Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 131

Death of Jocasta.

The chain of evidence was complete, and now Œdipus discovered that he had involuntarily been guilty of the three crimes to avoid which he had fled from Corinth. The rumor of these dreadful discoveries soon reached Jocasta, who, in her despair at finding herself an accomplice, committed suicide.

Œdipus, apprised of her intention, rushed into her apartment too late to prevent its being carried out, and found her lifeless. This sight was more than the poor monarch could bear, and in his despair he blinded himself with one of her ornaments.

“He pluck’d from off the robe she wore
A golden buckle that adorn’d her side,
And buried in his eyes the sharpen’d point,
Crying, he ne’er again would look on her,
Never would see his crimes or mis’ries more,
Or those whom guiltless he could ne’er behold,
Or those to whom he now must sue for aid.”
Sophocles (Francklin’s tr.).
Death of Œdipus.

Penniless, blind, and on foot, he then left the scene of his awful crimes, accompanied by his daughter Antigone, the only one who loved him still, and who was ready to guide his uncertain footsteps wherever he wished to go. After many days of weary wandering, father and daughter reached Colonus, where grew a mighty forest sacred to the avenging deities, the Furies, or Eumenides.

Here Œdipus expressed his desire to remain, and, after bidding his faithful daughter an affectionate farewell, he groped his way into the dark forest alone. The wind rose, the lightning flashed, the thunder pealed; but although, as soon as the storm was over, a search was made for Œdipus, no trace of him was ever found, and the ancients fancied that the Furies had dragged him down to Hades to receive the punishment of all his crimes.

[287] Antigone, no longer needed by her unhappy father, slowly wended her way back to Thebes, where she found that the plague had ceased, but that her brothers had quarreled about the succession to the throne. A compromise was finally decided upon, whereby it was decreed that Eteocles, the elder son, should reign one year, and at the end of that period resign the throne to Polynices for an equal space of time, both brothers thus exercising the royal authority in turn. This arrangement seemed satisfactory to Eteocles; but when, at the end of the first year, Polynices returned from his travels in foreign lands to claim the scepter, Eteocles refused to relinquish it, and, making use of his power, drove the claimant away.

“Thou seest me banish’d from my native land,
Unjustly banish’d, for no other crime
But that I strove to keep the throne of Thebes,
By birthright mine, from him who drove me thence,
The young Eteocles: not his the claim
By justice, nor to me his fame in arms
Superior; but by soft, persuasive arts
He won the rebel city to his love.”
Sophocles (Francklin’s tr.).
The seven chiefs before Thebes.

Polynices’ nature was not one to endure such a slight patiently; and he hastened off to Argos, where he persuaded Adrastus, the king, to give him his daughter in marriage, and aid him to recover his inheritance. True to his promise, Adrastus soon equipped a large army, which was led by seven determined and renowned chiefs, ready to risk all in the attempt, and either win or perish.

“Seven valiant leaders march
To Thebes, resolved to conquer or to die.”
Sophocles (Francklin’s tr.).

Their bravery was of no avail, however, for Thebes was well fortified and defended; and after a seven-years’ siege they found themselves no nearer their goal than at the beginning of the war. Weary of the monotony of this quarrel, the conflicting armies [288] finally decreed that the difference should be settled by a duel between the inimical brothers, who no sooner found themselves face to face, than they rushed upon each other with such animosity that both fell.