Oedipus at Colonus (Director's Playbook Edition)

Oedipus at Colonus
By Sophocles

Director’s Playbook Edition

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Table of Contents

Oedipus at Colonus
By Sophocles

Director’s Playbook Edition

Publisher’s Note


The “Logline”

About the Playwright

Production Cheatsheet

Character Relationship Map


Character Descriptions (in Order of Appearance)

The Setting


Index of Character Appearances

Glossary of Select Terms

About this Translation

Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles

Dramatis Personae

Oedipus at Colonus




The “Logline”

Oedipus is an old, blind wanderer in Ancient Greece – a former Theban king whose fall from glory has made him infamous to his countrymen and an outcast from his homeland -- with only his two daughters by his side who have grown up caring for him. But with Thebes enwrapped in conflict, a prophecy has been given foretelling that the site of his burial will determine the state’s ultimate ruler, and now the race to capture him has already begun.

About the Playwright

Sophocles (c. 497/6 –406/5 BC) was a playwright in Ancient Greece. He is one of the three playwrights of that period with surviving works. During his lifetime he became the foremost playwright of Athens. He was born to a wealthy family and as well as playwriting was involved in political and ceremonial activities.

His plays were performed in Athenian dramatic festivals. Oedipus at Colonus was written near the end of his life and not produced until after his death. Although it is the second chronologically speaking of the three remaining ‘Theban plays’, it was the last to be written (after Antigone and Oedipus Rex ). The ‘Theban plays’ – Sophocles’ surviving plays dealing with Thebes and the family of Oedipus -- were not originally written as a series, but today are often considered as a set.

Production Cheatsheet

Oedipus at Colonus is an Ancient Greek tragedy written by Sophocles and was first performed around 429 BC. It is one of the three ‘Theban plays’, surviving plays by Sophocles involving the city of Thebes and Oedipus’ reign.

The setting of the play is in front of the grove of the Eumenides in Ancient Greece. Its runtime without intermission is typically approximately 89 minutes.

There are nine speaking roles in the play, one of which is the Chorus (for which the dialogue is intended to be the voice of a group of people). Seven of these roles are for men and two are for women. There is also a group of attendants, and in addition to the characters specifically listed some discretion may be used in including the servant accompanying Ismene on stage. The Messenger may also be a member of the Chorus, or part of a larger group who enter as attendants with one of the other characters. The play may be performed by a minimum of ten actors without changes to the text and is typically performed by a cast size of over 12.

The play follows the conventions of Ancient Greek plays of ‘unity of time and place’ (the action of the play is continuous and takes place in a single location) and has a Chorus (a group who act together as a single voice in the play and provide a commentary on the plays events). The strophe, antistrophe and epode have often been accompanied by music.

This version is a translation into English of the original Greek text and is similarly written in verse.

Character Relationship Map

The following map indicates relationships between characters that may be pertinent to casting decisions.


Character Descriptions (in Order of Appearance)


Blind, aged wanderer and former King of Thebes. He wears beggar’s tatters, carries a beggar’swallet and has unkempt hair.


Daughter of Oedipus, now grown into a young woman as she has travelled by her father’s side and acts as his guide.


A man familiar with the area Oedipus and Antigone come to. He is respectful to the travelers and provides them information.

Citizens of Colonus (Chorus)

A group of citizens who -- after initially reacting with suspicion -- befriend Oedipus.


Daughter of Oedipus and sister of Antigone. Like her sister, Ismene has grown into a young woman while in service of her outcast father. She reports news to him of the oracles, and has gone through considerable trials to find him on this occasion.


The king of Athens. Endured considerable strife in his upbringing. Courageous, respectful of the gods.


The brother of Oedipus’ late wife and now reigning at Thebes. He is silver-tongued and cunning.


Guards of Creon who assist him in his attempts to detain Oedipus and his daughters.


Elder son of Oedipus. Cast out of the city of Thebes by his younger brother, he now seeks to return and claim the throne and has gathered an army for this purpose. He is too proud to relinquish the pursuit of vengeance, although he acknowledges this fault.


One of the observers of Oedipus’ fate who passes on the news to the Antigone, Ismene and the Chorus.

The Setting

The entire play takes place in front of the sacred grove of the Eumenides.


There are no other props.

Index of Character Appearances

Glossary of Select Terms

This glossary does not contain definitions of terms appearing in the dialogue of the text (of which interpretation has been left to the individual artist or artists). Terms listed are those that appear in stage directions and elsewhere in this book as a guide for the production team.

Antistrophe (Ant.): A section of lyric ode chanted by a Greek chorus exactly answering the strophe in which the chorus moves from right to left.

Beggar’s wallet: The bag for holding provisions carried by beggars in pre-modern times.

Colonus: One of the districts of the city of Athens in Ancient Greece.

Dramatis personae: Latin term for the characters in a play.

Epode: The part of a lyric ode following the strophe and antistrophe.

Eumenides: Greek deities of vengeance, They are considered female and also known as ‘the Furies’.

Exeunt: Exit (more than one person).

Thebes: An ancient city of Greece.

Strophe (Str.): The first section of lyric ode chanted by a Greek chorus in which the chorus moves from left to right.

About this Translation

This translation of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles was created by F. Storr, BA, formerly Scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge, and was first published in 1912.

Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles

Dramatis Personae


OEDIPUS, banished King of Thebes.


ANTIGONE, his daughter.


ISMENE, his daughter.


THESEUS, King of Athens.


CREON, brother of Jocasta, now reigning at Thebes.


POLYNEICES, elder son of Oedipus.


STRANGER, a native of Colonus.


MESSENGER, an attendant of Theseus.


CHORUS, citizens of Colonus.



Scene: In front of the grove of the Eumenides.

Oedipus at Colonus


Enter the blind OEDIPUS led by his daughter, ANTIGONE.



Child of an old blind sire, Antigone,

What region, say, whose city have we reached?

Who will provide today with scanted dole

This wanderer? ‘Tis little that he craves,

And less obtains—that less enough for me;

For I am taught by suffering to endure,

And the long years that have grown old with me,

And last not least, by true nobility.

My daughter, if thou seest a resting place

On common ground or by some sacred grove,

Stay me and set me down. Let us discover

Where we have come, for strangers must inquire

Of denizens, and do as they are bid.



Long-suffering father, Oedipus, the towers

That fence the city still are faint and far;

But where we stand is surely holy ground;

A wilderness of laurel, olive, vine;

Within a choir or songster nightingales

Are warbling. On this native seat of rock

Rest; for an old man thou hast traveled far.



Guide these dark steps and seat me there secure.



If time can teach, I need not to be told.



Say, prithee, if thou knowest, where we are.



Athens I recognize, but not the spot.



That much we heard from every wayfarer.



Shall I go on and ask about the place?



Yes, daughter, if it be inhabited.



Sure there are habitations; but no need

To leave thee; yonder is a man hard by.



What, moving hitherward and on his way?



Say rather, here already. Ask him straight

The needful questions, for the man is here.




O stranger, as I learn from her whose eyes

Must serve both her and me, that thou art here

Sent by some happy chance to serve our doubts—



First quit that seat, then question me at large:

The spot thou treadest on is holy ground.



What is the site, to what god dedicate?



Inviolable, untrod; goddesses,

Dread brood of Earth and Darkness, here abide.



Tell me the awful name I should invoke?



The Gracious Ones, All-seeing, so our folk

Call them, but elsewhere other names are rife.



Then may they show their suppliant grace, for I

From this your sanctuary will ne’er depart.



What word is this?



The watchword of my fate.



Nay, ‘tis not mine to bid thee hence without

Due warrant and instruction from the State.



Now in God’s name, O stranger, scorn me not

As a wayfarer; tell me what I crave.



Ask; your request shall not be scorned by me.



How call you then the place wherein we bide?



Whate’er I know thou too shalt know; the place

Is all to great Poseidon consecrate.

Hard by, the Titan, he who bears the torch,

Prometheus, has his worship; but the spot

Thou treadest, the Brass-footed Threshold named,

Is Athens’ bastion, and the neighboring lands

Claim as their chief and patron yonder knight

Colonus, and in common bear his name.

Such, stranger, is the spot, to fame unknown,

But dear to us its native worshipers.



Thou sayest there are dwellers in these parts?



Surely; they bear the name of yonder god.



Ruled by a king or by the general voice?



The lord of Athens is our over-lord.



Who is this monarch, great in word and might?



Theseus, the son of Aegeus our late king.



Might one be sent from you to summon him?



Wherefore? To tell him aught or urge his coming?



Say a slight service may avail him much.



How can he profit from a sightless man?



The blind man’s words will be instinct with sight.



Heed then; I fain would see thee out of harm;

For by the looks, marred though they be by fate,

I judge thee noble; tarry where thou art,

While I go seek the burghers—those at hand,

Not in the city. They will soon decide

Whether thou art to rest or go thy way.




Tell me, my daughter, has the stranger gone?



Yes, he has gone; now we are all alone,

And thou may’st speak, dear father, without fear.



Stern-visaged queens, since coming to this land

First in your sanctuary I bent the knee,

Frown not on me or Phoebus, who, when erst

He told me all my miseries to come,

Spake of this respite after many years,

Some haven in a far-off land, a rest

Vouchsafed at last by dread divinities.

“There,” said he, “shalt thou round thy weary life,

A blessing to the land wherein thou dwell’st,

But to the land that cast thee forth, a curse.”

And of my weird he promised signs should come,

Earthquake, or thunderclap, or lightning flash.

And now I recognize as yours the sign

That led my wanderings to this your grove;

Else had I never lighted on you first,

A wineless man on your seat of native rock.

O goddesses, fulfill Apollo’s word,

Grant me some consummation of my life,

If haply I appear not all too vile,

A thrall to sorrow worse than any slave.

Hear, gentle daughters of primeval Night,

Hear, namesake of great Pallas; Athens, first

Of cities, pity this dishonored shade,

The ghost of him who once was Oedipus.



Hush! for I see some grey-beards on their way,

Their errand to spy out our resting-place.



I will be mute, and thou shalt guide my steps

Into the covert from the public road,

Till I have learned their drift. A prudent man

Will ever shape his course by what he learns.

[Enter CHORUS]



(Str. 1)

Ha! Where is he? Look around!

Every nook and corner scan!

He the all-presumptuous man,

Whither vanished? search the ground!

A wayfarer, I ween,

A wayfarer, no countryman of ours,

That old man must have been;

Never had native dared to tempt the Powers,

Or enter their demesne,

The Maids in awe of whom each mortal cowers,

Whose name no voice betrays nor cry,

And as we pass them with averted eye,

We move hushed lips in reverent piety.

But now some godless man,

‘Tis rumored, here abides;

The precincts through I scan,

Yet wot not where he hides,

The wretch profane!

I search and search in vain.



I am that man; I know you near

Ears to the blind, they say, are eyes.



O dread to see and dread to hear!



Oh sirs, I am no outlaw under ban.



Who can he be—Zeus save us!—this old man?



No favorite of fate,

That ye should envy his estate,

O, Sirs, would any happy mortal, say,

Grope by the light of other eyes his way,

Or face the storm upon so frail a stay?



(Ant. 1)

Wast thou then sightless from thy birth?

Evil, methinks, and long

Thy pilgrimage on earth.

Yet add not curse to curse and wrong to wrong.

I warn thee, trespass not

Within this hallowed spot,

Lest thou shouldst find the silent grassy glade

Where offerings are laid,

Bowls of spring water mingled with sweet mead.

Thou must not stay,

Come, come away,

Tired wanderer, dost thou heed?

(We are far off, but sure our voice can reach.)

If aught thou wouldst beseech,

Speak where ‘tis right; till then refrain from speech.



Daughter, what counsel should we now pursue?



We must obey and do as here they do.



Thy hand then!



Here, O father, is my hand,



O Sirs, if I come forth at your command,

Let me not suffer for my confidence.



(Str. 2)

Against thy will no man shall drive thee hence.



Shall I go further?






What further still?



Lead maiden, thou canst guide him where we will.



Follow with blind steps, father, as I lead.



In a strange land strange thou art;

To her will incline thy heart;

Honor whatso’er the State

Honors, all she frowns on hate.



Guide me child, where we may range

Safe within the paths of right;

Counsel freely may exchange

Nor with fate and fortune fight.



(Ant. 2)

Halt! Go no further than that rocky floor.



Stay where I now am?



Yes, advance no more.



May I sit down?



Move sideways towards the ledge,

And sit thee crouching on the scarped edge.



This is my office, father, O incline—



Ah me! ah me!



Thy steps to my steps, lean thine aged frame on mine.



Woe on my fate unblest!



Wanderer, now thou art at rest,

Tell me of thy birth and home,

From what far country art thou come,

Led on thy weary way, declare!



Strangers, I have no country. O forbear—



What is it, old man, that thou wouldst conceal?



Forbear, nor urge me further to reveal—



Why this reluctance?



Dread my lineage.






What must I answer, child, ah welladay!



Say of what stock thou comest, what man’s son—



Ah me, my daughter, now we are undone!



Speak, for thou standest on the slippery verge.



I will; no plea for silence can I urge.



Will neither speak? Come, Sir, why dally thus!



Know’st one of Laius’—



Ha? Who!



Seed of Labdacus—



Oh Zeus!



The hapless Oedipus.



Art he?



Whate’er I utter, have no fear of me.






O wretched me!






O daughter, what will hap anon?



Forth from our borders speed ye both!



How keep you then your troth?



Heaven’s justice never smites

Him who ill with ill requites.

But if guile with guile contend,

Bane, not blessing, is the end.

Arise, begone and take thee hence straightway,

Lest on our land a heavier curse thou lay.



O sirs! ye suffered not my father blind,

Albeit gracious and to ruth inclined,

Knowing the deeds he wrought, not innocent,

But with no ill intent;

Yet heed a maiden’s moan

Who pleads for him alone;

My eyes, not reft of sight,

Plead with you as a daughter’s might

You are our providence,

O make us not go hence!

O with a gracious nod

Grant us the nigh despaired-of boon we crave?

Hear us, O hear,

But all that ye hold dear,

Wife, children, homestead, hearth and God!

Where will you find one, search ye ne’er so well.

Who ‘scapes perdition if a god impel!



Surely we pity thee and him alike

Daughter of Oedipus, for your distress;

But as we reverence the decrees of Heaven

We cannot say aught other than we said.



O what avails renown or fair repute?

Are they not vanity? For, look you, now

Athens is held of States the most devout,

Athens alone gives hospitality

And shelters the vexed stranger, so men say.

Have I found so? I whom ye dislodged

First from my seat of rock and now would drive

Forth from your land, dreading my name alone;

For me you surely dread not, nor my deeds,

Deeds of a man more sinned against than sinning,

As I might well convince you, were it meet

To tell my mother’s story and my sire’s,

The cause of this your fear. Yet am I then

A villain born because in self-defense,

Striken, I struck the striker back again?

E’en had I known, no villainy ‘twould prove:

But all unwitting whither I went, I went—

To ruin; my destroyers knew it well,

Wherefore, I pray you, sirs, in Heaven’s name,

Even as ye bade me quit my seat, defend me.

O pay not a lip service to the gods

And wrong them of their dues. Bethink ye well,

The eye of Heaven beholds the just of men,

And the unjust, nor ever in this world

Has one sole godless sinner found escape.

Stand then on Heaven’s side and never blot

Athens’ fair scutcheon by abetting wrong.

I came to you a suppliant, and you pledged

Your honor; O preserve me to the end,

O let not this marred visage do me wrong!

A holy and god-fearing man is here

Whose coming purports comfort for your folk.

And when your chief arrives, whoe’er he be,

Then shall ye have my story and know all.

Meanwhile I pray you do me no despite.



The plea thou urgest, needs must give us pause,

Set forth in weighty argument, but we

Must leave the issue with the ruling powers.



Where is he, strangers, he who sways the realm?



In his ancestral seat; a messenger,

The same who sent us here, is gone for him.



And think you he will have such care or thought

For the blind stranger as to come himself?



Aye, that he will, when once he learns thy name.



But who will bear him word!



The way is long,

And many travelers pass to speed the news.

Be sure he’ll hear and hasten, never fear;

So wide and far thy name is noised abroad,

That, were he ne’er so spent and loth to move,

He would bestir him when he hears of thee.



Well, may he come with blessing to his State

And me! Who serves his neighbor serves himself.



Zeus! What is this? What can I say or think?



What now, Antigone?



I see a woman

Riding upon a colt of Aetna’s breed;

She wears for headgear a Thessalian hat

To shade her from the sun. Who can it be?

She or a stranger? Do I wake or dream?

‘This she; ‘tis not—I cannot tell, alack;

It is no other! Now her bright’ning glance

Greets me with recognition, yes, ‘tis she,

Herself, Ismene!



Ha! what say ye, child?



That I behold thy daughter and my sister,

And thou wilt know her straightway by her voice.

[Enter ISMENE]



Father and sister, names to me most sweet,

How hardly have I found you, hardly now

When found at last can see you through my tears!



Art come, my child?



O father, sad thy plight!



Child, thou art here?



Yes, ‘twas a weary way.



Touch me, my child.



I give a hand to both.



O children—sisters!



O disastrous plight!



Her plight and mine?



Aye, and my own no less.



What brought thee, daughter?



Father, care for thee.



A daughter’s yearning?



Yes, and I had news

I would myself deliver, so I came

With the one thrall who yet is true to me.



Thy valiant brothers, where are they at need?



They are—enough, ‘tis now their darkest hour.



Out on the twain! The thoughts and actions all

Are framed and modeled on Egyptian ways.

For there the men sit at the loom indoors

While the wives slave abroad for daily bread.

So you, my children—those whom I behooved

To bear the burden, stay at home like girls,

While in their stead my daughters moil and drudge,

Lightening their father’s misery. The one

Since first she grew from girlish feebleness

To womanhood has been the old man’s guide

And shared my weary wandering, roaming oft

Hungry and footsore through wild forest ways,

In drenching rains and under scorching suns,

Careless herself of home and ease, if so

Her sire might have her tender ministry.

And thou, my child, whilom thou wentest forth,

Eluding the Cadmeians’ vigilance,

To bring thy father all the oracles

Concerning Oedipus, and didst make thyself

My faithful lieger, when they banished me.

And now what mission summons thee from home,

What news, Ismene, hast thou for thy father?

This much I know, thou com’st not empty-handed,

Without a warning of some new alarm.



The toil and trouble, father, that I bore

To find thy lodging-place and how thou faredst,

I spare thee; surely ‘twere a double pain

To suffer, first in act and then in telling;

‘Tis the misfortune of thine ill-starred sons

I come to tell thee. At the first they willed

To leave the throne to Creon, minded well

Thus to remove the inveterate curse of old,

A canker that infected all thy race.

But now some god and an infatuate soul

Have stirred betwixt them a mad rivalry

To grasp at sovereignty and kingly power.

Today the hot-branded youth, the younger born,

Is keeping Polyneices from the throne,

His elder, and has thrust him from the land.

The banished brother (so all Thebes reports)

Fled to the vale of Argos, and by help

Of new alliance there and friends in arms,

Swears he will stablish Argos straight as lord

Of the Cadmeian land, or, if he fail,

Exalt the victor to the stars of heaven.

This is no empty tale, but deadly truth,

My father; and how long thy agony,

Ere the gods pity thee, I cannot tell.



Hast thou indeed then entertained a hope

The gods at last will turn and rescue me?



Yea, so I read these latest oracles.



What oracles? What hath been uttered, child?



Thy country (so it runs) shall yearn in time

To have thee for their weal alive or dead.



And who could gain by such a one as I?



On thee, ‘tis said, their sovereignty depends.



So, when I cease to be, my worth begins.



The gods, who once abased, uplift thee now.



Poor help to raise an old man fallen in youth.



Howe’er that be, ‘tis for this cause alone

That Creon comes to thee—and comes anon.



With what intent, my daughter? Tell me plainly.



To plant thee near the Theban land, and so

Keep thee within their grasp, yet now allow

Thy foot to pass beyond their boundaries.



What gain they, if I lay outside?



Thy tomb,

If disappointed, brings on them a curse.



It needs no god to tell what’s plain to sense.



Therefore they fain would have thee close at hand,

Not where thou wouldst be master of thyself.



Mean they to shroud my bones in Theban dust?



Nay, father, guilt of kinsman’s blood forbids.



Then never shall they be my masters, never!



Thebes, thou shalt rue this bitterly some day!



When what conjunction comes to pass, my child?



Thy angry wraith, when at thy tomb they stand.



And who hath told thee what thou tell’st me, child?



Envoys who visited the Delphic hearth.



Hath Phoebus spoken thus concerning me?



So say the envoys who returned to Thebes.



And can a son of mine have heard of this?



Yea, both alike, and know its import well.



They knew it, yet the ignoble greed of rule

Outweighed all longing for their sire’s return.



Grievous thy words, yet I must own them true.



Then may the gods ne’er quench their fatal feud,

And mine be the arbitrament of the fight,

For which they now are arming, spear to spear;

That neither he who holds the scepter now

May keep this throne, nor he who fled the realm

Return again. They never raised a hand,

When I their sire was thrust from hearth and home,

When I was banned and banished, what recked they?

Say you ‘twas done at my desire, a grace

Which the state, yielding to my wish, allowed?

Not so; for, mark you, on that very day

When in the tempest of my soul I craved

Death, even death by stoning, none appeared

To further that wild longing, but anon,

When time had numbed my anguish and I felt

My wrath had all outrun those errors past,

Then, then it was the city went about

By force to oust me, respited for years;

And then my sons, who should as sons have helped,

Did nothing: and, one little word from them

Was all I needed, and they spoke no word,

But let me wander on for evermore,

A banished man, a beggar. These two maids

Their sisters, girls, gave all their sex could give,

Food and safe harborage and filial care;

While their two brethren sacrificed their sire

For lust of power and sceptred sovereignty.

No! me they ne’er shall win for an ally,

Nor will this Theban kingship bring them gain;

That know I from this maiden’s oracles,

And those old prophecies concerning me,

Which Phoebus now at length has brought to pass.

Come Creon then, come all the mightiest

In Thebes to seek me; for if ye my friends,

Championed by those dread Powers indigenous,

Espouse my cause; then for the State ye gain

A great deliverer, for my foemen bane.



Our pity, Oedipus, thou needs must move,

Thou and these maidens; and the stronger plea

Thou urgest, as the savior of our land,

Disposes me to counsel for thy weal.



Aid me, kind sirs; I will do all you bid.



First make atonement to the deities,

Whose grove by trespass thou didst first profane.



After what manner, stranger? Teach me, pray.



Make a libation first of water fetched

With undefiled hands from living spring.



And after I have gotten this pure draught?



Bowls thou wilt find, the carver’s handiwork;

Crown thou the rims and both the handles crown—



With olive shoots or blocks of wool, or how?



With wool from fleece of yearling freshly shorn.



What next? how must I end the ritual?



Pour thy libation, turning to the dawn.



Pouring it from the urns whereof ye spake?



Yea, in three streams; and be the last bowl drained

To the last drop.



And wherewith shall I fill it,

Ere in its place I set it? This too tell.



With water and with honey; add no wine.



And when the embowered earth hath drunk thereof?



Then lay upon it thrice nine olive sprays

With both thy hands, and offer up this prayer.



I fain would hear it; that imports the most.



That, as we call them Gracious, they would deign

To grant the suppliant their saving grace.

So pray thyself or whoso pray for thee,

In whispered accents, not with lifted voice;

Then go and look back. Do as I bid,

And I shall then be bold to stand thy friend;

Else, stranger, I should have my fears for thee.



Hear ye, my daughters, what these strangers say?



We listened, and attend thy bidding, father.



I cannot go, disabled as I am

Doubly, by lack of strength and lack of sight;

But one of you may do it in my stead;

For one, I trow, may pay the sacrifice

Of thousands, if his heart be leal and true.

So to your work with speed, but leave me not

Untended; for this frame is all too week

To move without the help of guiding hand.



Then I will go perform these rites, but where

To find the spot, this have I yet to learn.



Beyond this grove; if thou hast need of aught,

The guardian of the close will lend his aid.



I go, and thou, Antigone, meanwhile

Must guard our father. In a parent’s cause

Toil, if there be toil, is of no account.




(Str. 1)

Ill it is, stranger, to awake

Pain that long since has ceased to ache,

And yet I fain would hear—



What thing?



Thy tale of cruel suffering

For which no cure was found,

The fate that held thee bound.



O bid me not (as guest I claim

This grace) expose my shame.



The tale is bruited far and near,

And echoes still from ear to ear.

The truth, I fain would hear.



Ah me!



I prithee yield.



Ah me!



Grant my request, I granted all to thee.



(Ant. 1)

Know then I suffered ills most vile, but none

(So help me Heaven!) from acts in malice done.



Say how.



The State around

An all unwitting bridegroom bound

An impious marriage chain;

That was my bane.



Didst thou in sooth then share

A bed incestuous with her that bare—



It stabs me like a sword,

That two-edged word,

O stranger, but these maids—my own—



Say on.



Two daughters, curses twain.



Oh God!



Sprang from the wife and mother’s travail-pain.



(Str. 2)

What, then thy offspring are at once—



Too true.

Their father’s very sister’s too.



Oh horror!



Horrors from the boundless deep

Back on my soul in refluent surges sweep.



Thou hast endured—



Intolerable woe.



And sinned—



I sinned not.



How so?



I served the State; would I had never won

That graceless grace by which I was undone.



(Ant. 2)

And next, unhappy man, thou hast shed blood?



Must ye hear more?



A father’s?



Flood on flood

Whelms me; that word’s a second mortal blow.






Yes, a murderer, but know—



What canst thou plead?



A plea of justice.






I slew who else would me have slain;

I slew without intent,

A wretch, but innocent

In the law’s eye, I stand, without a stain.



Behold our sovereign, Theseus, Aegeus’ son,

Comes at thy summons to perform his part.




Oft had I heard of thee in times gone by—

The bloody mutilation of thine eyes—

And therefore know thee, son of Laius.

All that I lately gathered on the way

Made my conjecture doubly sure; and now

Thy garb and that marred visage prove to me

That thou art he. So pitying thine estate,

Most ill-starred Oedipus, I fain would know

What is the suit ye urge on me and Athens,

Thou and the helpless maiden at thy side.

Declare it; dire indeed must be the tale

Whereat I should recoil. I too was reared,

Like thee, in exile, and in foreign lands

Wrestled with many perils, no man more.

Wherefore no alien in adversity

Shall seek in vain my succor, nor shalt thou;

I know myself a mortal, and my share

In what the morrow brings no more than thine.



Theseus, thy words so apt, so generous

So comfortable, need no long reply

Both who I am and of what lineage sprung,

And from what land I came, thou hast declared.

So without prologue I may utter now

My brief petition, and the tale is told.



Say on, and tell me what I fain would learn.



I come to offer thee this woe-worn frame,

A gift not fair to look on; yet its worth

More precious far than any outward show.



What profit dost thou proffer to have brought?



Hereafter thou shalt learn, not yet, methinks.



When may we hope to reap the benefit?



When I am dead and thou hast buried me.



Thou cravest life’s last service; all before—

Is it forgotten or of no account?



Yea, the last boon is warrant for the rest.



The grace thou cravest then is small indeed.



Nay, weigh it well; the issue is not slight.



Thou meanest that betwixt thy sons and me?



Prince, they would fain convey me back to Thebes.



If there be no compulsion, then methinks

To rest in banishment befits not thee.



Nay, when I wished it _[_they] would not consent.



For shame! such temper misbecomes the faller.



Chide if thou wilt, but first attend my plea.



Say on, I wait full knowledge ere I judge.



O Theseus, I have suffered wrongs on wrongs.



Wouldst tell the old misfortune of thy race?



No, that has grown a byword throughout Greece.



What then can be this more than mortal grief?



My case stands thus; by my own flesh and blood

I was expelled my country, and can ne’er

Thither return again, a parricide.



Why fetch thee home if thou must needs obey.



What are they threatened by the oracle?



Destruction that awaits them in this land.



What can beget ill blood ‘twixt them and me?



Dear son of Aegeus, to the gods alone

Is given immunity from eld and death;

But nothing else escapes all-ruinous time.

Earth’s might decays, the might of men decays,

Honor grows cold, dishonor flourishes,

There is no constancy ‘twixt friend and friend,

Or city and city; be it soon or late,

Sweet turns to bitter, hate once more to love.

If now ‘tis sunshine betwixt Thebes and thee

And not a cloud, Time in his endless course

Gives birth to endless days and nights, wherein

The merest nothing shall suffice to cut

With serried spears your bonds of amity.

Then shall my slumbering and buried corpse

In its cold grave drink their warm life-blood up,

If Zeus be Zeus and Phoebus still speak true.

No more: ‘tis ill to tear aside the veil

Of mysteries; let me cease as I began:

Enough if thou wilt keep thy plighted troth,

Then shall thou ne’er complain that Oedipus

Proved an unprofitable and thankless guest,

Except the gods themselves shall play me false.



The man, my lord, has from the very first

Declared his power to offer to our land

These and like benefits.



Who could reject

The proffered amity of such a friend?

First, he can claim the hospitality

To which by mutual contract we stand pledged:

Next, coming here, a suppliant to the gods,

He pays full tribute to the State and me;

His favors therefore never will I spurn,

But grant him the full rights of citizen;

And, if it suits the stranger here to bide,

I place him in your charge, or if he please

Rather to come with me—choose, Oedipus,

Which of the two thou wilt. Thy choice is mine.



Zeus, may the blessing fall on men like these!



What dost thou then decide—to come with me?



Yea, were it lawful—but ‘tis rather here—



What wouldst thou here? I shall not thwart thy wish.



Here shall I vanquish those who cast me forth.



Then were thy presence here a boon indeed.



Such shall it prove, if thou fulfill’st thy pledge.



Fear not for me; I shall not play thee false.



No need to back thy promise with an oath.



An oath would be no surer than my word.



How wilt thou act then?



What is it thou fear’st?



My foes will come—



Our friends will look to that.



But if thou leave me?



Teach me not my duty.



‘Tis fear constrains me.



My soul knows no fear!



Thou knowest not what threats—



I know that none

Shall hale thee hence in my despite. Such threats

Vented in anger oft, are blusterers,

An idle breath, forgot when sense returns.

And for thy foemen, though their words were brave,

Boasting to bring thee back, they are like to find

The seas between us wide and hard to sail.

Such my firm purpose, but in any case

Take heart, since Phoebus sent thee here. My name,

Though I be distant, warrants thee from harm.



(Str. 1)

Thou hast come to a steed-famed land for rest,

O stranger worn with toil,

To a land of all lands the goodliest

Colonus’ glistening soil.

‘Tis the haunt of the clear-voiced nightingale,

Who hid in her bower, among

The wine-dark ivy that wreathes the vale,

Trilleth her ceaseless song;

And she loves, where the clustering berries nod

O’er a sunless, windless glade,

The spot by no mortal footstep trod,

The pleasance kept for the Bacchic god,

Where he holds each night his revels wild

With the nymphs who fostered the lusty child.


(Ant. 1)

And fed each morn by the pearly dew

The starred narcissi shine,

And a wreath with the crocus’ golden hue

For the Mother and Daughter twine.

And never the sleepless fountains cease

That feed Cephisus’ stream,

But they swell earth’s bosom with quick increase,

And their wave hath a crystal gleam.

And the Muses’ quire will never disdain

To visit this heaven-favored plain,

Nor the Cyprian queen of the golden rein.


(Str. 2)

And here there grows, unpruned, untamed,

Terror to foemen’s spear,

A tree in Asian soil unnamed,

By Pelops’ Dorian isle unclaimed,

Self-nurtured year by year;

‘Tis the grey-leaved olive that feeds our boys;

Nor youth nor withering age destroys

The plant that the Olive Planter tends

And the Grey-eyed Goddess herself defends.


(Ant. 2)

Yet another gift, of all gifts the most

Prized by our fatherland, we boast—

The might of the horse, the might of the sea;

Our fame, Poseidon, we owe to thee,

Son of Kronos, our king divine,

Who in these highways first didst fit

For the mouth of horses the iron bit;

Thou too hast taught us to fashion meet

For the arm of the rower the oar-blade fleet,

Swift as the Nereids’ hundred feet

As they dance along the brine.



Oh land extolled above all lands, ‘tis now

For thee to make these glorious titles good.



Why this appeal, my daughter?



Father, lo!

Creon approaches with his company.



Fear not, it shall be so; if we are old,

This country’s vigor has no touch of age.

[Enter CREON with attendants]



Burghers, my noble friends, ye take alarm

At my approach (I read it in your eyes),

Fear nothing and refrain from angry words.

I come with no ill purpose; I am old,

And know the city whither I am come,

Without a peer amongst the powers of Greece.

It was by reason of my years that I

Was chosen to persuade your guest and bring

Him back to Thebes; not the delegate

Of one man, but commissioned by the State,

Since of all Thebans I have most bewailed,

Being his kinsman, his most grievous woes.

O listen to me, luckless Oedipus,

Come home! The whole Cadmeian people claim

With right to have thee back, I most of all,

For most of all (else were I vile indeed)

I mourn for thy misfortunes, seeing thee

An aged outcast, wandering on and on,

A beggar with one handmaid for thy stay.

Ah! who had e’er imagined she could fall

To such a depth of misery as this,

To tend in penury thy stricken frame,

A virgin ripe for wedlock, but unwed,

A prey for any wanton ravisher?

Seems it not cruel this reproach I cast

On thee and on myself and all the race?

Aye, but an open shame cannot be hid.

Hide it, O hide it, Oedipus, thou canst.

O, by our fathers’ gods, consent I pray;

Come back to Thebes, come to thy father’s home,

Bid Athens, as is meet, a fond farewell;

Thebes thy old foster-mother claims thee first.



O front of brass, thy subtle tongue would twist

To thy advantage every plea of right

Why try thy arts on me, why spread again

Toils where ‘twould gall me sorest to be snared?

In old days when by self-wrought woes distraught,

I yearned for exile as a glad release,

Thy will refused the favor then I craved.

But when my frenzied grief had spent its force,

And I was fain to taste the sweets of home,

Then thou wouldst thrust me from my country, then

These ties of kindred were by thee ignored;

And now again when thou behold’st this State

And all its kindly people welcome me,

Thou seek’st to part us, wrapping in soft words

Hard thoughts. And yet what pleasure canst thou find

In forcing friendship on unwilling foes?

Suppose a man refused to grant some boon

When you importuned him, and afterwards

When you had got your heart’s desire, consented,

Granting a grace from which all grace had fled,

Would not such favor seem an empty boon?

Yet such the boon thou profferest now to me,

Fair in appearance, but when tested false.

Yea, I will proved thee false, that these may hear;

Thou art come to take me, not to take me home,

But plant me on thy borders, that thy State

May so escape annoyance from this land.

_[_That] thou shalt never gain, but [this] instead—

My ghost to haunt thy country without end;

And for my sons, this heritage—no more—

Just room to die in. Have not I more skill

Than thou to draw the horoscope of Thebes?

Are not my teachers surer guides than thine—

Great Phoebus and the sire of Phoebus, Zeus?

Thou art a messenger suborned, thy tongue

Is sharper than a sword’s edge, yet thy speech

Will bring thee more defeats than victories.

Howbeit, I know I waste my words—begone,

And leave me here; whate’er may be my lot,

He lives not ill who lives withal content.



Which loses in this parley, I o’erthrown

By thee, or thou who overthrow’st thyself?



I shall be well contented if thy suit

Fails with these strangers, as it has with me.



Unhappy man, will years ne’er make thee wise?

Must thou live on to cast a slur on age?



Thou hast a glib tongue, but no honest man,

Methinks, can argue well on any side.



‘Tis one thing to speak much, another well.



Thy words, forsooth, are few and all well aimed!



Not for a man indeed with wits like thine.



Depart! I bid thee in these burghers’ name,

And prowl no longer round me to blockade

My destined harbor.



I protest to these,

Not thee, and for thine answer to thy kin,

If e’er I take thee—



Who against their will

Could take me?



Though untaken thou shalt smart.



What power hast thou to execute this threat?



One of thy daughters is already seized,

The other I will carry off anon.



Woe, woe!



This is but prelude to thy woes.



Hast thou my child?



And soon shall have the other.



Ho, friends! ye will not surely play me false?

Chase this ungodly villain from your land.



Hence, stranger, hence avaunt! Thou doest wrong

In this, and wrong in all that thou hast done.


CREON (to his guards)

‘Tis time by force to carry off the girl,

If she refuse of her free will to go.



Ah, woe is me! where shall I fly, where find

Succor from gods or men?



What would’st thou, stranger?



I meddle not with him, but her who is mine.



O princes of the land!



Sir, thou dost wrong.



Nay, right.



How right?



I take but what is mine.



Help, Athens!



What means this, sirrah? quick unhand her, or

We’ll fight it out.






Not till thou forbear.



‘Tis war with Thebes if I am touched or harmed.



Did I not warn thee?



Quick, unhand the maid!



Command your minions; I am not your slave.



Desist, I bid thee.


CREON (to the guard)

And O bid thee march!



To the rescue, one and all!

Rally, neighbors to my call!

See, the foe is at the gate!

Rally to defend the State.



Ah, woe is me, they drag me hence, O friends.



Where art thou, daughter?



Haled along by force.



Thy hands, my child!



They will not let me, father.



Away with her!



Ah, woe is me, ah woe!



So those two crutches shall no longer serve thee

For further roaming. Since it pleaseth thee

To triumph o’er thy country and thy friends

Who mandate, though a prince, I here discharge,

Enjoy thy triumph; soon or late thou’lt find

Thou art an enemy to thyself, both now

And in time past, when in despite of friends

Thou gav’st the rein to passion, still thy bane.



Hold there, sir stranger!



Hands off, have a care.



Restore the maidens, else thou goest not.



Then Thebes will take a dearer surety soon;

I will lay hands on more than these two maids.



What canst thou further?



Carry off this man.



Brave words!



And deeds forthwith shall make them good.



Unless perchance our sovereign intervene.



O shameless voice! Would’st lay an hand on me?



Silence, I bid thee!



Goddesses, allow

Thy suppliant to utter yet one curse!

Wretch, now my eyes are gone thou hast torn away

The helpless maiden who was eyes to me;

For these to thee and all thy cursed race

May the great Sun, whose eye is everywhere,

Grant length of days and old age like to mine.



Listen, O men of Athens, mark ye this?



They mark us both and understand that I

Wronged by the deeds defend myself with words.



Nothing shall curb my will; though I be old

And single-handed, I will have this man.



O woe is me!



Thou art a bold man, stranger, if thou think’st

To execute thy purpose.



So I do.



Then shall I deem this State no more a State.



With a just quarrel weakness conquers might.



Ye hear his words?



Aye words, but not yet deeds,

Zeus knoweth!



Zeus may haply know, not thou.






Insolence that thou must bear.



Haste ye princes, sound the alarm!

Men of Athens, arm ye, arm!

Quickly to the rescue come

Ere the robbers get them home.




Why this outcry? What is forward? wherefore was I called away

From the altar of Poseidon, lord of your Colonus? Say!

On what errand have I hurried hither without stop or stay.



Dear friend—those accents tell me who thou art—

Yon man but now hath done me a foul wrong.



What is this wrong and who hath wrought it? Speak.



Creon who stands before thee. He it is

Hath robbed me of my all, my daughters twain.



What means this?



Thou hast heard my tale of wrongs.



Ho! hasten to the altars, one of you.

Command my liegemen leave the sacrifice

And hurry, foot and horse, with rein unchecked,

To where the paths that packmen use diverge,

Lest the two maidens slip away, and I

Become a mockery to this my guest,

As one despoiled by force. Quick, as I bid.

As for this stranger, had I let my rage,

Justly provoked, have play, he had not ‘scaped

Scathless and uncorrected at my hands.

But now the laws to which himself appealed,

These and none others shall adjudicate.

Thou shalt not quit this land, till thou hast fetched

The maidens and produced them in my sight.

Thou hast offended both against myself

And thine own race and country. Having come

Unto a State that champions right and asks

For every action warranty of law,

Thou hast set aside the custom of the land,

And like some freebooter art carrying off

What plunder pleases thee, as if forsooth

Thou thoughtest this a city without men,

Or manned by slaves, and me a thing of naught.

Yet not from Thebes this villainy was learnt;

Thebes is not wont to breed unrighteous sons,

Nor would she praise thee, if she learnt that thou

Wert robbing me—aye and the gods to boot,

Haling by force their suppliants, poor maids.

Were I on Theban soil, to prosecute

The justest claim imaginable, I

Would never wrest by violence my own

Without sanction of your State or King;

I should behave as fits an outlander

Living amongst a foreign folk, but thou

Shamest a city that deserves it not,

Even thine own, and plentitude of years

Have made of thee an old man and a fool.

Therefore again I charge thee as before,

See that the maidens are restored at once,

Unless thou would’st continue here by force

And not by choice a sojourner; so much

I tell thee home and what I say, I mean.



Thy case is perilous; though by birth and race

Thou should’st be just, thou plainly doest wrong.



Not deeming this city void of men

Or counsel, son of Aegeus, as thou say’st

I did what I have done; rather I thought

Your people were not like to set such store

by kin of mine and keep them ‘gainst my will.

Nor would they harbor, so I stood assured,

A godless parricide, a reprobate

Convicted of incestuous marriage ties.

For on her native hill of Ares here

(I knew your far-famed Areopagus)

Sits Justice, and permits not vagrant folk

To stay within your borders. In that faith

I hunted down my quarry; and e’en then

I had refrained but for the curses dire

Wherewith he banned my kinsfolk and myself:

Such wrong, methought, had warrant for my act.

Anger has no old age but only death;

The dead alone can feel no touch of spite.

So thou must work thy will; my cause is just

But weak without allies; yet will I try,

Old as I am, to answer deeds with deeds.



O shameless railer, think’st thou this abuse

Defames my grey hairs rather than thine own?

Murder and incest, deeds of horror, all

Thou blurtest forth against me, all I have borne,

No willing sinner; so it pleased the gods

Wrath haply with my sinful race of old,

Since thou could’st find no sin in me myself

For which in retribution I was doomed

To trespass thus against myself and mine.

Answer me now, if by some oracle

My sire was destined to a bloody end

By a son’s hand, can this reflect on me,

Me then unborn, begotten by no sire,

Conceived in no mother’s womb? And if

When born to misery, as born I was,

I met my sire, not knowing whom I met

or what I did, and slew him, how canst thou

With justice blame the all-unconscious hand?

And for my mother, wretch, art not ashamed,

Seeing she was thy sister, to extort

From me the story of her marriage, such

A marriage as I straightway will proclaim.

For I will speak; thy lewd and impious speech

Has broken all the bonds of reticence.

She was, ah woe is me! she was my mother;

I knew it not, nor she; and she my mother

Bare children to the son whom she had borne,

A birth of shame. But this at least I know

Wittingly thou aspersest her and me;

But I unwitting wed, unwilling speak.

Nay neither in this marriage or this deed

Which thou art ever casting in my teeth—

A murdered sire—shall I be held to blame.

Come, answer me one question, if thou canst:

If one should presently attempt thy life,

Would’st thou, O man of justice, first inquire

If the assassin was perchance thy sire,

Or turn upon him? As thou lov’st thy life,

On thy aggressor thou would’st turn, no stay

Debating, if the law would bear thee out.

Such was my case, and such the pass whereto

The gods reduced me; and methinks my sire,

Could he come back to life, would not dissent.

Yet thou, for just thou art not, but a man

Who sticks at nothing, if it serve his plea,

Reproachest me with this before these men.

It serves thy turn to laud great Theseus’ name,

And Athens as a wisely governed State;

Yet in thy flatteries one thing is to seek:

If any land knows how to pay the gods

Their proper rites, ‘tis Athens most of all.

This is the land whence thou wast fain to steal

Their aged suppliant and hast carried off

My daughters. Therefore to yon goddesses,

I turn, adjure them and invoke their aid

To champion my cause, that thou mayest learn

What is the breed of men who guard this State.



An honest man, my liege, one sore bestead

By fortune, and so worthy our support.



Enough of words; the captors speed amain,

While we the victims stand debating here.



What would’st thou? What can I, a feeble man?



Show us the trail, and I’ll attend thee too,

That, if thou hast the maidens hereabouts,

Thou mayest thyself discover them to me;

But if thy guards outstrip us with their spoil,

We may draw rein; for others speed, from whom

They will not ‘scape to thank the gods at home.

Lead on, I say, the captor’s caught, and fate

Hath ta’en the fowler in the toils he spread;

So soon are lost gains gotten by deceit.

And look not for allies; I know indeed

Such height of insolence was never reached

Without abettors or accomplices;

Thou hast some backer in thy bold essay,

But I will search this matter home and see

One man doth not prevail against the State.

Dost take my drift, or seem these words as vain

As seemed our warnings when the plot was hatched?



Nothing thou sayest can I here dispute,

But once at home I too shall act my part.



Threaten us and—begone! Thou, Oedipus,

Stay here assured that nothing save my death

Will stay my purpose to restore the maids.



Heaven bless thee, Theseus, for thy nobleness

And all thy loving care in my behalf.

[Exeunt THESEUS and CREON]



(Str. 1)

O when the flying foe,

Turning at last to bay,

Soon will give blow for blow,

Might I behold the fray;

Hear the loud battle roar

Swell, on the Pythian shore,

Or by the torch-lit bay,

Where the dread Queen and Maid

Cherish the mystic rites,

Rites they to none betray,

Ere on his lips is laid

Secrecy’s golden key

By their own acolytes,

Priestly Eumolpidae.


There I might chance behold

Theseus our captain bold

Meet with the robber band,

Ere they have fled the land,

Rescue by might and main

Maidens, the captives twain.


(Ant. 1)

Haply on swiftest steed,

Or in the flying car,

Now they approach the glen,

West of white Oea’s scaur.

They will be vanquished:

Dread are our warriors, dread

Theseus our chieftain’s men.

Flashes each bridle bright,

Charges each gallant knight,

All that our Queen adore,

Pallas their patron, or

Him whose wide floods enring

Earth, the great Ocean-king

Whom Rhea bore.


(Str. 2)

Fight they or now prepare

To fight? a vision rare

Tells me that soon again

I shall behold the twain

Maidens so ill bestead,

By their kin buffeted.

Today, today Zeus worketh some great thing

This day shall victory bring.

O for the wings, the wings of a dove,

To be borne with the speed of the gale,

Up and still upwards to sail

And gaze on the fray from the clouds above.

(Ant. 2)

All-seeing Zeus, O lord of heaven,

To our guardian host be given

Might triumphant to surprise

Flying foes and win their prize.

Hear us, Zeus, and hear us, child

Of Zeus, Athene undefiled,

Hear, Apollo, hunter, hear,

Huntress, sister of Apollo,

Who the dappled swift-foot deer

O’er the wooded glade dost follow;

Help with your two-fold power

Athens in danger’s hour!

O wayfarer, thou wilt not have to tax

The friends who watch for thee with false presage,

For lo, an escort with the maids draws near.




Where, where? what sayest thou?



O father, father,

Would that some god might grant thee eyes to see

This best of men who brings us back again.



My child! and are ye back indeed!



Yes, saved

By Theseus and his gallant followers.



Come to your father’s arms, O let me feel

A child’s embrace I never hoped for more.



Thou askest what is doubly sweet to give.



Where are ye then?



We come together both.



My precious nurslings!



Fathers aye were fond.



Props of my age!



So sorrow sorrow props.



I have my darlings, and if death should come,

Death were not wholly bitter with you near.

Cling to me, press me close on either side,

There rest ye from your dreary wayfaring.

Now tell me of your ventures, but in brief;

Brief speech suffices for young maids like you.



Here is our savior; thou should’st hear the tale

From his own lips; so shall my part be brief.



I pray thee do not wonder if the sight

Of children, given o’er for lost, has made

My converse somewhat long and tedious.

Full well I know the joy I have of them

Is due to thee, to thee and no man else;

Thou wast their sole deliverer, none else.

The gods deal with thee after my desire,

With thee and with this land! for fear of heaven

I found above all peoples most with you,

And righteousness and lips that cannot lie.

I speak in gratitude of what I know,

For all I have I owe to thee alone.

Give me thy hand, O Prince, that I may touch it,

And if thou wilt permit me, kiss thy cheek.

What say I? Can I wish that thou should’st touch

One fallen like me to utter wretchedness,

Corrupt and tainted with a thousand ills?

Oh no, I would not let thee if thou would’st.

They only who have known calamity

Can share it. Let me greet thee where thou art,

And still befriend me as thou hast till now.



I marvel not if thou hast dallied long

In converse with thy children and preferred

Their speech to mine; I feel no jealousy,

I would be famous more by deeds than words.

Of this, old friend, thou hast had proof; my oath

I have fulfilled and brought thee back the maids

Alive and nothing harmed for all those threats.

And how the fight was won, ‘twere waste of words

To boast—thy daughters here will tell thee all.

But of a matter that has lately chanced

On my way hitherward, I fain would have

Thy counsel—slight ‘twould seem, yet worthy thought.

A wise man heeds all matters great or small.



What is it, son of Aegeus? Let me hear.

Of what thou askest I myself know naught.



‘Tis said a man, no countryman of thine,

But of thy kin, hath taken sanctuary

Beside the altar of Poseidon, where

I was at sacrifice when called away.



What is his country? what the suitor’s prayer?



I know but one thing; he implores, I am told,

A word with thee—he will not trouble thee.



What seeks he? If a suppliant, something grave.



He only waits, they say, to speak with thee,

And then unharmed to go upon his way.



I marvel who is this petitioner.



Think if there be not any of thy kin

At Argos who might claim this boon of thee.



Dear friend, forbear, I pray.



What ails thee now?



Ask it not of me.



Ask not what? explain.



Thy words have told me who the suppliant is.



Who can he be that I should frown on him?



My son, O king, my hateful son, whose words

Of all men’s most would jar upon my ears.



Thou sure mightest listen. If his suit offend,

No need to grant it. Why so loth to hear him?



That voice, O king, grates on a father’s ears;

I have come to loathe it. Force me not to yield.



But he hath found asylum. O beware,

And fail not in due reverence to the god.



O heed me, father, though I am young in years.

Let the prince have his will and pay withal

What in his eyes is service to the god;

For our sake also let our brother come.

If what he urges tend not to thy good

He cannot surely wrest perforce thy will.

To hear him then, what harm? By open words

A scheme of villainy is soon bewrayed.

Thou art his father, therefore canst not pay

In kind a son’s most impious outrages.

O listen to him; other men like thee

Have thankless children and are choleric,

But yielding to persuasion’s gentle spell

They let their savage mood be exorcised.

Look thou to the past, forget the present, think

On all the woe thy sire and mother brought thee;

Thence wilt thou draw this lesson without fail,

Of evil passion evil is the end.

Thou hast, alas, to prick thy memory,

Stern monitors, these ever-sightless orbs.

O yield to us; just suitors should not need

To be importunate, nor he that takes

A favor lack the grace to make return.



Grievous to me, my child, the boon ye win

By pleading. Let it be then; have your way

Only if come he must, I beg thee, friend,

Let none have power to dispose of me.



No need, Sir, to appeal a second time.

It likes me not to boast, but be assured

Thy life is safe while any god saves mine.





Who craves excess of days,

Scorning the common span

Of life, I judge that man

A giddy wight who walks in folly’s ways.

For the long years heap up a grievous load,

Scant pleasures, heavier pains,

Till not one joy remains

For him who lingers on life’s weary road

And come it slow or fast,

One doom of fate

Doth all await,

For dance and marriage bell,

The dirge and funeral knell.

Death the deliverer freeth all at last.


Not to be born at all

Is best, far best that can befall,

Next best, when born, with least delay

To trace the backward way.

For when youth passes with its giddy train,

Troubles on troubles follow, toils on toils,

Pain, pain for ever pain;

And none escapes life’s coils.

Envy, sedition, strife,

Carnage and war, make up the tale of life.

Last comes the worst and most abhorred stage

Of unregarded age,

Joyless, companionless and slow,

Of woes the crowning woe.



Such ills not I alone,

He too our guest hath known,

E’en as some headland on an iron-bound shore,

Lashed by the wintry blasts and surge’s roar,

So is he buffeted on every side

By drear misfortune’s whelming tide,

By every wind of heaven o’erborne

Some from the sunset, some from orient morn,

Some from the noonday glow.

Some from Rhipean gloom of everlasting snow.



Father, methinks I see the stranger coming,

Alone he comes and weeping plenteous tears.



Who may he be?



The same that we surmised.

From the outset—Polyneices. He is here.




Ah me, my sisters, shall I first lament

My own afflictions, or my aged sire’s,

Whom here I find a castaway, with you,

In a strange land, an ancient beggar clad

In antic tatters, marring all his frame,

While o’er the sightless orbs his unkept locks

Float in the breeze; and, as it were to match,

He bears a wallet against hunger’s pinch.

All this too late I learn, wretch that I am,

Alas! I own it, and am proved most vile

In my neglect of thee: I scorn myself.

But as almighty Zeus in all he doth

Hath Mercy for co-partner of this throne,

Let Mercy, father, also sit enthroned

In thy heart likewise. For transgressions past

May be amended, cannot be made worse.


Why silent? Father, speak, nor turn away,

Hast thou no word, wilt thou dismiss me then

In mute disdain, nor tell me why thou art wrath?

O ye his daughters, sisters mine, do ye

This sullen, obstinate silence try to move.

Let him not spurn, without a single word

Of answer, me the suppliant of the god.



Tell him thyself, unhappy one, thine errand;

For large discourse may send a thrill of joy,

Or stir a chord of wrath or tenderness,

And to the tongue-tied somehow give a tongue.



Well dost thou counsel, and I will speak out.

First will I call in aid the god himself,

Poseidon, from whose altar I was raised,

With warrant from the monarch of this land,

To parley with you, and depart unscathed.

These pledges, strangers, I would see observed

By you and by my sisters and my sire.

Now, father, let me tell thee why I came.

I have been banished from my native land

Because by right of primogeniture

I claimed possession of thy sovereign throne

Wherefrom Etocles, my younger brother,

Ousted me, not by weight of precedent,

Nor by the last arbitrament of war,

But by his popular acts; and the prime cause

Of this I deem the curse that rests on thee.

So likewise hold the soothsayers, for when

I came to Argos in the Dorian land

And took the king Adrastus’ child to wife,

Under my standard I enlisted all

The foremost captains of the Apian isle,

To levy with their aid that sevenfold host

Of spearmen against Thebes, determining

To oust my foes or die in a just cause.

Why then, thou askest, am I here today?

Father, I come a suppliant to thee

Both for myself and my allies who now

With squadrons seven beneath their seven spears

Beleaguer all the plain that circles Thebes.

Foremost the peerless warrior, peerless seer,

Amphiaraiis with his lightning lance;

Next an Aetolian, Tydeus, Oeneus’ son;

Eteoclus of Argive birth the third;

The fourth Hippomedon, sent to the war

By his sire Talaos; Capaneus, the fifth,

Vaunts he will fire and raze the town; the sixth

Parthenopaeus, an Arcadian born

Named of that maid, longtime a maid and late

Espoused, Atalanta’s true-born child;

Last I thy son, or thine at least in name,

If but the bastard of an evil fate,

Lead against Thebes the fearless Argive host.

Thus by thy children and thy life, my sire,

We all adjure thee to remit thy wrath

And favor one who seeks a just revenge

Against a brother who has banned and robbed him.

For victory, if oracles speak true,

Will fall to those who have thee for ally.

So, by our fountains and familiar gods

I pray thee, yield and hear; a beggar I

And exile, thou an exile likewise; both

Involved in one misfortune find a home

As pensioners, while he, the lord of Thebes,

O agony! makes a mock of thee and me.

I’ll scatter with a breath the upstart’s might,

And bring thee home again and stablish thee,

And stablish, having cast him out, myself.

This will thy goodwill I will undertake,

Without it I can scare return alive.



For the king’s sake who sent him, Oedipus,

Dismiss him not without a meet reply.



Nay, worthy seniors, but for Theseus’ sake

Who sent him hither to have word of me.

Never again would he have heard my voice;

But now he shall obtain this parting grace,

An answer that will bring him little joy.

O villain, when thou hadst the sovereignty

That now thy brother holdeth in thy stead,

Didst thou not drive me, thine own father, out,

An exile, cityless, and make we wear

This beggar’s garb thou weepest to behold,

Now thou art come thyself to my sad plight?

Nothing is here for tears; it must be borne

By me till death, and I shall think of thee

As of my murderer; thou didst thrust me out;

‘Tis thou hast made me conversant with woe,

Through thee I beg my bread in a strange land;

And had not these my daughters tended me

I had been dead for aught of aid from thee.

They tend me, they preserve me, they are men

Not women in true service to their sire;

But ye are bastards, and no sons of mine.

Therefore just Heaven hath an eye on thee;

Howbeit not yet with aspect so austere

As thou shalt soon experience, if indeed

These banded hosts are moving against Thebes.

That city thou canst never storm, but first

Shall fall, thou and thy brother, blood-imbrued.

Such curse I lately launched against you twain,

Such curse I now invoke to fight for me,

That ye may learn to honor those who bear thee

Nor flout a sightless father who begat

Degenerate sons—these maidens did not so.

Therefore my curse is stronger than thy “throne,”

Thy “suppliance,” if by right of laws eterne

Primeval Justice sits enthroned with Zeus.

Begone, abhorred, disowned, no son of mine,

Thou vilest of the vile! and take with thee

This curse I leave thee as my last bequest:—

Never to win by arms thy native land,

No, nor return to Argos in the Vale,

But by a kinsman’s hand to die and slay

Him who expelled thee. So I pray and call

On the ancestral gloom of Tartarus

To snatch thee hence, on these dread goddesses

I call, and Ares who incensed you both

To mortal enmity. Go now proclaim

What thou hast heard to the Cadmeians all,

Thy staunch confederates—this the heritage

that Oedipus divideth to his sons.



Thy errand, Polyneices, liked me not

From the beginning; now go back with speed.



Woe worth my journey and my baffled hopes!

Woe worth my comrades! What a desperate end

To that glad march from Argos! Woe is me!

I dare not whisper it to my allies

Or turn them back, but mute must meet my doom.

My sisters, ye his daughters, ye have heard

The prayers of our stern father, if his curse

Should come to pass and ye some day return

To Thebes, O then disown me not, I pray,

But grant me burial and due funeral rites.

So shall the praise your filial care now wins

Be doubled for the service wrought for me.



One boon, O Polyneices, let me crave.



What would’st thou, sweet Antigone? Say on.



Turn back thy host to Argos with all speed,

And ruin not thyself and Thebes as well.



That cannot be. How could I lead again

An army that had seen their leader quail?



But, brother, why shouldst thou be wroth again?

What profit from thy country’s ruin comes?



‘Tis shame to live in exile, and shall I

The elder bear a younger brother’s flouts?



Wilt thou then bring to pass his prophecies

Who threatens mutual slaughter to you both?



Aye, so he wishes:—but I must not yield.



O woe is me! but say, will any dare,

Hearing his prophecy, to follow thee?



I shall not tell it; a good general

Reports successes and conceals mishaps.



Misguided youth, thy purpose then stands fast!



‘Tis so, and stay me not. The road I choose,

Dogged by my sire and his avenging spirit,

Leads me to ruin; but for you may Zeus

Make your path bright if ye fulfill my hest

When dead; in life ye cannot serve me more.

Now let me go, farewell, a long farewell!

Ye ne’er shall see my living face again.



Ah me!



Bewail me not.



Who would not mourn

Thee, brother, hurrying to an open pit!



If I must die, I must.



Nay, hear me plead.



It may not be; forbear.



Then woe is me,

If I must lose thee.



Nay, that rests with fate,

Whether I live or die; but for you both

I pray to heaven ye may escape all ill;

For ye are blameless in the eyes of all.




(Str. 1)

Ills on ills! no pause or rest!

Come they from our sightless guest?

Or haply now we see fulfilled

What fate long time hath willed?

For ne’er have I proved vain

Aught that the heavenly powers ordain.

Time with never sleeping eye

Watches what is writ on high,

Overthrowing now the great,

Raising now from low estate.

Hark! How the thunder rumbles! Zeus defend us!



Children, my children! will no messenger

Go summon hither Theseus my best friend?



And wherefore, father, dost thou summon him?



This winged thunder of the god must bear me

Anon to Hades. Send and tarry not.



(Ant. 1)

Hark! with louder, nearer roar

The bolt of Zeus descends once more.

My spirit quails and cowers: my hair

Bristles for fear. Again that flare!

What doth the lightning-flash portend?

Ever it points to issues grave.

Dread powers of air! Save, Zeus, O save!



Daughters, upon me the predestined end

Has come; no turning from it any more.



How knowest thou? What sign convinces thee?



I know full well. Let some one with all speed

Go summon hither the Athenian prince.



(Str. 2)

Ha! once more the deafening sound

Peals yet louder all around

If thou darkenest our land,

Lightly, lightly lay thy hand;

Grace, not anger, let me win,

If upon a man of sin

I have looked with pitying eye,

Zeus, our king, to thee I cry!



Is the prince coming? Will he when he comes

Find me yet living and my senses clear!



What solemn charge would’st thou impress on him?



For all his benefits I would perform

The promise made when I received them first.



(Ant. 2)

Hither haste, my son, arise,

Altar leave and sacrifice,

If haply to Poseidon now

In the far glade thou pay’st thy vow.

For our guest to thee would bring

And thy folk and offering,

Thy due guerdon. Haste, O King!




Wherefore again this general din? at once

My people call me and the stranger calls.

Is it a thunderbolt of Zeus or sleet

Of arrowy hail? a storm so fierce as this

Would warrant all surmises of mischance.



Thou com’st much wished for, Prince, and sure some god

Hath bid good luck attend thee on thy way.



What, son of Laius, hath chanced of new?



My life hath turned the scale. I would do all

I promised thee and thine before I die.



What sign assures thee that thine end is near?



The gods themselves are heralds of my fate;

Of their appointed warnings nothing fails.



How sayest thou they signify their will?



This thunder, peal on peal, this lightning hurled

Flash upon flash, from the unconquered hand.



I must believe thee, having found thee oft

A prophet true; then speak what must be done.



O son of Aegeus, for this state will I

Unfold a treasure age cannot corrupt.

Myself anon without a guiding hand

Will take thee to the spot where I must end.

This secret ne’er reveal to mortal man,

Neither the spot nor whereabouts it lies,

So shall it ever serve thee for defense

Better than native shields and near allies.

But those dread mysteries speech may not profane

Thyself shalt gather coming there alone;

Since not to any of thy subjects, nor

To my own children, though I love them dearly,

Can I reveal what thou must guard alone,

And whisper to thy chosen heir alone,

So to be handed down from heir to heir.

Thus shalt thou hold this land inviolate

From the dread Dragon’s brood. The justest State

By countless wanton neighbors may be wronged,

For the gods, though they tarry, mark for doom

The godless sinner in his mad career.

Far from thee, son of Aegeus, be such fate!

But to the spot—the god within me goads—

Let us set forth no longer hesitate.

Follow me, daughters, this way. Strange that I

Whom you have led so long should lead you now.

Oh, touch me not, but let me all alone

Find out the sepulcher that destiny

Appoints me in this land. Hither, this way,

For this way Hermes leads, the spirit guide,

And Persephassa, empress of the dead.

O light, no light to me, but mine erewhile,

Now the last time I feel thee palpable,

For I am drawing near the final gloom

Of Hades. Blessing on thee, dearest friend,

On thee and on thy land and followers!

Live prosperous and in your happy state

Still for your welfare think on me, the dead.

[Exit THESEUS followed by ANTIGONE and ISMENE]




If mortal prayers are heard in hell,

Hear, Goddess dread, invisible!

Monarch of the regions drear,

Aidoneus, hear, O hear!

By a gentle, tearless doom

Speed this stranger to the gloom,

Let him enter without pain

The all-shrouding Stygian plain.

Wrongfully in life oppressed,

Be he now by Justice blessed.



Queen infernal, and thou fell

Watch-dog of the gates of hell,

Who, as legends tell, dost glare,

Gnarling in thy cavernous lair

At all comers, let him go

Scathless to the fields below.

For thy master orders thus,

The son of earth and Tartarus;

In his den the monster keep,

Giver of eternal sleep.




Friends, countrymen, my tidings are in sum

That Oedipus is gone, but the event

Was not so brief, nor can the tale be brief.



What, has he gone, the unhappy man?



Know well

That he has passed away from life to death.



How? By a god-sent, painless doom, poor soul?



Thy question hits the marvel of the tale.

How he moved hence, you saw him and must know;

Without a friend to lead the way, himself

Guiding us all. So having reached the abrupt

Earth-rooted Threshold with its brazen stairs,

He paused at one of the converging paths,

Hard by the rocky basin which records

The pact of Theseus and Peirithous.

Betwixt that rift and the Thorician rock,

The hollow pear-tree and the marble tomb,

Midway he sat and loosed his beggar’s weeds;

Then calling to his daughters bade them fetch

Of running water, both to wash withal

And make libation; so they clomb the steep;

And in brief space brought what their father bade,

Then laved and dressed him with observance due.

But when he had his will in everything,

And no desire was left unsatisfied,

It thundered from the netherworld; the maids

Shivered, and crouching at their father’s knees

Wept, beat their breast and uttered a long wail.

He, as he heard their sudden bitter cry,

Folded his arms about them both and said,

“My children, ye will lose your sire today,

For all of me has perished, and no more

Have ye to bear your long, long ministry;

A heavy load, I know, and yet one word

Wipes out all score of tribulations—__love__.

And love from me ye had—from no man more;

But now must live without me all your days.”

So clinging to each other sobbed and wept

Father and daughters both, but when at last

Their mourning had an end and no wail rose,

A moment there was silence; suddenly

A voice that summoned him; with sudden dread

The hair of all stood up and all were ‘mazed;

For the call came, now loud, now low, and oft.

“Oedipus, Oedipus, why tarry we?

Too long, too long thy passing is delayed.”

But when he heard the summons of the god,

He prayed that Theseus might be brought, and when

The Prince came nearer: “O my friend,” he cried,

“Pledge ye my daughters, giving thy right hand—

And, daughters, give him yours—and promise me

Thou never wilt forsake them, but do all

That time and friendship prompt in their behoof.”

And he of his nobility repressed

His tears and swore to be their constant friend.

This promise given, Oedipus put forth

Blind hands and laid them on his children, saying,

“O children, prove your true nobility

And hence depart nor seek to witness sights

Unlawful or to hear unlawful words.

Nay, go with speed; let none but Theseus stay,

Our ruler, to behold what next shall hap.”

So we all heard him speak, and weeping sore

We companied the maidens on their way.

After brief space we looked again, and lo

The man was gone, evanished from our eyes;

Only the king we saw with upraised hand

Shading his eyes as from some awful sight,

That no man might endure to look upon.

A moment later, and we saw him bend

In prayer to Earth and prayer to Heaven at once.

But by what doom the stranger met his end

No man save Theseus knoweth. For there fell

No fiery bold that reft him in that hour,

Nor whirlwind from the sea, but he was taken.

It was a messenger from heaven, or else

Some gentle, painless cleaving of earth’s base;

For without wailing or disease or pain

He passed away—and end most marvelous.

And if to some my tale seems foolishness

I am content that such could count me fool.



Where are the maids and their attendant friends?



They cannot be far off; the approaching sound

Of lamentation tells they come this way.




(Str. 1)

Woe, woe! on this sad day

We sisters of one blasted stock

must bow beneath the shock,

Must weep and weep the curse that lay

On him our sire, for whom

In life, a life-long world of care

‘Twas ours to bear,

In death must face the gloom

That wraps his tomb.

What tongue can tell

That sight ineffable?



What mean ye, maidens?



All is but surmise.



Is he then gone?



Gone as ye most might wish.

Not in battle or sea storm,

But reft from sight,

By hands invisible borne

To viewless fields of night.

Ah me! on us too night has come,

The night of mourning. Wither roam

O’er land or sea in our distress

Eating the bread of bitterness?



I know not. O that Death

Might nip my breath,

And let me share my aged father’s fate.

I cannot live a life thus desolate.



Best of daughters, worthy pair,

What heaven brings ye needs must bear,

Fret no more ‘gainst Heaven’s will;

Fate hath dealt with you not ill.



(Ant. 1)

Love can turn past pain to bliss,

What seemed bitter now is sweet.

Ah me! that happy toil is sweet.

The guidance of those dear blind feet.

Dear father, wrapt for aye in nether gloom,

E’en in the tomb

Never shalt thou lack of love repine,

Her love and mine.



His fate—



Is even as he planned.



How so?



He died, so willed he, in a foreign land.

Lapped in kind earth he sleeps his long last sleep,

And o’er his grave friends weep.

How great our lost these streaming eyes can tell,

This sorrow naught can quell.

Thou hadst thy wish ‘mid strangers thus to die,

But I, ah me, not by.



Alas, my sister, what new fate

Befalls us orphans desolate?



His end was blessed; therefore, children, stay

Your sorrow. Man is born to fate a prey.



(Str. 2)

Sister, let us back again.



Why return?



My soul is fain—


Is fain?



To see the earthy bed.



Sayest thou?



Where our sire is laid.



Nay, thou can’st not, dost not see—



Sister, wherefore wroth with me?



Know’st not—beside—



More must I hear?



Tombless he died, none near.



Lead me thither; slay me there.



How shall I unhappy fare,

Friendless, helpless, how drag on

A life of misery alone?



(Ant. 2)

Fear not, maids—



Ah, whither flee?



Refuge hath been found.



For me?



Where thou shalt be safe from harm.



I know it.



Why then this alarm?



How again to get us home

I know not.



Why then this roam?



Troubles whelm us—



As of yore.



Worse than what was worse before.



Sure ye are driven on the breakers’ surge.



Alas! we are.



Alas! ‘tis so.



Ah whither turn, O Zeus? No ray

Of hope to cheer the way

Whereon the fates our desperate voyage urge.




Dry your tears; when grace is shed

On the quick and on the dead

By dark Powers beneficent,

Over-grief they would resent.



Aegeus’ child, to thee we pray.



What the boon, my children, say.



With our own eyes we fain would see

Our father’s tomb.



That may not be.



What say’st thou, King?



My children, he

Charged me straitly that no moral

Should approach the sacred portal,

Or greet with funeral litanies

The hidden tomb wherein he lies;

Saying, “If thou keep’st my hest

Thou shalt hold thy realm at rest.”

The God of Oaths this promise heard,

And to Zeus I pledged my word.



Well, if he would have it so,

We must yield. Then let us go

Back to Thebes, if yet we may

Heal this mortal feud and stay

The self-wrought doom

That drives our brothers to their tomb.



Go in peace; nor will I spare

Ought of toil and zealous care,

But on all your needs attend,

Gladdening in his grave my friend.



Wail no more, let sorrow rest,

All is ordered for the best.





Wikipedia contributors. “Oedipus at Colonus.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Jan. 2017. Web. 1 Jan. 2017.

Wikipedia contributors. “Erinyes.” Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. 8 April. 2017. Web. 8 April. 2017.

Wikipedia contributors. “Sophocles.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 Jan. 2017. Web. 14 Jan. 2017.

1 Inanimate objects that have their appearance or location altered through a story beat (a unique unit of action) are considered props. All other inanimate elements are considered part of the set (see ). Props that remain fixed to a single character are considered a part of costume and are not included here (instead, see Character Descriptions (in Order of Appearance)).

Oedipus at Colonus (Director's Playbook Edition)

Director's Playbook Editions help artists turn playscripts into productions, providing the interested reader with useful information, summaries and charts. As well as the full text, this book contains: *A 'Production Cheatsheet' *Information about the playwright *Descriptions of characters, setting, props, etc. *And more...

  • Author: H.J. William
  • Published: 2017-04-08 12:20:15
  • Words: 15031
Oedipus at Colonus (Director's Playbook Edition) Oedipus at Colonus (Director's Playbook Edition)