Oedipus Rex Essay Example
At the beginning of the action these steps are crowded by suppliants who have brought branches and chaplets of olive leaves and who lie in various attitudes of despair. OEDIPUS enters. OEDIPUS: My children, generations of the living In the line of Kadmos, nursed at his ancient hearth: Why have you strewn yourselves before these altars In supplication, with your boughs and garlands? The breath of incense rises from the city With a sound of prayer and lamentation. Page 4 Children, I would not have you speak through messengers, And therefore I have come myself to hear you— I, Oedipus, who bear the famous name. To a PRIEST: You, there, since you are eldest in the company, Speak for them all, tell me what preys upon you, Whether you come in d...
read, or crave some blessing: Tell me, and never doubt that I will help you In every way I can; I should be heartless Were I not moved to find you suppliant here. PRIEST Great Oedipus. O powerful King of Thebes! You see how all the ages of our people Cling to your altar steps: here are boys Who can barely stand-alone, and here are priests By weight of age, as I am a priest of God, And young men were chosen from those vet unmarried; As for the others. all that multitude, They wait with olive chaplets in the squares,
At the two shrines of Pallas, and where Apollo Speaks in the glowing embers. Your own eyes Must tell you, Thebes is tossed on a murdering sea And can not lift her head from the death surge. A rust consumes the buds and fruits
of the earth; The herds are sick: children die unborn, And labor is vain. The god of plague and pyre Raids like detestable lightning through the city, And all the house of Kadmos is laid waste, All emptied, and all darkened: Death alone Battens upon the misery of Thebes. Page 5 You are not one of the immortal gods, we know; Yet we have come to you to make our prayer As to the man surest in mortal ways
And wisest in the ways of God. You saved us From the Sphinx, that flinty singer, and the tribute We paid to her so long; vet you were never Better informed than we, nor could we teach you: It was some god breathed in you to set us free. Therefore, O mighty King, we turn to you: Find us our safety, find us a remedy, Whether by counsel of the gods or men. A king of wisdom tested in the past Can act in a time of troubles, and act well. Noblest of men, restore Life to your city! Think how all men call you Liberator for your triumph long ago; Ah, when your years of kingship are remembered, Let them not say We rose. ut later fell Keep the State from going down in the storm! Once, years ago, with happy augury, You brought us fortune; be the same again! No man questions your power to rule the land: But rule over men, not over a dead city! Ships are only hulls, citadels are nothing, When no life moves in the empty passageways. OEDIPUS: Poor children! You may be sure I know All that you longed
for in your coming here. I know that you are deathly sick; and yet. Sick as you are, not one is as sick as 1. Each of you suffers in himself alone His anguish, not another's; but my spirit Groans for the city, for myself, for you. Page 6
I was not sleeping, you are not waking me. No, I have been in tears for a long while And in my restless thought walked many ways. In all my search, I found one helpful course, And that I have taken: I have sent Creon, Son of Menoikeus, brother of the Queen, To Delphi, Apollo's place of revelation, To learn there if he can, What act or pledge of mine may save the city. I have counted the days, and now, this very day, I am troubled, for he has overstayed his time. What is he doing? He has been gone too long. Yet whenever he comes back, I should do ill To scant whatever duty God reveals.
Gathered around us? I am prepared to speak, But should we not go in? OEDIPUS: Let them all hear it. It is for them I suffer, more than for myself. CREON: Then I will tell you what I heard at Delphi. In plain words The god commands us to expel from the land of Thebes An old defilement we are sheltering. It is a deathly thing, beyond cure; We must not let it feed upon us longer. OEDIPUS: What defilement? How shall we rid ourselves of it? CREON: By exile or death, blood for blood. It was Murder that brought the plague-wind on the city. OEDIPUS: Murder of whom? Surely
the god has named him? Page 8 CREON:
My lord: long ago Laios was our king, Before you came to govern us. OEDIPUS: I know; I learned of him from others; I never saw him. CREON: He was murdered; and Apollo commands us now To take revenge upon whoever killed him. OEDIPUS: Upon whom? Where are they? Where shall we find a clue To solve that crime, after so many years? CREON: Here in this land, he said. If we make enquiry, We may touch things that otherwise escape us. OEDIPUS: Tell me: Was Laos murdered in his house, Or in the fields, or in some foreign country? CREON: He said he planned to make a pilgrimage. He did not come home again. OEDIPUS: And was there no one,
No witness, no companion, to tell what happened? CREON: They were all killed but one, and he got away So frightened that he could remember one thing only. Page 9 OEDIPUS: What was that one thing? One may be the key To everything, if we resolve to use it. CREON: He said that a band of highwaymen attacked them, Outnumbered them, and overwhelmed the King. OEDIPUS: Strange, that a highwayman should be so daring— Unless some faction here bribed him to do it. CREON: We thought of that. But after Laos' death New troubles arose and we had no avenger. OEDIPUS: What troubles could prevent your hunting down the killers? CREON:
The riddling Sphinx's song Made us deaf to all mysteries but her own. OEDIPUS: Then once more I must bring what is dark to light. It is most fitting that Apollo shows, As you do, this compunction for
the dead. You shall see how I stand by you, as I should, To avenge the city and the city's god. And not as though it were for some distant friend, But for my own sake, to be rid of evil. Whoever killed King Laios might—who knows? — Decide at any moment to kill me as well By avenging the murdered king I protect myself. Come, then, my children: leave the altar steps, Page 10 Lift up your olive boughs! One of you go
And summon the people of Kadmos to gather here. I will do all that I can; you may tell them that. [Exit a PAGE So, with the help of God, We shall be saved—or else indeed we are lost. PRIEST: Let us rise, children. It was for this we came, And now the King has promised it himself. Phoibus has sent us an oracle; may he descend Himself to save us and drive out the plague. [Exeunt OEDIPUS and CREON into the palace by the central door. The PRIEST and the SUPPLIANTS disperse R and L. After a short pause the CHORUS enters the orchestra. PARODOS CHORUS: [STROPHE I What is God singing in his profound Delphi of gold and shadow?
What oracle for Thebes, the sunwhipped city? Fear unjoints me, the roots of my heart tremble. Nov I remember, O Healer, your power, and wonder: Will you send doom like a sudden cloud, or weave it Page 11 Like nightfall of the past? Speak, speak to us, issue of holy sound: Dearest to our expectancy: be tender! [ANTISTROPHE Let me pray to Athena, the immortal daughter of Zeus, And to Artemis her
sister Who keeps her famous throne in the market ring, And to Apollo, bowman at the far butts of heaven-- O gods, descend! Like three streams leap against The fires of our grief, the fires of darkness; Be swift to bring us rest!
As in the old time from the brilliant house Now our afflictions have no end. [STROPHE 2 Now all our stricken host lies down Of air you stepped to save us. come again! And no man fights off death with his mind; The noble plowland bears no grain, And groaning mothers can not bear See, how our lives like birds take wing, Like sparks that fly when a fire soars, To the shore of the god of evening. [ANTISTROPHE 2 The plague burns on, it is pitiless, Though pallid children laden with death Lie unwept in the stony ways. And old gray women by every path Flock to the strand about the altars There to strike their breasts and cry
Page 12 Worship of Phoibos in wailing prayers: Be kind, God's golden child! [STROPHE 3 There are no swords in this attack by fire, No shields, but we are ringed with cries. Send the besieger plunging from our homes Into the vast sea-room of the Atlantic Or into the waves that foam eastward of Thrace-- For the day ravages what the night spares-- Destroy our enemy, lord of the thunder! Let him be riven by lightning from heaven! [ANTISTROPHE 3 Phoibos Apollo, stretch the sun's bowstring, That golden cord, until it sing for us, Flashing arrows in heaven! Artemis, Huntress, Race with flaring lights upon our mountains!
O scarlet god, O golden-banded brow, O Theban
Bacchus in a storm of Maenads. [Enter OEDIPUS. C. Whirl upon Death, that all the Undying hate! Come with blinding torches, come in joy! SCENE I OEDIPUS: Is this your prayer? It may be answered. Come Page 13 Listen to me, act as the crisis demands, And you shall have relief from all these evils. Until now I was a stranger to this tale, As I had been a stranger to the crime. Could I track down the murderer without a clue? But now, friends, As one who became a citizen after the murder, I make this proclamation to all Thebans: If any man knows by whose hand Laios, son of Labdakos,
Met his death, I direct that man to tell me everything, No matter what he fears for having so long withheld it. Let it stand as promised that no further trouble Will come to him. but he may leave the land in safety. Moreover: If anyone knows the murderer to be foreign, Let him not keep silent he shall have his reward from me. However, if he does conceal it; if any man Fearing for his friend or for himself disobeys this edict, Hear what I propose to do: I solemnly forbid the people of this country, Where power and throne are mine, ever to receive that man Or speak to him, no matter who he is, or let him
Join in sacrifice, lustration, or in prayer. I decree that he he driven from every house, Being, as he is, corruption itself to us, the Delphi Page 14 Voice of Zeus has pronounced this revelation. Thus I associate myself with the oracle And take the
side of the murdered king. As for the criminal, I pray to God Whether it be a lurking thief, or one of a number— I pray that that man's life be consumed in evil and wretchedness. And as for me, this curse applies no less If it should turn out that the culprit is my guest here. Sharing my hearth. You have heard the penalty. I lay it on you now to attend to this
For my sake, for Apollo's, for the sick Sterile city that heaven has abandoned. Suppose the oracle had given you no command: Should this defilement go uncleansed for ever? You should have found the murderer: your king, A noble king, had been destroyed! Now I, Having the power that he held before me, Having his bed, begetting children there Upon his wife, as he would have, had he lived— Their son would have been my children's brother. If Laios had had luck in fatherhood! (But surely ill luck rushed upon his reign)— I say I take the son's part, just as though I were his son, to press the fight for him And see it won!
I'll find the hand that brought Death to Labdakos' and Polydoros' child, Heir of Kadmos' and Agenor's line. And as for those who fail me. May the gods deny them the fruit of' the earth, Page 15 Fruit of the womb, and may they rot utterly! Let them he wretched as we are wretched, and worse! For you, for loyal Thebans, and for all Who find my actions right, I pray the favor Of justice, and of all the immortal gods. CHORAGOS: Since I am under
oath, my lord, I swear I did not do the murder, I can not name The murderer. Might not the oracle That has ordained the search tell where to find him? OEDIPUS: An honest question.
But no man in the world Can make the gods do more than the gods will. CHORAGOS: There is one last expedient-- OEDIPUS: Tell me what it is. Though it seem slight, you must not hold it back. CHORAGOS: A lord clairvoyant to the lord Apollo, As we all know, is the skilled Teiresias. One might learn much about this from him, Oedipus. OEDIPUS: I am not wasting time: Crean spoke of this, and I have sent for him— Twice, in fact; it is strange that he is not here. Page 16 CHORAGOS: The other matter—that old report—seems useless. OEDIPUS: Tell me. I am interested in all reports. CHORAGOS: The King was said to have been killed by highwaymen.
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