurel crown a sign?

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Enter CREON OEDIPUS We’ll soon know. Creon, Brother, tell us now What the god has said. CREON Good news -- good news Leavened, perhaps, with pain, but Good for all that.

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OEDIPUS What do you mean? This is Hope touched with fear. CREON I’ll tell you. But here before all; Or perhaps inside? OEDIPUS Let us all hear.Their suffering is More to me than my own life. CREON I’ll tell you what I know. Apollo’s clear command Is to find the pollution, to drive out The unclean thing, born of our own soil, And cherish it no more. OEDIPUS What thing? What rite should we perform? CREON Banishment, or expiation. Of blood with blood. Blood is the spring that pollutes the city. OEDIPUS Against what man has the god pronounced this?

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CREON My lord, before you steered our course We had a king. Laius was then our leader. OEDIPUS I have heard, but I never saw him. CREON He was killed. The god’s clear word Is that the killers must be punished. OEDIPUS Where in the wide world might they be? Where could we trace a crime This long forgotten? CREON Here. ‘Seek and you will find; The unsought flies free.’

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OEDIPUS Where did Laius die? CREON He left, so he said, on a pilgrimage. He never entered this house again. OEDIPUS Was there no word, No companion, no witness? CREON All were killed, but one. And in his terror He was clear about only one thing. OEDIPUS Well?.... Even one thing might lead to another. CREON He said they encountered a band of robbers. They were slaughtered not by one, but by many.

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OEDIPUS Thieves, mere thieves? Surely not. To kill a king without some bribe, Some encouragement from here? CREON We thought of that. But Laius was dead, And we had troubles enough. No-one came forward. OEDIPUS What troubles could possibly over-ride the murder of a King? CREON The Sphinx, my lord. We were constrained By the suffering we could see; the other Was too distant. OEDIPUS I will begin again; I will bring all of this to light. May Phoebus be praised, and you, brother, For this timely reminder of the dead. You will see me fight this battle beside you, Not only for Laius, no kin of mine, But for myself – the hand that has killed One king, can kill another. Rise, my children, take your garlands And let it be known that I will do all That is within me to do. It is in the hand of God whether we stand or fall.

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Exeunt OEDIPUS, GUARD and CREON. PRIEST We have, my people, what we asked: The promise of the King, and hope That Phoebus may yet save us.

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Exit Enter CHORUS CHORUS What words have come from the golden shrine of the god? O Delian healer, will you touch my trembling heart And ease the fear Of the cycle of pain. Immortal voice, O child of golden hope. Athene, first, undying daughter of Zeus; And Artemis, queen of our city enthroned; Phoebus, bright archer; Three turners of fate, Save us and cleanse us as you saved us before. Our sorrows multiply, Our people shrink, My spirit is disarmed and languishing. Fruits of earth And fruits of love Both wither out of time, and Life is whipped on a burning wind To the darkening shore of night. The city dies While corpses breed, There are none to weep or to keen. Mothers screech, Grandmothers pray, And the rending sounds of sobbing prayer Shake the altar of the healing god. We cry out to you, golden daughter of Zeus. The war god’s fires burn silently Among screams of dying men; Sound his retreat To where Thracian waves beat, For the pain of night is unslaked by day. We pray, father Zeus,

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For your bolt of cleansing fire.

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Lycean king, use your golden bow, Artemis, queen, scour the land with light; Bacchus, wine-flushed, Bring your maddened rush Of Maenads to crush and to burn And to turn away from us now The god of death whom all gods hate.

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Enter OEDIPUS and GUARD OEDIPUS You have prayed; and if you willingly Obey me, your prayer will bring you what you ask. A stranger, now received among you, I know only by hearsay what has passed, This one small clue. I therefore make a proclamation to you all: If any here know whose hand it was Killed Laius, son of Labdacus, Declare it, now, to me. Don’t let guilt hold him back; He’ll suffer banishment only, not death. Or if he knows some stranger, some foreign assassin, Declare him. He’ll earn a fine reward And a store of gratitude. But silence, to hide himself Or any other man, silence Will bring down this upon him: I forbid him, whoever he is, my land; I forbid him welcome or sustenance; I forbid him the fellowship of prayer or sacrifice; I forbid him rites of cleansing; I command that he be cast from your houses As unclean, in accordance with the oracle. This is my duty to god and to the dead. I invoke this curse, whether he is One alone or one of many, That he stretch out his life in misery. And on myself I bring this curse

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If knowingly I offer hearth or home to him. That is your duty to fulfil. But then, even without the god’s command It is your duty to right this wrong, To search out the killer of a good man And a king. So now I hold his office, His bed and wife, and with better fortune Might have been father to his children. I will fight for him as for my own father, as Successor to the line of Laius, son of Labdacus, The son of Polydorus, and before him Cadmus, the son of Agenor. If any here harbour thoughts of disobedience, May the gods make barren his seed, In harvest and woman alike. For the rest, let justice and the gods be with you.

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CHORUS As you have put me on oath, my lord, I’ll speak. I neither killed the king, nor know the killer. Phoebus put the question – surely He can resolve it. OEDIPUS Surely – but no man Can compel a god to speak. CHORUS May I offer a second thought? OEDIPUS And a third, if it helps. CHORUS What the lord Phoebus sees, So does Teiresias. Ask him. OEDIPUS He’s been sent for, on Creon’s Good advice. Twice I’ve summoned him.

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CHORUS Teiresias aside, there is an old story.

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OEDIPUS Tell it; I want to hear them all. CHORUS It was said Laius was killed by travellers. OEDIPUS I have heard; but no-one saw the killer. CHORUS If he fears anything, Your curse will bring him out. OEDIPUS The man who did this has no fear of words. CHORUS Here is his prosecutor. Of all men, This man has the truth within him.

Enter TEIRESIAS and BOY OEDIPUS Teiresias, we know your skill In all things spoken and unspoken In the heavens and on earth. You are blind, but you see the sickness Of the city; in you we see salvation. Phoebus has answered us, declaring That the cure of our sickness lies In the name of Laius’ killer and the Justice of death or exile. Do not deny us your arts, your bird-lore Or any divination for the saving Of yourself, your city and your king. We are in your hands. You have means And power to act most nobly.

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TEIRESIAS It’s a terrible wisdom that is without profit. I knew it, and forgot it. I should not have come. OEDIPUS What? Why so reluctant? TEIRESIAS Let me go home. Both your burden And mine will be more bearable.

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OEDIPUS This is neither lawful nor friendly To the city that bore you. TEIRESIAS I see nothing good in your words or mine. I’ve nothing to say. OEDIPUS Before god, if you know, don’t Turn away. We are your suppliants. TEIRESIAS You know nothing. I will never Reveal my sorrows, or yours. OEDIPUS What are you saying? You know and won’t speak? You’re prepared to betray us and destroy the city? TEIRESIAS I mean to spare us both. Your questions are pointless. You will learn nothing from me. OEDIPUS Nothing! You insolent sot! You would Rouse a stone to fury! Are you Determined to be obstinate?

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TEIRESIAS Don’t blame my passions. See your own. OEDIPUS My passions! When you insult me and your city!

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TEIRESIAS What will be will happen without my words. OEDIPUS But your trade is words of what will be. TEIRESIAS No more. Rant as you like. OEDIPUS I will. And I will speak. I will tell you I see you In this, your mind if not your hand. With eyes to guide them Your hands alone might have done it. TEIRESIAS So? Then hear your own proclamation: Speak not to me nor any here – You are this land’s pollution. OEDIPUS You have the gall to say that! And how Do you think to escape the consequences? TEIRESIAS I have. I follow the truth. OEDIPUS Whose truth? Not divine truth. TEIRESIAS Yours; you forced me to speak.

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OEDIPUS Tell me again, so I’ll remember. TEIRESIAS Was it not plain? You’d have more?

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OEDIPUS Not so you’d say I know it. Again. TEIRESIAS I say you are the murderer you seek. OEDIPUS Twice! You will suffer for it. TEIRESIAS Yet more to titillate your temper? OEDIPUS Oh yes. More and more. All you have. TEIRESIAS I say you live in ignorance with those You love best. You don’t see your sin. OEDIPUS And you think you’ll live to laugh at this? TEIRESIAS If the truth has strength enough. OEDIPUS It has, but not for you – you are A blind, stupid, deaf old man! TEIRESIAS I pity you. You taunt me With what these will taunt you. OEDIPUS In your perpetual darkness you are harmless,

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To me, or to anyone else who can see. TEIRESIAS Your fate does not fall to me; Apollo is sufficient to work it out. OEDIPUS Creon? Is Creon in this with you? TEIRESIAS Creon is not dangerous – you are, to yourself. OEDIPUS Wealth, power and wit, Ever dogged by envy. So Creon, All friendship and loyalty, Is all craft and scheming For my poor share of it, My gift from a grateful city, and To use this pathetic little trickster, This motley mendicant with his visions Of profit. What did you ever see? Where were you when the dog-faced Woman sang to us? Now that Was a conundrum for a prophet, But your bird-lore and god-craft Were resoundingly silent. Oedipus, who knows nothing, did it, With wit, not bird-watching. And you would purge me for A place on the right hand of Creon. You will both pay. But for your age It might have been more immediate. CHORUS My lords, you are both too angry: Please, think of the god’s command. TEIRESIAS King you may be, but I claim An equal right of reply.

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Loxias is my master, not You, not Creon. You mock My blindness, yet are blind To your own damnation. I say, you do not see your sin, Nor whom you live with, Nor whose son you are. I say, you do not know your sin Against the living and the dead, Or the two-edged curse Of Mother and Father that Will drive you out and shut Your shining eye. I say, There will be no haven, no corner of Cithaeron quiet from your cry When you hear again the marriage-song That brought you here; no respite From suffering with children shared. OEDIPUS Must I listen to this? Get out! TEIRESIAS I’m here at your request. OEDIPUS I did not ask for an idiot! I needn’t have bothered. TEIRESIAS I might seem so to you – but did not to your parents. OEDIPUS My parents? And who, of all the people In the world, are my parents? TEIRESIAS This day will make you and destroy you. OEDIPUS You’re befogged with riddles.

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TEIRESIAS Riddles, I thought, were your strength.

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OEDIPUS My talent and my greatness. TEIRESIAS And your ruin. OEDIPUS But not the ruin of my city. TEIRESIAS Your hand, boy. Take me home. OEDIPUS Oh please. Take him home. TEIRESIAS When I have said it all – to your face. The man you look for, the killer Of the king, is here – A foreigner among you, it seems, But Theban born. He came Seeing, will leave blind; Now rich, then poor, Stick-tapping his way out. Father and brother, son And husband; killer and Co-sower of seed. Reckon that out. If I am wrong, Then say I am no prophet.

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Exeunt TEIRESIAS and BOY. OEDIPUS enters the palace CHORUS Who is the man? Who is the man Named by the god for an unnameable deed of blood? He needs more than the speed Of the flying horse

Introductions and Translations to the Plays of Sophocles and Euripides: Volume I

To flee the fire of the sons of Zeus and the Fates about his heels.

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Parnassus’ god Revealed the word To hunt the killer and track him wherever he hides. Like a sad sullen bull He’ll crash through the bush To be rid of the voices of prophecy that linger in his ear.

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The words of the seer perplex me; I can neither believe nor deny. I know of no ancient quarrel Between Corinth and Labdacus’ house, And know nothing of proof to doubt The shining name of the king, Or to peer at the past for revenge. Zeus and Apollo are wise in all things; Men’s judgement narrow and flawed. Who can tell beyond doubt Which seer can see truth, find blame Without proof, when we know it was he Who destroyed the Sphinx for our sake. I will not think other than good.

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Enter CREON CREON Citizens, I have heard accusations Made against me by the king. That I will not suffer. If I have said or done anything To harm him at a time like this, I couldn’t live – I could not Endure to be tagged a traitor To my friends, to you and to my city. CHORUS He spoke, I’m sure, in the heat Of the moment. He wasn’t thinking clearly.

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CREON Did he say the prophet lied On my instructions? CHORUS Yes. I don’t know why. CREON And said with his unflinching eye? Quite Certain of his accusation, was he? CHORUS I don’t know. I have no insight Into the actions of princes.

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Enter OEDIPUS from the palace OEDIPUS You! You have the face to strut Before my house: a proven Assassin and exposed in the attempt To burgle my crown? You must think me A coward and a fool not to see it And scotch it. To do this, you know, You need friends and money.

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CREON Listen to me, then judge me. OEDIPUS What can I learn? I know you for what you are. CREON Will you hear... OEDIPUS I hear that you are treacherous. CREON How can you be so stubborn? Can’t you think straight?

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OEDIPUS You do not think straight, my friend, If you think that being one of the family You can get away with it. CREON I agree with that. But tell me – What am I supposed to have done to you? OEDIPUS Did you make me call in that...divine? CREON I did; and I’d do it again. OEDIPUS Tell me; Laius, when did Laius...? CREON Laius? I do not understand you. OEDIPUS How long since Laius disappeared? CREON A long time ago. A very long time. OEDIPUS Was the prophet in business then? CREON Yes, and as revered as he is now. OEDIPUS Did he mention me back then? CREON Not in front of me. OEDIPUS Did you investigate the murder?

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CREON We did. We heard nothing. OEDIPUS And our wise man was silent? CREON I don’t know. So I can’t tell you. OEDIPUS But what you do know, you would be wise to tell me.

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CREON Whatever I know, I won’t deny. OEDIPUS Then you won’t deny that without Your prompting he would not Have put the death of Laius upon me. CREON You know better than I what he said. But let me ask you a question. OEDIPUS Do. You can’t prove me guilty of murder. CREON You are my sister’s husband? OEDIPUS Of course. CREON She has an equal share of power here? OEDIPUS All that she wants from me, she has. CREON And I have a third and equal share with you both?

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OEDIPUS That truly exposes you. CREON No. Just reason with yourself. First, why should anyone With my rank and privilege, Untroubled by responsibility, give all That up? I’m happy with the status, Not the function, as would be Any reasonable man. I am popular, My influence is sought after; they Flatter me to succeed with you. Only a born fool would have it Otherwise. I have no interest in treachery. Test my story against the oracle; if You catch me in a plot with this priest, I’ll Join you in pronouncing my own death sentence. But I won’t be accused in secret Without just cause. Don’t let Your slander confuse good men with bad. Time is the test of an honest man; Your traitor slips up in a day.

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CHORUS He speaks good sense, my lord. It’s not safe to be hasty. OEDIPUS When the plotter’s quick and slippery, He must be matched. I can’t Lose what initiative I have. CREON What do you want? You’ll banish me? OEDIPUS Not at all. I’ll kill you, And make an example of you.

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CREON This is insane. OEDIPUS Not for me. CREON I have some rights. OEDIPUS You are simply evil. CREON And if you’re wrong? OEDIPUS We must rule. CREON Not if you do it badly. OEDIPUS Oh, my city, hear him! CREON Your city? Not Mine?

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CHORUS Enough, my lords, enough. Please stop this!

Enter JOCASTA JOCASTA What do you mean by this wrangling? Aren’t you ashamed to indulge yourselves Like this when the whole city suffers? Creon, please go. And you, my lord, Come in. This is too petty. CREON Oh, no, sister, it is not.

Introductions and Translations to the Plays of Sophocles and Euripides: Volume I

Your husband offers me A not so petty choice Of banishment or death.

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OEDIPUS Yes. He plots against me. CREON Let me die now if I’m guilty. JOCASTA Oedipus, you must believe him. Believe him for his oath to the gods, To me, and to all these here. CHORUS You must, my lord. We beg you. OEDIPUS You ask me simply to yield? CHORUS His reputation and his oath deserve it. OEDIPUS Do you know what you ask? CHORUS I do. OEDIPUS So. CHORUS You curse without cause, And dishonour a friend. OEDIPUS So you cast me out To death or exile.

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CHORUS No! I swear by the Sun-god himself, I’ll die unshriven and alone If I thought so. No. I am sick at heart: We are dying of old curses; We want no more. OEDIPUS Then have him – and allow me my Death or dishonourable departure. I have listened to you, not to him. Him I abominate.

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CREON A sullen concession from a truculent temper. You bring all your pain on yourself. OEDIPUS Leave! CREON You have misjudged me.

Exit CREON JOCASTA What has happened? CHORUS Wild suspicions and hurt feelings. JOCASTA Each to the other? Why? CHORUS Don’t press me. We all have suffering enough. OEDIPUS We have indeed. And you, oh so sensibly, will distract me.

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CHORUS My lord, believe me. We are not so witless as to Forget our country’s suffering, Or you, who can save us.

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JOCASTA Tell me, why have you Turned on him like this? OEDIPUS Jocasta, you are more to me than Any of them. Creon schemes against me.

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JOCASTA But how? OEDIPUS He accuses me of the murder of Laius. JOCASTA He knows this? Or is it hearsay? OEDIPUS Oh, he’s clever. He hides Behind his pet priest. JOCASTA Then absolve yourself. I know How far these oracles are Beyond the wits of mere men. Listen to me. Laius Had an oracle – from priests, Not, perhaps, the god himself. He was to die at the hands of His child – of our child. What happened? You know He was killed by thieves Where three roads meet, and The baby, less than three days old, Its ankles pierced, was exposed

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On a mountainside. Whatever Apollo Contrived, it was not the murder Of the father by the son. The oracle was perfectly clear, But wrong. What the god intends, He’ll show us himself.

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OEDIPUS Jocasta, you...I don’t know. Something you said. It stirs... JOCASTA What? What is the matter? OEDIPUS You said Laius was killed Where three roads meet. JOCASTA So it was said then, and now. OEDIPUS Where is this place? JOCASTA Phocis, where the road forks To Delphi and to Daulia. OEDIPUS When was this? JOCASTA Quite soon before you came here, Before you took the throne. OEDIPUS Oh Zeus, what will you do to me ? JOCASTA What is it? Oedipus, what upsets you?

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OEDIPUS Don’t ask me yet. What was Laius like? How old was he?

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JOCASTA Tall – he was tall with grizzled hair. He looked like you. OEDIPUS Oh God! Am I cursed? JOCASTA What do you mean? You’re frightening me. OEDIPUS Can the prophet see, then? Tell me one thing more. JOCASTA Please. You scare me. Yes. OEDIPUS How was he attended? Just A few men, or a company?

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JOCASTA There were... five of them. A herald, and Laius in a carriage. OEDIPUS It becomes clear, I think. Who reported this? JOCASTA A servant. The only one who survived. OEDIPUS Is he here? JOCASTA No. He came to me, after,

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After your accession and begged To be allowed to leave, to Tend sheep away from the city. He was a good man, and Might have asked for more. OEDIPUS Can you find him? Now? JOCASTA Yes. Why? OEDIPUS Oh, my dear, I am afraid. Perhaps I’ve said more than I should. I will have to see him. JOCASTA He’ll be fetched. Oedipus, surely I deserve to know what troubles you? OEDIPUS Who can I tell, if not you? My father is Polybus of Corinth; My mother Dorian Merope. I was a person of some importance in Corinth, Until something odd happened – something I gave, perhaps, too much credence. At a banquet some... some drunk said To me, You are not your father’s son. I was irritated and tried to, but couldn’t, Forget it. I confronted my parents, And they were furious at the insult. That was some comfort, but It rankled; it got talked about; So, without telling a soul, I Consulted the oracle at Pytho. But the god...the god Would not honour my Question. All the answer I had Was a tale of murder and incest –

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How I was to marry my mother, Breed an unnatural brood, and Murder my father. I fled. I fled until I saw the stars Between me and my city. I had to avoid that. As I journeyed I came to the place Where, you say, Laius died. I’ll tell you, Jocasta, the truth. Where three roads join I met a herald And an old man in a horse-drawn cart. The herald ordered me aside. And The old man – he insulted me. The driver struck me and I struck Him back. The old fellow Took his goad and hit me – here. I killed them. All of them. Was this man kin to Laius? If so, I have cursed myself: I am forbidden company and Conversation; I have polluted The bed of my victim. Am I so...foul? I’m banished From here and from my homeland, Where the god says I’ll have My mother and slaughter my father – My father. Polybus, my father. Who could deny that this Is the work of some malignant god? Oh, hide me from the sight of men Sooner than live with that. CHORUS Oh sir, my lord, your words fill me with horror. But the witness, the witness will give us the truth. OEDIPUS Perhaps. A small hope. I’ll see this shepherd. JOCASTA What can he tell you?

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OEDIPUS If his story fits with yours, I’m safe.

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JOCASTA With my story? OEDIPUS Yes! You said thieves, Robbers. If he says robbers, It wasn’t me. I’m only one. If he speaks of one man, Alone, I’m guilty. JOCASTA That is what he said. He can’t Change that – we all heard it, all Of us, not only me. But even If he changes something in his Story, he can’t say that Laius Died as was foretold. Loxias warned That my child would kill him. It was my child that died. So well divined. It’s all signs That point nowhere. OEDIPUS Bring me the shepherd.

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JOCASTA I’ll send for him. We should go inside. I’ll do whatever you think I must.

OEDIPUS and JOCASTA enter the palace CHORUS Let my life be pure in word and deed, Let me honour laws born of heaven, Laws not made for mortal sleeping But ageless and great with god. Power breeds pride, and pride over-stuffed

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Scales monstrous heights, to fall again; May god ever uphold a lawful zeal For the city’s sake. Oh god protect us. Let the proud man, Fearless of justice and divinity, Grasping in his profanity, Be seized by a ruinous fate: If he should escape the shafts of god, How can I step in the sacred dance? Earth’s sacred centre I’ll no longer seek, nor Abae Nor Olympus, if omens lie And the word of god deceives us. O Zeus, overlord, old Laius is forgotten, Apollo is denied and faith grows cold.

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Enter JOCASTA, ATTENDANT and GUARD from the palace JOCASTA Good people, I must go to the temples of the gods, I must pray and offer incense. The king is overwrought, Unable to judge past and present, subject to the whim Of anybody’s words. There is nothing I can do. Bright Apollo, my first prayer is to you: Cleanse us, free us from this curse. We are afraid. The pilot of our ship is lost to us.

Enter CORINTHIAN MESSENGER MESSENGER Can you guide me, please, to the house Of Oedipus? Or help me find him? CHORUS This is the house, and this lady is his queen. MESSENGER Bless you, madam, and your house and husband.

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JOCASTA And you, sir. Thankyou. Do you bring us news, Or have you some request? MESSENGER Good news, lady, for you and for the king.

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JOCASTA From where? MESSENGER Corinth. It will please you, though Touch you, too, with sadness. JOCASTA Please, tell us. What can be so double-edged? MESSENGER All the people of the isthmus will make Oedipus their king. JOCASTA But is Polybus not their king? MESSENGER No, madam. He is dead. JOCASTA The father of Oedipus is dead? MESSENGER He is, madam. JOCASTA Tell the king. Tell him!

Exit ATTENDANT into the palace Now where are these holy oracles? After years of flight to avoid a murder, The victim dies in bed.

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Introductions and Translations to the Plays of Sophocles and Euripides: Volume I

OEDIPUS enters Listen to this man, then say what you think of oracles.

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OEDIPUS Who is he? What does he have to say? JOCASTA He’s from Corinth. Oedipus, your father Is dead. Polybus is dead. OEDIPUS Is this true? Tell me yourself. MESSENGER Quite simply, sir, and clearly – he died. OEDIPUS Was his death suspicious? Was he ill?

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MESSENGER A minor illness, but enough for an old man. OEDIPUS So. He died, sick and old. MESSENGER He was, my lord, very old. OEDIPUS And that is it? Well, Jocasta, we’ve had The Pythian fire, we’ve had oracles, and We’ve had screaming birds, all telling me That I would murder my father. Now he’s dead, there, and I stand here, Without so much as a sword in my hand. Perhaps I am responsible, Perhaps he died because I left him, because he pined for me. The oracle is now as dead as he is.

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JOCASTA I said so, long ago. OEDIPUS Yes. I was misled by fear. JOCASTA Then you can put it out of your mind. OEDIPUS But... there is still my mother. JOCASTA What is there to be afraid of? It’s just luck, chance. You can’t know the future. Take each day as it comes, don’t think About your mother. How many men Have lain with their mothers in dreams? Ignore it, or your life will be unbearable.

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OEDIPUS If my mother were dead, I could believe you. But she lives, and it scares me. JOCASTA Your father’s death is some comfort. OEDIPUS Oh yes. It’s the living I’m afraid of. MESSENGER Who is it, sir? Who is this woman? OEDIPUS The queen, of course. Queen Merope. MESSENGER Oh. What can you fear from her? OEDIPUS We have an oracle, my friend. A grim story.

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MESSENGER Is it proper for a stranger to hear it? OEDIPUS Yes. Loxias has proclaimed that it is my fate To marry my own mother and kill my father, To spill his blood with these hands. That is why I left Corinth so long ago. I’ve lived well here, but I’ve missed them. MESSENGER Fear of that drove you out of Corinth? OEDIPUS I could not kill my own father.

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MESSENGER Then since I have relieved you of one fear, Let me rid you of the other. OEDIPUS I’d be grateful, believe me. MESSENGER That’s why I’m here. I’ll have the honour Of taking you back home. OEDIPUS No. I will not risk entering my parents’ house again. MESSENGER Young man, I don’t think you know what you do. OEDIPUS How so? For god’s sake, tell me. MESSENGER The fear you have... OEDIPUS Yes. The god’s word might still be true.

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MESSENGER That through your parents you will suffer this pollution? OEDIPUS It torments me. MESSENGER Your fears are groundless. OEDIPUS But I am their son. MESSENGER No. Polybus was not your father. No more than I am. OEDIPUS No more than you? Explain yourself. Why, then, was I called his son? MESSENGER You were given to him. I gave you to him. OEDIPUS Given to him! But he loved me as his son. MESSENGER He had no other child. OEDIPUS Was this child a foundling? Did you buy it? MESSENGER You were found on the slopes of Cithaeron. OEDIPUS Why were you there? MESSENGER I was a shepherd.

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OEDIPUS You were a shepherd, a vagrant! MESSENGER Yes. And the man who saved you.

1030

OEDIPUS From what? MESSENGER Look at your ankles. OEDIPUS My ankles? MESSENGER You were fettered – your ankles pierced. OEDIPUS Oh. MESSENGER Hence your name: Oedipus. OEDIPUS Who did this? Did my parents do this? Tell me. MESSENGER I don’t know. The man who gave you to me would know. OEDIPUS So you didn’t find me. MESSENGER No. No, another shepherd passed you on to me. OEDIPUS Who? Would you know him again? MESSENGER He was from the household of Laius.

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OEDIPUS Laius. Laius of Thebes? MESSENGER The man was a servant. OEDIPUS And is he still alive? MESSENGER These people will know. OEDIPUS Do you know this man? Do any of you Know this shepherd? You will tell me. This mystery will be resolved.

1050

CHORUS I think he might prove to be the same man You have asked for already. The queen can tell you. OEDIPUS Jocasta, you know who we sent for. Is this the man he means? JOCASTA Does it matter? The man doesn’t matter. Forget it. Leave it. It makes no difference. OEDIPUS I can’t do that. I can’t ignore clues That might tell me who I am. JOCASTA Please. If you value your own life. I think I have already suffered enough. OEDIPUS Why? I might be three generations a slave, But that doesn’t affect your honour.

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Introductions and Translations to the Plays of Sophocles and Euripides: Volume I

JOCASTA Please. I ask you – don’t. OEDIPUS I have to do it. I have to know. JOCASTA I know. But I ask you for your sake. OEDIPUS For my sake? JOCASTA Oh, god help you, if you live to know it. OEDIPUS Find this shepherd.

Exit GUARD We will leave the lady To lament the good name of her family.

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JOCASTA You are lost. There is nothing else I can say to you. Nothing.

Exit to the palace CHORUS Why has the queen left us like this, My lord? She frightens me. OEDIPUS Let break what will. I am determined To discover my birth, however humble. The woman is ashamed of my low origins, She’s proud. I’ll say I’m Fortune’s boy: I’m not ashamed of such a mother, As generous as she is. I rise

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And fall with my sisters the seasons And will be no other than who I am. But I will know who I am. CHORUS If I am a prophet and see the signs, Cithaeron, mother and nurse, Your sky will hum to The moonlit dance, and May Phoebus smile for the Song we sing to bless The gods and honour the king. Who, who of the gods Got you? Was it Pan In play with a long-lived Nymph, or Apollo’s own lady On a grassy slope, Cyllene’s King, or a Helicon nymph In a bacchic trance? OEDIPUS Though I’ve never seen him before, I must Guess that this man is our shepherd. Is it him?

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Enter SHEPHERD and GUARD CHORUS Yes. I know him. He’s an honest man. OEDIPUS You, from Corinth. Is this the man? MESSENGER It is. OEDIPUS Now you. Look at me and answer me. Were you in King Laius’ service?

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SHEPHERD Yes sir. Born and bred. OEDIPUS What was your work? SHEPHERD Shepherd, sir. OEDIPUS And where did you work? SHEPHERD In the region, sir, most of the time, Near the slopes of Cithaeron. OEDIPUS Do you remember this man? SHEPHERD What does he do? Where would I have seen him? OEDIPUS This man. Have you met him before?

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SHEPHERD Not that I can remember, Sir. MESSENGER I’m not surprised, my lord. But I can remind him. He knows Cithaeron’s countryside, where he had Two flocks, and I had one, where for three seasons We shared the pasture, and come winter, he Would take his to Thebes, and I’d return to Corinth. That’s true, isn’t it? SHEPHERD It was a long time ago. Yes. MESENGER Then you remember giving me a child,

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To rear up as my own. SHEPHERD Why do you ask that? MESSENGER Well, friend, here is that same boy. SHEPHERD You’re a fool. Hold your tongue! OEDIPUS Don’t abuse him, old man. I think he’s more honest than you. SHEPHERD But sir, what have I done wrong? OEDIPUS Answer the question. SHEPHERD He knows nothing. He’s a fool. OEDIPUS I can persuade you to speak. SHEPHERD No sir! Please don’t hurt me! OEDIPUS Hold him! SHEPHERD What must I tell you? OEDIPUS Did you give him the child? SHEPHERD Yes. And I wish I’d died when I did it.

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OEDIPUS As you will now if you don’t speak. SHEPHERD I’m lost either way. OEDIPUS Don’t prevaricate with me.

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SHEPHERD I told you, I gave it to him. OEDIPUS Where did you get it? Was it yours? SHEPHERD No. It was another man’s child. OEDIPUS Whose child? SHEPHERD Please, master, for the sake of all the gods, Ask no more. OEDIPUS If I have to ask you again, you will die. SHEPHERD From the house of Laius. OEDIPUS A slave, or a child of the house? SHEPHERD Master, I am afraid to speak. OEDIPUS And I to hear you. But I must.

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SHEPHERD They said it was the king’s child. The queen, here, will know the truth. OEDIPUS She gave it to you? SHEPHERD Yes. OEDIPUS Why? SHEPHERD To kill it. OEDIPUS Her child? SHEPHERD The prophecy. OEDIPUS What prophecy? SHEPHERD That it would kill its father. OEDIPUS Why? Why in the name of god Did you give the child to this man? SHEPHERD Pity, master. I pitied it. I thought he’d take it to another place – But not for this. If you are the man, You were bred to suffer. OEDIPUS No. No. No. All clear and all true. Let the light stop now that

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Shows me bred cursed, Wed cursed and cursed in blood.

Exit into the palace Exeunt GUARD, SHEPHERD and MESSENGER CHORUS Generations of man, were you ever More than nothing? What man Does more than touch delight For a moment seeming, A moment thought then gone? Oedipus, sad form of all our fate. He took aim and he struck good fortune; He outriddled and killed the hook-footed maid And stood like a tower over death, Over all, and we called Him king and we honoured him, Oedipus, lord and ruler of Thebes. Who has heard More misery, More savagery In a turn of fate? Oedipus, Lover and Son to a Mother, how can The clay you’ve ploughed endure? Time has seen You, judged You, cursed Begetter and begot. Laius’ son You offend My eye, But it weeps for you Who gave me breath and takes it away.

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Enter ATTENDANT from the palace ATTENDANT If you are Thebans, you will weep. Phasis and Ister flooding could not purge this place Of blood, could not wash out the mutilation That shrouds this house.

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CHORUS What more? What more can there be? ATTENDANT The queen is dead. CHORUS Aah. How did she die? ATTENDANT She killed herself. Not seeing, you cannot know What images of suffering haunt me. But I will speak – She ran, distraught, you saw, straight To the bridal bed, hands ripping her hair; The doors crashed shut, and from behind We heard her cry out to Laius, dead long ago: Remember, here, we bred a boy who killed his father, And with his mother bred more, more children. She screeched at the bridal bed on which she bore A husband, a father and a brother to his own. Then, I think, she died. The king distracted us, he burst in yelling For a sword and for his wife that was no wife, The seed bed where he had grown, then sown And reaped. And as he raged, some god led him on (Of us, not one could move), it beckoned him Inexorably toward the door, which, with a roar, He smashed and charged inside. He saw her, And cried out. We saw her, hanged, The cord twisted around her neck. With such a moan he cut her down and laid her on the floor.

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Oh, there is more to tell you. The queen had two gold brooches on her robe. He snatched them and held them out, right out: I’ll see no more, he said, I will not gaze again On all the evil I have done or suffered – O, surrender to the night all I have longed to see. And he plunged them in his eyes, and hacked And tore and ripped until his eyeballs Poured into his beard, in one black torrent of blood. They are struck, both man and wife, Together doubly punished. They were happy once, and justly, But now their lot is lamentation, ruin, Shame and death, every evil with a name.

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CHORUS And now? Does he suffer still? ATTENDANT Oedipus calls out to unbar the doors, so all can see His father’s killer and his mother’s – I cannot speak the word. He has pronounced his exile from the land To rid this house of his own curse, though he is weak, Alone, and suffers pain too great to bear.

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OEDIPUS appears at the palace door Look at him! What you loathe, you’ll pity! CHORUS What can a man see more cruel Than madness brought down By the demon of a tortured mind. I can look, but can’t see; Listen, and learn nothing. OEDIPUS Aah, is this my voice Blown by the wind,

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Or my ghost unwrapped?

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CHORUS This is more than eye and ear can know. OEDIPUS So dark. So thick and black and fixed, And pain, pain, pain, So far inside, so far beyond the flesh. CHORUS Double suffering, in body and in soul.

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OEDIPUS My friend, you are there? You’ll look to me. Blind Though I am, I know your care And hear your voice. CHORUS Why this mutilation? Those eyes. What drove you to this? OEDIPUS Apollo, Apollo brought it down; But my own hand struck me. How should I use eyes, when The thought of sight appals me?

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CHORUS You speak truth. OEDIPUS What can I see to love, Or hear again and be happy? Lead me away. I’m lost, God-crossed and damned. CHORUS I wish I had never seen you.

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OEDIPUS I’ll curse the pitying fool who freed My feet and pinned me to this life. I should have died and saved the world some sorrow.

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CHORUS And I have wished this. OEDIPUS But I lived to kill a father, mate With a mother and breed brother-sons. What name is more rank than Oedipus?

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CHORUS You should have died then, Not suffered on, sightless. OEDIPUS It was best. Could those eyes have looked On my father in the other world, or my mother, On whom I’ve sinned beyond mere punishment? And to see my children, spawned as they were? Or the towers of Thebes, the holy places, myself Forbidden by myself, unclean, offensive to the gods? Could I dare to see you see me? I should have stopped my ears, And lived softly, sweetly, numb. Why, Cithaeron, did you hide me, To expose my beginnings to the world? Did Polybus and Corinth conceive then What nestled in the bud they grafted? What memorial lies in the dust of a Three-forked road, where my father’s blood, and mine, Dripped, on the way to Thebes for a marriage And mingling of blood of fathers, brothers, Brides and mothers – of horrors compounded. Hide me, kill me, hurl me deep into the ocean; Or, for pity’s sake, touch me, lead me out of sight. Don’t shrink; only I can bear this guilt.

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Enter CREON with ANTIGONE, ISMENE and GUARD CHORUS Creon, we ask you to do or say what’s right. You are our sole protector. OEDIPUS Creon. What can I say to him? What trust can he give me?

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CREON I’m not here, Oedipus, to gloat or taunt. But remember, all of you, it is indecent To parade before the gaze of our lord, the sun, A horror unfit for earth or air or water. Decency demands this misery be looked on Only by the family it affects. Take him in.

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OEDIPUS Creon, I’m thankful for your generosity. Defiled as I am, that is more Than I have a right to hope. But let me ask One thing of you – more For your good than for mine. CREON What thing do you want so much? OEDIPUS Turn me out from this city, now, Far from the sight and sound of men. CREON I would have done it. But first I must Have clear instruction from the god. OEDIPUS It’s surely clear enough. Destroy This unholy parricide.

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CREON That was said. But now – I need more guidance. OEDIPUS You need ask for me? For this? CREON You would yourself, now, put your trust in the god. OEDIPUS Yes. Then I’ll ask you, humbly, to give the queen, Your sister, due rites, as you think fit. For me, my presence is a curse, so let me go, Let the mountain have me, Cithaeron, where I should have died, in all obedience to them Who sent me there. Yet I know I won’t die just old or sick, or by any Common accident: what’s predestined Must be more than that. My children, Creon. My sons are grown men, And capable. But my girls, two small Companions at my table. Creon, look to them. If I could touch them once – No, I’d weep. Can you be that generous, man, To let me think I see them? Are they here? Are they here?

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CREON Yes, they are. I knew how much you loved them. OEDIPUS Then the gods will bless you with a better fortune. Where are my children? Will you take these hands, these brother’s hands, The hands that dimmed your father’s eyes because They neither saw nor knew what he had done? They cannot see you, but these eyes will weep; They weep to think of your bitter life to come, Lonely and outcast from common pleasures,

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And when it’s time to wed, will there be one Who’d love you more than scandal? Daughters of the parricide, born incestuously; Who could marry them? I see a barren, fruitless future. Creon, you alone can be a father to them; The parents that they had are dead. Don’t let them wander homeless and alone, Don’t inflict on them the evils of my life. Give me your hand and promise me. My children, I should say more, Much more that you will come to know: But pray to live and be content, And be more happy than your father. CREON You’ve wept enough. We’ll go inside. OEDIPUS If I must. CREON All things at the proper time. OEDIPUS If you’ll promise me one thing. CREON Ask me. OEDIPUS Send me away. CREON You must ask the god for that. OEDIPUS The gods abhor me. CREON So you’ll have your wish.

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OEDIPUS Then you consent? CREON I say only what I know.

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OEDIPUS So. Lead me away. CREON Go. But not with the children. OEDIPUS No. Let me have them. CREON You are master of nothing. You have outlived all of that.

They all enter the palace CHORUS This was Oedipus, who outriddled the Sphinx, A leader, enviable, prosperous. He was swept away by misfortune. Let none be called happy until the day He feels no more, neither pleasure nor pain.

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Oedipus at Colonus is, according to tradition, Sophocles’ last play, written shortly before and first performed shortly after his death (c.405-6 BC). It is a complex play, more (at least on the surface) diffuse than the sharply focussed tragedies of Antigone and Oedipus the King, its companion pieces in the socalled ‘Theban Trilogy.’ Consequently it raises particular problems of interpretation and presentation. All Greek tragedy, to a greater or lesser degree of explicitness, reveals the religious context from which it arises. Colonus is toward the further edge of explicitness, as Oedipus, after a lifetime of triumph, tragedy and disgrace, finds relief in death. Prophecies are fulfilled and and the gods take this paradigm of humanity to their bosoms. As far as the protagonist is concerned, he has overcome his tragedy and achieves, as most commentators argue, a resolution, reminiscent of Aeschylus’ Eumenides or the last plays of Shakespeare. There is, however, another way of regarding the play which, I think, reflects the undoubted power of the text more fully. Though written last of Sophocles’ Theban plays, it is the second play in the sequence of the narrative, preceded by Oedipus the King and followed by Antigone. The order of composition, however, was Antigone, Oedipus the King, Colonus, and the sequence reveals a development of thought and a widening of focus from individual suffering to a more inclusive picture of the way the world ticks. Colonus is, then, less an exemplum of tragedy than a play about tragedy, and it relies to some degree on an audience’s awareness of its companion plays. Oedipus delivers his own justice to his sons while he recounts his own suffering and questions its justice. Antigone and Ismene accept their loss as the play ends and leave the stage for the next stage in the narrative sequence, the tragedy of Antigone. Any resolution is, to say the least, ironic, and while Oedipus himself may find relief in divinely assisted death, the portion (moira) of suffering allotted to others is not yet filled. Colonus differs from Sophocles’ other two Theban plays in two important respects: firstly, the protagonist is not the tragic victim – that privilege is left for those who remain when he has gone; secondly, the play has an open-endedness not characteristic of the others, and therefore a different emotional focus. Oedipus may be dead at the end, but not in the manner of Antigone or Jocasta, and his death would seem preferable to the living despair of Creon or himself in

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his earlier manifestation. As the play ends there is lamentation, but it is cut short. There is compassion on the part of Theseus for his wards, and acceptance, obedience and the suggestion of positive action from Antigone: So. If the dead wish it, we Must be satisfied. But send us To Thebes, our ancient home: There we might prevent the Slaughter that threatens our brothers. (1768-72)

And as the girls leave the stage the Chorus offers them and the audience a last word of pious, fatherly comfort: “No more tears. All is in the hands of the gods” (1777-9). Indeed it is, and we know to what end. This open-endedness in some respects makes Colonus less immediately accessible to a modern audience, referring as it does to the continuing history of the Labdacids. There is no such dramatic irony in the conclusions of Antigone and Oedipus the King, which, having resolved the ironic distance between audience and stage at an earlier point, focus firmly on the finality of the tragic scene. The challenge for a modern producer is to achieve an appropriate emotional focus on the tragic nature of the stage world; that is, to catch the moments in the play that do exhibit this quality of finality, or inevitability, and allow them to colour the action as it continues into and through the end of the play. There are two such moments in which time is, as it were, suspended, the future collapsed into the present, and we are given a glimpse of the forces that control human destiny. Oedipus’ curse on his sons and his apotheosis are suspensions of time, brief pauses in the flow of ordinary experience. These are the points at which the emotions that drive individual action, and hence the plot, have their divine source revealed. The divine plan, whatever it is, is worked out through the emotional lives of the characters. There is a dual emotional rhythm running through the play that both rises and falls with the events of particular scenes, and proceeds in a rising line to the twin climaxes of Oedipus’ curse and blessing before it falls away as his children proceed towards their particular fates. Like a rising tide it is pressed a little further by each wave, and having peaked, recedes in the same manner. On both levels emotion reflects perception and perception precipitates action. On the short axis all the characters grope within the limited range of their vision and shift back and forth through moments of chaos and calm. On the long axis Oedipus’ emotions are in a sense ‘purified’ and resolved into the twin pillars of a curse and a blessing. His anger and his compassion are divine attributes, and his voice as he utters them is not his own. The moment of Oedipus’ apotheosis is serene and controlled, embodied in the calm authority of his language and his leading the other characters off the

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stage. The phrase “Light that is no light” (1549) resonates – the medium by which we see is no light for a blind man and, on another level, it is less than revelatory for those who have eyes. Light is physical thing (“I can feel your last touch,” 1550) and what it reveals is subject to the frailty of the body that experiences it. While those around him remain in the half-light of their physical world, Oedipus has reached a point of knowledge that is beyond and unaffected by the realities of ordinary existence. In this he has surpassed the Teiresias of the other two plays, the ubiquitous middleman between the mortal and the divine. But he has not always been thus. Oedipus’ ‘eyes’ have been Antigone, as Ismene has been his ‘ears’, who shares the common frailty of vision. The tension that runs through the play arises from a dissonance of feeling that comes with partial and emotionally coloured vision, as Oedipus and Antigone struggle to identify the various forces that confront them, and as others attempt to make out what they are. The action could, then, be characterised as a series of rhetorical gestures as Oedipus attempts to assert an identity and as others attempt to see what it signifies: is he a humble old man, a helpless victim of circumstances, a polluted object, a trickster, a king, a threat or a promise? The pervading sense among the characters on the stage is uncertainty and apprehension, established at the start even between father and daughter. The prologue has two aspects: the characters and the scene. The establishment of the latter is crucial as a foil to the characters who populate it, and as a perspective that separates the audience from them. Colonus is a special place. Its specialness is expressed through the characters (and could, of course, be expressed visually) in such a way as to distinguish their partial perception from the more complete perception of the audience. Antigone ‘feels’ the special character of the place, but only when the stranger informs them in plain language of its sanctity does Oedipus become aware of anything at all. If Oedipus has reached the end of his journey it will be some time before he or anyone else on the stage can know it. Antigone’s first speech, therefore, provides a vital stage signal. Like messengers’ speeches elsewhere, it offers an emotional perspective for the audience, a sympathetic colouring that arises from innocent feeling, from experience untouched by ulterior motive: O Oedipus, father, I see, I think, Towers far off. But here, this Place is holy – I feel it – so thick it is With laurel, olive, with vines; and Nightingales – hear them rustle, their Singing. But you, sit on this stone. You’ve come far for an old man. (14-20)

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On the one hand, however true her feeling, Antigone is unaware of what it means, and on the other, however clear her feeling and the sense of special significance may be to the theatre audience, her stage audience is deaf to it, and an element of dissonance arises between father and daughter. Oedipus’ opening speech is a species of grumble; we learn not only who he is, but that, as a beggar, he is still firmly conscious of his nobility. Aside from exhaustion, Oedipus expresses some sense of shame for his condition and dependence on strangers. The dialogue that follows is prickly: “Sit me down. Watch over this blind man.” “I know what to do. I’ve had time enough” (21-2). Even the most devoted carer gets tired of a demanding, garrulous charge. If Oedipus is blind to the first sign of his journey’s end, it is not through any lack in the signs to be read. The limitation is his own. The situation, however, lays the foundation for his gradual illumination. Oedipus must pick up what signs are available to him and interpret them, insofar as he has the capacity to do so. Having ignored the intimations of his daughter, he is unable to ignore the simple language of the Stranger: “…you get out of there. You can’t tread on holy ground” (36-7). He can be sure of one thing: someone thinks this is holy ground and so there is, for the meantime at least, some sort of sanctuary. Until his departure Oedipus is essentially beseiged in a twilight world in which little, if anything, is certain. The appearance of the Stranger and the timorous reaction of the pair characterise the series of episodes that follow. Everything out there is a threat, half-seen and half-understood, and life becomes a series of strategies to ward off or, by force of words (he has nothing else) to control whatever it might be. These are largely rhetorical strategies, attempts to move or persuade. From the entrance of the Chorus to that of Ismene the stage exhibits an ebb and flow of fear, confidence, anger, compassion and a switching of initiative from one side to the other as they both probe for some kind of certainty. Oedipus himself undergoes several phases, from practised humility, to blind fear, to an assertion of his natural authority, ably assisted by Antigone’s intervention to dispel the Chorus’ anger, an exhibition of pathos and flattery that exploits their uncertainty and halts precipitate action (238-53). As the Chorus hesitates in the face of this, Oedipus takes them to task for betraying the reputation of Athens and fearing a mere name. Theseus is a key to the dramatic strategy of the play as a whole. It is customary to present him as a kind of paragon, the embodiment of Athenian virtue. Perhaps he is, but to see him as an ideal, unaffected by human frailty and above the pressure of his own passions, is, I think, to underestimate Sophocles’ vision. In the kommos that precedes Theseus’ entrance (510-50) the Chorus is drawn irresistably to know more of the prodigy that confronts them. The result is

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emotional chaos and dissipation of the apparent stability brought about by Ismene and by Oedipus’ acceptance of their advice to “Appease the goddesses” (446) for his trespass. They are at an impasse, Oedipus asserting his innocence and the Chorus horrified at what he has confessed. Theseus enters and the wave of emotion recedes. But the calm his presence imposes masks a more intensive interrogation. Soothing as his words might be, Theseus’ compassion is provisional: “For me to abandon you, what you say must indeed be terrible” (560-2), and is accompanied by a self-consciousness of his own rather special status. He too has “wrestled with danger like no other man” (564), as he here strives in the dialogue that follows to discover the nature of what he is dealing with and so to make the right decision for his people. He asks the rational questions to which there are no rational answers. It’s a gamble, a calculated risk, and, having applied his subtle pressure to discover just what is at stake, he decides: Who would reject the favour of such A man, for whom an ally’s hearth Is ever to be shared? And more, a Suppliant to our gods, with no small Reward for me and my country.

(631-5)

There is a hint of the smiling mask, which is allowed to slip in the sequence that follows. Theseus’ integrity is challenged: “If you keep your word” (648), grunts his ungracious guest, and what began as a controlled, confident exploration of the state of affairs ends in a mildly bad-tempered assertion of his dignity: Even without my assurance you’ve nothing To fear, if Phoebus has sent you. In my absence my name will guard You and you’ll suffer no harm.

(664-7)

Two things emerge. Firstly, Oedipus’ claim to divine backing is still uncertain to those on the stage, and trust remains fragile. Secondly, the irritant to Theseus’ dignity has provoked a firmer commitment to the safety of his guest. “I won’t hold you to an oath, like a common liar” (650), Oedipus concedes, and provokes from his host an indignant assertion that his word is as good as an oath: “You could have nothing more than my word” (651). Theseus has been locked in to the process. There is a similar pattern to his next appearance. Theseus’ instant response to Creon’s intrusion is a defence of his dignity: Let someone go to the altars – quickly – Make them leave the sacrifice and go,

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Horse and foot, where the roads meet. If these girls get through I’ll look weak, Beaten, a fool to a foreigner. (897-904)

The lecture on justice and proper conduct that follows is largely rationalisation after the event. The commitment has been made, the action done. If Oedipus’ fate is intimately linked to Athens it is because Apollo has deemed it so and Theseus is a means to that end. Apollo, however, is an abstraction. He is a framework from which the stage dynamic takes its shape, and whose existence is rather to be deduced from the action than observed in it. What is most important is the sense that individuals on the stage are tied in to a pattern of actions over which they have little control, or actions that are at least prior to their capacity to articulate them in any sort of rational or moral discourse. Knowledge and judgement are retrospective, coming after one has acted, so to speak, blindly. This is, of course, Oedipus’ plea of mitigation. What emerges is a parallel that reflects on the moral implications of Oedipus’ plea. He and Theseus are inverse mirror images of each other. One has sinned (he never denied it) and so is polluted, and the other emerges as the righteous defender of the law and a protector against unjust persecution. But both are products of the same process, both react instinctively and emotionally to any challenge to their identity. By the end of the play Oedipus has moved on but Theseus has not and his actions, however good or pious his intentions, contribute to the continuing tragedy, to the pattern imposed by Apollo. Oedipus’ passing from one world to another leaves in its wake a host of ambiguities, not least because his new-found authority has two aspects (like Dionysus or even the Eumenides themselves). On the one hand, his unrelenting denial of Polynices expresses an intensity of hatred that goes beyond any mere moral point of view. Antigone puts the humane, the sympathetic and rational argument (1181-1203) and, under pressure from his host and the rules of supplication, Oedipus concedes, grudgingly, but only to hear, not to listen to his son. Surrounded by friends who cannot comprehend his anger, he is isolated, a remnant, like any old man, of a lifetime of suffering and regret.The third ode (1212-48) makes the point and the image of a “northern cape, lashed by winter’s waves,” stubborn and unrelenting, prepares us for Polynices’ entry. He is beyond their reach and Antigone and Polynices are left to connive at their own tragedies. One is propelled toward it by love and the other by pride and anger, but the qualitative distinction is merely a human value and irrelevant to the process of tragedy, the inherently mysterious designs of the gods which are played out through them. It is here that the play touches upon the sense of tragic finality that characterises Antigone and Oedipus the King.

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The other face of Oedipus is stern but benificent. His personal triumph is simply to die, to move beyond the possibility of tragedy, and the calm of his last speech (1518-55) is a complement to the fury of his curse on Polynices. Both are aspects of the same mystery. The pattern is quite clear. From the dark moment of Polynices’ rejection we move to intense panic from the Chorus as Zeus’ thunder cracks, to be brought up short by Oedipus’ departure. Movement begins again with the wide-eyed wonderment of the Messenger, is raised to a higher pitch by Antigone’s and Ismene’s lamentation, and eases again with Theseus’ comforting compassion. Rather, it appears to do so. Theseus is, as I have said, a key to the conclusion of the play. In order for the pattern of emotion and action to fit the tragic pattern a calm, triumphant Theseus who has seen and comprehended the mystery does not work. What he has seen has been hinted at by the Messenger: The king stood, alone, hands over his eyes, As though he’d looked on a vision too Terrible to be endured. In a moment he Was prostrate upon the ground, saluting in One prayer gods of earth and of Olympus. (1651-55)

Theseus appears, shaken: My children, stop your weeping. Where the Dark gods give grace to the living and the Dead you must not weep. You anger the gods. (1751-3)

His first words can be seen in two ways, either as paternal comfort for two distressed girls, or as a reaction, born of fear or horror, to a profound experience, which is manifested in absolute obedience. Obedience is not a rational response (any more than his original commitment to Oedipus had been) and his fulfilling of the two injunctions given him by Oedipus display no farsighted knowledge that might stave off future tragedy. “While I keep my word [not to disclose Oedipus’ grave] my land is safe” (1764-5). So far, so good. But both he and Antigone have misread Oedipus’ curse on Polynices, and when she asks to be returned to Thebes where she “might prevent the slaughter that threatens our brothers,” he is eager to comply: I will. I will, and what more I can Do for you, and to please the dead. I must not fail in this.

(1774-6)

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He knows not exactly what it means “to please the dead.” In his eagerness to do the right thing Theseus facilitates the next phase in the story in which Antigone herself will be a sacrifice “to please the dead.” To sum up. The play presents us with two worlds: the stage on which the characters live through their emotions, and a mysterious universe that contains both stage and audience. The audience has a privileged perspective. They have the privilege of the knowledge of emotion, as they see it depicted on the stage, rather than the confinement of knowledge through emotion, which is the status of the stage characters. An aspect of that knowledge is the ability to distinguish the benificent from the malificent. The almost nihilistic bleakness of the third ode is offset by the sensuality and sheer enjoyment of life of the first (668-717), as treachery and hatred between Oedipus and his sons is offset by their opposites between Oedipus and his daughters. The tragedy is that all this exists within a universe that is arbitrary and inexplicable. Although the story of Colonus, like that of any other Greek tragedy, is couched in the language of Greek religion, the dramatic effect on a modern, secular stage seems to be unaffected by this. The structure of tragedy remains. The emotional dynamics of the action propel the characters toward a necessary end, yet while tragedy is in this sense predetermined, the result is neither an empty nihilism, nor a simplistic moralism, but a celebration of what it is to be human in an inhuman universe.

SOPHOCLES’ OEDIPUS AT COLONUS

The Characters Oedipus Antigone his daughter Ismene her sister Theseus King of Athens Creon King of Thebes Polynices son of Oedipus A Stranger a local inhabitant of Colonus A Messenger Chorus of elders of Colonus

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Scene: a grove at Colonus, near Athens OEDIPUS Antigone, blind man’s child, where Are we, what town of what men? What poor dole will wandering Oedipus have today? I ask little, Get less, but it contents me. I’m taught patience by Suffering, by time and my nobility. My girl, do you see a place To sit? Anything, sacred or public? We’ll ask where we are – we’re Foreigners – we’ll learn What they want of us. ANTIGONE O, Oedipus, father, I see, I think, Towers far off. But here, this Place is holy - I feel it - so thick it is With laurel, olive, with vines; and Nightingales - hear them rustle, their Singing. But you, sit on this stone You’ve come far for an old man.

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OEDIPUS Sit me down. Watch over this blind man. ANTIGONE I know what to do – I’ve had time enough. OEDIPUS Can you tell me where we are? ANTIGONE I know that is Athens. But this place? OEDIPUS So we’ve heard, from everyone we’ve met.

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ANTIGONE Shall I go? Ask someone where we are? OEDIPUS Yes – if anyone lives here. ANTIGONE Someone does. But I need not go – I see a man quite near.

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OEDIPUS Well? Is he coming or going? ANTIGONE Oh, he’s here. Speak to him, he’s here. OEDIPUS Stranger. She tells me – she has eyes Enough for both of us – she says you’re Here in time to tell us what we don’t know.

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STRANGER Before that, you get out of there. You can’t tread on holy ground. OEDIPUS What’s the place? What god rules it? STRANGER Untouchable ground, none stay here. Goddesses Of fear, daughters of earth and darkness. OEDIPUS Who? To whose holiness do I pray? STRANGER Here we call them all-seeing Eumenides – Others say different. OEDIPUS Let them be kind to a suppliant.

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This land I will never leave.

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STRANGER What do you mean? OEDIPUS It’s a sign, my sign. STRANGER Well I’m not shifting you without leave, Not before some advice on what I’ll do. OEDIPUS For the love of god, man, don’t deny me, A wanderer. Tell me, tell me!

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STRANGER Then give me a sign and I will. OEDIPUS What place have we come to? STRANGER Oh, I know that, and you can hear it. All this place is holy – dread Poseidon Holds it, and the fire-bearing god, Titan Prometheus. Where you stand Is called the brazen path, Athens’ Gate – the land around claims Colonus, the horseman, a founding father, And all who live here take his name. So, stranger, you know the place, it’s humble Enough, except to those who live here.

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OEDIPUS People live here? STRANGER Of course. The namesakes of the god.

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OEDIPUS Who is king, or does the mob speak for itself? STRANGER We have a king who rules. OEDIPUS Well? Whose word is law that holds this power? STRANGER He is called Theseus, son of Aegeus. OEDIPUS Can we send a messenger to him?

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STRANGER What for? To tell him something or bring him here? OEDIPUS To have from a small favour a big reward. STRANGER And what could a blind man give us? OEDIPUS As we speak our word will see all. STRANGER Listen, you’ll come to no harm. You look Like a nobleman, but down on your luck. Stop here, where I found you. I’ll go and tell – Not in town, around here. They’ll decide Whether you go or stay. OEDIPUS Child, has he gone? ANTIGONE He’s gone. Now, father, say what You like – there’s only me here.

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OEDIPUS O ladies of terror, since in this land At your seat I first bend my knee, Give me grace, and grace to Phoebus who Called down on me a multitude of evils, yet Spoke too of rest, in the fulness of time, To come to an end, and there at the seat of The terrible gods take a stranger’s comfort, To rest there a tired life; My stay a blessing to those who have me, A curse to those who sent me, who cast me out. There will be to me a given sign, Of earth-shaking, thunder or Zeus’ bolt. I know now my guide to this grove Was your sure sign – so else would I Never end my journey with you first of all; A cheerless man with sober gods, I sink Down on this sacred unhewn seat. Show me, goddess, according to Apollo’s Word, the last turning of my life - unless I seem too mean a thing, shackled forever To the most miserable of mortal pain. Hear, sweet daughters of ancient darkness; Hear me, most honoured Athens, City of majestic Pallas, Pity this sad ghost of Oedipus The man – he is that man no more.

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ANTIGONE Quiet. There’s someone, old men, To see where you sit. OEDIPUS I am, I am. And you hide me off the road Till I hear what they say. When we know That we’ll know what to do. CHORUS Look then. Who? Where would he be? Where has he gone, this most Shameless of men?

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Search for him, look, Poke every place – A vagabond, An old one, and not one of us, Or he’d never approach Where none can walk, The place of implacable maidens Whose name we tremble to speak, Whom we salute with eyes cast down Mouthing silent devotion. I hear it said there’s one Who reveres nothing at all, And searching all about the grove I cannot find him.

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OEDIPUS I am here. I see by what I hear, As it is said. CHORUS No. No. A horror to see and to hear.

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OEDIPUS I beg you, see I’m no law-breaker. CHORUS Oh, Zeus defend us! Who is he? OEDIPUS Guardians of this place, one Who is not first in good fortune – That’s clear – creeping along with Another’s eyes, my strength Anchored to this frail thing. CHORUS Ah, those eyes are blind – Were they always so? They Show pain stretched long –

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But for me you’ll add No further curse. Too far, Too far, you cannot stagger Through the silent grove Where honeyed libations flow. Sad stranger, beware, Stop, come back, You’re too far off. Can you hear, poor man? If you’ve something to say Leave that place And speak where it’s lawful – Till then, nothing.

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OEDIPUS Daughter, what do we think?

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ANTIGONE We should listen, father, And do as they do. OEDIPUS Your hand. ANTIGONE You have it. OEDIPUS Oh, sirs, you’ll do me no harm If I trust you and move? CHORUS We would never, old man, against Your wish, lead you from your rest. OEDIPUS More? CHORUS Yes, more.

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OEDIPUS More? CHORUS Lead him out, girl – you know.

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ANTIGONE Come, father, come, in your weakness I’ll lead you. CHORUS Stranger in a strange land, Resolve to hate what this City hates, and revere The things it loves.

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OEDIPUS Lead me, child, where we might Speak and listen with due reverence, And make no war with necessity. CHORUS There – keep your feet Beyond the stony step.

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OEDIPUS Here? CHORUS Enough, you hear? OEDIPUS I’ll sit? CHORUS Move to one side and Crouch on the sloping rock.

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ANTIGONE Let me, father, step... OEDIPUS Oh, help me. ANTIGONE ...quietly as I step,

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And lean on my loving arm.

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OEDIPUS My mind, my mind. CHORUS Unhappy man, rest there. But say, Who of all men are you, To wander in such misery? Can I know what place you’re from?

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OEDIPUS I am an exile. But do not... CHORUS Do not what, old man? OEDIPUS Do not, do not ask me – Look, probe me no further.

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CHORUS Why? OEDIPUS A fearful birth. CHORUS Speak! OEDIPUS Oh, child, what do I say? CHORUS From what seed are you, man? Tell us your family. OEDIPUS Oh, what will happen to me? ANTIGONE Tell them – you must.

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OEDIPUS Yes, I cannot hide. CHORUS You prevaricate - be quick! OEDIPUS Do you know a son of Laius? CHORUS No! No!

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OEDIPUS And the race of Labdacus? CHORUS O, Zeus! OEDIPUS Unhappy Oedipus. CHORUS You are him? OEDIPUS You have nothing to fear from what I say. CHORUS No, this cannot be. OEDIPUS My fate is...daughter, what is happening?

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CHORUS Go! You must go from here! OEDIPUS Your promise? You owe me that. CHORUS Fate does not punish payment Of like for like – A trick for a trick Returns pain, not thanks. Leave that seat,

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Leave my land before You thrust on our city a greater burden. ANTIGONE Honoured gentlemen, please, Though you spurn my father for Rumours of his unwilling deeds, We beg you, sirs, for my unhappy state Have pity. But I plead only for my father, I plead with seeing eyes that look Into yours, as might a daughter’s Eyes – compassion for a wretched man. In our misery we are before you as before Gods – hear me, give us the grace we Could not hope for. I beg you, By all that you most love – Child, wife, wealth or god – You will never see the man who Goes not where god leads him. CHORUS Yes, child of Oedipus, we pity you, And we pity him, for your misfortune. But as we fear what the gods might do, We can say no more than we have said. OEDIPUS What then do you make of a fine Reputation that dribbles away to nothing If this is the Athens sounded the most God-fearing of cities, which alone has The strength to shelter a suffering stranger? Where will I find this? You thrust me from My seat, then drive me from this place, Because you fear my name? You don’t Fear my person or my deeds? And my deeds Are rather more passive than active, if I must Tell you the tale of my mother and father, Of which you are so afraid. I know, I know. Yet how am I so bad, who only Reacted to the situation; and even had I

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Understood it, would that make me evil? Even so, I went where I went in ignorance, while Those who made me suffer knew what they were at. Through your gods, I ask you, strangers, As you’ve moved me on, so help me, and As you honour your gods, don’t deny them Their due. You do believe the gods Look down on pious men, as they Look down upon the impious, and that No such men ever escape them? Work with them, so as not to shroud Athen’s good name in unholy acts, But as you take the suppliant to your charge, Rescue me, guard me – do me no dishonour As you peer at my disfigured face. I come, a holy man, to do service For your people. When your master comes, Whoever your leader is, then You will hear all and you will know all. Till then, do not play false. CHORUS Your thoughts, old man, must provoke fear – You speak with such gravity. But I Am content for my lord to decide.

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OEDIPUS Where is the ruler of this place? CHORUS In his father’s city. The messenger Who sent us has gone for him. OEDIPUS Do you think he’ll be interested enough In a blind man to come himself? CHORUS Oh yes. When he knows your name.

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OEDIPUS And who will tell him that? CHORUS It’s a long road, beloved of travellers and talk, And when he hears them, fear not, He’ll come. Your name, old man, is Everywhere, and even at his deepest Repose, he’ll move when he hears of you.

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OEDIPUS Then let him come with a blessing for his city, and For me – for what good man is not his own friend? ANTIGONE O Zeus, what shall I say? Father, what can I think?

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OEDIPUS What? Antigone! ANTIGONE I see a woman approach on an Aetnian pony. A wide Thessalian hat Shades her face. What? Is it, or not? Is my mind touched? Is... ? I don’t know. It is her. She smiles at me. It is Ismene.

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OEDIPUS What is it, girl? ANTIGONE Your daughter and my sister. Listen, you’ll hear her voice. ISMENE Father and sister, two names most Dear to me – I can hardly see you for tears. OEDIPUS You’ve come, child?

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ISMENE Father, this is horrible to see. OEDIPUS You are here? ISMENE And not without great effort. OEDIPUS Touch me. ISMENE Oh, both of you. OEDIPUS Sisters in blood. ISMENE And in suffering

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OEDIPUS We two suffer. ISMENE And I am a third. OEDIPUS Why have you come, girl? ISMENE I care for you, father. OEDIPUS You missed me? ISMENE Yes. I came with the only Servant I can trust to tell you myself. OEDIPUS Where are those fine young men your brothers, when needed? ISMENE They are where… The time is terrible for them.

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OEDIPUS They live the lives of perfect Egyptians, yes? There men sit indoors and weave And their women go abroad to feed them. So you, my daughters, you carry this burden While they sit at home like girls. You both, both bear my misfortunes for them. The one, since the woman left the girl behind, Has every moment shared an old man’s Dismal wanderings, tramping, hungry, Bare-foot through untamed forests, through Storm and burning sun, enduring these for A father’s need, with no thought of a life of home. And you, who, unknown to the Cadmeans, Slipped forth to bring oracles that touched on me, Remained a trusted watcher for me in my exile. What have you come to tell me now, Ismene? What mission sent you from home? I see clearly you come with something, Something fearful for me. ISMENE The trials I had in finding where you lived, Father, I’ll put to one side; I’ve no wish To redouble pain by speaking of it. But, The fate that engulfs your sons – I have Come to tell you of that. At first They wished to leave the throne to Creon, So avoid polluting the city. They looked with Eyes of reason on the ancient blight of our race. But now, stricken by some god or some Perversion of mind, they fight, they Snatch at rule and a tyrant’s power. Then the boy, the younger one, strips Polynices of the throne and drives him out. But he, so rumour has it, takes refuge In the Argive hills where he’s found Himself a mate and an army – so to give Argos the honour of possessing Cadmus’ Land, or Thebes a famous victory. These Are not mere words, father, but real and

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Terrible deeds. Where the gods might Find pity for your grief, I cannot say. .

OEDIPUS Oh, so you still have hope The gods might see me and save me?

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ISMENE That, father, is what the oracles say. OEDIPUS What are they? What have they declared, girl? ISMENE Alive or dead these men will Seek you out for their advantage.

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OEDIPUS And what can a man like me do for them? ISMENE In you, they say, is their power. OEDIPUS In being nothing, I am then a man? ISMENE The gods raise you now, who cast you down before. OEDIPUS A miserable consolation in age, when your youth is destroyed.

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ISMENE Creon will soon be here for just this purpose. OEDIPUS For what purpose, daughter? Enlighten me. ISMENE To place you, and hold you, near the land Of Cadmus – though you cannot cross the border.

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OEDIPUS What good can I be, outside? ISMENE Neglected, your tomb brings a curse on them. OEDIPUS I think I know this without a god to tell me. ISMENE So they want you near, but helpless.

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OEDIPUS They will cover me with the dust of Thebes? ISMENE No, your blood-guilt forbids it. OEDIPUS Then they will never have me. ISMENE And the Thebans will be cursed. OEDIPUS What, exactly, will bring that about?

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ISMENE Your anger, when they take a stand at your tomb. OEDIPUS Who told you this, child? ISMENE Holy men from the Delphic shrine. OEDIPUS Has Phoebus spoken thus of me? ISMENE So said the travellers to Thebes.

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OEDIPUS Have my sons heard this? ISMENE Oh yes – both of them. OEDIPUS And knowing this these base boys put Their hold on power before my return? ISMENE Yes. It hurts me, but I must bear it. OEDIPUS Let the gods not damp down this Forecast of strife, and as now they Raise their spears to each other, Let the outcome of battle be mine; Then neither will the holder of sceptre And throne remain, nor the exile return, As they thrust me out, a father, Fugitive, dishonoured, no hesitation, No help, ripped from my home, they Sat and listened to tales of my exile. Oh yes, you can say I wanted it, then; The town gave me what I asked for. No. On that day, mad with grief, I wanted to die, I wanted to be stoned To death. No-one would help me. In time, with the edge of anguish softened, Anger, I thought, had outrun itself, And the punishment too great for my crimes. Only then, after all that time, did the city Force me out, and those who might have helped, Helped a father, did nothing. Nothing. For want of one small word from them, I go forever a vagrant, a beggar. From these, mere girls, as much as is In them to do it, I have food, Some shelter and the kindness of kin; But their brothers turn from me, snatch

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Throne and sceptre to lord it over the land. They’ll never have me for an ally, Nor will they profit from this rule. I know this from her prophecies and From those Phoebus brought to pass for me. Let them send Creon to find me, Or any other mighty man from Thebes. If you, strangers, with your guardian goddesses, Offer me protection, you will have a saviour For your city and pain for my enemies.

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CHORUS Oedipus, you and your daughters, deserve Our sympathy, and to your promise of Salvation I add advice for your own good. OEDIPUS Dear man, I’ll do anything for a friend.

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CHORUS Appease the goddesses now. With your first step you trespassed. OEDIPUS With what rites? Teach me, stranger. CHORUS With cleansed hands take an offering From the ever-flowing spring. OEDIPUS And when I’ve taken this pure water? CHORUS There are fine-wrought bowls – Cover their rims and handles. OEDIPUS With twigs, wool – what?

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CHORUS With wool of a new-shorn lamb.

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OEDIPUS So. Then what? CHORUS Face the dawn and pour. OEDIPUS From the bowls you speak of? CHORUS In three streams – but empty the last. OEDIPUS Tell me, oh say – with what do I fill the last?

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CHORUS With water and honey – but not with wine. OEDIPUS And when the shady earth has drunk? CHORUS Place there three times nine Shoots of olive – and pray. OEDIPUS Then please, please teach me this prayer. CHORUS So. ‘You we call Eumenides, in whose Hearts is a suppliant’s salvation.’ Pray so, or whoever may pray for you. Speak low, do not raise your voice; retire Without a backward look. Do these Things, I’ll stand beside you. If you do not, stranger, I cannot.

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OEDIPUS My girls, do you hear these men? ANTIGONE We hear and will do what we must. OEDIPUS I cannot go. I remain doubly Afflicted – weak and blind. Let one of you go and do this; I think one soul can do honours For a multitude, with good will. Be quick – but don’t leave me alone – I’m too weak to move without help.

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ISMENE I will. Tell me where to find this place. CHORUS Beyond the grove, girl. And whatever You need, the guardian will tell you.

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ISMENE Yes. I will go. If there are pains for a father In this, we must give them no mind. CHORUS It’s a terrible thing, stranger, to stir Long-slumbering grief – but I must know.

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OEDIPUS Know what? CHORUS Your anguish, the unbearable Suffering with which you’ve struggled. OEDIPUS Give your guest his due And leave his shame.

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CHORUS The rumour is everywhere, stranger, And does not fade. Tell us, straight. OEDIPUS No, no. CHORUS Be calm, I beg you. OEDIPUS Aah. CHORUS antistrophe a Say. I’ve done as you asked.

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OEDIPUS I have suffered appalling evil, Suffered unwitting, god knows. I did nothing by choice. CHORUS How? OEDIPUS With an evil marriage Thebes Bound me, in ignorance To a cursed wife.

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CHORUS And you bedded your mother, So I hear, For the sake of notoriety? OEDIPUS I die to hear you say so, stranger. But these, my daughters…

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Introductions and Translations to the Plays of Sophocles and Euripides: Volume I

OEDIPUS Two daughters – two curses… CHORUS O Zeus! OEDIPUS From the same womb that bore me. CHORUS strophe b They are both your children.

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OEDIPUS And sisters of their father. CHORUS No, no! OEDIPUS So horrors return and return and return. CHORUS You have suffered. OEDIPUS And suffer still. CHORUS But you have done these things. OEDIPUS I did nothing! CHORUS How nothing! OEDIPUS It was a gift, A prize for service to a city I wish I’d never had. It broke my heart.

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CHORUS antistrophe b So wretched – yet, you killed. OEDIPUS What now? What must you know? CHORUS You killed your father. OEDIPUS Again – you wound me again! CHORUS Killer. OEDIPUS But I can plead. CHORUS Plead?

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OEDIPUS I can tell you! Those I killed Would have killed me. That’s good in law. I’ve come To this – and I’m innocent. CHORUS Our lord, son of Aegeus. Theseus has answered your call. THESEUS I’ve long heard tell of the bloody Destruction of your eyes, son of Laius,

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So I’d have known you. Now, hearing What I have on my way, I’m certain. Your rags, that – unfortunate – face reveal you. I ask you in all compassion, unhappy Oedipus, what appeal you make, here, To my city and to me – you and your Sad companion. Tell me. For me to Abandon you, what you say must indeed Be terrible. Oh, I know. Like you I was reared an exile. In strange lands I wrestled with danger like no other man. I could never turn away, refuse To help one such as you. I know I’m only a man, and that tomorrow I may have no more than you. OEDIPUS Theseus, in a few words you reveal your Nobility and leave me little to say. You have hit upon my name, my Father, my homeland. All that remains Is what I wish for, and there’s an end. THESEUS So instruct me.

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OEDIPUS I come to make a gift of this Shattered body. Oh, ugly to see, But it has more than beauty. THESEUS What more do you bring? OEDIPUS In time you will know. Not now. THESEUS When?

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OEDIPUS When I die and you have buried me. THESEUS You ask for life’s last act. Do you Forget, not care what comes between? OEDIPUS With that I gather up the rest.

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THESEUS It’s a small thing you ask. OEDIPUS Look, man! This is no mean contest. THESEUS Oh? You mean between me and your sons? OEDIPUS They wish, my lord, to take me there. THESEUS But if they wish it, your exile makes no sense.

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OEDIPUS No. When I wanted it, they refused. THESEUS This is foolish – this anger in misfortune OEDIPUS Lecture me when you know something – not now. THESEUS Yes, yes, tell me. I must not pronounce in ignorance. OEDIPUS I have suffered, Theseus, the most hideous of evils.

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THESEUS Ah, the ancient curse of your family. OEDIPUS No, no! All Greece knows that. THESEUS Then what is this unsurpassable grief? OEDIPUS This, this. I’m driven from my homeland By my own sons. But I can’t go back, Ever. I killed my father.

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THESEUS How can they bring you home if you must be somewhere else? OEDIPUS The voice of god will compel them. THESEUS What do they fear from that? OEDIPUS That here they will be struck down.

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THESEUS And what would cause bitterness between them and me? OEDIPUS My dear son of Aegeus, only gods Avoid death and old age – Time confounds all else. Earthly, bodily strength wastes, Trust dies, mistrust blooms, And the spirit of friendship binding Men and cities will change. Sooner or later sweet turns sour, Then hate to love again. If now the sun shines on you And Thebes together, time breeds days

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And nights without number in which, For a mere word, the harmony you Pledged is scattered with a spear, then My sleeping corpse, cold in the ground, Will drink their warm blood, if Zeus is Yet Zeus and his son Phoebus speaks true. It is not good to utter mysteries – allow me To stop there – but you keep your word and Never will you say you welcomed Oedipus Fruitlessly, unless the gods deceive me. CHORUS My lord, he has said these things before And seems to mean what he says. THESEUS Who would reject the favour of such A man, for whom an ally’s hearth Is ever to be shared? And more, a Suppliant to our gods, with no small Reward for me and for my country. As I respect this, so I will not reject His good graces, but welcome him as A citizen. If he wishes to stay here, you Will watch over him: if to accompany Me, Oedipus, so choose. Your wish is mine.

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OEDIPUS Aah, Zeus, bless such men. THESEUS What do you choose? To come to my house? OEDIPUS If it were lawful. But in this place… THESEUS What will you do here? I won’t oppose you. OEDIPUS I’ll crush them who cast me out.

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THESEUS So your being here is the boon you speak of. OEDIPUS If you keep your word. THESEUS Have no fear – I won’t betray you. OEDIPUS I won’t hold you to an oath, like a common liar.

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THESEUS You could have nothing more than my word. OEDIPUS What will you do? THESEUS What are you afraid of? OEDIPUS Men will come… THESEUS These will look to that. OEDIPUS Have a care. If you leave me… THESEUS Don’t tell me my duty. OEDIPUS Oh, fear… THESEUS I fear nothing. OEDIPUS You don’t know their threats THESEUS But I do know that no-one will take you If I don’t allow it. I’ve been threatened Before, often, but a little self-control

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And threats vanish. Though they rant About taking you off, I know they’ve A wide ocean to cross first. Even without my assurance you’ve nothing To fear, if Phoebus has sent you. In my absence my name will guard You and you’ll suffer no harm. CHORUS You come, stranger, To the land of fine horses, Earth’s noblest home, White Colonus, where The pure note of the Nightingale rings through Green shadowed glades, the God’s secret places, of Wine-dark ivy and Fruit in profusion, of Still, sunless shade, the Haunt of Bacchus and His holy handmaids.

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Bathed in heaven’s dew, Narcissus, crown of Ancient goddesses, blooms Day after day, and the Crocus gleams gold, while Sleepless springs stir Cephisus’ nomad waters As day upon day the Pure flood touches a Swelling land with life; To the delight of Muses And of Aphrodite with Her golden rein.

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And there is such as I have not known In the land of Asia, nor yet Burst forth in Dorian Pelops, A tree unconquered, self-creating,

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A terror to hostile spears, which Flourishes here; the grey-leafed olive, Nourisher of youth. And secure it Stands from ravaging hands of young Or old, under the eternal eye of Morian Zeus and grey-eyed Athena. And I have yet the best of tales To tell of our mother-city, gift Of a great god, the greatest glory Of the land – of the pride of horses, Of horses and the sea. O son of Cronos, Lord Poseidon, you enthroned her fame, You first showed the calming bit To horses on the road, as in the sea Well-gripped and fitted oars speed With the hundred-footed Nereids. ANTIGONE We have heard such praise for this place, Now we might need to see something.

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OEDIPUS What new thing, girl? ANTIGONE Creon approaches, father, with company. OEDIPUS Now, now prove to me I am safe.

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CHORUS Have no fear. We may be aged, But the strength of our land is not. CREON Ah, my dear sirs, lords of this place. I see in your eyes my arrival inspires some – Fear. You must not shrink from me, or mutter. I come – not wishing to do anything. I’m old. And this city, I know, if any should be, is

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The most powerful in Greece. I was sent, At my age, to persuade this man to return To the land of Cadmus, and sent, not By one man, but by a whole city, Because I am his kin, and I, more Than any, have wept for him. Oh, unhappy Oedipus, hear me and come home. All Cadmeans in justice call out to you, As I – unless I’m the basest of men – as I, Old man, feel the pain of your sorrows, when I see you in beggary and exile, with this One poor servant. I had not thought she Could fall so low – so degraded – the Constant nurse of your gloomy life, Ripe, but unmarried, there to be Plucked by any rough hand. I’m sorry. A cruel reproach, cruel To you, to me, to all our race? But, this cannot be hidden. Oh for the Gods of your forefathers, Oedipus, Listen and you can hide this shame. Come back home, farewell this place As it deserves, but the land of your Birth has first claim on your piety. OEDIPUS Oh, bold, and you twist justice very Cleverly – why do you contrive to take Me a second time, now, when it Hurts most? Once, when I was sick With my own actions, and wanted to go, You could not accommodate me; then, Anger sated, when the seclusion of home Seemed sweet, you threw me out; this Kinship no longer so dear to you. Now, You see me welcomed in this place By these people, and you snatch me back, Dressing what you do in smooth words. I don’t want your kindness; it’s no joy to me. Think, if someone insisted on denying What you most wanted, then, all passion

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For it spent, he gave it to you, what An empty desire it would be. That’s what you offer me – Fine words but an ugly deed. And I’ll tell you this – I’ll show you up. You came for me, not to take me home, But to hold me on the border, so your City will be protected from this one. It won’t happen, but this will – you have My everlasting curse on your country. And for my sons, I leave them a Plot of land to die in. I know better Than you the fate of Thebes, much Better; I hear from Apollo and from Zeus his father. You come speaking Falsehoods, with sharp words, and You’ll take more sorrow than safety From them. You won’t believe me, I know. Just go. Let me live here. Life is Not so bad, if we are contented. CREON Who do you think will suffer more from this – you or me?

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OEDIPUS I’m happy if they believe me and not you. CREON Oh, you sad man. Has time not brought you Sense? Will you be a reproach to old age? OEDIPUS Clever, but I’ve never known an honest man With a slick word for all occasions. CREON Your volubility may miss the point. OEDIPUS And I suppose your brevity will hit it.

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CREON Not for a mind like yours.

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OEDIPUS Go, and I tell you before these men, you Cannot harrass me where I am destined to be. CREON I call on them, not you, to witness how You answer to your friends. But if I get you… OEDIPUS I have allies, and who would take me from them?

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CREON I don’t need to do that to make you suffer. OEDIPUS And just how will you do that? CREON I’ve just now seized one of your daughters – I’ll have the other in a moment. OEDIPUS No! No! CREON And you’ll soon have more to feel sorry for. OEDIPUS You have my daughter? CREON And I’ll soon have this one. OEDIPUS My friends, what will you do? Betray me? Will you drive this godless man out?

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CHORUS Go, you must go. What you did And what you do are wrong.

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CREON We’ll take her by force, if she won’t come willingly. ANTIGONE No! where can I go? Will god or man help me? CHORUS Stranger, what will you do? CREON I won’t touch him, but she is mine.

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OEDIPUS My Lords! CHORUS You can’t do this! CREON I can. CHORUS Why? CREON I can take what’s mine. OEDIPUS O Athens! CHORUS Leave her! Leave her, or you’ll feel our hand! CREON Get back! CHORUS No, not if you want to do this. CREON If you harm me, there will be war.

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OEDIPUS Did I not say so? CHORUS Take your hands off her! CREON You don’t give orders when you have no power. CHORUS Leave her! CREON And I tell you to go.

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CHORUS Help, help us, someone! You violate the city, my city With this force. Will somebody help us! ANTIGONE They’re taking me! Please! Please! OEDIPUS Where are you, girl? I need you. ANTIGONE They force me! OEDIPUS Touch me – your hand! ANTIGONE I can’t! I can’t! CREON Will you move! OEDIPUS No! No! No! CREON You’ve lost those props for your journey. And since you’re bent on the defeat

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Of your country and kin – who sent Me here, as their king – you can have this Victory. But I know in time you’ll see You can do yourself no good, not now, not then, When you indulge your temper on spite of Your friends; it’s your abiding weakness.

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CHORUS Stop, stranger. CREON Don’t you touch me. CHORUS I will! Until you release the girls. CREON Then you’ll give Thebes a greater prize – I’ll have more than those two. CHORUS What are you…? CREON I’ll have him.

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CHORUS Bold words. CREON It will happen CHORUS Unless our king stops you. OEDIPUS Shameless! Will you touch me! Let the gods Of this place allow me one curse yet For you, who, as I am blind, would Strip me of those other eyes so dear to me. Let Helios, who sees all, give you and All your race an old age like mine.

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CREON Do you see this, gentlemen? OEDIPUS They see us both, and they know My suffering is fact, my revenge mere words. CREON I’ll not give up. Alone, and old As I am – I will have you.

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OEDIPUS See how I suffer. CHORUS You’re brave if you think you can do that. CREON I think so. CHORUS Then Athens is no longer a city. CREON When the cause is just the weak defeat the strong. OEDIPUS Do you hear what he says? CHORUS Zeus knows you will not do these things. CREON Yes, Zeus knows, not you. CHORUS This is insolence. CREON And you will have to put up with it.

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CHORUS O my people, come quickly, quickly, Before they cross our borders!

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THESEUS What is this noise? What’s happened? What could move you to interrupt my Sacrifice to the sea-god – Colonus’ guardian? Tell me. You’ve hurried me, rushed Me more than I like to be rushed.

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OEDIPUS Ah, my old friend, I know your voice. This man has wronged me, terribly. THESEUS What’s he done? And who has done this? OEDIPUS Creon – you see him. He has stripped me Of my children, my only support.

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THESEUS How? OEDIPUS You’ve heard what I suffered. THESEUS Let someone go to the altars – quickly – Make them leave the sacrifice, and go, Horse and foot, where the roads meet. If these girls get through I’ll look weak, Beaten, a fool to a foreigner. Move! As for him, if he got what he deserved, I couldn’t keep my hands off him. But since he brings his own rules, He can be subject to them, and not others. You’ll not leave this place until those Girls are brought here before me. What You have done disgraces me, your family

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And your country. Here we practise Justice and sanction nothing without it. Yet you ignore the law, you burst in, And take what you want by force, As if you thought Athens empty, or Manned by slaves, and that I am nothing! Surely your Theban education is not deficient; Thebes does not breed unjust men, and Would she praise you if she learned you rob me And the gods when you force our suppliants? If I set foot in your place, I would not, Without consent from authority, whoever he is, Assault or plunder – I know how a foreigner Should behave. You shame a city that does Not deserve it. Your years have gone off With your wit. I’ve said, and I will Repeat, get those girls here, soon, or You will stay, whether you like it or not. I don’t speak idly, I mean it.

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CHORUS Do you see yourself now, sir? Given who you Are, you might be thought honest, but your Actions are discovered for what they are. CREON What I have done, son of Aegeus, arises Not from any feeling that your city lacks Manhood or good sense, as you suggest. I merely thought that none of you were So zealous for my kin as to protect them From me. I did not think you would Welcome a polluted parricide or one Discovered to be the unholy husband of His mother. Such is the wisdom, I know, Of the land of Ares’ rock, that such a tramp Could not stay here. In this belief I thought To catch my prey – and I only did so when He cursed me and my family. I suffered a wrong And deserve requital. Anger knows no old Age; only when dead do you feel no pain.

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Do as you think fit. My cause is just But I am alone here. I’m old, yet I will Endeavour to give as good as I get. OEDIPUS You are shameless. Do you think you Insult my old age or your own? Murder, Incest, misery, all that spills from your Mouth, I have, unwittingly, borne – perhaps The gods have an old grudge against my race. But in me, who was driven to sin against My own and myself, you’ll find no wrong. Tell me, if an oracle proclaims my father’s Death at the hand of his son, how can I, With any justice, be accused, when I Was neither born nor begot, not yet Planted in a mother’s womb? And if, born To misery as I was, I cut my father down, Not knowing what I did nor to whom I did it, how can I be condemned? And my mother, your own sister. Are you So crass as to force me to speak of her Marriage? No, I will not be silent now you’ve Let your blasphemous mouth run on so far. Yes, she was my mother – oh, yes – but neither She nor I knew that, and, yes, shamefully, She bore my children. But I know this – You freely slander us both; I neither Married freely, nor speak of it freely. I will not accept guilt for this marriage, Nor my father’s murder, with which you Continually revile me. Answer me one thing: If someone marched in here to kill your Righteousness, would you ask if he was Your father, or would you kill him? I think, as you love life, you’d kill him, And not look around for some just cause. That is where I was, led by the gods, and if My father came back he would not disagree. But you – you are unjust, you will say Anything, whether it should be spoken of

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Or not, to accuse me before these men. You fawn about Theseus, you compliment The good order of Athens, but you Forget in your fawning that this place, More than any, knows how to honour the gods. From her you attempt to steal me, a suppliant, An old man, as you have snatched my daughters. I call upon the goddesses of this place, I plead and I pray for them to be allies In my cause, that you might learn What men watch over this city. CHORUS The stranger is right, my lord. He has Been cursed and deserves our help.

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THESEUS That is enough. The perpetrators Have gone while we stand here. CREON What can I do? I’m helpless. THESEUS Lead the way – I’ll go with you, and if these Girls are here somewhere, you can point Them out to me. If they are held, it Doesn’t matter, others will chase them And they won’t leave our territory or Get to thank their gods. Well, come on! The biter’s bit and fate has caught the hunter. Ill-gotten gains, you know, are not safe. And, You’re on your own. Of course I know you Must have had some assistance to be so Insolent and bold. You trusted someone. I’ll look into it. I can’t allow the whole city To be weaker than one individual. Do you Understand, or does what I say seem as Foolish to you now as when you planned this thing?

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CREON Say what you like to me here; but At home I’d know what to do. THESEUS You can threaten, but do move on. Oedipus, Stay in peace, and I pledge to you, Unless I die first, I won’t rest until You have your children once more.

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OEDIPUS I bless you, Theseus, for your Nobility and loyal care of us. CHORUS Oh to be where the enemy, Caught, will wheel and charge, Bronze ringing, along the Torchlit Pythian shore where Dark goddesses tend the dead And the ministering Eumolpidae Have touched their lips with The precious seal of silence. There, I think, will Warlike Theseus meet The virgin sisters and The battle-cry will sound. Or there on the plain To the west of Oea’s snowy Rock, horses, chariots Fly to a victory. Our warriors bring Terror – the power of Theseus’ men brings Terror – bridles flash And Horsemen thunder on, Worshippers of Athena and the Earth-embracing sea-god, Dear son of Rhea.

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Has the fight begun? I know, I know I’ll Meet them soon, the Girls, so persecuted by their kin. Zeus will win the day For us – so I prophesy. Oh that I, like the storm-swift dove, Could reach to misty heights And gaze down upon the battle.

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Lord of gods, allSeeing Zeus, give Our men the strength To win – and you, holy Athena, so too Apollo The hunter and his sister Who pursues the dappled deer, come, Come with your twin powers To this land and our people.

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Stranger, you will not accuse Me of false prophecy – I see The women approach under escort. OEDIPUS Where? Where? ANTIGONE Father, father, would some god Give you eyes to see the man Who brings us back to you. OEDIPUS Child, you are here? ANTIGONE Yes, rescued by the strong hands Of Theseus and his companions. OEDIPUS Come here, girl, to your father.

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I did not hope ever again to hold you.

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ANTIGONE Yes, yes, and so we want you. OEDIPUS Where…are you? Where? ANTIGONE We both come to you. OEDIPUS Ah, my frailty’s support. ANTIGONE And sharers of your misery. OEDIPUS I have you, I have you, and should I die, Now you’re with me, I’m not so utterly Destroyed. Press me close, both of you. You’ll wander no more; no more grief from That. Tell me, briefly, as you should, What has happened.

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ANTIGONE Here is our saviour. You should Hear from him. And so I am brief. OEDIPUS Sir, don’t be amazed if this unhoped for Return of my children makes me ramble. I know I have this joy from you alone. You rescued them – you. You. May The gods reward you and your country As I would wish. Above all men I have Found you pious, humane and honest. I know this, and requite you with these words – I have what I have through you, none other. Give me your hand, my lord, let me, if it is Proper, kiss your cheek. Oh, what do I say?

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How could you condescend to touch one so Marked, such a temple of sin? No, I can’t Let you, even if you want to. No, only these Who have suffered with me. Stay there, and Care for me tomorrow as you have today. THESEUS How can I be surprised you’d take such Delight in talking to your daughters, Or hear them before me? There is no offence. Life takes its shine from deeds, not words. And I prove it. I have been true to my word, Old man – here I am and here are They, untouched in spite of threats. How the battle was won, it would be Foolish to boast – you’ll hear from them. But there is something that happened on My way here on which you might advise me. It may be nothing, but it’s strange, and Surely nothing should be below our notice. OEDIPUS Tell me what it is, son of Aegeus. I can’t think what you mean.

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THESEUS I’m told a man, not fromThebes, but A relation of yours, has thrown himself As a suppliant on the altar of Poseidon. OEDIPUS Where’s he from? What does he want there? THESEUS Only one thing I know of. They tell me he Wants a brief talk with you. No real trouble. OEDIPUS What about? That he’s a suppliant is serious.

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THESEUS He asks simply to talk to you And to go safely on his way.

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OEDIPUS Who is he who so implores the god? THESEUS Do you have kin in Argos who would do this? OEDIPUS Oh, my friend. No more. THESEUS What is wrong? OEDIPUS Ask no more. THESEUS Ask what?

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OEDIPUS I know who he is. THESEUS Who? Why should I object to him? OEDIPUS My son, my lord, whom I despise. It Would give me great pain to hear him. THESEUS Why? You can listen. He can’t make you Do anything. Why is that so painful? OEDIPUS Even his voice is hateful to me. Don’t force me to do it.

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THESEUS Remember, he is a suppliant to the God. You must respect that.

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ANTIGONE Please, listen to me, father, as young as I am. Let the king serve his god as he wishes, Give way and let our brother come. Have no fear, he can’t force you to change Your mind with specious argument. How Can it hurt to listen? What he says will Expose what he’ll do. You’re his father. Even if he does the most terrible, impious Things, it’s not right for you to retaliate. Let him come. Other men have angry sons, But they can be persuaded, charmed from Their anger by the gentle words of friends. Look back, think of what you suffered through Your mother and father – forget the present. Think of it and I know you will understand Such anger can only result in something bad. Yes, your blindness gives you cause for Anger – but please, please. One shouldn’t Overdo a just plea, nor should one lack Gratitude for being treated well.

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OEDIPUS Your victory, child, may give you pleasure; It gives me pain. Yes. Yes. Yes. But if He comes he’ll not subdue me.

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THESEUS I need hear it only once, old man. I make no boast, but as long as the Gods preserve me, you are safe. CHORUS The man who clings to more than a Moderate portion of life is a fool: The days pile up on the way towards Grief and the pleasures you knew

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Are not there when you’ve limped along Longer than you should. But relief Comes to all when Hades descends Without bridesong or lyre or dance And death is the end.

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Not to be born is best, but Once see the light, next best To speed back to the dark. When foolish youth has passed, what Blows will you not suffer? What Grief of envy, faction, strife, war And death? And at last age claims You, abhorrent, weak, alone, unloved, The host of every ill.

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And so he stands – not me alone. Like some northern cape, lashed By winter’s waves He too is whipped Beyond endurance by Troubles crashing round him From West From East From sunlit South And the everdarkened North.

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ANTIGONE I think someone comes, father. He is alone and he weeps.

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OEDIPUS Who is it? ANTIGONE It is who we thought: Polynices. POLYNICES Oh. What do I do? Do I weep first For myself, for my sisters or for this Old man? I find him in a strange land,

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With you, exiled, dressed in such rags that They cling to his ribs with the filth of age; This eyeless head, and hair unkempt. Oh, and of a piece with this, such Mean scraps he has to fill his belly. I am to blame – I learn it all too late. I bear my own witness – I am the vilest Of all who should look to your care. Let me tell you what I am. Zeus himself Shares his throne with Compassion in all That he does. Let her visit you, father. Wrongs may be cured but not made worse. You are silent? Please, say something, don’t turn away. No reply? You’ll send me away with Mute scorn? Won’t say why you’re angry? You, you are his; you’re my sisters. Try to move his sullen silence – Don’t dishonour me like this, With no word of response. I am suppliant to the god! ANTIGONE Oh, my poor brother. Tell him why you’ve Come, and as the words flow they may touch Some joy, some anger or compassion, and so Give this silence a voice. POLYNICES I will – you advise me well – but first I Should appeal to the god from whose altar The king raised me, granting me safe Passage and leave to speak and to hear. I ask, gentlemen, this leave of you, of my Sisters and of my father. Now, father, I will tell you why I’ve come. I was driven, an exile, from home, where, As the elder son, I claimed the throne. Eteocles, who is younger, drove me out, Seduced the city, defeated me with neither Argument nor test of strength. A curse,

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Your curse, is the likely cause of this – Or so I hear from soothsayers. I went To Argos, took for a wife Adrastus’ daughter, And bound to me with an oath the foremost Warriors of all the Apian land, and so have Seven squadrons to turn against Thebes, That I might die for my cause Or drive the perpetrators out. Well, then. Why am I here? To beg you, father, with my own prayers And those of my allies, who, even now Are ranged around the plain of Thebes. Seven armies follow seven spears: Amphiaraus, first among spearmen and Seers; Aetolian Tydeus, son of Oeneus; Eteoclus, the Argive; Hippomedon, sent By his father Talaos; Capaneus, who Vows to burn Thebes to the ground; Arcadian Parthenopaeus, so named For the long-held virginity of Atalanta, His mother. And last, myself, your son. Or perhaps not your son, but the Offspring of hard fate, your son in name. I lead this fearless army against Thebes. Oh, by these children, and your life itself, Father, we beg you all, leave behind this Terrible anger against me as I march To punish the brother who cast me Out and stripped me of my birthright. If the oracles are true, whoever has You with them will prevail. By the gods of our holy springs and of Our race, I ask you to listen, to yield – We are both beggars and exiles. We live by fawning on others, we share A fate. He rules in our house, he Struts and laughs at us both. If you stand with me I will, Very quickly, toss him to the winds. I’ll bring you home, set us both up In our own house, and throw him out.

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With you, this is no idle boast; Without you, I am powerless.

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CHORUS For the sake of him who sent him here, Oedipus, speak before you send the man away. OEDIPUS Ah, my friends, guardians, had it Not been Theseus who sent him to Hear me, he would hear nothing. But he will have what he wants, though My words may not please him. You wretch – when you held the throne and Sceptre your brother now has, you cast your Father out, deprived me of my city, Put me in these clothes, which you Weep to see – and now you share with Me this same deprivation. No more tears. But while I live I must bear the thought That you are my destroyer; you brought Me this misery, you banished me. From you I inherit a wandering life and the Need to beg for my daily bread. Without my daughters’ care I would Be dead, for all your part in it. They sustain me, they feed me, do me The service of men, not of women. You are no sons of mine. The gods watch you, not so sternly Yet as when this force moves against Thebes. You will not tear the city down, But you and your brother will fall, Each fouled with the other’s blood. These are the curses I offer you, to Teach you respect, not to scorn Your father because he is blind. They do not dishonour me. So, my curses have in their grip Your supplication and your ‘throne’, If indeed the justice of Zeus is

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As declared in ancient law. You are loathesome and a bastard, Utterly vile, and I call down on you These curses: You will never conquer The land of your fathers; never return To Argos, but die by a brother’s Hand, as he will die by yours. So, I pray, and call down on you the Infinite darkness of Tartarus, the Goddesses of this grove, the destroying God who sparked this hate between you. Hear this and go, tell all the Cadmeans and All your allies that this is the inheritance Oedipus leaves his sons.

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CHORUS Polynices, I take no pleasure in your Journeys. Now go, quickly. POLYNICES I have journeyed, and for nothing. And my companions? For what, then, Did we march to Argos? There is Nothing to say to them, no turning Back; I will meet my fate in silence. Sisters, daughters, you hear these heartless Curses – for god’s sake, if they are fulfilled, And you somehow return to Thebes, you won’t Leave me dishonoured, you’ll give me Burial and due funeral rites. The praise You have for the care you give him will be All the greater for your service to me.

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ANTIGONE Polynices, please, hear me. POLYNICES Dear Antigone. Say what you have to say. ANTIGONE Turn your army back to Argos, quickly.

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Don’t destroy yourself or your city. POLYNICES No. How could I possibly lead an army Again, when I’d once been a coward? ANTIGONE Why, again, would you have the desire? What Would you gain by destroying Thebes?

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POLYNICES Exile is humiliating. I, the elder brother, Am to be laughed at by the younger. ANTIGONE Don’t you see that you fulfil the Prophesies? You’ll kill each other.

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POLYNICES That’s what he wants. But I can’t give way. ANTIGONE No, but who would follow you Having heard what he has uttered? POLYNICES We won’t announce it – a good leader Gives out the good, not the bad news.

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ANTIGONE Oh, brother. Your mind is made up? POLYNICES Don’t try to stop me. My way is clear, and Cursed by my father’s furies. You, both of you, Zeus may reward you if you do as I wish When I’m dead. You can do nothing while I live. Let me go. You’ll not see me alive again. ANTIGONE Oh, don’t. No, no.

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POLYNICES Don’t weep for me. ANTIGONE Who would not, when you rush off To a death you can foresee?

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POLYNICES I’ll die, if I must. ANTIGONE Please listen. Please! POLYNICES You won’t persuade me. ANTIGONE But if I lose you? POLYNICES One way or the other, my fate is in the hands Of the gods. And I pray the gods keep you Both from harm. No-one believes you deserve it. CHORUS I see new things, painful, fateful Things from this blind man – Unless, perhaps, it is destiny itself. It’s not for me to doubt the gods, but Time is watching, always watching Fortunes rise and fall – O Zeus! Zeus! OEDIPUS Children, my children – can someone Find him – bring Theseus here. ANTIGONE Why, father, why do you want this?

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OEDIPUS Zeus’ winged thunder will send me Soon to Hades. Go! Now! CHORUS And the still sky thunders, God-hurled, unspeakable terror Quickens the hair on my head, My heart pounds – more, more lightning! What birth-pangs are these? I fear it – Such thunder is never without issue. Zeus! Zeus!

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OEDIPUS My children, the end of my life, as the Gods have spoken. There is no more turning. ANTIGONE How can you know? What sign? OEDIPUS I know. I know. Go quickly, Find the king. CHORUS Ah, yet again, piercing, crashing All round us. Pity, Oh god have some pity, if you think To plunge our motherland in darkness! Be merciful, though I looked On a man cursed! Zeus, I cry out to you! OEDIPUS Is he near? Will I still live, girl? Will he find me master of my mind? ANTIGONE What would you fix in your mind?

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OEDIPUS He treated us well. I would Repay that. Honour my promise. CHORUS Come, my son, come, even From the altar of Poseidon In the depths of the grove. The stranger finds you And your people worthy Of a just reward. My lord, come quickly. THESEUS Another noisy summons. What now, from You and our guest? Is it Zeus’ Thunder, the storm, the hail? When The god sends these, you may well fear. OEDIPUS My lord, I hoped you would come; The god will reward you for it.

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THESEUS Son of Laius, something new has happened? OEDIPUS My life is in the balance, and I would not Die in a lie to you or your city. THESEUS You have proof for this? OEDIPUS The gods are their own messengers, and Their signs, as of old, are never false. THESEUS What do you mean? What signs, old man?

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OEDIPUS The thunder, the lightning hurled From that invincible hand.

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THESEUS You’ve convinced me. I see you have some True prophetic skill. What must be done? OEDIPUS I will teach you, son of Aegeus, of such Things for your city that age cannot mar. Soon, unaided, I will lead you to the Place where I will die. You will reveal it To no-one – not even the region where It lies concealed – so you might have An everlasting defence, better than the shields And spears of allies. You will know yourself Mysteries beyond words. You will come alone. I can say nothing to these men or to my Children, dear though they are to me. You Are the guardian of these mysteries, and when Your end approaches you will reveal them to Your heir, and then he to his. So you will hold Your city safe from the dragon’s brood. Yes, So many cities will savage a well-ordered Neighbour.The gods are slow to see, but sure To act when men are godless and frenzied. But you should not suffer this, and you Know without my telling. Ah, the god Calls. We should go. Without hesitation. Follow me, you, follow me. I will guide you As you guided me. Leave me, don’t touch Me, let me discover the secret tomb Where it is my lot to lie. Hermes Guides me, and the goddess of the dead. Light that is no light – once you were mine – I can feel your last touch. With Hades the end my life is hidden. But, My friends, may you and your land be Blessed, and when I am dead, for good Fortune, you will remember me.

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CHORUS If it’s lawful I’ll pray To the invisible goddess, and to You Aidoneus, Aidoneus, lord Of the night, let the man pass Without pain Without heartbreak To the dark-shrouded plains Of the dead, the Stygian house. So senseless his suffering, may A just god raise him again. Gods of the Earth, invincible Beast at the gate of Many guests, Hell’s untameable Watchman, as old stories say – I pray, I pray, son of earth And Tartarus, leave the Way clear for his journey To the fields of the dead – I call out to you, Giver of eternal sleep. MESSENGER My countrymen. I’ll be brief: Oedipus is dead. But the story Of what happened is not so brief.

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CHORUS He is dead? MESSENGER Of that you can be sure. CHORUS How? The god took him without pain?

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Brazen steps are fixed deep in the earth. He paused at a branching path by the great Carved bowl of the covenant of Theseus And Perithous. At a point midway between That and the rock of Thoricus – between the Hollow pear and the marble tomb – he sat And loosened his rags. He called his daughters For water to wash and to pour the libation. They climbed Demeter’s hill and soon returned With what he’d asked; washed and dressed him, As is the custom for the dead. Content, he sat. All done, all done. Then Zeus thundered, and The two maids shook to hear, they fell at their Father’s knees, beating their breasts, unable to Hold back their tears. He heard their sudden Bitter cry, took them in his arms and spoke: ‘My children, this day is my last, all that I was is no more, and no more will you have The burden of my care – no small burden, I know – but one word will lighten your toil: Love; I loved you more than any other man. Now you will live on without me.’ So they Sobbed, each of them, clinging to the other. Weeping ceased, in time. Silent – still. Then, without warning, came a voice that Made our hair prick with terror. The god Called, and called again: ‘Oedipus, Why do we delay? We stay too long!’ He knew the god, and called to Theseus. Oedipus spoke as he came near: ‘My Friend, give me your hand as a pledge For my children; and you to him. Agree Never willingly to forsake them; now and Always to act for them as you think fit.’ With blind hands reaching for his Children, he spoke again: ‘You must Endure this nobly, and leave this place – You must not see what is unlawful to see, Nor hear what must not be heard. Go, Quickly. Only Theseus must stay to Witness the event.’ So he spoke, and

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We all heard. We followed the women As their tears streamed. We moved away, But turned soon and saw the man was gone. The king stood, alone, hands over his eyes, As though he’d looked on a vision too Terrible to be endured. In a moment he Was prostrate upon the ground, saluting in One prayer gods of earth and of Olympus. How he died, who but Theseus can say. No bolt of fire destroyed him, nor sudden Storm from the sea; no, some messenger Of the gods or of the dead, and the deep Earth split open in kindness and an end Without pain. Oedipus’ passing was Without tears, sickness or suffering – it Was a wonder above all others. If this Seems madness, I can’t persuade you otherwise.

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CHORUS Where are the women and their escort? MESSENGER Close. I hear them weep. ANTIGONE Ai, ai, it is ours alone To lament the curse of Our blood, a father’s gift, For whom we bore then Ceaseless pain, yet now We know a sight and a Suffering beyond thought. CHORUS Of what? ANTIGONE I can only guess. CHORUS He’s gone?

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ANTIGONE Just as you’d wish – How else? Snatched, not By war nor ocean Wave; but borne to The dark plain by a Swift dark fate, and Darkness like death covers Our eyes. Oh, how shall We live, wandering strange Lands and the heaving sea?

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ISMENE I don’t know. Oh, let Hades take me to my Father. I can’t live this life.

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CHORUS Best of daughters, you Must bear with god’s Will. You have no blame. ANTIGONE Oh, past suffering is Lost joy, and the bitter Was sweet when I held him. Oh, father, forever lost To the dark earth, you Will never, never, want For our love. CHORUS His work – ANTIGONE Is done as he wished. CHORUS How?

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ANTIGONE He chose to die On foreign soil, his bed forever In the shadow of the dead, To leave behind mourners’ tears. Oh, father, tears, tears Flood my eyes, I don’t know How to hide my sorrow. You chose to die in a strange Land, and you died without me.

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ISMENE What will happen to us, Robbed of a father?

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CHORUS But he is freed from life, A blessed end. Stop Your tears – we are all Easy prey to misfortune. ANTIGONE We’ll go back.

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ISMENE Why? For what? ANTIGONE I feel, I feel… ISMENE What do you feel? ANTIGONE I must see his dark home. ISMENE No, no. ANTIGONE Our father’s home.

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ISMENE It’s unlawful. Don’t you see?

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ANTIGONE Why do you oppose me? ISMENE But you know… ANTIGONE Oh, there’s more? ISMENE He died, apart from us, with no tomb. ANTIGONE Take me there and kill me. ISMENE No, no! How can I live Alone, friendless? CHORUS Don’t fear. Please don’t fear.

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ANTIGONE Where can I fly? CHORUS You’ve fled before. ANTIGONE Oh, where? CHORUS From misfortune. ANTIGONE I know.

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CHORUS Then what do you know? ANTIGONE Home. But not how to get there. CHORUS Don’t try. ANTIGONE We are gripped by trouble. CHORUS You were before. ANTIGONE Yes, but now more, much more.

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CHORUS A sea of troubles. ANTIGONE Oh, Zeus, where? Where? Oh, to What hope do the gods herd us?

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THESEUS My children, stop your weeping. Where the Dark gods give grace to the living and the Dead you must not weep. You anger the gods. ANTIGONE Son of Aegeus, we beg you. THESEUS And what do you beg? ANTIGONE To see our father’s tomb. THESEUS That is forbidden.

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ANTIGONE Why, my lord? THESEUS He charged me, child, that None should approach, nor Should living voice be heard Over the sacred grave where he lies. While I keep my word, My land is safe. I swore, And was heard by the son Of Zeus, Watcher of oaths. ANTIGONE So. If the dead wish it, we Must be satisfied. But send us To Thebes, our ancient home; There we might prevent the Slaughter that threatens our brothers. THESEUS I will. I will, and what more I can Do for you, and to please the dead. I must not fail in this. CHORUS No more tears. All is in the hands of the gods.

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“Sophocles” reports Aristotle, “says he made men as they should be; whereas Euripides made them as they are.”1 As is often the case, an apparently straightforward observation is fraught with ambiguity. Did Sophocles mean that he presented characters who approached some kind of ideal that the more realistic characters of Euripides did not? Does he mean that his representations of men are more appropriate for tragic drama than those of Euripides? And even these alternatives perhaps beg more questions than they answer. They do, however, suggest a direction we might take to explore why it is that these ancient plays maintain their power, their coherence and their relevance for modern audiences and readers. The various components of a play, its language, structure and theatrical conventions, ultimately crystallise into characters who do and say things, and the success of a play depends crucially on their credibility. Can an audience believe in them, knowing that they are not ‘real,’ that they might act and speak in ways that are never seen outside a theatre, that the situations the playwright creates for them may never be experienced by anyone in the audience? What kind of belief is involved? The question of credibility, however, goes further than our responses to individual characters. What they say and do constitutes a plot, which in turn expresses themes or ideas. These too we have at least to be able to take seriously, even though they might reflect the culture of a very different time and place. It is unlikely, for example, that many in a modern audience would be particularly familiar with the concept of moira, of fate, as it was understood by Sophocles. Nor are they likely to be familiar with the concept of ate, of being stricken with disaster by the gods, whether personally innocent or guilty of wrong-doing. And how many would feel deeply the very Greek distinction between philoi and echthroi, friends and enemies, which has a special significance for the protagonists of Antigone? Yet these things, among others, provide a frame within which the characters act out their lives so convincingly. The purpose of this introduction, then, is to examine how Antigone, the play and its characters, achieves credibility or conviction. That it does so is a necessary premise to the argument. And the examination will consist of, firstly, an account of the framework within which the action occurs and, secondly, an

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analysis of the presenation of character; that is, the ways in which actions derive significance within the frame.

Frames The scaffolding on which character and action in a play rely has two aspects: one is built into the text and the performance, and the other is reflected in the theatre itself. The essence of both is that they shape a relationship between the stage and the audience. A framework of ideas or assumptions about the nature of the world and what makes the people in it tick stands behind an audience’s perception of what is significant about what they see and goes some way to determing how they see it. A Greek tragedy, then, whether by Sophocles or any other tragic playwright, bears the marks of both the playwright’s personal views and feelings in the wider context of fifth century Athenian values and the nature of the theatre for which it was written. No theatre is an empty space. Theatrical space is imbued with cultural assumptions about what an audience will see and how they will see it; about the perspectives from which they watch and the kind of significance that they will find. The theatre of Dionysus in Athens had no walls, but was contained within an environment that evoked a religious and a civic life and emphasised their intimate connection. And the performance of drama was, of course, part of the wider religious festival of the Dionysia. What is significant on the stage is so because it reflects this wider world; the words, actions, even the emotions of the characters take on meaning from the manner in which they reflect the interrelation between religious and civic values. The idea of a theatrical microcosm might, in these postmodern times, seem a bit old-fashioned, but the visible Greek stage and the orchestra, and all the things on them (altars, statues, houses, the roads on and off – the eisodoi – and the human figures themselves) presented the same array of meaningful objects to each individual on the stage as did the shrines, buildings, layout and people in and around the theatre to individuals in the audience. Broadly, they represented a visible world populated by human beings and an invisible world populated by gods. The important distinction between the stage and the theatre as a whole is the fact that an audience knows it is in a theatre, hence watches the characters on the stage from a privileged position. To some degree the stage makes the invisible world visible for the audience. As onlookers they are given more clues about how to interpret the signs than are the fictional characters, and much of the dramatic effect lies in this gap, this difference of perspective. This is, so to speak, the dramatic space across which ideas and emotions make the connection between characters and audience, and from which the question of credibility and conviction arises.

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A modern audience, of course, brings different cultural baggage and the theatrical space into which a play is put is likely to be quite different. What the two audiences share, however, is the text. If the text, even through the clouded glass of a translation, can provide sufficient clues to identify the essential qualities of the characters and the world they inhabit, and if these can evoke responses of sufficient conviction, then the dramatic experiences of both audiences will have something in common. That is not to say that a modern audience necessarily thinks about and feels toward the events they see in the same way as their Athenian counterparts; they do not. However, the concept of tragedy as an aesthetic and theatrical experience was invented and perfected by the ancient playwrights and is the foundation of a central plank in the western theatrical tradition. In spite of the long evolution of the practice and theory of tragedy and of theatre, the original plays are still coherent and accessible. This arises from the fact that tragedy as a genre is a particular mode of theatre; that is, it maintains a focus on the significance of emotion, not merely by presenting ideas about it, but by projecting emotions as the essential raw material of the theatrical process. Other forms of art, of course, deal with emotions, but tragedy as a form deals with the emotional life specifically in the context of a tragic world. Ways of describing such a universe vary over time, from Greek, to the Renaissance, to the Absurd, but the essence of tragic form remains very much the same; individuals on a stage struggle with forces they can only vaguely discern and understand, looked upon by an audience who have the privilege of an overview, and for whom some, at least, of the invisible world is made visible, if only in the emotional lives that they witness. It is as well to remember Winnington-Ingram’s observation that Sophocles (and for that matter tragedians in general) did not merely assemble a portrait gallery of interesting figures, but “his figures exist for the purpose of expressing a tragic vision of the world in action.”2

Two worlds Throughout Sophocles’ work certain basic notions persist: “…the breach between divine and human nature, between divine and human knowledge, between appearance and reality, which is indeed a main source of that irony so pervasive a feature of his theatre.”3 It is no accident that throughout Antigone words for ‘madness,’ ‘sanity,’ ‘knowledge,’ ‘mind,’ ‘wisdom’ are woven through the text in a dense pattern of action and meaning. What constitutes madness or sanity, wisdom or ignorance is in many respects the key to the play 2 3

R.P. Winnington-Ingram. Sophocles: an Interpretation. Cambridge: CUP. 1980. 5. Winnington-Ingram (1980) 3.

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as the characters struggle to distinguish reality from appearance in the world of the stage. It is a question not only of what they see, but how they see it and the value they give it. The conflict between Antigone and Creon, then, arises from alternative ways of seeing and interpreting their world. They interpret the signs from their different points of view with more or less accuracy, according to their capacities. It is, I think, essential to emphasise the notion of accuracy because behind the confusion and conflict that overwhelms the characters is a real world. What is at times unreal is their apprehension of it. The audience, as I have suggested, has a privileged view and can make some judgement about the accuracy or validity of what the characters say and do. That does not mean, however, that Antigone is simply a homiletic tract pointing to the ‘right way’ because the world, the reality that unfolds, is complex and not a mere onedimensional ‘reality’ that the characters either hit or miss. There are levels, planes of reality that can, for a variety of reasons, conflict with each other. The tragic vision arises from the fact that individuals get caught between them, like meat in a sandwich. The human and the divine, the visible and the invisible, are separate but interacting spheres. Antigone suggests as much in her opening speech: Ismene, sister of my blood – Do you know of any suffering bequeathed By Oedipus not yet visited upon Our little lives by Zeus?

(1-4)

The suffering that she and her sister endure follows, as she sees it, from the actions of her father as dispensed by Zeus. Similarly, the Chorus, having witnessed the very personal clash between Creon and the two women, see the conflict in terms of suffering inflicted by the gods on successive generations: I have long seen the suffering of Labdacus’ House, of Sorrow on sorrow without release From father to son, but some God strikes And there’s no way out.

(593-8)

In the fourth stasimon the Chorus reflect on the powers of the gods and the fates, how gods will punish or thwart the most determined of men, how “Neither wealth nor force, / Not city wall nor wave-crashing / Black ship can escape [the power of fate]” (952-4). It is Antigone’s fate (moira) to die, as it is Creon’s to destroy his family.

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The significance of fate, however, is not only in the fact that things happen beyond the control of ordinary mortals. It lies in how they happen on a human level. That, of course, is where the drama lies, in the human experience of enduring in such a world. “The power of fate is terrible” (ha moiridia tis dunamis deina – 951) and yet “Wonders (deina) of the world are many / But none more formidable (deinoteron) than man” (333-4). The first stasimon of the Chorus is curious and seems, in the context of the action at that point, to fly off at a tangent. The Guard has just left the stage after informing Creon of the ‘burial’ of Polynices’ corpse. Creon’s reaction to both the news and to the Chorus’ tentative suggestion that the gods might have had a hand in the deed is angry. What has happened is a direct threat to his authority and hence, as he sees it, to the safety and stability of the city. The only motive for such disobedience must be greed, and such corruption is a danger to public safety. And, it must be remembered, the city and all those on the stage have only just survived the horrors of a war brought on by the treachery of one of their own. So the Guard, a comical little man of limited understanding beyond his own well-being, leaves the stage and the Chorus embark on a formal and impressive ode on the powers of mankind. Through a kind of evolutionary history they tell of man subduing nature, the sea and the earth (“the most venerable of gods,” 339), of his mastery of the animal kingdom and, finally, how his wit and resource have achieved civil society and protection from the extremes of nature – except for one thing: Speech and wind-swift thought He’s learnt And the temper of civic rule; With wit He escaped the shafts of rain and The friendless freezing sky. Prepared he is for all to come, all But death, He conjures escape from disease.

(355-64)

The ode does, therefore, arise out of its context. The Chorus consists of the city elders, the ‘establishment,’ for whom the values that Creon has evoked in his opening speech, the primacy of civic order and loyalty, are significant. As, no doubt, they must have been for an audience of fifth century Athenians for whom the very theatre they sat in and the landmarks of the city around it will have underscored the value of civic life in the face of predatory enemies (echthroi) and the harshness of the natural world outside the city walls.

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There is, then, a tension built into the situation, a potential conflict between two ‘realities.’ The second antistrophe points up the dilemma, if in a rather understated manner: Subtle beyond dreams Are his clever arts Either for bad or for good: Upholding the laws of the land And the sworn oaths of the gods Brings respect; But the man who courts evil for gain Is cast out: May he never sit at my hearth Or have a share in my thoughts.

(365-75)

Those who uphold “the laws of the land / And the sworn oaths of the gods” have respect (are hypsipolis, high in the city) and those who do not are apolis, cityless. There are two points to be drawn from this. Firstly, the laws or codes upon which civil society depends are greater than any individual and demand conformity. Just as fate and the will of the gods are on one level inexorable forces against which individuals are helpless, so are the laws of human society. Both sets of laws have their own ‘justice.’ Thus when the Chorus later point out to Antigone that she has “tripped…on the rock of Justice” (854-5) there is an unresolved ambiguity in what they say. Insofar as Antigone has come into conflict with civic law (Creon’s law) she is guilty, but she is also the innocent victim of Dike, the Justice of the gods as it affects successive generations of her family. Secondly, the Chorus, while prefiguring the conflict that is to come, express the essential fragility of their state. They celebrate man’s formidable achievement while acknowledging his, and their, mortality. However, in the second antistrophe they acknowledge the ambivalence of this power (“Either for bad or for good”) and retreat to a rather nervous conventionalism that reflects Creon’s words, on the one hand, and a dim perception of greater powers, on the other: “But the man who courts evil for gain / Is cast out: / May he never sit at my hearth / Or have a share in my thoughts.” The evil, the unjust man, who has respect for neither civil nor divine law, will pollute the mind, confuse the distinction between good and bad. There is a subtle, unconscious reflection here on Creon, who will prove to be both the man who potentially pollutes the thoughts of others and who is himself the subject of greater powers. As the Chorus confirm in the second stasimon: “It is wisely said, whom the gods will / Destroy see good in bad” (624-5).

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The trick for mortals is to maintain a healthy mind and so to avoid seeing “good in bad.” A healthy mind is one which perceives reality in all its aspects and understands both the laws of the land and the oaths of the gods. But the limitations of humanity, mortality, frailty in the face of the gods, entail limitations of perception because, being mortal, we are confined to the visible world. The other is mysterious and only darkly apprehended through signs, the interpretation of which is uncertain, but may be discerned through a pious acknowledgement of “the old laws” (1114), the customs and traditions which placate forces beyond ordinary understanding. These are, of course, the laws to which Antigone defers, the “unwritten laws of the gods (446). But both Antigone and Creon are, in their own ways, partially sighted. The conflicts that Antigone is about, then, may be characterised as follows. Two spheres of reality, two sets of ‘laws’, are like tectonic plates which form the foundations of nature and of human society. As distinct entities they cannot be compromised or diluted, and conflict between them is irresolvable. The tremors they cause, either through resistance to them or conflict between them, will inevitably overwhelm all who might be caught up, however innocent or guilty they might be. They are not, however, mere abstractions but are manifested through the lives and actions of individuals, through passions, through thought and through language, attributes which, while formidable, are those of a limited and imperfect race – men are not gods, even if on occasion some behave as though they were. On this level, on the level of what happens in the visible world of the stage, therefore, a conflict of underlying principles is revealed through shock waves of feeling, the conflict of the rational and irrational and the limitations of human understanding and language. We have seen how Dike, Justice, differs between the two spheres. Both Antigone and Creon use the language of philoi and echthroi, with which they determine their behaviour toward others, in quite different ways. The Chorus endure continuous conflict between what they think and what they feel. Creon, in defending his community, isolates himself from it. Similarly, Antigone’s treatment of Ismene threatens, at the very least, to conflict with the principles she is prepared to die for. “As much as Creon’s apparently traditional and rational support of obedience and order develops toward the tyrannical egoism of continual self-assertion, so Antigone’s devotion to the house gives rise to death and destruction rather than the continuity of birth and generation.”4 Teiresias is the visible link between these two worlds: he partakes of both the knowledge of the divine world and the frailties of the human one. On the one hand, in his first speech (999-1032) he describes the reality of divine anger, reflecting as he does a healthy human fear of the horrors that could flow 4

Simon Goldhill. Reading Greek Tragedy. Cambridge: CUP, 1986 .105.

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from Creon’s sacrilege, and a desire, as a friend and ally, to persuade him to change his ways. On the other hand his second speech (1064-90) is on a different plane. Its immediate inspiration is personal anger – like any professional he is enraged at the accusation of fraud – but it is also the manifestation of divine anger. It is the god who lays down the law at this point: “For this savage spirits lie in wait for / You; the Furies of Hades and the gods, / And you are caught in all this evil” (1074-6).

Language, Thought and Feeling If one thing can safely be said about the language of Antigone it is that it is slippery. At least insofar as the characters attempt to express what appear to be clear and firm ideas like justice, good, bad, friend, enemy, clarity turns out to be more apparent than real. On the other hand, as the characters express their feelings, whether of anger, fear or love, the language is admirably clear. “Are you blind,” Antigone asks Ismene, “to the evil your enemies do your friends?” (9-10). The word for ‘friend’ is philous, more literally ‘loved one.’ It has a range of meanings, from a close relative to a political ally, and the play exploits them all. The word indicates not merely a feeling for someone, but a relationship. Antigone’s philoi are first and foremost her kin and she is bound by the laws that define the rights and obligations of the relationship. “Eteocles, they say, as is just and / Lawful, is hidden in the earth and / Honoured by the dead” (23-5). For one brother, obligations have been met and there is nothing more to be said. For the other, neglect constitutes an insult to the gods and a violation of “unwritten laws.” Antigone’s vision, her sense of what is significant in a relationship, goes beyond individuals to an over-riding religious principle. Ismene asserts a different perspective – not, we should note, a different view of the rightness or wrongness of Antigone’s proposal to bury her brother. Her famous speech on the powerlessness of women (49-63) has three important elements. Firstly, Ismene expresses an understanding of the limitations of their power, the social reality of their status as women and dependants, as the last of a family that has destroyed itself through incest and fratricide. She sees their isolation, a perilous state mitigated only by the fact that the sisters can endure it together. Secondly, she concurs with the legitimacy of what Antigone proposes, but declines because she feels she is forced to. Thirdly, in refusing to take part in a pious act she will “beg the powers of the earth for understanding” (65-6). This is a key point because it indicates a state of mind that distinguishes not only Antigone from her sister, but Antigone and Creon from all the other characters. “The dead,” Antigone insists, “will hate you, justly” (94). An insult is an insult and cannot be undone. Ismene, however, asks for understanding, compassion from the gods, but that is not a characteristic they share with

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humankind. She is asking the powers of one world to submit, to compromise in recognition of the uncompromising powers of another, the king. She is asking the gods to act in a rational and humane manner, which is, to say the least, unlikely. Ismene’s inability to see this exemplifies the limitations of her human understanding. Her focus is on this world, on living in this world, and so her catalogue of the family’s catastrophes carries an element of unconscious irony: Think, sister, how your father died, Hated, despised, self-caught in his sin, His eyes ripped out by his own hand. His mother and wife, the two being one, Hanged herself. And for a third, Our two brothers, all in one day, Each miserably dead by the other’s hand. Think! Now we are left alone, what Horrible suffering we will have…

(49-69)

As a preface to her request for divine compassion Ismene has described an inexorable process, the prolonged “suffering of Labdacus’ / House, of / Sorrow on sorrow without release” (593-5), that the gods have imposed, irrespective of personal innocence or guilt. The justice that is worked out here is very different from the kind of justice or fairness that Ismene understands. The prologue, therefore, establishes not only the plot and the central conflict between Antigone and Creon, but two perspectives on what is significant in the lives of the two women. It establishes also the paradoxical nature of the language they use to express themselves and the theme of reason and unreason that underlies the action throughout. Antigone is passionate and, on the face of it, contradictory. Her instant reaction to Ismene’s appeal is to dismiss it as a betrayal and to exclude her from any part in what she intends to do. To embark on the impossible is irrational, foolish, but Antigone’s commitment is absolute, to the point where love for a brother entails hate for her sister. But what is irrational in human terms is a necessity in terms of divine law. Hence she can accept the apparent contradiction of committing a “holy crime” (74). Human language is inadequate to express clearly the complexity of her position. The scene ends on this theme of love and hate. “Even in your folly (anous), you are loved” (99), Ismene insists. Such an assertion of sisterly affection appears almost obstinate, even irrational, in the face of Antigone’s scorn. It is understated but powerful, and its force is generated by feelings that are as real to Ismene as Antigone’s are to her. Antigone’s emotion, for all its intensity, has a cold quality: as Ismene observes, “You have a hot heart for something so chilling” (88). Her feelings are directed beyond her immediate life

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to the principle that makes her dead brother more of a ‘loved one’ than her live sister. There is something impersonal about Antigone’s emotions and this, I think, allows us to see more clearly just what goes on between them in their later scene together where Antigone refuses to allow her sister to share any of the blame for what has been done. It is tempting to suggest that Antigone is motivated by compassion, wishing to sacrifice herself for her sister’s sake. But that is to blur an essential difference between them and to make Ismene merely passive and weak, less heroic than her sister. “How can I live if you leave me?” (548) she asks. The horror of emotional isolation, of having no philos is real, though at this point overshadowed by the clash between Antigone and Creon. However, it is a motif that reappears with greater force later in the play, for both Antigone, at the moment she is faced with the reality of death, and Creon, when he has destroyed all that gave meaning to his life. Creon’s opening speech to the assembled Chorus is an exemplary piece of political rhetoric. He begins by complimenting the elders of the city for their loyalty to the royal line, to which he is the legitimate successor. He then gives an exposition of his political philosophy, of the primacy of the state over personal interest. “The man who puts his friend (philos) before his country, is nothing” (182-3), and if the ship of state is handled properly, “we make Friends” (190). As Antigone defines philoi in terms of religious obligation, Creon defines them in terms of political obligation – for one, philoi are born, for the other, they are made. Creon’s philosophy is empirical: you know a man by his actions. He asserts the legitimacy of his position and power, “by right of birth and kinship” (173), then proceeds to subordinate that principle to another: “But one cannot know the whole man, / His spirit, his thought, his judgement, / Before one sees his skill in leadership and law” (175-7). The hereditary claim is one thing, but to establish his legitimacy as a ruler he must be seen to act as a ruler should, and his first responsibility is to deal with whoever is not a ‘friend’ to the city. His position, however, is a delicate one. Polynices also had a hereditary claim to power, as did his brother, but in asserting that right at the expense of his fellow citizens he has, according to Creon’s second principle, forfeited it. The brothers were also Creon’s blood relations, which entails certain responsibilities. But if the two brothers are not distinguished, even in death, for their actions toward the city then the honour of one is sacrificed and the actions he was seen to have performed for the sake of his city rendered meaningless. The logic of Creon’s position is clear: he must be seen to distinguish between a friend and an enemy, irrespective of any personal interest or relationships. As a piece of political rhetoric Creon’s speech raises an interesting dramatic question. There is a variety of possible motives behind it, each of which could serve to characterise him and, more importantly, to affect his status

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at the end of the play. The careful, deliberate construction of the speech could be construed as calculated intimidation of the Chorus – the machinations of a tyrant. But we do have to take the intensity of his emotion at the end of the speech seriously and remember that the Chorus are on his side, having so vividly expressed in the parodos the horrors of war and the savagery of an enemy that comes “Shrieking like the eagle sheathed / In snow white plumes” (112-3), threatening the civilised society that they go on to celebrate in the first stasimon. Creon is no Oedipus, but it is a mistake to underestimate the complexity of his character and the validity in the context of the play as a whole of his perspective on the world. His limitations are human, he is a creature of his milieu, of the civilisation of which he is a guardian, and that, as the Chorus attest, is not all bad. If Creon is presented simply as a stage villain, a bully who buckles in cowardly confusion when up against something bigger than himself, the play as a whole is compromised. He is a man of reason, as his first speech indicates, and the essence of his delusion is that he assumes that reason prevails. Hence the idea that the gods might have any concern for the corpse of a criminal is, to him, simply irrational. The gods, the dispensers of justice, do not honour lawbreakers, as Polynices surely was. Creon’s confrontation with Antigone encapsulates the philosophical rift between them: CR: Was it not your brother who died opposing him? AN: Yes. From the same father and mother. CR: Then how can you perform a rite that is offensive to him? AN: A dead man makes no such distinction. CR: He will, if you make no such distinction. AN: He was no slave – it was my brother who died. CR: But one tried to destroy the land – the other to save it. AN: Even so – these are the laws of Hades. CR: There is no equality between the good man and the evil. AN: Who knows what blame there is in the world below? CR: Even dead, an enemy is still an enemy. (512-22)

But here, however, he shares a misunderstanding with Ismene, that the gods reflect human values and human feelings. Whereas she expects compassion, Creon expects reason, and they are both wrong. As the empirical philosopher whose reasoning is premised on his experience he would appear to have plenty of evidence to support his position. His supposition that human greed for wealth and power motivates the enemies of the state is surely reasonable, given the antics of Polynices and the Argive king (and an Athenian audience in the 440s would have needed little convincing of that argument). The irony is that a logical conclusion, even if based on wide experience, is not tangible eveidence, so that what he claims to see in this

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particular case does not exist. Consequently Creon becomes a prisoner of his own mind, believing in phantoms. Haemon underscores the irony of his situation, pointing out that Creon fails to see the reality of what is going on around him and that the very authority he values for the good of his subjects intimidates them and isolates him even further from reality. Finally, as a man of reason, Creon ignores or underestimates emotions, both his own and others’. His passions become misdirected, his anger aimed at phantoms in his own mind. Confined as he is in his world of reason and civic duty an emotional life appears increasingly irrelevant and relationships are merely utlitarian (in another age he’d have been an economist). He can trivialise whatever Haemon might feel for Antigone and so provoke an anger and despair that he cannot control. He can dismiss the passions that drive Antigone and Ismene to sacrifice themselves as madness. But emotions are real, if not rational, and Creon himself, as his anger demonstrates, is a passionate man. Like Antigone, his passions have become impersonal.

Real Feelings I have suggested that tragedy, as a genre, maintains a focus on the significance of emotion. In a universe that is violent and impersonal, in which “No mortal lives long without a fall” (625), tragic suffering is the necessary consequence of two indisputable facts – mortality and the human capacity to feel, to have an emotional life. What the gods decide is worked out through emotions and the actions they inspire. The old Shepherd in Oedipus the King vividly demonstrates how his capacity to feel has made him the unwitting agent of the divine plan: “Why,” demands Oedipus, “did you give the child to this man?” “Pity, master. I pitied it” (OT 1177-8). The focus of Antigone is not, perhaps, quite so sharp, but through the tangle of emotions that grip the characters emerges the vision of a universe that grinds on regardless. We have seen how Ismene, having accepted that Antigone will not be persuaded from her plan, has no desire to live alone in a world with no philos. “How,” she asks Creon, “can I live alone, without her?” (566). Ismene’s stand lays the foundation for the multiple tragedies that follow. The next step in the process is Haemon’s. His speech to his father is a superb example of tact and careful argument, and its underlying theme is isolation. He begins by touching upon the isolation of high office: people fear power and authority and so hide their true feelings. Creon cannot see what occurs around him, the combination of compassion for Antigone and fear of him, and is cut off from reality, from the very community in whose interest he acts: “A man who thinks that he alone / Can think or speak or feel, he is / When opened up, a hollow man” (707-9). Haemon’s words are prophetic, and are reiterated by the Messenger:

Introductions and Translations to the Plays of Sophocles and Euripides: Volume I Creon, I thought, was to be envied – He saved his land from its enemies, Became king and got noble children. All gone. When a man lets all that makes Life pleasant slide, I think he no longer Lives, he’s no more than a moving corpse.

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(1161-7)

However, Haemon’s reasoning, his insight into the reality of his father’s state, has a curiously irrational foundation. In the face of Creon’s obstinate need to be seen to rule, diplomacy quickly falls victim to anger: if Antigone dies, “her death will destroy another” (751). Creon, now self-obsessed, almost solipsistic, understands this as a threat to himself. It is not. Haemon is stricken by Eros, a passion that is, as the Chorus tell us in the stasimon that follows, “a madness no mortal avoids” (790). His passion, unalloyed by civilising reason, turns to animal rage when deprived of its object. The boy glared wildly – said nothing, Then spat in his face. He drew his sword, But missed, as his father leapt back. Then, Unhappy boy, enraged with himself, Leaned upon the shaft and drove Half its length into his side.

(1232-7)

The parallel with Ismene seems to be quite clear – neither wish to live in an emotional vacuum. Philia and Eros are elements in a continuum of emotions. They have an epistemological quality; that is they are a means of perceiving the world, or at least the people in it, which attributes significance or meaning. Without Love, whether it manifests itself as pity, friendship, family feeling or sexual desire, the human world has little meaning. There are many examples of the power of feeling throughout the play, at a variety of levels, and they form a pattern, a structure of emotion that culminates in the dual tragedies of Antigone and Creon. Even the Guard, early in the play, though principally concerned to save his own hide, betrays an involuntary sympathy: Then we saw her, and she shrieked with That shrill note of a bird that sees The nest empty, stripped of its chicks. So she cried when she saw the naked corpse, And wept and cursed those who’d done it. She took the dry dust in her hands, Raised her brass urn and poured For the corpse a triple libation. We saw it and seized her…

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Introduction: Antigone …She denied nothing, which Was both pleasant and unpleasant all at the Same time – it’s nice to escape trouble, But not so nice when you get your Friends into it. Still, I’m safe, And that’s what really matters.

(423-40)

The Chorus is similarly affected when Antigone appears for the last time: No, no, I can’t endure this. How can I not weep to see her, To see her pass to the last Of all bride-chambers?

(801-5)

There is a conflict between a personal response and their status as elders of Thebes. This involuntary response stands out against the more ambivalent exchanges that follow: You have scaled the heights of Rash courage, but tripped, my Child, on the rock of Justice. Perhaps you pay for a father’s sin.

(851-6)

The power of Antigone’s final scene, then, arises from this foundation. Given the extremity of Creon’s state of mind, her fate is beyond doubt: “The holder of power can / Allow no breach of power” (875-6). But this is a different Antigone from the one we have seen in earlier scenes. The themes of the Kommos are love and isolation, perhaps best expressed in the second antistrophe: I heard the sad death of Tantalus’ child, on the Peaks of Sipylus, how the rock Overgrew Her with ivy-grip, how they say Snow and rain never leave her, and Her tears wet forever the mountain ridge – Just so the god takes me to my last rest.

(823-33)

Niobe died for love, for the loss of her children, in anguished isolation. The imagery is of stark, cold desolation, a life that is no life, and encapsulates the horror with which Antigone anticipates her imminent incarceration in a “strange grave / To linger in limbo / Neither living nor dead” (849-51). The pathos of the scene, however, is underlain by irony. Antigone laments her isolation, “Unwept,

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unfriended, unwed” (877). Unwept she is not, as the Chorus have shown; unfriended she is not – Ismene is still there; unwed she will remain, but not for lack of love. This Antigone has an awareness of life, an awareness of the human world that she shares with Ismene and which was not apparent before. She is not the cold creature that she was and her very human fear of death, of a horrifying limbo, adds a depth and credibility to the character by crystallising not only the emotions involved but their meaning. As the scene progresses this frightened, vulnerable girl regains and even surpasses her former stature. The insight that comes of feeling is subsumed into an understanding of another kind, of realities that lie beyond the immediate world and the inevitability of it all: Aah, there you Touch me, you Touch my father’s Fate and the desTiny of Labdacus’ clan: The calamity Of a marriage bed, of Incestuous coupling of Father with mother – from Such a curse I was born, And go unwed To join them. O brother, by a marriage Cursed, in death You have destroyed me.

(857-71)

Her final speech is an amalgam of feeling and philosophy. Firm in her belief that she has not transgressed the laws of the gods, Antigone is able to accept the paradox of her suffering, that in “Being pious, I am convicted of impiety” (924), that the gods, in allowing her to suffer, are strange allies. The tragedy of Creon does not need to be dwelt upon; the pattern, the shape of tragedy is the same. The man who has become “king of a desert” has done so because he has overlooked his own feelings, the link between the mind and the real world. In this he shares a characteristic with Antigone in the early scenes, and his condition is no less extreme. His ideal city is a utopia cut off from nature, from the gods, who manifest themselves through Eros, through Dionysus, through passions which may be alien to the rational morality of civic life. His philoi, those he would ‘make’ through good governance, are too impersonal to be real, and he discovers too late what he has sacrificed for them:

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(1270-75)

And he shuffles off stage into a limbo no less real than that to which he condemned Antigone.

SOPHOCLES’ ANTIGONE

The Characters Antigone daughter of Oedipus Ismene her sister Creon King of Thebes and uncle to Antigone and Ismene Haemon son of Creon, betrothed to Antigone Euridice his mother Teiresias a blind seer A boy attendant to Teiresias A Guard A Messenger Chorus of Theban Elders

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Scene: Thebes ANTIGONE Ismene, sister of my blood Do you know any suffering bequeathed By Oedipus not yet visited upon Our little lives by Zeus? There is No pain, no mischief, no shame, no Dishonour we have not known. Now, they say, the general has Issued an order for all the town. Do you know it? Or are you blind To the evil your enemies do your friends? ISMENE I’ve heard no tale, Antigone, of Pleasure or pain for our friends, not Since our brothers died, each taken On one day by the other’s hand. The Argive army has gone In the night, and I know nothing More, neither good nor bad.

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ANTIGONE I knew that. I called you outside So only you could hear. ISMENE What? What do you brood on now? ANTIGONE Has Creon honoured one brother In his grave, and dishonoured the other? Eteocles, they say, as is just and Lawful, is hidden in the earth and Honoured by the dead. But Polynices – His miserable corpse, it is proclaimed, Can neither be buried nor wept for; he must Lie unburied and unwept and remain A store of sweetmeats for circling birds. They say the good Creon proclaims this

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For you and for me – for me! And he comes here to make it plain To whomever it is not yet so. He means it. Do these things, And it’s death by stoning in the city. Now you know. And now you can show Your breeding, or lack of it. ISMENE Oh, my poor girl. What can I do here? How can I tie up or unravel this tangle?

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ANTIGONE You might consider your share of the risk and labour. ISMENE What risk? What do you mean? ANTIGONE Share with this hand the weight of his corpse. ISMENE You will bury him, when the whole city is forbidden? ANTIGONE Your brother and mine. I’ll bury him, If you don’t wish to. I won’t betray him.

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ISMENE This is foolhardy. Creon forbids it. ANTIGONE It is not for him to keep me from my own. ISMENE Think, sister, how your father died, Hated, despised, self-caught in his sin, His eyes ripped out by his own hand. His mother and wife, the two being one, Hanged herself. And for a third, Our two brothers, all in one day,

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Each miserably dead by the other’s hand. Think! Now we are left alone, what Horrible suffering we will have, if in spite Of law we flout the fiat and power Of a king. We are women, We must bow to necessity, we Cannot fight like men. We Are ruled by the strong – we must Accept these things, and worse. I will beg the powers of the earth For understanding. As I am forced To it, I will obey authority. It is stupid to act beyond your powers. ANTIGONE I would not ask it of you. And now, If you wished to do it, I’d rather you did not. You are what you are. I will bury him. It will be an honour to die for that. I will lie beside my loved one, For a holy crime. I will have more time To make amends to those below than To those here – I’ll be there forever. You can insult the gods if it pleases you.

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ISMENE I do not dishonour them, but I cannot act in spite of law. ANTIGONE So you might plead. But I will give My most beloved brother his tomb. ISMENE No. Antigone, I fear for you. ANTIGONE Don’t concern yourself for me - look to your own fate. ISMENE Then say nothing of what you’ll do.

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You keep the secret and so will I.

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ANTIGONE Oh, no. Shout it out. I despise your silence More than if you trumpeted it to all. ISMENE You have a hot heart for something so...chilling. ANTIGONE I give pleasure where I must. That I know. ISMENE If you can. You’re infatuated with the impossible.

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ANTIGONE So, when my strength fails, I’ll stop. ISMENE But it is wrong even to begin the hunt for what cannot be. ANTIGONE If that is what you say, I will hate you, And the dead will hate you, justly. Let me and my foolishness endure this Terrible thing. I can suffer nothing That will dishonour my dying.

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ISMENE Go if you must. But please understand, Even in your folly, you are loved. CHORUS Sun-shaft, brighter than any yet That shone On seven-gated Thebes: O Golden eye of day, Dirke’s stream You crossed and Swept the white-armoured Argive in bitter flight before you. Caught up in Polynice’s quarrel,

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He came, Shrieking like the eagle sheathed In snow-white plumes, With his spears and crested helmet. So he hovered, Ringing round the seven gates With murderous spears – Then was gone, Before he tasted blood Or Hephaistos’ flame engulfed Our crown of towers, for Such the battle at his back He could not defeat the dragon-men. Contemptuous of boasting tongues, Zeus saw them come Wave on wave With arrogance of flashing gold And struck with fire the man who Rushed to cry victory From the topmost tower.

antistrophe a

He held, then fell, Dashed to the ground, the firebrand Who in madness breathed his hate. All changed, And fates were thrust From man to man As great Ares harnessed them. Seven captains stood At seven gates, man Against man, and offered bronze To Zeus the saviour; But for two, who, With father and with mother Shared, shared death By the other’s spear. Glorious Victory has come, and Her joy echoes joy Of the chariots of Thebes. Let memories of war be dimmed,

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Let us go, Let us dance through the night In the house of the gods, Let Bacchus, groundshaker, rule us. Here is the king. Creon, son Of Menoeceus, a new king For new times, as the gods will have it. What has he in mind? Why has he summoned us here? CREON Gentlemen, the gods have shaken our city, And the gods have set it right again. I sent for you, for you particularly, Because you, sirs, have shown constancy In your respect and reverence for The throne and power of Laius. And again, when Oedipus ruled, And after him his sons, You were loyal. Now that On one day those two have died, Each striking the other With violent, polluted hands; I, by right of birth and kinship, Hold this power and this throne. But one cannot know the whole man, His spirit, his thought, his judgement, Before one sees his skill in leadership and law. I think the leader who fails to Touch upon the best of counsels, Who fails to speak out through fear, Is now, and always was, the worst of men: He who puts his friend Before his country, is nothing. I – Zeus all-seeing knows it – would not hold My peace if, not safety, but disaster Descended on the town; nor would I Befriend an enemy of this land because, I know, this is the ship that keeps us safe And we make friends if we sail her right.

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With such laws I will make the city prosper. Therefore I have a proclamation Touching the two sons of Oedipus: Eteocles fought and died magnificently For his city, and will be buried with all The sacred rites most fitting for the noblest Of the dead. But the brother of his blood, Polynices, who returned with fire Against his homeland and the gods Of his race, who thought to taste The blood and to enslave his people – I have proclaimed that none Will bury nor lament him; that The corpse will lie exposed, food for Birds and dogs, a horror to behold. That is my mind. Never will I do Honour to evil men over good. I respect Loyalty in men, alive or dead.

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CHORUS Enemies and friends are dealt with at your Pleasure, son of Menoeceus. You have The power of law over the living and the dead. CREON So – you will see these things are done.

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CHORUS This is for younger men to do. CREON They watch the corpse even now. CHORUS What other commands do you have? CREON Do not listen to any who might disobey. CHORUS Are there any so stupid that are in love with death?

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CREON That is indeed the reward. But hope Of gain has destroyed many men. GUARD Your majesty – I will say not that I Am breathless on account of my fleet feet. I had many thoughts. They Turned me in circles to go back again. My soul had many words. Wretch, it said, Why go where you will pay the price? Then, Poor man, do you linger? If Creon learns From someone else, think of the pain. I thought About it and came on, at a more leisurely Pace. So a short trip was a long one. The thought that prevailed said come to you, And even if there’s nothing to say, say it. I come in the desperate hope to suffer No more than what fate has in store.

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CREON And of what are you so afraid? GUARD I want to be the first to tell you: I didn’t do it; I don’t know who did; Therefore I can’t rightly come to harm.

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CREON You hedge your business round very well – Clearly you have something of great interest to say. GUARD Terrible things make you nervous. CREON Then say it, and when you’ve said it, go. GUARD I’ll tell you – I’ll tell you. Someone has just Left after burying the body, sprinkling dust

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On it, and doing all the necessary business. CREON What? What man would dare? GUARD Don’t know. No sign of an axe, Or a mattock – the ground’s hard And dry – no wheel marks. Nothing. When the first watchman showed us, It was quite a shock. He’d vanished. Not in a tomb, just covered in dust, like Someone avoiding pollution. No sign of Dogs or anything. It appeared to be intact. I tell you, it started quite an argument – Guard abused guard – it almost came To blows. There was no-one to stop it. Any one of us could’ve done it, but No-one obviously, so no-one knew anything. We’d’ve taken handfulls of molten lead, Gone through fire and sworn to the gods We didn’t do it, didn’t know who Planned it and had no idea who did do it. In the end we found nothing, then Someone said something that had us bow Our heads in utter horror. There was no Contradicting him, and nothing we could do To help it. What he said was, you must Be told; the thing could not be covered up. This view prevailed, I drew the short straw, And it is my privilege to be here. I know I’m not particularly welcome Because no-one likes the bearer of bad news.

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CHORUS My lord, I have thought long on this – Perhaps it is the work of the gods. CREON Enough, before you make me angry and Show yourself to be old and a fool.

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The thought that the gods might have Any concern for this corpse is intolerable. Did they hide it as a great honour To the benefactor who came to burn Their temples, their offerings, their land, And to scatter their laws to the winds? Do you see the gods honour criminals? Oh no. Malcontents have long since muttered Against me, reluctant to submit to the Yoke of law to accommodate me. I am well aware someone has been Bribed to do this. There is nothing Among all mankind as corrupting as money: It destroys cities, drives men from their Homes; it teaches deviance and impiety. Whoever thinks to profit in this will, In good time, pay the price. As I hold Zeus in all reverence, Understand, on my oath, if this Miscreant is not found and brought Before me, one death won’t satisfy you Before you’re strung up alive to expose This insolence, so that when you thieve In future, you will know where the profit lies And learn that not everything makes money. Sinful gain is more often the ruin Of men than it is the saviour. GUARD Can I say something, or shall I just go? CREON Can you not see how offensive you are? GUARD Where does it hurt? Your ears or your brain? CREON What is that to you?

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GUARD Whoever did it hurts your brain – only your ears, me. CREON You have an incorrigible mouth.

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GUARD But I didn’t do anything. CREON You did – you sold your soul for silver. GUARD Ooh, It’s dangerous to believe beliefs falsely believed. CREON You are glib. But if you do not find This man, you will testify to the Pain that comes from base gain.

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GUARD Oh, yes, may he be found – but whether He is or not is up to fortune to judge. I don’t think you’ll see me here again. Ah, safe, beyond anything I’d thought or Hoped. I’ll say a big thankyou to the gods. CHORUS Wonders of the world are many But none more formidable than man: He crosses the grey and wintry sea as it Swells and tosses and surges around him; And immortal earth Most venerable of gods Is year on year worn away without let By the turn and return of horse and plough. The heedless bird is snared, and Creatures of the land and Sea caught in tangled nets, By the ingenuity of man.

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His cunning masters the roaming Beast, tames and yokes The shaggy horse and The tireless mountain bull.

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Speech and wind-swift thought He’s learnt And the temper of civic rule; With wit He escaped the shafts of rain and The friendless freezing sky. Prepared he is for all to come, all But death, He conjures escape from disease.

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Subtle beyond dreams Are his clever arts Either for bad or for good: Upholding the laws of the land And the sworn oaths of the gods Brings respect; But the man who courts evil for gain Is cast out: May he never sit at my hearth Or have a share in my thoughts.

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Is this an omen? I cannot doubt that Is Antigone I see, Unhappy daughter of An unfortunate man. What is it? Surely you Have not disobeyed the Laws of a king, been Taken in some Act of foolishness? GUARD She did it! We caught her Burying it. Where’s Creon?

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CHORUS He’s here – at the moment he’s needed. CREON What is this? Why am I so timely? GUARD Oh my lord, sir, there’s nothing we Can swear to but after-thoughts make Liars of us. After your threats, which Shook me then, I swore I wouldn’t Be back here in a hurry. But there’s Nothing so pleasant as the pleasure you Prayed for but didn’t expect, so I came, though I swore I wouldn’t, And brought you this girl who Was caught decorating the grave. No drawing straws this time, the Pleasure’s all mine, no-one else’s. Now, my lord, as you wish, take her, Question her, judge her – in all justice I’m free. This is nothing to do with me.

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CREON How, and where did you take her? GUARD You know it all – she was burying the fellow. CREON Do you understand what you say? Is it true? GUARD We saw her bury the body which you Said she shouldn’t. Is that clear enough? CREON How did you see her and catch her? GUARD Like this. After your awful threats

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We went back, swept all the dust Off the corpse, stripped the rotting thing, Sat on a hilltop to windward to Avoid the smell, and hurled abuse at Each other, just in case someone Slipped up on the job. There we sat, Till the sun was high in the midday Sky, and burned with fevered heat. Suddenly, a whirl of wind raised a cloud From the earth that troubled the Sky, filled the plain and tormented all The woods around – the air was thick, and We shut our eyes to this god-sent plague. After quite a long time it went away. Then we saw her, and she shrieked with That shrill note of a bird that sees The nest empty, stripped of its chicks. So she cried when she saw the naked corpse, She wept and cursed those who’d done it. She took the dry dust up in her hands, Raised her brass urn and poured for The corpse a triple libation. We saw it and seized her – but she Didn’t seem at all surprised, so we Charged her with this and with what Happened before. She denied nothing, which Was both pleasant and unpleasant all at the Same time – it’s nice to escape trouble, But not so nice when you get your Friends into it. Still, I’m safe, And that’s what really matters.

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CREON You, with your head bowed – speak: Did you or did you not do these things? ANTIGONE I did, and will not deny it. CREON You can go. There are no charges.

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But you, tell me, without elaboration, Did you know of the edict forbidding this? ANTIGONE How not? It was plain enough. CREON Yet you dared to break the law? ANTIGONE It was not Zeus who commanded this, Nor did Justice, who consorts with the Gods below, give us this law. Nor do I think your edict, mortal As it is, has the power to overrule Unwritten laws of the gods. These Are forever, not just for now, and Were revealed, no-one knows when. I’ll not pay a price to the gods for The pride of a man. I knew I would Die, of course; even if you had Not proclaimed it. If I die Before my time, I’m glad of it – Living with so much evil, how Could death not be a blessing? There is no pain for me in this – but if I’d left my mother’s son unburied, There would indeed be pain. For death, I feel none. If you think that is foolish, You condemn yourself for a fool.

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CHORUS You see? The child has her father’s Ferocity. She will not bend to misfortune. CREON The most obdurate mind is most apt To fall; and, you know, the toughest Of forged iron cracks and shatters most. But I know a spirited filly is tamed with A small bridle because someone who is

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All but a slave can have no pride. This young lady was well aware of her Insolence in breaking the law – now, Here, she is insolent once more, she Exults and laughs at what she has done. If she can assume such power with Impunity, I’m no longer a man, but she is. She may be my sister’s child, closer kin than The whole tribe of Zeus Herkeios, but neither She nor her sister will escape their proper Fate. Oh, yes, she’s just as guilty in this Conspiracy. Bring her out. I saw her just Now, raving and witless. Guilty, deceitful Minds are inclined to reveal themselves In advance of their schemes. And I do hate that person, who, caught in Something vile, wants to make a virtue of it.

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ANTIGONE Do you want more than just to take me and kill me? CREON No, no. That will be quite enough. ANTIGONE Then why do you wait? There is nothing you can Say I wish to hear – nor may there ever be. And I, it seems, displease you. Yet, What greater glory could I have than To lie a brother in his grave. Surely these here would approve, unless They were too frightened to say so. Tyranny has many pleasures, not least That it can do and say what it likes. CREON Of all Cadmeans, only you see that. ANTIGONE They do. They stop their mouths for your sake.

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CREON Are you not ashamed to think differently from them?

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ANTIGONE There is no shame in reverence for one’s kin. CREON Was it not your brother who died opposing him? ANTIGONE Yes. From the same mother and father. CREON Then how can you perform a rite that is offensive to him? ANTIGONE A dead man makes no such distinction.

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CREON He will, if you make no such distinction. ANTIGONE It was no slave – it was my brother who died. CREON But one tried to destroy the land – the other to save it. ANTIGONE Even so – these are the laws of Hades. CREON There is no equality between the good man and the evil. ANTIGONE Who knows what blame there is in the world below. CREON Even dead, an enemy is still an enemy. ANTIGONE I was born to love, not to hate.

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CREON If you must love, then love in the world below. But here, while I live, I’ll not be ruled by women.

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CHORUS Ismene – she weeps for her sister. See the cloud over her eyes, her Flushed and tear-wet cheeks.

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CREON You! The hidden viper in my house who was Sucking me dry – I did not know I nurtured Two subverters of the throne. Tell me, Were you involved in this, or Do you swear you know nothing?

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ISMENE I did it, if she says so. I’ll bear my share of blame. ANTIGONE Justice will not let you say so – you Wanted no part and I give you none. ISMENE I’m not ashamed to be with you in your suffering.

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ANTIGONE Hades knows who did this. Your love is only words. ISMENE Don’t dishonour me, don’t refuse me the Right to die or my part in the rites to the dead. ANTIGONE You have no part in my fate, and do not claim As your own what you would not touch. My death is sufficient.

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ISMENE How can I live if you leave me? ANTIGONE Ask Creon. It is him you care for. ISMENE Why do you hurt me for no advantage to yourself?

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ANTIGONE If I mock you, it hurts me to do it. ISMENE Then tell me how I can help you? ANTIGONE Save yourself. I will not mind. ISMENE No, no. I’ll have no part in your fate? ANTIGONE You chose life – I chose death.

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ISMENE But not before I spoke out. ANTIGONE To some, you were right – to others, I was. ISMENE But our offence is the same. ANTIGONE Be satisfied. You live – my soul has long Since died, so as to comfort the dead. CREON It seems to me one of you has just now shown Herself bereft of wit – the other was born so.

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ISMENE When we suffer, my lord, We lose our senses. CREON You lost them when you did wrong.

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ISMENE How can I live alone, without her? CREON Don’t speak of her. She does not exist. ISMENE You’ll kill the bride of your own son? CREON There are other fields to plough. ISMENE But none so fitting as she for him.

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CREON I’ll not tolerate a wife like that for my son. ISMENE Oh, Haemon – how your father wrongs you. CREON I find you and your talk of marriage distasteful. CHORUS Will you really deprive your son of a wife? CREON Hades will stop this marriage for me. CHORUS So then – it is decided she will die.

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CREON By you and by me. Waste no more time – Take them inside. They must be women And be restrained. Even the bold try To fly when they see death is near. CHORUS He who never savours The taste Of evil knows sweet fortune; For when gods shake The house, They lay waste to the race, As the salt sea will swell When the winds of Thrace Stir black sand from the deep And rage at the wailing cliffs. I have long seen the suffering of Labdacus’ House, of Sorrow on sorrow without release From father to son, but some God strikes And there’s no way out. From the last root of Oedipus’ Tree shone a light, now to be Ripped by the hook of dark gods; Folly of words and Fury of mind. O Zeus, what of man’s presumption can touch Your power? Neither enfeebling sleep nor The tireless cycle of months defeat you, There on bright Olympus, troubled not by time. And this law will hold for all of time, For past and for present and time to come: There’s no mortal greatness without a fall. Wandering hope brings delight To many, and to many delusions Of thoughtless desire, till the Moment the foot steps in searing fire. It is wisely said, whom the gods will

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Destroy see good in bad, and thus No mortal lives long without a fall.

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It is Haemon, the youngest son. Is he angry for Antigone, for his bride?

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CREON We’ll know soon enough, better than seers Could say. My son, you have heard the ruling Against your bride. Do you rage at me, Or do we have your love in all that we do? HAEMON I am yours, father, and your Judgement is the guide that I will follow. I think no marriage can be worth More than your good guidance. CREON Good. That is how you must feel – To stand in all things behind a father’s Judgement – and so a man prays to have In his house obedient children To defend him against his enemies, and To honour his friends as he does. But, to breed unhelpful children – who Would deny that is to breed trouble for One’s self and great comfort for one’s Enemies? Never, my son, throw out Good sense for the pleasure of a woman – Know that a bad woman in the house Is a cold embrace – what could hurt More than to love one who is evil? Spit her out – let her marry in hell. Since she alone has disobeyed me, I will keep my word to the city – I will execute her. She may pray To Zeus, god of kin, but if I allow Disorder in my own family, how much More will outsiders follow? The man who is correct in family matters

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Shows himself just in civic matters; He is to be trusted as ruler or subject And depended upon in battle. Anarchy is the greatest evil – it Destroys cities, decimates families And turn armies to flight. I cannot approve of any who Violate the law or think to Dictate to legitimate authority. Obedience is the saviour of the Righteous. Thus, order is to be Maintained, and we submit to no woman. Better, if we must, to fall to a man, than To be said to be less than a woman.

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CHORUS You seem, unless old age deceives Us, to speak good sense. HAEMON Father, the gods gave us intelligence, Our most prized possession. I could not, Would not know how to say, you are Wrong, but someone else may be right. You are not in a position to see what People say or do or find fault with – a Common man with something disagreeable To tell you is afraid of your very gaze; But, in dark corners I hear citizens Weep for this girl, and say, No woman deserves this, that She dies for a noble act – who Would leave a brother dead, Unburied, food for dogs and birds? Does she not deserve a golden reward? Such are the dark words that spread. Your well-being, father, is most precious To me – what could be more to his Children than a father’s reputation, Or theirs to him? So do not hold Yourself to one view only, your own,

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And dismiss all others as wrong. A man who thinks that he alone Can think or speak or feel, he is, When opened up, a hollow man. It’s no shame, if a man is wise, To learn; not to resist too much. You know the tree that bends To the flood stays whole; Those that are rigid, perish. And the sailor who keeps no slack In his sheets, turns the ship over. Please, give up your anger and allow Yourself to change. I may be young, but Not without judgement. Perhaps it is Best to be born with understanding Complete, but since this is unusual, One should listen to good advice. CHORUS Surely, my lord, it is fair to listen, if he is Right, and he to you. You both speak well.

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CREON So men of my age are to take Instruction from boys of his? HAEMON Only in what is just. I am young, but please Consider my argument rather than my age. CREON Am I to respect an argument for subversives? HAEMON I would not ask you to respect a criminal. CREON Is she not afflicted with a criminal malady? HAEMON The whole city denies it.

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CREON Oh, and is the city to tell me how to manage? HAEMON Do you know, you sound just like a boy.

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CREON So I must rule here, not for myself, but someone else? HAEMON A city does not belong to one man alone. CREON And a city is not to be ruled by its ruler? HAEMON You’d rule well as king of a desert. CREON This boy, it seems, takes up arms for the woman.

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HAEMON If you’re a woman. I’m concerned for you. CREON You... You dispute with me! HAEMON Because I see you making a terrible mistake. CREON Is it a mistake to respect my own authority? HAEMON There’s no respect in trampling the honour of the gods. CREON You are contemptible – bested by a woman. HAEMON But not by anything to be ashamed of.

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CREON Oh yes, when everything you say is for her. HAEMON I speak for you, for myself and the gods below. CREON While she lives, you will not marry her.

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HAEMON If she dies, her death will destroy another. CREON You have the insolence to threaten me? HAEMON Is it a threat to contradict empty thoughts? CREON You will regret that empty thought. HAEMON I’d say you had no sense, if you were not my father.

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CREON You’re a woman’s slave. You won’t Wheedle your way around me. HAEMON You’ll talk to me, but will not listen to what I say. CREON Indeed? By Olympus above us, you Will be sorry for this carping. Bring the wretch here, let the groom See her die with his own eyes. HAEMON No, she won’t die in front of me – don’t Even think it, or that you’ll see me again.

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You can rant to whoever cares to listen.

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CHORUS He’s gone. He’s gone, my lord, so angry. One so young, so hurt, is dangerous. CREON Let him go. Let him think himself more than a man. But he can do nothing to save them. CHORUS You’ll kill both of them?

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CREON No. Not the one who didn’t touch the corpse. Quite right. CHORUS How do you propose to execute the other? CREON I shall take her where no-one walks, I’ll put her, alive, in a rocky cave. She will have food enough to avoid pollution And so our city will escape contagion. She can pray to Hades, the only god she Respects, and her prayers may save her. She might learn, even so late, how Fruitless it is to worship the dead. CHORUS Love is unmastered A waster of wealth, Love dwells in the night On a soft girlish cheek And flies over oceans To the loneliest hut: Love’s madness no mortal avoids. And Love turns the just To injustice and ruin, Raising strife among kin;

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Gives victorious desire To the bright eyes of maids: All fall to the sport Of the Goddess of Love.

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No, no. I can’t endure this. How can I not weep to see her, To see her pass to the last Of all bride-chambers?

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ANTIGONE See, then, my people, I tread my last path, See the last light of the sun – Never more. While I live Hades leads me To Acheron’s shore – Here, no bridal, no bridesong, But his bride I’ll be.

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CHORUS Don’t you go with glory and with Praise to this place of the dead? You’re not ill or wasted, you owe No debt to the sword – you go To Hades by your own chosen law. ANTIGONE I heard the sad death of Tantalus’ child, on the Peaks of Sipylus, how the rock Overgrew Her with ivy-grip, how they say Snow and rain never leave her, and Her tears wet forever the mountain ridge – Just so the god takes me to my last rest. CHORUS But she was a god born of gods and We are mortal, of those born to die. Yet there is glory, in life and in

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Death, to share a fate with gods. ANTIGONE You mock me, Fathers – why, By the gods, insult My face and not wait For me to die? Oh, my city, Lords of my city, Let Dirke’s spring And the groves of Thebes Witness me here Unwept by friends; By what laws I go To this strange grave To linger in limbo, Neither living nor dead.

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CHORUS You have scaled the heights of Rash courage, but tripped, my Child, on the rock of Justice. Perhaps you pay for a father’s sin. ANTIGONE Aah, there you Touch me, you Touch my father’s Fate and the destiny of Labdacus’ clan. The calamity Of a marriage bed, of Incestuous coupling of Father with mother – from Such a curse I was born, And go unwed To join them. O brother, by a marriage Cursed, in death You have destroyed me.

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CHORUS Your act has something of piety, But the holder of power can Allow no breach of power. Self-willed passion destroys you. ANTIGONE Unwept, unfriended, unwed, I am led down this path. I’ll no more see The sun’s holy light, And none to lament my fate. CREON If we let it, weeping and Wailing will never cease. Take her, now, to her tomb, As I commanded. Leave her there, To die or to live as she pleases. We have no guilt in this matter – But she no longer dwells here with us. ANTIGONE My tomb, my bride-chamber, my deep and Watchful prison. I’ll meet my kin, all those Received by Persephone among the dead. I am the last, and my departure the worst; It’s long before its time. Once there I hope to see a father, who loves me; A mother, who loves me, and a dear brother. When you died, with my own hands I Washed, anointed you, and poured libations At your graves. Now, Polynices, I Am rewarded for dressing your body. Wise men think me right to honour you. .........................................................* How have I transgressed the laws of the gods? Must I, in my suffering, still look to them? What ally can I call on since in Being pious, I am convicted of impiety?

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Should this please the gods, I will know My sin and accept my suffering. But if These men are sinners, may they not suffer More than what they unjustly inflict on me.

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CHORUS Still she has a stormy soul.

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CREON Then the guard will suffer for taking his time. ANTIGONE Oh. Death comes near with that. CREON I give you hope for nothing else.

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ANTIGONE Oh Thebes, and the gods of my Fathers – I’m to go, there’s no more time. Look, you leaders of Thebes, On the last of a royal house, On what I suffer from what men For revering what is holy. CHORUS Danae endured the change of Heaven’s light for a prison of bronze; Fettered in a tomb-like chamber. O child, child, she was of noble birth And keeper of the golden seed of Zeus. But the power of Fate is a terrible thing – Neither wealth, nor force, Not city wall, nor wave-crashing Black ship can escape it. So the fiery son of Dryas, Edonian King, for his mockery, shut by Dionysus in a rocky cell, and the Force of his fury ebbed – He knew then the madness of

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An assault on the god with taunting Tongue, of checking Maenads And their Bacchic fire, Of provoking the wild muse. On the dark Bosphorus’ shore By Thracian Salmydassus, Ares was witness to the savage Blinding of Phineus’ sons By a savage wife, Of the tearing of eyes that Cried for revenge With bloody hand and Sharp shuttle point. And they wasted and wept for a sad Affliction from an ill-matched mother, A lady of Erechtheus’ clan And daughter of Boreas Raised in distant caves Among his storms, a child Of gods, swift as the wild Mountain horse – yet the Fates, My child, bore hard upon her. TEIRESIAS Lords of Thebes, we have come, two pair Of eyes as one – so must the blind travel. CREON Teiresias. What have you to tell us? TEIRESIAS I will speak and you will obey. CREON I’ve never yet neglected your advice. TEIRESIAS And so you governed well.

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CREON I have known your counsel to be good.

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TEIRESIAS Then think – you’re now on a razor’s edge. CREON How? You unsettle me. TEIRESIAS You will know when you hear the mysteries of my craft. I took the ancient augur’s seat Where birds of all kinds flock – I hear strange sounds, tormented, Screeching, incoherent, and I know They rip and tear with bloody claws, I know from their frenzied flapping. Fearful, I kindled fire to try for Sacrifice – but Hephaistos raised No flame from the offering. A slime Exuded from thigh-bones, sputtered on The embers; the bladder burst and flung Its gall; fat melted from the flesh. From this boy I learned of these abortive Rites – my guide, as I am others’. Our city’s sickness is born of your will. Our altars and our hearths are defiled by Carrion of birds and dogs from the Body of Oedipus’ unhappy son. The gods will hear no prayer, accept No burning flesh, and birds scream Without meaning, for they have tasted Fat streaked with dead man’s blood. Think, my son. Error is common among Men – but in error, he is neither foolish Nor unfortunate who rights his Wrong and is not obstinate. Obstinacy suggests stupidity. Yield to the dead – do not goad a corpse. What prowess do you show to kill a Dead man twice? I am well-disposed –

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Be pleased to learn from good advice. CREON Old man, I am a target for every Barb, even your ‘prophecy.’ I have Long been for your tribe a Tradeable commodity. Go, make Your profit – do your trade in electrum From Sardis or Indian gold – but, This body will not be buried. Not even if the eagles of Zeus should Take the carrion off to their master’s throne – Not even that defilement will move me To allow a burial. I know well that Nothing a man can do can defile the gods. Teiresias, the cleverest among you slip, And slip badly, when they dress up Shameful speech for the sake of profit.

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TEIRESIAS Alas – who knows, who can say...? CREON Say what? What platitude now? TEIRESIAS That good advice is most precious. CREON As stupidity, I think, is most damaging. TEIRESIAS That is the sickness that afflicts you. CREON I don’t wish to bandy insults with a prophet. TEIRESIAS Yet you do when you say my prophecy is false.

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CREON Prophets are an avaricious breed.

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TEIRESIAS And tyrants are fond of corruption. CREON You understand the man you speak to is your superior? TEIRESIAS I do. And through me you saved your city. CREON You are a clever prophet, but dishonest. TEIRESIAS You provoke speaking of thoughts best left undisturbed.

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CREON Disturb them – but not for the sake of profit. TEIRESIAS I think I have done so, for you at least. CREON There is no trade to be had from me. TEIRESIAS Know that you will not know Many risings and settings of the sun Before from your own loins You render corpse for corpse for Thrusting down one from above, for Lodging in a tomb a living soul, for Holding what belongs to gods below, A corpse deprived, unburied, unholy. Neither you nor the gods have concern For a corpse, but you force it on them. For this savage spirits lie in wait for You; the Furies of Hades and the gods, And you are caught in all this evil.

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Do you think now I speak for silver? Soon, so soon you will hear the crying Of men and women in your house. And all the cities rise in hatred to see Their dead receiving rites from beasts, From dogs or birds, which carry an Unholy stench to their very hearth-stones. Since you provoke me, anger me, I Shoot these barbs at your heart And you cannot escape their sting. Lead me home, boy, let him vent his Anger on younger men and learn to Keep a calmer tongue and better mind.

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CHORUS His prophecy, my lord, is terrible. We know in all the time it took for These hairs to turn from black to white He has never spoken falsely to our city. CREON I know. It troubles me. To yield is hard To bear – to resist brings a curse on my soul.

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CHORUS You are in need, son of Menoeceus, of sound advice. CREON What must I do? Tell me and I will obey you. CHORUS Release the girl and build a tomb For him who lies unburied. CREON This is your advice? I should give way? CHORUS Yes, and quickly. The swift vengeance Of gods will cut down the foolish.

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CREON No. No, this is hard. To abandon my Purpose. But I cannot fight necessity.

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CHORUS Then act. Do not leave it to others. CREON Yes. I’ll go, just as I am. Come. Come, Servants. Take picks, hurry to this place. Since my mind is changed, I who did this Will release her. Yes, I fear it is best, To the end of life, to keep to the old laws. CHORUS God of many names, Glory of the Cadmean bride And Zeus the Thunderer; Master of Italy, Keeper of Demeter’s Eleusinian vales, O Bacchus, in Thebes, Mother-city of Bacchantes, You dwell, by the flowing Waters of Ismenus where Blossomed the serpent seed.

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Above the double-ridged rock, There in blazing torch-light You are seen, where dance the Corycian nymphs of Bacchus, by Castalia’s stream. From the ivied slopes Of Nysa you come, From green grape-rich shore, Leading voices immortal To sing in the streets of Thebes.

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Over the roaring straits And heal us. Leader of the dance Of burning stars, watcher Over voices of the night, Son of Zeus, Lord be revealed with your Servant Thyiads who dance in their Frenzy through the night for their lord, For Iacchus. MESSENGER Neighbours of Cadmus and Amphion, There is nothing in life we can praise or blame. Lucky and unlucky alike are raised And brought down by Fortune, And no prophet among us can tell. Creon, I thought, was to be envied – He saved his land from its enemies, Became king and got noble children. All gone. When a man lets all that makes Life pleasant slide, I think he no longer Lives, he’s no more than a moving corpse. You may have great wealth or the trappings Of power, but if they hold no pleasure, I’d not buy them all for a wisp of smoke.

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CHORUS What new burden do you bring the royal house? MESSENGER They are dead and the living are guilty. CHORUS Who is dead? Who lives? MESSENGER Haemon. His blood shed by his own hand.

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CHORUS His own? Not his father’s? MESSENGER His own – for murder done by his father. CHORUS The prophet – how true he spoke. MESSENGER Yes. And you must think what best to do. CHORUS Eurydice, his lady. Has she heard? EURYDICE I have heard, gentlemen. As I went To pray to the goddess Pallas, I heard what was said. I happened To open the bolts on the door – my ear Caught the accent of disaster – it frightened Me – I fell, I fainted into my servants’ arms. But tell your story again, whatever it is – I have grown accustomed to hearing misfortune. MESSENGER I was there, dear lady, and I will tell You the whole truth. I’d be a liar If I softened my words. Truth is best. I walked with your husband, madam, to The far side of the plain, where Polynice’s Neglected, dog-torn body still lay. We prayed to the goddess of ways, and To Pluto, for mercy in their anger. The body was washed in holy water and What remained was burned on a pyre of Fresh-picked branches. We raised a burial Mound of his native earth and moved on To the stony bridal chamber of death. A shriek rang out from that unholy place, And Creon was called. He approached.

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He heard the muffled, pitiful cry and With a moan cried out and said, “No, no. Am I prophetic? Of all the paths I’ve trod, does this lead to my greatest misery? My son’s voice. Come, all of you, come, Stand by the tomb and look. Is Haemon There, or do the gods delude me?” We Obeyed. And we saw her – in the Depths of the tomb – hanged by the neck, Strangled in a linen noose; and him, His arms clasping her waist, lamenting His dead bride, his father’s deeds and a Cursed fate. Creon saw, and entered. He cried out. “Boy! What have you Done? Have you lost your wits? What Can have brought you to this? Come out My son. I beg you – on my knees I beg you!” The boy glared wildly – said nothing, Then spat in his face. He drew his sword, But missed, as his father leapt back. Then, Unhappy boy, enraged with himself, Leaned upon the shaft and drove Half its length into his side. Still Conscious, he gripped her, then coughed, And vomited forth a stream of blood, Staining the girl’s white cheek. Corpse embraced corpse, the marriage Consummated in Hades’ house, Witness to the evil of man’s folly.

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CHORUS What do you think? She has gone In again, without a word.

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MESSENGER I am puzzled by her too. I hope That hearing her son’s pain she Feels public mourning is improper, so Will grieve in private, in her own house. She is too wise to be foolish.

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CHORUS I don’t know. Grief, silent Or loud, has its dangers. MESSENGER I’ll go in. Perhaps in her anguish She has some hidden purpose. You are right. It’s too quiet. CHORUS The king. And he holds in his arms, to Speak truth, the fruit of his own mistakes. CREON Aah. My delusion, My obstinacy brought Death. You see, We are kinsmen, both Killer and killed. Oh. I chose this horror. My son. Dead so young. Aiai, aiai, You are dead, You have gone. My fault, not yours. CHORUS Now you see what justice is. CREON I have learned, painfully. Then, then the god struck me, Like a blow to the head, and set Me on a path of cruelty, Trampled down my happiness. Oh, pain on pain we suffer. MESSENGER My Lord, you hold in your arms Your own portion of pain; yet Inside you will see more.

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CREON More? Than this? MESSENGER Your wife is dead. His mother. Her wounds are fresh. CREON Oh. Hades, never satisfied. Why destroy me? You, what agony Do you bring? What do you say? Aiai, you kill A man twice. Speak boy – What new thing? Slaughter on slaughter, And my wife is dead?

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MESSENGER Look! See it! CREON I see misery repeat itself. What more can happen to me? I held, just now, my son, Now look on his mother’s corpse. Mother. Mother and son.

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MESSENGER Stabbed. As the light in her eyes Went out, she lamented first Megareus, the first Dead son – then this – and last, Cursed you for a child-killer.

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CREON I’m frightened. Why does no-one

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Strike me down? I suffer! I suffer and I suffer.

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MESSENGER She denounces you for her Own death and for theirs. CREON How did she die? MESSENGER With her own hand she stuck herself Through the belly – in sympathy with her son. CREON No. No. No other man can share My guilt. I... Unhappy woman, I killed you. That is true. Take me away. Now! Take me away from here. I am nothing.

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CHORUS Yes. If there is any good in this – It is best to be quick. CREON Then let it come, let it come – Show me my best, my Sweetest fate, show me My last day. Come, Let it come, that I May never see another. CHORUS That must wait. We have present duties. Those who must will do as they must. CREON I want it. I have prayed for it.

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CHORUS No. No prayers. For mortals there is No release from what is ordained. CREON I am a fool. Lead me out. I killed you, my son – I did not Mean to – and you, lady. Where do I look? Which way Do I lean? Everything I touch Is twisted. My head Is struck by hard fate.

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CHORUS To be sensible is the Best part of happiness. Be not impious. Proud words bring down Hard blows, and teach Good sense as we grow old.

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* Note on Lines 905-20. This is a much disputed passage, considered by some to have been inserted into the text at a much later date. Whatever the truth of the matter, the lines themselves add little to, perhaps even detract from, the credibility of Antigone. Readers can judge for themselves: Never, had I been mother of children, Or if my husband had died, would I Have undertaken this labour in spite of the city. To what law do I defer in this? Should a husband die, I can take another; I can have a child by another man. But my mother and father are hidden in Hades, So no brother can be born. With this law I honoured you, But Creon, dear brother, thinks It wrong and a terrible crime. Now he leads me, like a criminal, Unwed, with no bridesong, no Marriage-bed nor child to raise, But I go, alive, bereft of friends, To the hollow place of the dead.

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APPENDIX: SOPHOCLES

Life and Works of Sophocles Sophocles (c. 497-406 BC) is regarded by many as the greatest of the Athenian playwrights whose work we know, and so he was by his contemporaries. Reliable biographical information, however, is sparse. He was born in the deme, or district, of Colonus near Athens, a place which clearly held some special significance for him as a holy place in its own right, as a centre of a cult of the Eumenides and the site of a shrine to Poseidon. It is generally accepted that he was prominent in the political life of Athens, holding high office. At various times he was treasurer of the Delian Confederacy, a general, and a member of the Probouloi, or Council of Ten. Just as significant is his connection with religious cult and elevation after his death to the status of heros under the name of Dixion (Receiver) for sheltering Aesculapius (god of healing), for whom he wrote a paean. He was a prolific writer. He is said to have written 123 plays, of which 7 have survived, to have gained first prize in the dramatic competitions of the festival of Dionysus 18 times, and never to have been placed last. According to Plutarch, Sophocles felt himself to be strongly influenced by Aeschylus (who died in 456). Some elements of Aeschylean style are evident in some of the extant plays, notably Ajax, but those which have survived probably date from the middle to the end of his career and exhibit a more natural, less archaic style than that of the older playwright. He was considered to be a theatrical innovator, introducing a third actor (though Aeschylus used three in the Oresteia) and producing a theatrical treatise, On the Chorus, in which he discussed his reasons for increasing the chorus from 12 to 15. Antigone is the play that apparently brought him fame and led to appointments to high office. It is also the play associated with his death, of which there are three versions: 1- he choked on a grape sent to him by an actor at a festival; 2- he lost his voice, and breath, and collapsed while reading Antigone; 3- after a recitation of Antigone he was declared the winner and died of joy.

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Appendix: Sophocles

Chronology of the Plays The Women of Trachis

c. 451

Antigone

c. 442

Ajax

c. 440s – 430s

Oedipus the King

c. 436 – 426

Electra

c. 418

Philoctetes

409

Oedipus at Colonus

401 – produced posthumously