Oedipus the King (PART TWO

  • [Enter TEIRESIAS led by a small BOY]

    OEDIPUS:                                                       Teiresias,                         
          you who understand all things—what can be taught
          and what cannot be spoken of, what goes on
          in heaven and here on the earth—you know,
          although you cannot see, how sick our state is.
          And so we find in you alone, great seer,                                   
          our shield and saviour. For Phoebus Apollo,
          in case you have not heard the news, has sent us
          an answer to our question: the only cure
          for this infecting pestilence is to find
          the men who murdered Laius and kill them
          or else expel them from this land as exiles.
          So do not withhold from us your prophecies                                      
          in voices of the birds or by some other means.
          Save this city and yourself. Rescue me.
          Deliver us from this pollution by the dead.                              
          We are in your hands. For a mortal man
          the finest labour he can do is help
          with all his power other human beings.

    TEIRESIAS: Alas, alas! How dreadful it can be
          to have wisdom when it brings no benefit
          to the man possessing it. This I knew,
          but it had slipped my mind. Otherwise,
          I would not have journeyed here.

    OEDIPUS: What’s wrong? You’ve come, but seem so sad.

    TEIRESIAS: Let me go home. You must bear your burden            380         [320]
          to the very end, and I will carry mine,
          if you’ll agree with me.

    OEDIPUS:                               What you are saying
          is not customary and shows little love
          toward the city state which nurtured you,
          if you deny us your prophetic voice.

    TEIRESIAS: I see your words are also out of place.
          I do not speak for fear of doing the same.

    OEDIPUS: If you know something, then, by heaven,
          do not turn away. We are your suppliants—
          all of us—we bend our knees to you.                                       

    TEIRESIAS: You are all ignorant. I will not reveal
          the troubling things inside me, which I can call
          your grief as well.

    OEDIPUS:                               What are you saying?                                [330]
          Do you know and will not say? Do you intend
          to betray me and destroy the city?

    TEIRESIAS: I will cause neither me nor you distress.
          Why do you vainly question me like this?
          You will not learn a thing from me.

    OEDIPUS: You most disgraceful of disgraceful men!
          You’d move something made of stone to rage!                         
          Will you not speak out? Will your stubbornness
          never have an end?

    TEIRESIAS:                               You blame my temper,
          but do not see the one which lives within you.
          Instead, you are finding fault with me.

    OEDIPUS: What man who listened to these words of yours
          would not be enraged—you insult the city!                                        

    TEIRESIAS: Yet events will still unfold, for all my silence.

    OEDIPUS: Since they will come, you must inform me.

    TEIRESIAS: I will say nothing more. Fume on about it,
          if you wish, as fiercely as you can.                                            

    OEDIPUS: I will. In my anger I will not conceal
          just what I make of this. You should know
          I get the feeling you conspired in the act,
          and played your part, as much as you could do,
          short of killing him with your own hands.
          If you could use your eyes, I would have said
          that you had done this work all by yourself.

    TEIRESIAS: Is that so? Then I would ask you to stand by                      [350]
          the very words which you yourself proclaimed
          and from now on not speak to me or these men.                      
          For the accursed polluter of this land is you.

    OEDIPUS: You dare to utter shameful words like this?
          Do you think you can get away with it?

    TEIRESIAS: I am getting away with it. The truth
          within me makes me strong.

    OEDIPUS:                               Who taught you this?
          It could not have been your craft.

    TEIRESIAS:                                           You did.
          I did not want to speak, but you incited me.

    OEDIPUS: What do you mean? Speak it again,
          so I can understand you more precisely.

    TEIRESIAS: Did you not grasp my words before,                          430
          or are you trying to test me with your question?                                

    OEDIPUS: I did not fully understand your words.
          Tell me again.

    TEIRESIAS:                         I say that you yourself
          are the very man you’re looking for.

    OEDIPUS: That’s twice you’ve stated that disgraceful lie—
          something you’ll regret.

    TEIRESIAS:                         Shall I tell you more,
          so you can grow even more enraged?

    OEDIPUS: As much as you desire. It will be useless.

    TEIRESIAS: I say that with your dearest family,
          unknown to you, you are living in disgrace.                             
          You have no idea how bad things are.

    OEDIPUS: Do you really think you can just speak out,
          say things like this, and still remain unpunished?

    TEIRESIAS: Yes, I can, if the truth has any strength.

    OEDIPUS: It does, but not for you. Truth is not in you—                       [370]
          for your ears, your mind, your eyes are blind!

    TEIRESIAS: You are a wretched fool to use harsh words
          which all men soon enough will use to curse you.

    OEDIPUS: You live in endless darkness of the night,
          so you can never injure me or any man                                     
          who can glimpse daylight.

    TEIRESIAS:                                     It is not your fate
          to fall because of me. It’s up to Apollo
          to make that happen. He will be enough.

    OEDIPUS: Is this something Creon has devised,
          or is it your invention?

    TEIRESIAS:                         Creon is no threat.
          You have made this trouble on your own.

    OEDIPUS: O riches, ruling power, skill after skill                                   [380]
          surpassing all in this life’s rivalries,
          how much envy you must carry with you,
          if, for this kingly office, which the city                                     
          gave me, for I did not seek it out,
          Creon, my old trusted family friend,
          has secretly conspired to overthrow me
          and paid off a double-dealing quack like this,
          a crafty bogus priest, who can only see
          his own advantage, who in his special art
          is absolutely blind. Come on, tell me                                                  
          how you have ever given evidence
          of your wise prophecy. When the Sphinx,
          that singing bitch, was here, you said nothing                          
          to set the people free. Why not? Her riddle
          was not something the first man to stroll along
          could solve—a prophet was required. And there
          the people saw your knowledge was no use—
          nothing from birds or picked up from the gods.
          But then I came, Oedipus, who knew nothing.
          Yet I finished her off, using my wits
          rather than relying on birds. That’s the man
          you want to overthrow, hoping, no doubt,
          to stand up there with Creon, once he’s king.                          
    480         [400]
          But I think you and your conspirator in this
          will regret trying to usurp the state.
          If you did not look so old, you’d find
          the punishment your arrogance deserves.

    CHORUS LEADER: To us it sounds as if Teiresias
          has spoken in anger, and, Oedipus,
          you have done so, too. That’s not what we need.
          Instead we should be looking into this:
          How can we best carry out the god’s decree?

    TEIRESIAS: You may be king, but I have the right                        490
          to answer you—and I control that right,
          for I am not your slave. I serve Apollo,                                              
          and thus will never stand with Creon,
          signed up as his man. So I say this to you,
          since you have chosen to insult my blindness—
          you have your eyesight, and you do not see
          how miserable you are, or where you live,
          or who it is who shares your household.
          Do you know the family you come from?
          Without your knowledge you’ve become                                 
          the enemy of your own kindred,
          those in the world below and those up here,
          and the dreadful feet of that two-edged curse
          from father and mother both will drive you
          from this land in exile. Those eyes of yours,
          which now can see so clearly, will be dark.
          What harbour will not echo with your cries?                                      
          Where on Cithaeron will they not soon be heard,
          once you have learned the truth about the wedding
          by which you sailed into this royal house—                             
          a lovely voyage, but the harbour’s doomed?
          You’ve no idea of the quantity
          of other troubles which will render you
          and your own children equals. So go on—
          keep insulting Creon and my prophecies,
          for among all living mortals no one
          will be destroyed more wretchedly than you.

    OEDIPUS: Must I tolerate this insolence from him?
          Get out, and may the plague get rid of you!                                        
          Off with you! Now! Turn your back and go!                            
          And don’t come back here to my home again.

    TEIRESIAS: I would not have come, but you summoned me.

    OEDIPUS: I did not know you would speak so stupidly.
          If I had, you would have waited a long time
          before I called you here.

    TEIRESIAS:                               I was born like this.
          You think I am a fool, but to your parents,
          the ones who made you, I was wise enough.

    OEDIPUS: Wait! My parents? Who was my father?

    TEIRESIAS: This day will reveal that and destroy you.

    OEDIPUS: Everything you speak is all so cryptic—                      530
          like a riddle.

    TEIRESIAS:                   Well, in solving riddles,                                     [440]
          are you not the best there is?

    OEDIPUS:                                     Mock my excellence,
          but you will find out I am truly great.

    TEIRESIAS: That quality of yours now ruins you.

    OEDIPUS: I do not care, if I have saved the city.

    TEIRESIAS: I will go now. Boy, lead me away.

    OEDIPUS: Yes, let him guide you back. You’re in the way.
          If you stay, you’ll just provoke me. Once you’re gone,
          you won’t annoy me further.

    TEIRESIAS:                                                 I’m going.
          But first I shall tell you why I came.                                         
          I do not fear the face of your displeasure—
          there is no way you can destroy me. I tell you,
          the man you have been seeking all this time,
          while proclaiming threats and issuing orders                                      
          about the one who murdered Laius—
          that man is here. According to reports,
          he is a stranger who lives here in Thebes.
          But he will prove to be a native Theban.
          From that change he will derive no pleasure.
          He will be blind, although he now can see.                              
          He will be a poor, although he now is rich.
          He will set off for a foreign country,
          groping the ground before him with a stick.
          And he will turn out to be the brother
          of the children in his house—their father, too,
          both at once, and the husband and the son
          of the very woman who gave birth to them.
          He sowed the same womb as his father
          and murdered him. Go in and think on this.                                       
          If you discover I have spoken falsely,                                       
          you can say I lack all skill in prophecy.

    [Exit TEIRESIAS led off by the BOY. OEDIPUS turns and goes back into the palace]

    CHORUS: Speaking from the Delphic rock
          the oracular voice intoned a name.
          But who is the man, the one
          who with his blood-red hands
          has done unspeakable brutality?
          The time has come for him to flee—
          to move his powerful foot
          more swiftly than those hooves
          on horses riding on the storm.                                                  
          Against him Zeus’ son now springs,                                                   
          armed with lightning fire and leading on
          the inexorable and terrifying Furies.

          From the snowy peaks of Mount Parnassus
          the message has just flashed, ordering all
          to seek the one whom no one knows.
          Like a wild bull he wanders now,
          hidden in the untamed wood,
          through rocks and caves, alone
          with his despair on joyless feet,                                                
          keeping his distance from that doom
          uttered at earth’s central navel stone.                                                 
          But that fatal oracle still lives,
          hovering above his head forever.

          That wise interpreter of prophecies
          stirs up my fears, unsettling dread.
          I cannot approve of what he said
          and I cannot deny it.
          I am confused. What shall I say?
          My hopes flutter here and there,
          with no clear glimpse of past or future.                                    
          I have never heard of any quarrelling,
          past or present, between those two,
          the house of Labdacus and Polybus’ son,
          which could give me evidence enough
          to undermine the fame of Oedipus,
          as he seeks vengeance for the unsolved murder
          for the family of Labdacus.

          Apollo and Zeus are truly wise—
          they understand what humans do.
          But there is no sure way to ascertain                                        
          if human prophets grasp things any more
          than I do, although in wisdom one man                                             
          may leave another far behind.
          But until I see the words confirmed,
          I will not approve of any man
          who censures Oedipus, for it was clear
          when that winged Sphinx went after him
          he was a wise man then. We witnessed it.
          He passed the test and endeared himself
          to all the city. So in my thinking now                                       
    610        [510]
          he never will be guilty of a crime.

    [Enter CREON]

    CREON: You citizens, I have just discovered
          that Oedipus, our king, has levelled charges
          against me, disturbing allegations.
          That I cannot bear, so I have come here.
          In these present troubles, if he believes
          that he has suffered any injury from me,
          in word or deed, then I have no desire
          to continue living into ripe old age
          still bearing his reproach. For me                                              
          the injury produced by this report
          is no single isolated matter—                                                              
          no, it has the greatest scope of all,
          if I end up being called a wicked man
          here in the city, a bad citizen,
          by you and by my friends.

    CHORUS LEADER:                         Perhaps he charged you
          spurred on by the rash power of his rage,
          rather than his mind’s true judgment.

    CREON: Was it publicized that my opinions
          convinced Teiresias to utter lies?                                              

    CHORUS LEADER: That’s what was said. I have no idea
          just what that meant.

    CREON:                                     Did he accuse me
          and announce the charges with a steady gaze,
          in a normal state of mind?

    CHORUS LEADER:                         I do not know.                                [530]
          What those in power do I do not see.
          But he’s approaching from the palace—
          here he comes in person.