Oedipus PART SIX

  • [Enter SERVANT, an old shepherd]

    OEDIPUS: Stranger from Corinth, let me first ask you—             1340
          is this the man you mentioned?

    MESSENGER:                                                 Yes, he is—
          he’s the man you see in front of you.                                                 

    OEDIPUS: You, old man, over here. Look at me.
          Now answer what I ask. Some time ago
          did you work for Laius?

    SERVANT:                                           Yes, as a slave.
          But I was not bought. I grew up in his house.

    OEDIPUS: How did you live? What was the work you did?

    SERVANT: Most of my life I’ve spent looking after sheep.

    OEDIPUS: Where? In what particular areas?

    SERVANT: On Cithaeron or the neighbouring lands.                   1350

    OEDIPUS: Do you know if you came across this man
          anywhere up there?

    SERVANT:                                     Doing what?
          What man do you mean?

    OEDIPUS:                         The man over here—
          this one. Have you ever run into him?                                                

    SERVANT: Right now I can’t say I remember him.

    MESSENGER: My lord, that’s surely not surprising.
          Let me refresh his failing memory.
          I think he will remember all too well
          the time we spent around Cithaeron.
          He had two flocks of sheep and I had one.                              
          I was with him there for six months at a stretch,
          from early spring until the autumn season.
          In winter I’d drive my sheep down to my folds,
          and he’d take his to pens that Laius owned.
          Isn’t that what happened—what I’ve just said?                                  

    SERVANT: You spoke the truth. But it was long ago.

    MESSENGER: All right, then. Now, tell me if you recall
          how you gave me a child, an infant boy,
          for me to raise as my own foster son.

    SERVANT: What? Why ask about that?

    MESSENGER:                   This man here, my friend,                   1370
          was that young child back then.

    SERVANT:                                     Damn you!
          Can’t you keep quiet about it!

    OEDIPUS:                               Hold on, old man.
          Don’t criticize him. What you have said
          is more objectionable than his account.

    SERVANT: My noble master, what have I done wrong?

    OEDIPUS: You did not tell us of that infant boy,                                    [1150]
          the one he asked about.

    SERVANT:                               That’s what he says,
          but he knows nothing—a useless busybody.

    OEDIPUS: If you won’t tell us of your own free will,
          once we start to hurt you, you will talk.                                   

    SERVANT: By all the gods, don’t torture an old man!

    OEDIPUS: One of you there, tie up this fellow’s hands.

    SERVANT: Why are you doing this? It’s too much for me!
          What is it you want to know?

    OEDIPUS:                               That child he mentioned—
          did you give it to him?

    SERVANT:                                     I did. How I wish
          I’d died that day!

    OEDIPUS:                   Well, you’re going to die
          if you don’t speak the truth.

    SERVANT:                                           And if I do,
          there’s an even greater chance that I’ll be killed.

    OEDIPUS: It seems to me the man is trying to stall.                                [1160]

    SERVANT: No, no, I’m not. I’ve already told you—                     1390
          I did give him the child.

    OEDIPUS:                               Where did you get it?
          Did it come from your home or somewhere else?

    SERVANT: It was not mine—I got it from someone.

    OEDIPUS: Which of our citizens? Whose home was it?

    SERVANT: In the name of the gods, my lord, don’t ask!
          Please, no more questions!

    OEDIPUS:                         If I have to ask again,
          then you will die.

    SERVANT:                   The child was born in Laius’ house.

    OEDIPUS: From a slave or from some relative of his?

    SERVANT: Alas, what I’m about to say now . . .
          it’s horrible.

    OEDIPUS:                   And I’m about to hear it.                           1400       [1170]
          But nonetheless I have to know this.

    SERVANT: If you must know, they said the child was his.
          But your wife inside the palace is the one
          who could best tell you what was going on.

    OEDIPUS: You mean she gave the child to you?

    SERVANT:                                                 Yes, my lord.

    OEDIPUS: Why did she do that?

    SERVANT:                                     So I would kill it.

    OEDIPUS: That wretched woman was the mother?

    SERVANT:                                                             Yes.
          She was afraid of dreadful prophecies.

    OEDIPUS: What sort of prophecies?

    SERVANT:                                           The story went
          that he would kill his father.

    OEDIPUS:                                     If that was true,                       1410
          why did you give the child to this old man?

    SERVANT: I pitied the boy, master, and I thought
          he’d take the child off to a foreign land
          where he was from. But he rescued him,
          only to save him for the greatest grief of all.                                      
          For if you’re the one this man says you are                                       
          you know your birth carried an awful fate.

    OEDIPUS: Ah, so it all came true. It’s so clear now.
          O light, let me look at you one final time,
          a man who stands revealed as cursed by birth,                        
          cursed by my own family, and cursed
          by murder where I should not kill.

    [OEDIPUS moves into the palace]

    CHORUS: O generations of mortal men,
          how I count your life as scarcely living.
          What man is there, what human being,
          who attains a greater happiness                                                          
          than mere appearances, a joy
          which seems to fade away to nothing?
          Poor wretched Oedipus, your fate
          stands here to demonstrate for me                                           
          how no mortal man is ever blessed.

          Here was a man who fired his arrows well—
          his skill was matchless—and he won
          the highest happiness in everything.
          For, Zeus, he slaughtered the hook-taloned Sphinx
          and stilled her cryptic song. For our state,
          he stood there like a tower against death,                                          
          and from that moment, Oedipus,
          we have called you our king
          and honoured you above all other men,                                   
          the one who rules in mighty Thebes.

          But now who is there whose story
          is more terrible to hear? Whose life
          has been so changed by trouble,
          by such ferocious agonies?
          Alas, for celebrated Oedipus,
          the same spacious place of refuge
          served you both as child and father,
          the place you entered as a new bridegroom.                                      
          How could the furrow where your father planted,                   
          poor wretched man, have tolerated you
          in such silence for so long?

          Time, which watches everything
          and uncovered you against your will,
          now sits in judgment of that fatal marriage,
          where child and parent have been joined so long.
          O child of Laius, how I wish
          I’d never seen you—now I wail
          like one whose mouth pours forth laments.                                       
          To tell it right, it was through you                                           
          I found my life and breathed again,
          and then through you my eyesight failed.

    [The Second Messenger enters from the palace]

    SECOND MESSENGER: O you most honoured citizens of Thebes,
          what actions you will hear about and see,
          what sorrows you will bear, if, as natives here,
          you are still loyal to the house of Labdacus!
          I do not think the Ister or the Phasis rivers
          could cleanse this house. It conceals too much
          and soon will bring to light the vilest things,
          brought on by choice and not by accident.*                        
    1470       [1230]
          What we do to ourselves brings us most pain.

    CHORUS LEADER: The calamities we knew about before
          were hard enough to bear. What can you say
          to make them worse?

    SECOND MESSENGER:                         I’ll waste no words—
          know this—noble Jocasta, our queen, is dead.

    CHORUS LEADER: That poor unhappy lady! How did she die?

    SECOND MESSENGER: She killed herself. You did not see it,
          so you'll be spared the worst of what went on.
          But from what I recall of what I saw
          you’ll learn how that poor woman suffered.                             
    1480       [1240]
          She left here frantic and rushed inside,
          fingers on both hands clenched in her hair.
          She ran through the hall straight to her marriage bed.
          She went in, slamming both doors shut behind her
          and crying out to Laius, who’s been a corpse
          a long time now. She was remembering
          that child of theirs born many years ago—
          the one who killed his father, who left her
          to conceive cursed children with that son.
          She lay moaning by the bed, where she,                                   
          poor woman, had given birth twice over—
          a husband from a husband, children from a child.                              
          How she died after that I don’t fully know.
          With a scream Oedipus came bursting in.
          He would not let us see her suffering,
          her final pain. We watched him charge around,
          back and forth. As he moved, he kept asking us
          to give him a sword, as he tried to find
          that wife who was no wife—whose mother’s womb
          had given birth to him and to his children.                               
          As he raved, some immortal power led him on—
          no human in the room came close to him.
          With a dreadful howl, as if someone                                                  
          had pushed him, he leapt at the double doors,
          bent the bolts by force out of their sockets,
          and burst into the room. Then we saw her.
          She was hanging there, swaying, with twisted cords
          roped round her neck. When Oedipus saw her,
          with a dreadful groan he took her body
          out of the noose in which she hung, and then,                         
          when the poor woman was lying on the ground—
          what happened next was a horrific sight—
          from her clothes he ripped the golden brooches
          she wore as ornaments, raised them high,
          and drove them deep into his eyeballs,                                             
          crying as he did so: "You will no longer see
          all those atrocious things I suffered,
          the dreadful things I did! No. You have seen
          those you never should have looked upon,
          and those I wished to know you did not see.                           
          So now and for all future time be dark!"
          With these words he raised his hand and struck,
          not once, but many times, right in the sockets.
          With every blow blood spurted from his eyes
          down on his beard, and not in single drops,
          but showers of dark blood spattered like hail.                                    
          So what these two have done has overwhelmed
          not one alone—this disaster swallows up
          a man and wife together. That old happiness
          they had before in their rich ancestry                                       
          was truly joy, but now lament and ruin,
          death and shame, and all calamities
          which men can name are theirs to keep.

    CHORUS LEADER: And has that suffering man found some relief
          to ease his pain?

    SECOND MESSENGER:            He shouts at everyone
          to open up the gates and thus reveal
          to all Cadmeians his father’s killer,
          his mother’s . . . but I must not say those words.
          He wants them to cast him out of Thebes,                                         
          so the curse he laid will not come on this house                      
          if he still lives inside. But he is weak
          and needs someone to lead him on his way.
          His agony is more than he can bear—
          as he will show you—for on the palace doors
          the bolts are being pulled back. Soon you will see
          a sight which even a man filled with disgust
          would have to pity.

    [OEDIPUS enters through the palace doors]

    CHORUS LEADER: An awful fate for human eyes to witness,
          an appalling sight—the worst I’ve ever seen.
          O you poor man, what madness came on you?                        
          What eternal force pounced on your life                                            
          and, springing further than the longest leap,
          brought you this awful doom? Alas! Alas!
          You unhappy man! I cannot look at you.
          I want to ask you many things—there’s much
          I wish to learn. You fill me with such horror,
          yet there is so much I must see.

    OEDIPUS: Aaaiiii, aaaiii . . . Alas! Alas!
          How miserable I am . . . such wretchedness . . .
          Where do I go? How can the wings of air                                 
    1560       [1310]
          sweep up my voice? Oh my destiny,
          how far you have sprung now!

    CHORUS LEADER: To a fearful place from which men turn away,
          a place they hate to look upon.

    OEDIPUS: O the dark horror wrapped around me,
          this nameless visitor I can’t resist
          swept here by fair and fatal winds.
          Alas for me! And yet again, alas for me!
          The agony of stabbing brooches
          pierces me! The memory of aching shame!                               

    CHORUS LEADER: In your distress it’s not astonishing
          you bear a double load of suffering,                                                   
          a double load of pain.

    OEDIPUS:                               Ah, my friend,
          so you still care for me, as always,
          and with patience nurse me now I’m blind.
          Alas! Alas! You are not hidden from me—
          I recognize you all too clearly.
          Though I am blind, I know that voice so well.

    CHORUS LEADER: You have carried out such dreadful things—
          how could you dare to blind yourself this way?                       
          What god drove you to it?

    OEDIPUS:                         It was Apollo, friends,
          it was Apollo. He brought on these troubles—                                  
          the awful things I suffer. But the hand
          which stabbed out my eyes was mine alone.
          In my wretched life, why should I have eyes
          when nothing I could see would bring me joy?

    CHORUS LEADER: What you have said is true enough.

    OEDIPUS: What is there for me to see, my friends?
          What can I love? Whose greeting can I hear
          and feel delight? Hurry now, my friends,                                 
    1590        [1340]
          lead me away from Thebes—take me somewhere,
          a man completely lost, utterly accursed,
          the mortal man the gods despise the most.

    CHORUS LEADER: Unhappy in your fate and in your mind
          which now knows all. Would I had never known you!

    OEDIPUS: Whoever the man is who freed my feet,
          who released me from that cruel shackle                                           
          and rescued me from death, may that man die!
          It was a thankless act. Had I perished then,
          I would not have brought such agony                                      
          to myself or to my friends.

    CHORUS LEADER:                                     I agree—
          I would have preferred your death, as well.

    OEDIPUS: I would not have come to kill my father,
          and men would not see in me the husband
          of the woman who gave birth to me.
          Now I am abandoned by the gods,                                                     
          the son of a corrupted mother,
          conceiving children with the woman
          who gave me my own miserable life.
          If there is some suffering more serious                                     
          than all the rest, then it too belongs
          in the fate of Oedipus.

    CHORUS LEADER:                   I do not believe
          what you did to yourself is for the best.
          Better to be dead than alive and blind.

    OEDIPUS: Don’t tell me what I’ve done is not the best.
          And from now on spare me your advice.                                            
          If I could see, I don’t know how my eyes
          could look at my own father when I come
          to Hades or could see my wretched mother.
          Against those two I have committed acts                                
          so vile that even if I hanged myself
          that would not be sufficient punishment.
          Perhaps you think the sight of my own children
          might give me joy? No! Look how they were born!
          They could never bring delight to eyes of mine.
          Nor could the city or its massive walls,
          or the sacred images of its gods.
          I am the most abhorred of men, I,
          the finest one of all those bred in Thebes,                                          
          I have condemned myself, telling everyone                              
          they had to banish for impiety
          the man the gods have now exposed
          as sacrilegious—a son of Laius, too.
          With such polluting stains upon me,
          could I set eyes on you and hold your gaze?
          No. And if I could somehow block my ears
          and kill my hearing, I would not hold back.
          I’d make a dungeon of this wretched body,
          so I would never see or hear again.
          For there is joy in isolated thought,                                          
          sealed off from a world of sorrow.                                                     
          O Cithaeron, why did you shelter me?
          Why, when I was handed over to you,
          did you not do away with me at once,
          so I would never then reveal to men
          the nature of my birth? Ah Polybus,
          and Corinth, the place men called my home,
          my father’s ancient house, you raised me well—
          so fine to look at, so corrupt inside!
          Now I've been exposed as something bad,                               
          contaminated in my origins.
          Oh you three roads and hidden forest grove,
          you thicket and defile where three paths meet,
          you who swallowed down my father’s blood                                      
          from my own hands, do you remember me,
          what I did there in front of you and then
          what else I did when I came here to Thebes?
          Ah, you marriage rites—you gave birth to me,
          and then when I was born, you gave birth again,
          children from the child of that same womb,                             
          creating an incestuous blood family
          of fathers, brothers, children, brides,
          wives and mothers—the most atrocious act
          that human beings commit! But it is wrong
          to talk about what it is wrong to do,
          so in the name of all the gods, act quickly—
          hide me somewhere outside the land of Thebes,                                
          or slaughter me, or hurl me in the sea,
          where you will never gaze on me again.
          Come, allow yourself to touch a wretched man.                       
          Listen to me, and do not be afraid—
          for this disease infects no one but me.

    CHORUS LEADER: Creon is coming. He is just in time
          to plan and carry out what you propose.
          With you gone he’s the only one who’s left
          to act as guardian of Thebes.

    OEDIPUS:                                                 Alas,
          how will I talk to him? How can I ask him
          to put his trust in me? Not long ago                                                   
          I treated him with such contempt.

    [Enter Creon]