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King Oedipus
by [?]

Edited and translated by Lewis Campbell, M.A.


OEDIPUS, King of Thebes.
Priest of Zeus.
CREON, brother of Jocasta.
CHORUS of Theban Elders.
TIRESIAS, the Blind Prophet.
JOCASTA, the Queen, sister to Creon.
A Corinthian Shepherd.
A Theban Shepherd.

The following also appear, but do not speak:

A Train of Suppliants.
The children ANTIGONE and ISMENE.

. Before the Royal Palace in the Cadmean citadel of Thebes.

Laius, the descendant of Cadmus, and king of Thebes (or Thebe), had been told by an oracle that if a son were born to him by his wife Jocasta the boy would be his father’s death.

Under such auspices, Oedipus was born, and to elude the prophecy was exposed by his parents on Mount Cithaeron. But he was saved by a compassionate shepherd, and became the adopted son of Polybus, king of Corinth. When he grew up he was troubled by a rumour that he was not his father’s son. He went to consult the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, and was told–not of his origin but of his destiny–that he should be guilty of parricide and incest.

He was too horror-stricken to return to Corinth, and as he travelled the other way, he met Laius going from Thebes to Delphi. The travellers quarrelled and the son killed his father, but knew not whom he had slain. He went onward till he came near Thebes, where the Sphinx was making havoc of the noblest citizens, devouring all who failed to solve her riddle. But Oedipus succeeded and overcame her, and, as Laius did not return, was rewarded with the regal sceptre,– and with the hand of the queen.

He reigned nobly and prosperously, and lived happily with Jocasta, by whom he had four children.

But after some years a plague descended on the people, and Apollo, on being inquired of, answered that it was for Laius’ death. The act of regicide must be avenged. Oedipus undertakes the task of discovering the murderer,–and in the same act discovers his own birth, and the fulfilment of both the former prophecies.

Jocasta hangs herself, and Oedipus in his despair puts out his eyes.


OEDIPUS–Priest of Zeus
(with the Train of Suppliants grouped before an altar).

Nurslings of Cadmus, children of my care,
Why press ye now to kneel before my gate
With sacred branches in those suppliant hands,
While o’er your city clouds of incense rise
And sounds of praise, mingling with sounds of woe?
I would not learn of your estate, my sons,
Through others, wherefore I myself am come,
Your Oedipus,–a name well known to men.
Speak, aged friend, whose look proclaims thee meet
To be their spokesman–What desire, what fear
Hath brought you? Doubt not of my earnest will
To lend all succour. Hard would be the heart
That looked unmoved on such a kneeling throng.

Great ruler of my country, thou beholdest
The different ages of our flock who here
Are gathered round thine altar,–some, whose wing
Hath not yet ventured far from home, and some
Burdened with many years, priests of the Gods,
Myself the arch priest of Zeus, and these fresh youths,
A chosen few. Others there are who crowd
The holy agora and the temples twain
Of Pallas, and Ismenus’ hallowed fires,
A suppliant host. For, as thyself perceivest,
Our city is tempest tost, and all too weak
To lift above the waves her weary prow
That plunges in a rude and ravenous sea.
Earth’s buds are nipped, withering the germs within,
Our cattle lose their increase, and our wives
Have fruitless travail; and that scourge from Heaven,
The fiery Pestilence abhorred of men,
Descending on our people with dire stroke
Lays waste the Home of Cadmus, while dark Death
Wins ample tribute of laments and groans.
We kneel, then, at thy hearth; not likening thee
Unto the gods, I nor these children here,
But of men counting thee the first in might
Whether to cope with earthly casualty
Or visiting of more than earthly Power.
Thou, in thy coming to this Theban land,
Didst take away the hateful tax we paid
To that stern songstress[1],–aided not by us
With hint nor counsel, but, as all believe,
Gifted from heaven with life-restoring thought.
Now too, great Oedipus of matchless fame,
We all uplift our suppliant looks to thee,
To find some help for us, whether from man,
Or through the prompting of a voice Divine.
Experienced counsel, we have seen and know,
Hath ever prosperous issue. Thou, then, come,
Noblest of mortals, give our city rest
From sorrow! come, take heed! seeing this our land
Now calls thee Saviour for thy former zeal;
And ’twere not well to leave this memory
Of thy great reign among Cadmean men,
‘He raised us up, only again to fall.’
Let the salvation thou hast wrought for us
Be flawless and assured! As once erewhile
Thy lucky star gave us prosperity,
Be the same man to-day. Wouldst thou be king
In power, as in command, ’tis greater far
To rule a people than a wilderness.
Since nought avails or city or buttressed wall
Or gallant vessel, if unmanned and void.