OEDIPUS AT COLONUS by Sophocles, Part 08
Yes, a murderer, but know--
What canst thou plead?
A plea of justice.
I slew who else would me have slain;
I slew without intent,
A wretch, but innocent
In the law's eye, I stand, without a stain.
Behold our sovereign, Theseus, Aegeus' son,
Comes at thy summons to perform his part.
Oft had I heard of thee in times gone by--
The bloody mutilation of thine eyes--
And therefore know thee, son of Laius.
All that I lately gathered on the way
Made my conjecture doubly sure; and now
Thy garb and that marred visage prove to me
That thou art he. So pitying thine estate,
Most ill-starred Oedipus, I fain would know
What is the suit ye urge on me and Athens,
Thou and the helpless maiden at thy side.
Declare it; dire indeed must be the tale
Whereat I should recoil. I too was reared,
Like thee, in exile, and in foreign lands
Wrestled with many perils, no man more.
Wherefore no alien in adversity
Shall seek in vain my succor, nor shalt thou;
I know myself a mortal, and my share
In what the morrow brings no more than thine.
Theseus, thy words so apt, so generous
So comfortable, need no long reply
Both who I am and of what lineage sprung,
And from what land I came, thou hast declared.
So without prologue I may utter now
My brief petition, and the tale is told.
Say on, and tell me what I fain would learn.
I come to offer thee this woe-worn frame,
A gift not fair to look on; yet its worth
More precious far than any outward show.
What profit dost thou proffer to have brought?
Hereafter thou shalt learn, not yet, methinks.
When may we hope to reap the benefit?
When I am dead and thou hast buried me.
Thou cravest life's last service; all before--
Is it forgotten or of no account?
Yea, the last boon is warrant for the rest.
The grace thou cravest then is small indeed.
Nay, weigh it well; the issue is not slight.
Thou meanest that betwixt thy sons and me?
Prince, they would fain convey me back to Thebes.
If there be no compulsion, then methinks
To rest in banishment befits not thee.
Nay, when I wished it they would not consent.
For shame! such temper misbecomes the faller.
Chide if thou wilt, but first attend my plea.
Say on, I wait full knowledge ere I judge.
O Theseus, I have suffered wrongs on wrongs.
Wouldst tell the old misfortune of thy race?
No, that has grown a byword throughout Greece.
What then can be this more than mortal grief?
My case stands thus; by my own flesh and blood
I was expelled my country, and can ne'er
Thither return again, a parricide.
Why fetch thee home if thou must needs obey.
What are they threatened by the oracle?
Destruction that awaits them in this land.
What can beget ill blood 'twixt them and me?
Dear son of Aegeus, to the gods alone
Is given immunity from eld and death;
But nothing else escapes all-ruinous time.
Earth's might decays, the might of men decays,
Honor grows cold, dishonor flourishes,
There is no constancy 'twixt friend and friend,
Or city and city; be it soon or late,
Sweet turns to bitter, hate once more to love.
If now 'tis sunshine betwixt Thebes and thee
And not a cloud, Time in his endless course
Gives birth to endless days and nights, wherein
The merest nothing shall suffice to cut
With serried spears your bonds of amity.
Then shall my slumbering and buried corpse
In its cold grave drink their warm life-blood up,
If Zeus be Zeus and Phoebus still speak true.
No more: 'tis ill to tear aside the veil
Of mysteries; let me cease as I began:
Enough if thou wilt keep thy plighted troth,
Then shall thou ne'er complain that Oedipus
Proved an unprofitable and thankless guest,
Except the gods themselves shall play me false.