Oedipus The King

This version of Oedipus exists primarily to solve a practical problem. I wanted to provide a affordable version of the play (as well as other ancient texts) for my college freshmen, but I didn’t want to go with an older translation, so I decided to produce a new version of the play that wouldn’t be subject to copyright.

Though I have a beginner’s knowledge of the language, I am no scholar of ancient Greek. So I produced this edition of the play relying primarily on two sources: the old Harvard Classics edition and the 1912 Loeb Classical Library Greek edition edited by Francis Storr. For some passages, I also consulted Robert Fagles’ translation as well as the Fitts-Fitzgerald version. The resulting text is, I think, a good contemporary Oedipus that might be helpful to teachers and students who want an inexpensive and accessible version of the play.

Special thanks goes to Dr. Stephen Slimp of the University of West Alabama, who provided a great deal of help to me in translating a number of passages from Greek.

You can find a Kindle version of this text here.




Enter Oedipus

OEDIPUS: My children, why do you sit here so solemnly,

descendants of famed Kadmos,

lifting up branches of supplication?

All the city reeks with the smoke of incense

and echoes with your prayers and lamentations.

I think that it is unfitting

to hear a report from others, so I have come

myself, whom all name Oedipus the Great.

To the Priest

You, then: since you are the oldest and have the right

to speak for the rest, tell me clearly what troubles you,

and be certain that I can help you.

My heart would be cold indeed if I saw you in this condition

and felt no pity.

PRIEST: Yes, Oedipus, ruler of my land,

you see how we sit, young and old, around

your altar in prayer and supplication.

I am a priest of Zeus, and these are

the chosen unmarried youths,

and in the open spaces of the town

the people sit and wail, with wreaths in hand,

by the twin shrines of Athena, and some watch

glowing embers for prophecies.

For our city, as your eyes can see,

Is tossed on a blood-stained sea, and we

cannot lift our heads above the waves.

Plague destroys the fruit of the earth,

and sickens the herds that graze the fields

while children are born dead.

Yet still the god rains his fire upon us

and sends this most hateful plague

to make the house of Kadmos desolate,

and Hades grows rich with our sighs and groans.

We know that you are not one of the immortals;

you are not equal to them in power.

But we pray to you because we believe that you are

the greatest man of all, and the wisest in the ways

of the gods. For you are the one

who freed this city from the Sphinx, the cruel singer,

and from the sad tribute we paid to her for so long.

We did not teach you how to do this,

but at the urging of some god

you set us free.

And now, Oedipus, almighty king,

all of your suppliants beg you

to find relief for us,

either from the counsel of gods or men.

For I know that those whom life has proven in the past

will act well in times of trouble.

So come, noble one, and save our city.

Because of your past deeds we call you savior;

don’t give us a reason to look back on your reign and say,

“We rose, and then we fell.” Instead, save us now,

save our city. Good omens were with you in the past;

be the same man today!

If you want to be a king, it is better to rule living men

than to rule over a city of the dead. Ships are empty shells

and towers are worthless when the crew and guards are gone.

OEDIPUS: Oh, children, I am not unaware

of your suffering; I know well your sorrows

and your wants. For everyone here

is stricken, yet though all of you are sick,

none of you is as sick as I am.

Each of you bears his own sad burden,

his own and not another’s, but my heart

mourns for everyone: your sickness and mine.

I have not been asleep;

You have found me weeping bitter tears

and pacing wearily, my mind wandering with anxiety.

And I have acted on the one cure that I can find.

I have sent Kreon, son of Menoikeus, brother of my wife,

to Phoibos at Delphi where he might learn

the words or deeds that will save the city.

Even now I wait anxiously and count the hours

and worry about him; he has been gone too long.

I don’t know why he has missed the appointed day of his return,

but when he comes back, I’d be a criminal if I did not do

whatever duty the god reveals to me.

PRIEST: Your promise is well-timed! Even now,

news of Kreon’s return comes!

OEDIPUS: Oh, Lord Apollo,

let him come with a good omen,

bright with the joy of life.

PRIEST: If one might guess, it is good news.

His head is wreathed with laurel branches.

OEDIPUS: Soon we shall know. He is close now.

Enter Kreon

Tell us, prince, son of Menoikeus,

What sacred answer do you bring from the god?

KREON: A good answer! If all goes well,

our suffering will end well.

OEDIPUS: What do you mean? Your words

give me neither hope nor fear.

KREON: Do you want me to speak with all these men

gathered around us, or should we go inside?

OEDIPUS: Speak for everyone to hear. I suffer for them

more than for myself.

KREON: Well, I will tell you what the god said.

In plain words, Apollo commands us to expel from Thebes

an incurable infection that corrupts us.

He says that we have to purge it.

OEDIPUS: What infection? And how do we expel it?

KREON: We must drive a murderer into exile or kill him.

His blood-guilt brought the plague upon our city.

OEDIPUS: Who is the murder victim?

KREON: Once, my king, before you saved our city,

King Laios ruled over our land.

OEDIPUS: I know; I learned about him from others,

though I never saw him.

KREON: Laios was murdered, and the god commands us

to take revenge on those who shed his blood.

OEDIPUS: But where are they? Where will I find them

after so many years?

KREON: In our land, the god said. What we seek,

will find; what we ignore will escape us.

OEDIPUS: Was it at home, or in the fields,

or in some strange land that Laios met his doom?

KREON: He said that he was going on a pilgrimage.

He did not come home again.

OEDIPUS: Did no one go with him?

Is there no one to question, to tell us the truth?

KREON: They are all dead, except for one who fled out of fear,

and he could remember only one thing.

OEDIPUS: And what was that? One fact might be the key

to the whole mystery, as long as we use it.

KREON: He said that robbers attacked them,

overwhelming their numbers.

OEDIPUS: But surely no robber would have attempted such a crime

unless someone here had bribed him to do it.

KREON: We thought of that. But after Laios’ death,

we had other troubles, and no one came to avenge him.

OEDIPUS: What kept you from seeking the truth

when your king was killed?

KREON: The Sphinx with her dark riddle forced us

to ignore all other mysteries.

OEDIPUS: Then it is my responsibility to light what is dark.

It is fitting that Apollo shows, as do you,

this concern for the dead.

And you will find in me a true advocate,

aiding my country and the god.

I will cast out this curse

not for the sake of friends, close or distant,

but for my own sake.

Who knows? The murderer, whoever he is,

might one day come for me, as well.

So finding him serves my own interest.

And now, my children, get up from these steps quickly,

and pick up your prayer branches.

Someone go and call the people of Kadmos here.

Tell them that I will do my duty.

If the god wills it, then we will prosper; if not, we will fail.

PRIEST: Rise, then, children. We came for this,

for the good words that Oedipus has spoken;

pray that Apollo, who has sent these oracles,

will come to heal us and save us from our woe.

Exit Kreon and Priest

CHORUS: O sweet-toned voice of Zeus,

what did you say to Thebes

from golden sunlit Delphi?

I tremble in fear and suspense.

Hear us, O healer, god of Delos, hear us!

Tell us what doom, either from past or present,

your hand will work upon us.

Tell me, O divine voice, child of golden hope!

First I call on Athena, daughter of Zeus,

and next on Artemis, who sits in the market

in queenly pride upon her throne;

and then I pray to Apollo, the far-away bowman.

Shine on us and save us from evil!

If waves or storms of woe ever

afflicted us before, you drove away

the fiery tide of evil.

Come and help us now!

Yes, come now gods; countless sorrows

oppress my soul.

All the people are afflicted,

and we do not know any weapon

that will help us to resist.

The fertile earth withers and dies,

and women faint from the pains of childbirth,

and one by one, they pass on like swift birds

or the flash of lightning.

Yes, those who perish are countless.

Infants are cast out without pity

and wives and mothers, gray with age,

mourn at every altar,

crushed with pain and sorrow.

They cry out in prayer

and solemn song.

Hear their prayer, golden daughter of Zeus,

and send us help bright as the morning.

Drive away Ares the destroyer!

The battle-cry of war is fierce and hot.

Tell him to go back in retreat

and leave our land.

Tell him to go to the ocean bed

where Amphitrite sleeps,

or to the sea that sweeps the Thracian shore.

If night spares anyone,

the day finishes the night’s work.

Father almighty, wielder of lightning,

blast him with your thunder.

And you, Apollo, Lykeian lord,

let me see your arrows fly

from your golden bow

and bring us aid.

And Artemis, Huntress,

come swiftly with the light of the sun

from the Lycian hills.

And last I call on Bacchus,

you of the golden crown,

guardian of our land:

come, flashing with a blazing torch

against Ares, the god whom all the gods hate.

Enter Oedipus

OEDIPUS: This is your prayer, and I have heard it.

If you will listen to me and heed my words,

I will give you relief from your suffering.

I have been a stranger to this story

and a stranger to the crime.

I cannot track the murderer without some clue,

so now I stand before you,

one who came here after the crime,

and I make this proclamation

to all the sons of Kadmos:

If someone lives here

and knows who killed Laios, son of Labdakos,

I command him to tell his story to me.

And if he is afraid of punishment

for having kept the secret,

let him still speak; he will receive

no heavier punishment than to leave

this land uninjured.

Or if someone knows a foreigner

who committed the crime,

let him not keep silent.

I will reward him.

But if he conceals what he knows

out of fear for himself or for a friend,

here is what I command:

That man is banished, whoever he might be,

from the land that I rule,

and no one may give him shelter or speak to him,

and no one may join him in prayer or sacrifice.

All should hate him and cast him from their homes

as a curse and a pollution of our city.

The prophecies of Zeus have shown this.

I stand before you as a helper

to the god and to the dead man.

As for the man who committed the murder,

whether he is alone or works with someone else,

I pray that he might waste his life away,

that he may die a vile death for a vile deed.

And this curse applies even to me

if it turns out that the murderer

is a guest in my house.

I command you to do this for my sake,

and for Apollo, and for the sake of our land,

which is barren and abandoned by the gods.

Even if no voice from heaven had commanded us,

it would be wrong to leave the stain of guilt uncleansed.

You should find the murderer of your noble king!

But now I have the power that he held before me,

and now I have his bed and his wife.

If she had born him children, his son would have been

my children’s brother. But he had no luck in fatherhood,

and fate fell upon his head.

I will do my best for him, as I would for my own father,

and I will go to every length to find his murderer,

the one who killed the son of Labdakos, the son of Polydore,

the son of Kadmos, the son of Angenor.

And for all those who do not obey, I ask

the gods to give them neither the fruit of the earth

nor children, but to consume their lives

with this horrible plague or something worse.

And the rest of you, descendants of Kadmos—

may righteousness and the gods guide you.

CHORUS LEADER: Since you have bound me by a curse, O King,

I must speak. None of us killed Laios,

and none of us knows who killed him.

It is for Apollo to show us the killer.

OEDIPUS: You speak rightly. But man cannot force

the gods to act.

CHORUS LEADER: May I speak again?

OEDIPUS: Speak as much as you want.

CHORUS LEADER: I know a man, Tireseas, whose deep insight

sees as clearly as Apollo; you might learn the truth from him.

OEDIPUS: I have thought of this already.

At Kreon’s suggestion I have sent for him twice.

I don’t know why he has not come yet.

CHORUS LEADER: There were old, dark rumors . . .

OEDIPUS: What rumors? I want every slightest hint.

CHORUS LEADER: Some say that Laios was killed by travelers.

OEDIPUS: I heard that, too. But no one knows who did it.

CHORUS LEADER: If the killer is capable of fear,

he will flee when he hears your curses.

OEDIPUS: Words will not frighten a murderer.

CHORUS LEADER: Well, here is the man who will find him.

Look! They bring the prophet inspired by the god,

chosen of all men, vessel of the truth.

Enter Tiresias, blind, led by a boy

OEDIPUS: Tiresias, you whose mind sees all,

hidden or revealed, the things of heaven and earth—

though your eyes are blind, you know

the plague that afflicts us,

and you are our only help, yes, our only deliverer.

If you have not heard of it from messengers,

we asked Apollo for help,

and he sent back word to us

that the only cure for our affliction

is for us to find those who killed Laios.

They must be killed or exiled.

You must not grudge us a sign from birds

or any other means of prophecy.

Save the city, save yourself, save me.

Purify us of this corruption.

Our hope is in you. It is most noble

to use our abilities in doing good.

TIRESEAS: How terrible is the gift of knowledge

when no good comes to those who are wise!

I knew all of this very well, but in an evil hour I forgot.

I should not have come here.

OEDIPUS: What do you mean? Why are you so disheartened?

TIRESEAS: Let me go home. Believe me: it is better

that way. Bear your fate, and I will bear mine.

OEDIPUS: If you hold back the guidance of the gods,

you are inhumane, disloyal to the city that raised you.

TIRESIAS: I guard my words because what you say

is untimely and bears a bad omen.

OEDIPUS: In the name of the gods, I beg you;

if you know anything, don’t refuse us.

TIRESIAS: You’re all ignorant. I will never

speak my sorrows to you; that would only cause you grief.

OEDIPUS: What do you mean? You know something and won’t tell?

You would ruin both the city and all of us?

TIRESIAS: I will not pain myself or you. Why do

you continue to ask? You will never know.

OEDIPUS: Oh, you wicked man! You would anger a stone.

You will never tell? Are you heartless?

TIRESIAS: You blame my anger? But you do not see

the anger that dwells with you.

OEDIPUS: Who wouldn’t feel anger when he hears

words that bring dishonor to the city?

TIRESIAS: Dishonor will come, even if I keep silent.

OEDIPUS: If it must come, then you you should tell me now.

TIRESIAS: I will say no more. Rage on if you want to,

rage with desperate fury.

OEDIPUS: No, I won’t hold back. My anger is fierce.

And I’ll tell you what I think: I think that you

plotted the murder, even though your hands

did not do the deed. If you weren’t blind,

I’d say that you alone had done it.

TIRESIAS: Has it come to this? I tell you, then:

abide by your own command. From this day forward,

do not speak to me or to any of these people,

for you are the cursed one, you are the corruption of this land.

OEDIPUS: Shameless! You say such a thing

and think you’ll escape punishment?

TIRESIAS: I have escaped. The truth protects me.

OEDIPUS: Who told you to say this? You didn’t learn it from prophecy.

TIRESIAS: You did. You made me speak.

OEDIPUS: What did you say? Say it again,

so that I can understand.

TIRESIAS: Was I not clear before? Or are you tempting me?

OEDIPUS: I didn’t understand. Say it again.

TIRESIAS: You are the murderer whom you seek.

OEDIPUS: You’ll regret saying it twice.

TIRESIAS: Should I tell you more? Should I make you even angrier?

OEDIPUS: Say whatever you want. All of it is in vain.

TIRESIAS: I say that you live blindly in hideous shame

with those you love most. You don’t see the evil

that you have made your own.

OEDIPUS: Do you think that you can say these things and live?

TIRESIAS: I will if there is any strength in truth.

OEDIPUS: There is truth, but you don’t see it.

You’re blind, deaf, and insane.

TIRESIAS: How wretched you are, flinging insults at me!

Soon all the world will despise you.

OEDIPUS: You live in perpetual night,

and you can’t hurt me or anyone else

who sees the light.

TIRESIAS: Fate stands fixed.

Your fate is not in my hands.

That is Apollo’s concern.

He will bring you low.

OEDIPUS: Are these Kreon’s words, or your own?

TIRESIAS: Kreon does you no harm. You harm yourself.

OEDIPUS: Oh, wealth and kingly power!

How much envy they inspire!

My oldest friend, Kreon, has conspired

to destroy me and take away my power—

power that I did not ask for, but was

thrust upon me by the city.

He paid this false prophet,

this foul schemer,

a man who gropes for dirty pennies

but can’t see them for his blindness.

Isn’t this true? When have you ever

proven yourself as a prophet?

Why didn’t you use your gift

to help your countrymen

when the Sphinx sang her song?

The people couldn’t solve the riddle

and called for a seer’s skill.

What good were your birds?

But then I came—Oedipus, who knew nothing—

to silence the Sphinx. I came up with the answer

on my own and not from birds.

And now you would expel me

and help Kreon take the throne?

But I think that you and Kreon

will regret this plot against me.

If you were not a weak old man,

I would have already made you suffer

exactly what you had planned for me.

CHORUS LEADER: Both of you have spoken in anger, Oedipus.

We don’t need words like these, but insight

into how to carry out Apollo’s commands.

TIRESIAS: You might be king, but I claim

an equal right to speak. Here I call no man ‘Lord,’

for I am not your slave, but Apollo’s.

And I will not call Kreon my master, either.

Since you mock my blindness, I say that

you have eyes, but you are blind to the evil

that surrounds you; nor do you see

in whose house you live or with whom you live.

Do you know who your parents are?

In ignorance you have sinned against them,

the living and the dead, and soon a curse

from your mother and your father

will drive you from Thebes.

Now you see clearly,

but then your sight will be dark.

Your fearful wail will echo from every shore

and from every outcropping in Kithairon

when you learn what your marriage means

and to what fatal port

your prosperous voyage brought you.

You do not yet see the fate that will

bring you down to the same level as your own children.

So scorn me and scorn Kreon;

no one will suffer more miserably than you.

OEDIPUS: Should I bear this from him any longer?

Get out, curse you! Get out now!

Will you not turn your back and leave this house?

TIRESIAS: I wouldn’t have come if you hadn’t sent for me.

OEDIPUS: I didn’t know that you would speak so foolishly.

Otherwise, I would never have summoned you to my house.

TIRESIAS: You think I am a fool, but the parents

who gave you birth thought of me as wise.

OEDIPUS: What? Wait. Who is my father?

TIRESIAS: This day will reveal your birth and bring your doom.

OEDIPUS: You always speak in dark and dim riddles.

TIRESIAS: Yes, but you are good at solving riddles.

OEDIPUS: Go ahead: mock me for what made me great.

TIRESIAS: And yet your success has brought about your fall.

OEDIPUS: But if it saves the city, then I don’t care.

TIRESIAS: Well, then, I will go. (To the boy.)

Guide me out, boy.

OEDIPUS: Yes, let him lead you out.

While you are here, you’re a source of trouble.

You can’t pain me anymore when you’re gone.

TIRESIAS: I’ll go when I have said the things

I came to say. You can never hurt me;

I am not afraid of you.

This man whom you seek with threats,

the murderer of Laios—he is here.

He appears to be a foreigner, an immigrant,

but in truth he is a naive of Thebes.

The discovery will bring him no delight.

Blind, having seen, and poor, having rolled

in wealth—he will wander to foreign lands

feeling his way with a staff.

His sons will know him

as both father and brother,

and the woman who bore him as both

husband and son, sharing his father’s bed,

his father’s murderer. So go inside

and brood over this, and if you prove me wrong,

say that I have no skill in prophecy.

Exit Oedipus and Tiresias

CHORUS: Who was it that the voice

of Delphi spoke of, the one who

worked a shameful deed with bloody hands?

Now it is time for him to flee

faster than the fastest rider,

for the radiant son of Zeus,

armed with spears of fire and his father’s lightning.

And the dreaded ones come with him,

the Fates who will not be appeased.

From the heights of snowy Parnassus

an oracle flashed forth

ordering everyone to search for

the unnamed, unknown one.

He wanders through the wild forests,

in caves and over rocks,

wild and fierce as a bull,

wretched and lonely on his dreary path,

seeking in vain

to separate himself from the prophetic words

of the world’s central shrine.

But the words of the oracle

will surround him forever.

The wise prophet moves us to fear

and we don’t know what to say.

We hover between hope and fear,

and we can’t see the present clearly,

much less the future.

We have heard of no quarrel

between the house of Oedipus

in Corinth and the royal line of Thebes.

Nor could we produce any evidence

from the public reputation of Oedipus

to aid in avenging the death of Laios.

Zeus and Apollo are wise

and know the hearts of men,

and no one can judge whether or not a prophet

sees the future better than we do—

though one man might pass

another in wisdom.

But until I see the word of the prophet proven,

I will not believe those who blame Oedipus for the crime.

The Sphinx, that winged maiden,

came against him, and he passed the test,

proving himself wise for all the land to see.

Therefore I will never judge him guilty.

Enter Kreon

KREON: Men of Thebes, I have learned

that Oedipus accuses me with dreadful words

that I cannot bear to hear.

For if he thinks I have done him wrong

in word or in action during this time of calamity,

then I do not wish to continue living.

This is not a minor matter; this is a serious offense.

It is a dire shame for me if you and my friends

call me a traitor.

CHORUS LEADER: But this accusation was made out of anger

rather than from calm judgment.

KREON: And who told Oedipus that I persuaded

the prophet to lie?

CHORUS LEADER: Indeed, those words were said, but I don’t know anything.

KREON: And was the judgment brought against my name and reputation

with calm eyes and clear judgment?

CHORUS LEADER: I can’t say. I don’t judge what my rulers do.

But here comes the king.

Enter Oedipus

OEDIPUS: You! So are you so bold that you shamelessly

come under my roof, when it is clear that you

have done the bloody deed, and would rob me of my power?

By the gods, have you seen cowardice or folly in my soul

that would lead you to plot against me?

Did you think that I wouldn’t notice your creeping movements?

Or did you think that I wouldn’t fight back if I did notice?

Is this not a foolish scheme, to try to take the throne

without support or friends to back you up?

A throne can be bought or won, but you can do neither.

KREON: You’ve said your piece; now hear my fair reply,

and then judge on the basis of knowledge.

OEDIPUS: You’re a cunning speaker, but I am a poor learner,

since I have found you to be my deadly enemy.

KREON: I will prove you wrong about that.

OEDIPUS: Don’t bother denying that you are a traitor.

KREON: If you think that self-will and pride are good,

then you do not have good judgment, and you aren’t wise.

OEDIPUS: If you think that you can injure a friend

and go unpunished, you aren’t wise.

KREON: I grant you that point, but tell me:

What have I done to make you suffer?

OEDIPUS: Did you or did you not

send for the prophet?

KREON: I did, and I would do it again.

OEDIPUS: How long has it been since Laios . . .

He pauses.

KREON: What about Laios?

OEDIPUS: How long has it been since he suffered the deadly blow?

KREON: It was a long time ago.

OEDIPUS: And was this prophet practicing his art then?

KREON: Yes, and with the same wisdom and honor.

OEDIPUS: Did he say anything about me then?

KREON: Not a word, at least not that I heard.

OEDIPUS: Did you not investigate the murder then?

KREON: Of course we did, but we found out nothing.

OEDIPUS: Why didn’t he accuse me then?

KREON: I don’t know, and I don’t speak

when I don’t have all the facts.

OEDIPUS: There is one thing that you know,

and if you meant well, you’d say it.

KREON: What is it? If I do know it, then I will speak.

OEDIPUS: That if he were not in league with you,

he would not accuse me of killing Laios.

KREON: If he says that, then you are the one who knows it.

Now you owe me answers to my own questions.

OEDIPUS: Ask them. I will never be found guilty of the murder.

KREON: Are you married to my sister?

OEDIPUS: Of course.

KREON: And do you share equal rule with her?

OEDIPUS: I grant her every command.

KREON: And am I not equal to the two of you?

OEDIPUS: Yes, and this is where you show yourself

to be a false friend.

KREON: No, think about it rationally,

just as I have done. First consider this:

do you think that anyone would choose to rule

in fear rather than in untroubled peace

if his share of the power is equal to the king’s?

I don’t value the name of the king; I value

kingly power. So would anyone who is wise.

Right now, I have what I desire at your consent

and without fear. If I were king,

I would not live in such ease.

Why, then, would kingship be sweeter to me

than untroubled influence and power?

I’m not yet so misguided

that I desire anything but honest gain.

Everywhere I go, people salute me,

and those who seek my favor smile at me

because their success with you

depends upon their getting a hearing from me.

So why would I leave this ease for that unease?

I still have my rational mind, my reason,

so I could never be a traitor.

I cannot think traitorous thoughts,

and I will not go along with traitors.

If you need proof, go to the Oracle yourself

and ask whether I brought back

the words that she told me.

And if you find me guilty of treason

with the blind prophet, then put me to death

both by your own decree and by mine.

But do not assume my guilt based on uncertain evidence.

It is not just to call an evil man good,

or a good man evil.

To cast aside a true friend

is like casting aside one’s own life.

And soon you will know this,

for time alone reveals righteousness—

but a bad man can be discovered in a single day.

CHORUS: For a person who is afraid to fall, he speaks well.

Judgments made too quickly are dangerous.

OEDIPUS: But when a man moves against me stealthily,

I must also be quick to make my countermove.

And if I do nothing, he wins,

and everything I have is lost.

KREON: What do you want, then?

To drive me from the land?

OEDIPUS: No, I don’t seek banishment; I seek death,

so that I can show the world what treason means.

KREON: So your judgment has failed; you’re crazy.

OEDIPUS: I act only to save myself.

KREON: And me?

OEDIPUS: You are evil.

KREON: But what if you’re wrong?

OEDIPUS: Still, I have to rule.

KREON: Not if you rule badly.

OEDIPUS: O, my country!

OEDIPUS: The city is also mine; it’s not only yours.

CHORUS LEADER: Stop, my lords! I see Iocaste coming from the palace—

and just in time to calm both of you.

She can help you resolve this quarrel.

Enter Iocaste

IOCASTE: Oh, you misguided men!

Why are you having this foolish argument?

You should be ashamed of yourselves,

arguing over petty private matters

while the city suffers! Come inside, Oedipus,

and go home, Kreon, and don’t

make the rest of us miserable over a private grief.

KREON: My sister, Oedipus wants to either

exile me or kill me!

OEDIPUS: Yes, indeed, I do; I have caught him

plotting evil against my life!

KREON: May I suffer and die

if I have done the things he accuses me of.

IOCASTE: Oh, in the name of the gods,

believe him, Oedipus! Respect his oath,

respect me, and respect those who stand by you!

CHORUS LEADER: Listen, my king! Be calm, we beg you.

OEDIPUS: What do you beg of me?

CHORUS LEADER: Believe the man. He was never a fool,

and now he swears by a strong oath.

OEDIPUS: Do you understand what you’re asking of me?


OEDIPUS: Then speak on.

CHORUS LEADER: Do not accuse a friend of a heinous crime

based on unproven rumors,

especially when he has sworn to his innocence.

OEDIPUS: Know, then, that when you ask for this,

you’re asking for my exile or my death.

CHORUS LEADER: No, by Helios, chief of all the gods!

May I die, too, cursed by god and man,

if I wish for anything like that!

But our land is wasting away,

old sufferings compounded by new sufferings,

and your quarrel is making things worse!

OEDIPUS: Let him go, then—

even if it means that I die

or have to be exiled from this country in shame.

But it is for you that I feel compassion;

I have none for him.

KREON: You are as bitter in yielding

as you are in the excess of your wrath.

Moods like yours are the most difficult to bear.

OEDIPUS: Just go. Leave me in peace.

KREON: I will go. I have been misjudged by you,

but these men see that I am just.

Exit Kreon

CHORUS LEADER: Lady, why are you slow to take him inside?

IOCASTE: I want to know what happened.

CHORUS LEADER: Blind suspicion arose, and injustice

causes harm.

IOCASTE: On both sides?


IOCASTE: And what did they say?

CHORUS LEADER: We should let the matter rest.

Our country has suffered enough.

OEDIPUS: I know that you have good intentions,

but do you see what you have done

in trying to calm my anger?

CHORUS LEADER: My lord, I have told you more than once:

be sure that if I ever forsake you, I have gone mad.

You are the one who saved us

when we were rocked with suffering, and you are the one

who are most likely to save us now.

IOCASTE: Lord, in the name of the gods, tell me:

what has caused your anger?

OEDIPUS: I will tell you, for I honor you

more than these men. The cause was Kreon

and his plots.

IOCASTE: Tell me how the argument began.

OEDIPUS: He says that I am the murderer of Laios.

IOCASTE: Does he say this from his own knowledge,

or did he hear it from someone else?

OEDIPUS: He sent that scoundrel prophet to accuse me.

He wouldn’t do it with his own lips.

IOCASTE: Then you can stop worrying about all this.

Listen to me, and I will show you that no man can claim

to be a master of prophecy.

I can prove it to you:

An oracle came to Laios once—

I don’t say from Apollo himself, but from one of his servants—

saying that his fate was to die by his son’s hand,

his own son and mine.

But Laios, according to rumor,

was killed by foreign marauders in a place

where three highways meet.

But when the child was not three days old,

Laios pinned his ankles together

and had others leave him on the mountain to die.

So Apollo did not cause the son to kill his father,

and Laios’ fate was not death at his son’s hands.

That shows you how well prophecies map the future.

Don’t pay any attention to them.

Whatever the god intends, he himself

will bring it to light.

OEDIPUS: Your words make me tremble, lady.

Something has stirred in my soul . . .

IOCASTE: What do you mean? Why do you look so anxious?

OEDIPUS: You said that Laios was killed at a place

where three highways meet?

IOCASTE: So it was said; the story hasn’t changed.

OEDIPUS: Where is the place?

IOCASTE: It’s a place called Phokis,

where the road splits into branches

that go to Delphi and to Daulia.

OEDIPUS: How long ago did this happen?

IOCASTE: We heard the news not long

before you took power here.

OEDIPUS: Oh, Zeus! What is the fate you’ve set for me?

IOCASTE: Oedipus! Why are you so upset?

OEDIPUS: Don’t ask me yet. First, tell me about Laios’ appearance:

his build, his features, and his age.

IOCASTE: He was tall, and he had white hair on his head.

His build was not unlike yours.

OEDIPUS: Oh, no. I think that I’ve walked

blindly into my own curse.

IOCASTE: Why do you say that?
I tremble to look at you . . .

OEDIPUS: A terrible fear comes over me; I’m afraid

that the prophet sees rightly. But I’ll ask one more thing . . .

IOCASTE: Ask, though I am afraid to hear it.

OEDIPUS: Did he have a few men with him,

or did he have a large armed escort, as a king should?

IOCASTE: There were five altogether. One of them was a herald,

and Laios rode in a chariot.

OEDIPUS: Oh, god, I am beginning to understand.

And who gave you this information, lady?

IOCASTE: A servant, the only one who escaped.

OEDIPUS: And is he still a servant here?

IOCASTE: No. When he returned and found you ruling

in place of Laios, he laid his hand on mine

and begged me to send him

out to the farmlands and sheep pastures,

far away from the city.

He was was a very good servant,

so I sent him. He had earned

even more than that from me.

OEDIPUS: Can he be called back quickly?

IOCASTE: Maybe. But why do you want to?

OEDIPUS: I am afraid that I have said too much already.

That’s why I want to see him now.

IOCASTE: Well, he will come. But I deserve to know

what is troubling you so much.

OEDIPUS: I won’t keep it from you, especially not now that so much

of what I have feared has come true. You are the one

I should talk to at a time like this.

My father was Polybus of Korinth,

and Merope of Doris was my mother.

And I was held in honor by everyone

who lived there. But then, by accident,

a strange thing happened:

A drunken man at supper said that I was

not the true son of my father.

I restrained myself that night, but the next day

I went and questioned my parents about

what I had heard. They scorned and raged in a fury

at the man who had made the insult.

They gave me some reassurance,

but my suspicion still nagged me,

so I went to Delphi without telling my parents.

But the god wouldn’t answer my questions.

Instead, he told me other things

full of sorrow and terror:

he said that I was fated to be my own mother’s lover,

that I would father unnatural children with her,

and that I would murder the father who begot me.

When I heard this, I fled from Korinth,

going to a place where I might never see

the shame of those evil prophecies come true.

But I ran straight to the place where

you say that the king was killed.

Now, my lady, I will tell you the truth:

I came to a place where three highways meet,

and there I met a herald and a man

like the on you described, riding in a chariot

pulled by young colts. They tried to drive me

from the road, but as the driver tried to push me

I hit him in anger. And the old man,

when he saw this, watched for me

and swung his double goad at my skull.

I paid him back for that, though.

I hit him so hard with this staff that he fell

out of the chariot onto his back.

I killed every single one of them.

But what if this stranger had

some . . . tie of kinship to Laios?

Who, then, is more wretched than I am?

What man is more hated by the gods?

No one—foreigner or citizen—could take

me into his home, and no one

could speak to me. I must be cast out as an exile.

I laid this curse upon myself, no one else.

And I corrupt the man’s bed with my own hands,

the very hands that killed him.

Am I not completely vile? Am I not filthy and disgusting?

I must be banished. I must never see my people

or walk on my own country’s soil.
Or worse, I must join my mother in marriage

and kill my father, Polybus, who raised me.

If someone said that this was the work

of some savage god, he would be right.

Save me, you pure and awful gods

from that horrible day!

May I be utterly alone

before I come to that horrible fate.

CHORUS LEADER: What you say terrifies me, too, Lord.

But don’t give up hope before you have learned what happened

from the one who witnessed it.

OEDIPUS: In truth, that’s my only hope:

waiting for the shepherd to appear.

IOCASTE: And when he gets here, what are you going to ask?

OEDIPUS: If his story matches yours,

then I avoid disaster.

IOCASTE: What did I say that was so important?

OEDIPUS: You said that he told you Laios was killed by marauders.

And if he tells the same story—that there were several of them—

then I am not the killer.

But if he says that it was only one,

then I am certainly guilty.

IOCASTE: Just remember that he definitely said “several,”

and he can’t change his story now.

And I was not the only one he told;

the whole city heard his words.

But even if he should take back what he said,

that still does not prove that Laios’ death

happened the way the prophecy foretold.

My poor child died before he ever

had a chance to kill his father.

After that, no prophecy ever frightened me.

OEDIPUS: You’re right, but still: send the messenger

to find that shepherd now. Don’t neglect this.

IOCASTE: I’ll send for him now. But go inside.

I won’t do anything that would displease you.

Oedipus and Iocaste go into the palace

CHORUS: Let it be my destiny

to win praise all my life

for purity of speech

and for obedience to the laws

that come down from the heavens—

laws that come from no human

but from Olympus alone.

Those laws never sleep or forget.

In them the god is strong

and never grows old.

Violent pride breeds the tyrant,

who is drunk on power and wealth,

but it does him no good

because he climbs to the greatest heights

only to fall down to his doom

where his strength is useless.

But I pray that the god never stops

the kind of conflict that benefits the State;

I will always believe that the god

is our protector.

But if any man walks pridefully

in action or in word,

and if he has no fear of the gods

or respect for their righteousness,

if he does not win his earnings fairly

and keep his unclean hands

away from holy things,

then let an evil fate tear him down.

If such deeds are held in high respect,

why should we join the sacred dance?

Never again will I go

to earth’s central holy shrine,

nor to Abai’s temple or to Olympia,

unless all these prophecies come true

for all men to see and wonder.

But Zeus! If you are the King over all,

do not let this crime hide itself from you

or your undying power.

The old prophecies about Laios are fading;

already men forget them.

In no place is Apollo glorified with honors,

and the worship of the gods is dying.

Enter Iocaste carrying branches and incense

IOCASTE: Princes of our land, I plan to visit the shrines

of all the gods, carrying these branches

and waving incense for Oedipus.

His soul is troubled with sorrows,

and he does not judge like a man with sense,

considering the present in light of the past.

Instead, he listens to every voice

that speaks of fear.

Since he will not listen to my advice,

She places her wreaths upon an altar to Apollo

I come to you first, Lykeian Apollo,

since you are closest,

with prayers, trusting that you will show

some way of escape for us from guilt.

For we all shudder when we see him,

watching the captain of our ship struck with fear.

Enter Messenger

MESSENGER: May I ask you, strangers,

where I can find the house of Oedipus the king?

Better yet, do you know where he is?

CHORUS LEADER: This is the house, and Oedipus is inside.

Here is his wife, the mother of his children.

MESSENGER: Then may she be ever happy in a happy home,

since she is his blessed queen.

IOCASTE: And the same to you, my friend. You deserve no less

for that speech. But tell me why you have come.

MESSENGER: I bring good news for you and your husband, lady.

IOCASTE: What is it, then? And who has sent you here?

MESSENGER: I come from Korinth, and I have news

that might bring you joy, though it might also bring you sorrow.

IOCASTE: What kind of news can do both?

MESSENGER: The word is that the people of the Isthmus intend

to make Oedipus their king.

IOCASTE: Why? Does old Polybos no longer reign?

MESSENGER: No. Death holds him in the tomb.

IOCASTE: Polybos is dead?

MESSENGER: Let me die if I don’t speak the truth.

IOCASTE (to a servant): Go as fast as you can, and tell your master!

Where are you now, oracles of the gods?

It has been a long time since my Oedipus fled,

fearing that his own hand should kill the man.

And now Polybos dies by fate, and not by Oedipus.

Enter Oedipus

OEDIPUS: My dear Iocaste, why have you sent for me?

IOCASTE: Listen to this man’s story, and when you hear it,

tell me what prophecies are worth.

OEDIPUS: Who is this? What does he say?

IOCASTE: He comes from Corinth, and he brings word

that Polybos, your father, has died.

OEDIPUS: Is this true, stranger? Let me hear it from you.

MESSENGER: Let me make it clear: Polybus is dead.

OEDIPUS: Was he murdered, or was it natural death?

MESSENGER: It takes little for an old man to die.

OEDIPUS: So he died from some disease?

MESSENGER: Yes, and he suffered for many weary months.

OEDIPUS: Why, indeed, should we pay attention

to the Pythian oracle or to the birds that scream in the air?

The oracle said that I would slay my father,

and yet he is dead, buried in the ground,

and I have not put my hand to a sword—

unless he died longing for me; then

you might say that I caused his death.

So Polybos has taken those worthless oracles

into hell with him.

IOCASTE: Did I not tell you all this a long time ago?

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

IOCASTE: So don’t think of those things any more!

OEDIPUS: And yet—shouldn’t I be afraid of my mother’s bed?

IOCASTE: Why should we fear anything

when fate rules everything

and no one can see the future?

It is better to live at random, the best we can.

Don’t be afraid of marrying your mother.

Many men dream of sleeping with their mothers.

The happiest man thinks nothing of such things.

OEDIPUS: You’re right—but my mother is still alive,

and I can’t help being afraid.

IOCASTE: Your father’s death is a good reason to rejoice.

OEDIPUS: Yes, but while my mother lives there is still reason to fear.

MESSENGER: Who is this woman that you’re afraid of?

OEDIPUS: Merope, old man. The wife of Polybos.

MESSENGER: And why do you think of her with fear?

OEDIPUS: A terrible prophecy, my friend, from a god.

MESSENGER: Can you tell me about it? Or must you keep it to yourself?

OEDIPUS: I can tell you. Apollo once said

that I was doomed to marry my own mother

and spill my father’s blood with my own hands.

So I left Corinth a long time ago,

journeying far and coming to good fortune,

even though I miss the faces of my parents.

MESSENGER: This is the fear that drove you to leave Corinth?

OEDIPUS: I was fated to kill my father, old man!

MESSENGER: So why doesn’t my news reassure you?

OEDIPUS: I would give you a great reward for reassurance!

MESSENGER: I admit, that’s what I came for:

that you would come home and I would be rewarded.

OEDIPUS: I won’t come back while one of my parents lives.

MESSENGER: My child, you clearly don’t know what you’re doing.

OEDIPUS: What do you mean, old man?

In the name of all the gods, tell me!

MESSENGER: If you ran from home because of that . . .

OEDIPUS: I am afraid the prophecy will come true.

MESSENGER: And you would become guilty through your parents?

OEDIPUS: Yes, that’s the fear that haunts me every day.

MESSENGER: Don’t you know that you have no reason to be afraid?

OEDIPUS: What do you mean? Polybos was my father, wasn’t he?

MESSENGER: You are no kin of Polybos.

OEDIPUS: Polybos is not my father?

MESSENGER: No more than I am.

OEDIPUS: But you are nothing to me!

MESSENGER: And neither was Polybos.

OEDIPUS: Then why did he call me his son?

MESSENGER: I gave you to him as a gift.

OEDIPUS: How could he love me so much if I was not his?

MESSENGER: He had no other children,

and this made him love you all the more.

OEDIPUS: Did you find me, or did you buy me?

MESSENGER: I found you in a wooded hollow on Mount Kithairon.

OEDIPUS: Why were you there?

MESSENGER: I was tending my flocks there.

OEDIPUS: You’re a shepherd? Were you working for hire?

MESSENGER: On that day, I was your savior.

OEDIPUS: What did you save me from?

MESSENGER: The ankles of your feet will tell you that.

OEDIPUS: Ah, why do you speak of that old pain?

MESSENGER: I freed you. Your ankles were pinned together.

OEDIPUS: I’ve had that mark of shame since I was a child.

MESSENGER: As fate would have it, that is how you got your name.

OEDIPUS: Who gave me that name? My father? My Mother?

Tell me, for god’s sake.

MESSENGER: I don’t know.

The one who gave you to me knows better than I do.

OEDIPUS: So you didn’t find me? You got me from someone else?

MESSENGER: No, another shepherd gave you to me.

OEDIPUS: Who is he? Do you know where to find him?

MESSENGER: I think that he was said to be one of Laios’ servants.

OEDIPUS: You mean the former king of this land?

MESSENGER: Yes. He tended Laios’ flocks.

OEDIPUS: Can I see him? Is he still alive?

MESSENGER: Those who live here would know that.

OEDIPUS: Is there anyone here who knows

the shepherd that this man is talking about?

Has anyone seen him in the pastures or in town?

If you do, now is the time to speak up!

CHORUS LEADER: I think that he’s talking about

the one that you already sent for.

But our lady Iocaste would know best.

OEDIPUS: My lady, do you know the one we summoned?

Is he the one that the shepherd is talking about?

IOCASTE (trying to remain calm): Why ask about him?

Don’t worry about what the shepherd says.

It isn’t worth your time.

OEDIPUS: I won’t give up now that I have

these clues in my grasp.

I must solve the mystery of my birth.

IOCASTE: For god’s sake, if you have any care for your own life,

give up your search! My own suffering is enough.

OEDIPUS: Don’t worry: even if it turns out that I’m born of slaves,

that doesn’t mean that you are of low birth.

IOCASTE: But I beg you, stop!

Listen to my advice: don’t do this.

OEDIPUS: I have to discover the truth.

IOCASTE: But I’m saying this for your own good!

OEDIPUS: All these things said “for my own good”

try my patience.

IOCASTE: Oh, you ill-fated man:

I pray that you never know who you are!

OEDIPUS: Will someone bring that shepherd to me?

Leave this woman to glory in her royal birth!

Iocaste cries out in anguish.

IOCASTE: You miserable man!

That is the only thing I can say to you now.

That is the only thing I can ever say to you.

She runs into the palace.

CHORUS LEADER: Why has she left us in such a wild grief, Oedipus?

I am afraid that a storm of sorrow will soon break this silence.

OEDIPUS: Come what will, I will know my own birth,

however lowly it might be.

With her woman’s pride the queen is ashamed

of my humble origins; but I am

a child of fate, and I fear no shame.

Fate is my mother, and the passing months

are my brothers. They have seen me

sometimes lowly and sometimes great.

That is my heritage. How could

I fail to search for the secret of my birth?

CHORUS: If I am a prophet or if I have wisdom,

you, O Mount Kithairon—you will know how

Oedipus honors you as his mother and his nurse;

and we will celebrate you in dance and song

because you delight our king with good news.

Oh, Apollo! May we find favor in your sight!

Who was it, my son, who gave birth to you?

Was it a daughter of immortals in wedlock with Pan,

who wanders over the mountains?

Or was it a bride of Apollo that bore you?

(For the mountain pastures are dear to him.)

Was it Hermes, master of the Kyellene height?

Or did Dionysus, who dwells on the hilltops,

receive you as a gift from one of the nymphs of Helicon,

the ones he loves to play with?

OEDIPUS (looking into the distance): Sirs, I’ve never met the man,

but if I have to guess, I think I see the shepherd coming,

the one we’ve been waiting a long time to see.

He is old like this man here,

and I think I recognize the ones who bring him:

they are servants of mine.

But you should know better than I do:

you’ve seen the man before.

CHORUS LEADER: I do know him, my king.

He was the servant of Laios. You can trust him.

Enter Shepherd.

OEDIPUS: I’ll ask you first, Corinthian stranger:

is this the man we discussed?

MESSENGER: Yes, he’s the one you’re looking for.

OEDIPUS: You, old man: look at me and answer my questions.

Were you once in the service of Laios?


He didn’t buy me; I was born and raised in his house.

OEDIPUS: What kind of work did you do for him?

SHEPHERD: Almost all my life I was a shepherd.

OEDIPUS: And where did you graze your folks, mostly?

SHEPHERD: Sometimes on Mount Kithairon,

and sometimes in fields close to it.

OEDIPUS: Do you know this man? Did you ever see him there?

SHEPHERD: This man? Why would he be there?

OEDIPUS: This man here.

He indicates the Messenger.

Did you ever meet him?

SHEPHERD: Not that I can recall . . .

MESSENGER: It’s no wonder that he doesn’t remember, lord.

But I will remind him of the things that he has forgotten.

I’m sure that he remembers well the time when we

pastured our flocks from spring to fall

for three years on Mount Kithairon.

He had two flocks, and I had one.

During the winter, I took my flock to my pens,

and he took his to Laios’ pens.

He turns to the Shepherd.

Do you remember this? Am I right or wrong?

SHEPHERD: It was a long time ago, but yes,

you speak the truth.

MESSENGER: So tell me: do you remember a boy

that you once gave me to be my foster-son?

SHEPHERD: What? Why do you ask?

MESSENGER: Here he is, the same boy!

SHEPHERD: Damn you, be quiet!

OEDIPUS: Don’t rebuke him, old man!

You’re the one who should be rebuked.

SHEPHERD: My lord, what have I done wrong?

OEDIPUS: You won’t tell us about the boy.

SHEPHERD: He’s talking nonsense, just making trouble . . .

OEDIPUS: If you won’t speak willingly,

then pain will loosen your tongue.

SHEPHERD: No, in the name of the gods,

don’t hurt an old man!

OEDIPUS: Someone come here—

tie his hands behind his back.

SHEPHERD: Oh, most wretched man!

What do you want to know?

OEDIPUS: Did you give the boy to this man?

The one he asks about?

SHEPHERD: I did. I wish I had died that day!

OEDIPUS: You will die unless you tell the truth.

SHEPHERD: And yet I die all the more if I speak.

OEDIPUS: He’s determined to delay speaking.

He motions for his men to torture the old man.

SHEPHERD: No, no! I already told you I gave him the boy.

OEDIPUS: Where did the child come from? Was he yours?

SHEPHERD: No, someone gave him to me.

OEDIPUS: Who was it? Whose house did the child come from?

SHEPHERD: For the love of the gods, king, ask no more!

OEDIPUS: You die if I have to ask you again.

SHEPHERD: The child came from the house of Laios.

OEDIPUS: A slave? Or one of his family?

SHEPHERD: Oh, god, I am about to say something terrible.

OEDIPUS: And yet I have to know, whatever it is.

SHEPHERD: The boy was said to be the son of Laios.

But your wife could tell you the truth about it.

OEDIPUS: What? Was she the one who gave you the child?

SHEPHERD: Yes, lord.


SHEPHERD: She said I was to get rid of it.

OEDIPUS: Her own child? What a horrible woman!

SHEPHERD: There was a prophecy . . .

OEDIPUS: About what?

SHEPHERD: That he would kill his own father . . .

OEDIPUS: Why, then, did you give him to this old man?

SHEPHERD: I pitied the boy, lord, and I thought

that this man would take him to another land,

the place where he came from.

But he saved him for a terrible fate.

If you are what this man says,

then you were born for doom.

Oedipus cries out in anguish.

OEDIPUS: Oh, god, it’s all come true!

May I never look upon light again,

I, Oedipus—the one damned in birth,

damned in marriage,

and damned in the shedding of blood!

He runs into the palace.

CHORUS: Oh, race of mortal men,

your life is a mere shadow.

Where is the man

who has a blessing

that is more than appearance

and lasts more than a little while?

Your fate, Oedipus, teaches me

to never call a mortal man blessed.

For you, with wondrous skill,

taking your aim, had success in everything.

You destroyed the Sphinx

with her bent talons

and her wild, dark riddles.

You were our fortress of defense

against many deaths.

So you have the kingship,

crowned with highest glory

and ruling all of Thebes.

But now, who has a more miserable story?

Who is a more wretched slave

to pain and trouble?

Oh, noble Oedipus!

The same harbor was sufficient for you—

both as a son and as a father.

How could the soil

where your father sowed

silently endure you for so long?

Time, that all-seeing eye,

has found you out against your will,

and long ago it condemned you

in your monstrous marriage—

parent and child being one.

Oh, child of Laios!

I wish I had never looked upon your face!

I cry out in mourning,

for you gave me new life,

and now through you

darkness has fallen over my eyes.

Enter Second Messenger.

SECOND MESSENGER: You, the most honored men in our land,

what things you will hear of,

what things you will see,

and what a cry will you raise

if you still care for the house of Labdakos.

For neither the waters of Ister nor the Phasis

could wash this house clean

of all the horrors that it holds.

But all too soon will they come to light,

horrors done not involuntarily,

but on purpose, and the sorrows

that we choose are the most painful.

CHORUS LEADER: The sorrows we already know are hard to bear.

What more can you add?

SECOND MESSENGER: Our royal lady Iocaste is dead.

CHORUS LEADER: Oh, unfortunate woman! How?

SECOND MESSENGER: She killed herself. You are spared the worst,

since you weren’t there to see it, but I saw it all.

I’ll tell you of that miserable woman’s death:

She ran frantically through the vestibule

and went straight to her marriage bed,

tearing her hair with both hands

and calling for Laios

—who is long since a corpse—

thinking of the son born long ago

whose hand killed Laios

and left the mother to breed

cursed offspring with his own child.

And she wailed over her bed,

where she bore a husband with her husband

and children with her child.

And how she died after this I don’t know,

for Oedipus burst inside with a shriek

and we no longer looked at her

but at him as he ran back and forth,

asking for a sword,

asking for the wife who was not a wife,

but the mother whose womb had born

him and his own children.

And a power greater than man

led him on in his frenzy

—none of us did it.

And with a terrible cry,

as though someone called to him,

he rushed at the double doors,

forcing the bolts to give way,

and there we saw his wife

hanging from a noose of twisted cords.

And when he saw her

he gave a low, terrible cry

he slipped the noose from her throat

and took her down.

When the ill-fated woman

was stretched out on the ground,

then came a horrible sight:

he tore from her robe the golden brooches

that she had used to decorate herself,

and with them he stabbed his own eyes, crying,

“No longer will I see such horrors as

the ones that I have suffered and committed.

Long enough have I looked on those

I should never have seen,

and too long have I been blind

to what I should have known.

Therefore from now on I will be blind!”

With dire words like these,

he struck his eyes not once but several times.

With each blow, blood streamed his face and beard,

and the gore rained from the sockets like hail.

These were the evils that fell on them both,

the husband and the wife.

Their past fortune was great indeed,

but today there is only sorrow, ruin, shame,

and every other evil that a man can name.

CHORUS LEADER: Oh, the poor man.

Does he have any relief from his misery?

SECOND MESSENGER: He wants us to open the gates

and show to everyone in Thebes his father’s murderer,

and his mother’s . . . I can’t even say it.

The words were disgusting and fearful.

Then he said that he would exile himself.

He won’t stay here and curse the land.

He is weak and needs a guiding hand;

this sickness is more than he can bear.

He will show this to you soon. Look—

the gates are opening. You’ll see

a sight that even a hated enemy would pity.

The doors of the palace open, revealing Oedipus.

CHORUS LEADER: Oh, what a terrible fate to see!

The most dreadful thing I have ever set my eyes on!

What madness has come over you, wretched one?

What spirit, heaping evil upon evil,

has made you its prey?

Oh, you doomed man,

even though there are many questions I want to ask

and much that I want to learn from you,
I can’t even look at you—

the sight is too horrible.

Oedipus gives a terrible cry of suffering.

OEDIPUS: I am such a wretch! Where—

where will my misery take me?

Where does my voice go on the wings of the air?

Oh, Fate—how far have you sprung?

CHORUS LEADER: To a dark place too terrible to see or hear.

OEDIPUS: Oh, the cloud of darkest guilt that surrounds me,

unspeakable, irresistible, carried by an evil wind.

Oh, god, the misery—the stabbing pain of memory

pierces my soul!

CHORUS LEADER: It is no wonder. In your suffering,

you suffer twice over: the pain of your grief,

and the pain of your wounds.

OEDIPUS: My friend, you’re still faithful

in your care for me.

Even though I am blind,

I know your presence by your voice.

CHORUS LEADER: Oh, you man of dreadful deeds,

how could you bear to destroy your eyes in this way?

What power drove you to it?

OEDIPUS: Apollo, my friends, it was Apollo

who brought about my terrible, terrible sufferings.

But the hand that gouged out my eyes was mine only,

wretched man that I am.

What need do I have for sight

when my sight showed me nothing sweet?

CHORUS LEADER: You are right.

OEDIPUS: My friends, what is there left to see

or love or hear with joy?

Take me away from here, my friends,

take me from this land—

the foul, polluted man,

the cursed man,

the man most hated by the gods.

CHORUS LEADER: Oh, wretched one, wretched for your fate

and for your understanding of it—

I wish I had never seen your face.

OEDIPUS: The man who freed me from my binds

all those years ago—may he die!
If I had died then, I would not have been

a curse to my friends or to myself.

CHORUS LEADER: Yes, I wish that, too.

OEDIPUS: Yes, then I would not have

been my father’s killer.

Nor would men have known me

as the man who married his own mother.

Now I am forsaken by the gods,

the son of a defiled mother,

inheritor of my father’s bed.

If there is a suffering beyond all suffering,

it has fallen on me.

CHORUS LEADER: I can’t say that what you’ve done is good.

You would be better off dead than living blind.

OEDIPUS: Don’t tell me that this wasn’t the best way.

How would I look on my own father and mother

when I enter Hades? I have committed sins against them

that even hanging could not adequately punish.

Or do you think that the sight of children’s faces

was lovely to me? Or of this town with its towering walls?

Or its sacred shrines to the gods, where I stood

as the most honored man in Thebes and commanded

that the people should reject the unholy one,

the ones that the gods have shown to be cursed,

and a member of Laios’ own house?

And could I bear to look the people in the face

with such a terrible pollution in me?

No, and if I could also stop all sound from my ears,

I wouldn’t hesitate to do it so that I would

see nothing and hear no sound.

How sweet it would be to dwell

where there is no pain or grief.

Oh, Kithairon, why did you give me shelter

instead of killing me right away?

Then I wouldn’t have revealed

my birth to all mankind.

Oh, Polybus and Corinth, the home

that I thought was mine—

the son you raised was handsome on the outside

but rotten on the inside.

Now I am revealed to be evil,

even evil in my birth.

Oh, you three roads, half-hidden in the thicket,

the narrow pass where the three roads meet—

where dirt drank my father’s blood

from my own hands—

do you remember

the things I did in your sight

and what I did when I left there?

Oh, marriage, you gave me birth

and then, in horrible confusion,

gave children to your child

and made one man father, brother, son,

mother, wife, and daughter,

all mixed in an incestuous relationship,

the foulest things that men have ever done.

But since it is wrong to talk about the things

that are wrong to do, exile me from this land quickly,

or kill me, or throw me into the sea

where no one will ever look at me again.

The Chorus shrinks away from him

Come closer, it’s alright.

Don’t be afraid to lay your hands on a wretched man.

My plague is my own;

no mortal man can bear the pain that I have suffered.

CHORUS LEADER: But here comes Kreon, the one who

can do what you ask. He is the only one left

to guard the city in your place.

OEDIPUS: Oh, no! What can I say to him,

and how can I possibly win his trust?

I treated him so wrongly before . . .

Enter Kreon.

KREON: I haven’t come to scorn you, Oedipus,

or to judge you for your previous crimes.

Turning to the Chorus

Have you lost all of your shame?

At least respect the light of Helios, the Sun,

the source of life, and don’t show

this pollution openly;

neither rain nor light from heaven

can see it and welcome it.

Take him inside as quickly as you can.

Only kindred should see the shame

of a relative.

OEDIPUS: For the love of god, since you

have treated me, a vile man,

so kindly, let me ask one thing—it is for your good.

KREON: What do you want from me?

OEDIPUS: Cast me out of here immediately;

send me where no one will see me again!

KREON: I would have done so already,

but I want to know what the god wills.

OEDIPUS: The god was clear:

I—the one who killed his father—should die.

KREON: Yes, that’s what the oracle said.

Still, at a time like this, it is better to be sure.

OEDIPUS: You would consult the gods for a wretch like me?

KREON: Of course. Even you will obey the gods’ decrees.

OEDIPUS: Yes, and I also command you, I beg you—

give the woman within the palace a tomb,

bury her as you see fit. You will give fitting

funeral rites to one of your own house.

But never let me be a curse

upon the city of my fathers.

Send me to the to the hills to live,

to Kithairon, the place chosen as my tomb

by my mother and father while I lived;

that way I can die by the decree

of those who tried to kill me then.

And yet I know this: no disease

or anything else can kill me,

for I would never have escaped death before

except that I was destined to some strange fate.

Let my fate take me wherever it will.

As for my sons, Kreon,

please take no special care for them.

They are grown men, and they will never

lack a means of surviving wherever they live.

But as for my two poor girls,

who never dined separately from me

and never lacked their father’s presence—

they always had a share of everything that was mine—

I beg you to take care of them.

Wait—will you let me touch them with my hands

one last time and weep with them in my grief?

If I could touch them one more time,

I might think that I could see them

as before, when I had my eyes.

Enter Antigone and Ismene

What is this? Oh, gods, is it my loved ones

that I hear sobbing?

Has Kreon taken pity on me

and sent me my loved ones?

KREON: Yes, I am the one who brought them.

I knew the joy you had in them, that you still have.

OEDIPUS: Bless you, Kreon, and may the god

be a better guard to you than he has been to me.

He reaches for Antigone and Ismene

Where are you, my children? Come, now,

to your brother’s hands, which just now

blinded your father’s once bright eyes.

Blind and ignorant, my children,

I became your father by my own mother.

I weep for you, though I am the one blinded,

picturing in my mind the bitter life

that men will make you live from now on.

To what friendly gatherings can you go?

What festivals? You will only come home

in tears, and when you are old enough to marry,

who is the man, my daughters,

who will shame himself with the curse

that falls on me and on you?

What other misery is left?

Your father killed his father,

and he bore you from his own mother!

This is how men will shame you,

and who would dare make you his in marriage?

No one, my daughters.

You will wither away, old and unmarried.

Turning to Kreon

You, son of Menoikeus,

since their parents are now both dead

and you are the only father left to them,

please do not let them wander old and unmarried.

You are their family, so do not let them

fall to the depth of my suffering.

Have pity on them, since at a young age

they have lost everything except for you.

Promise, noble Kreon, and take my hand.

Kreon draws back

If you were older, children, I would have

given you much advice. But now pray

for me, that I may find a fitting place to live,

and pray that you might have a happier life than mine.

KREON: You have wept and said enough now. Go inside.

OEDIPUS: I must yield to you, however hard it might be.

KREON: Yes, but in time all things are best.

OEDIPUS: Do you know what I want of you?

KREON: Tell me; I will listen.

OEDIPUS: Make sure that you send me out of this land.

KREON: You ask what only the gods can give.

OEDIPUS: But the gods hate me.

KREON: Then you will get your wish.

OEDIPUS: Do you promise to do it?

KREON: I always say what I mean.

OEDIPUS: Then it is time to lead me away.

KREON: Go now, but leave your daughters behind.

OEDIPUS: Please don’t take them from me.

KREON: You can’t have your way in everything.

Your power has not followed you through all of life.

CHORUS: You men of Thebes, look at Oedipus,

the one who solved the famous riddle

and was a powerful man.

Who saw him and did not envy his fortune and success?

But look at the stormy sea of troubles

that has surrounded him now.

So while we wait for the final day,

we will call no many happy

until he has passed into death

free of all pain.