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Dramas of Aeschylus (Swanwick)/Seven against Thebes

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For other English-language translations of this work, see Seven against Thebes.

 

THE SEVEN AGAINST THEBES.

 

 

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ.

Eteocles.
Messenger.
Chorus of Theban Maidens.
Ismene.
Antigone.
Herald.




[Scene.—Thebes, in front of the Acropolis. The stage, adorned with altars and statues of the gods, is occupied by a crowd of Theban citizens. Enter Eteocles with his train.]

 

 

INTRODUCTION.

The trilogy to which this drama belonged was represented B.C. 467, five years after[1] "The Persians," and consisted, as we learn from the Didascalia given in the Medicean manuscript, of Laios, Œdipus, and "The Seven against Thebes," followed by the Satyric drama of the Sphinx. It has been appropriately styled the dramatic epos of the House of Labdacos, for though the conflicting emotions in the soul of Eteocles are portrayed with true tragic insight, yet in "The Seven," as in "The Persians," narrative so far preponderates over action as to render the treatment of their respective subjects epic rather than dramatic.

In this, as in the other dramas of Æschylus, the aim of the poet is to vindicate the divine government, and to exhibit the ultimate triumph of order and justice. The principle more especially emphasized, that of divine retribution—"the key-stone of the universal order"—was embodied by the Greeks in the word Nemesis: passing from the domain of conscience, it became in later times a divinity, and has been aptly characterized by Bunsen as the "Muse of Justice." In accordance with her teaching, the eternal laws can never be violated with impunity: with sleepless vigilance the dread avenger follows on the track of crime: for a season, perhaps, no muttering is heard of the coming storm; but not the less inevitably does punishment eventually overtake the wrongdoer, or his posterity. Associated with this inexorable law of retribution, the poet, in the Theban tragedy, exhibits the working of those mysterious tendencies to moral evil which, like hereditary disease, not unfrequently accompany the fatal heritage of crime, and which, if not counteracted by the force of personal will, issue in the final destruction of the sin-polluted race. A brief outline of the hoary legend, the main features of which would doubtless be embodied in the first two members of the trilogy, the Laios and the Œdipus, is essential for the due appreciation of the concluding drama.[2]

The crime of Laios may be regarded as the fatal seed-corn from which he and his descendants reaped a tear-fraught harvest. This is indicated in the choral ode of "The Seven against Thebes" (v. 737), which it has been truly said strikes the key-note of the drama. Received as a guest into the house of Pelops, he, according to the legend, carried off Chrysippus, the son of his host, whose curse against the ravisher is subsequently confirmed by Apollo, who thrice warns him from his sacred shrine to save the State by dying childless. Heedless of the divine monition, he, in an evil hour, "begat bis proper woe, in Œdipus the parricide " (v. 747).

Laios, in order to evade the oracle which had declared that himself would be slain by any son whom he might beget, caused the infant, as soon as born, to be exposed on Mount Cithæron, the savage scenery of which harmonizes with the dark passages of Hellenic lore with which it is associated. Here he is found by the herdsmen of Polybos, king of Corinth, who carry him to their master, by whom he is reared as his own child. When grown to manhood, doubts having been cast upon his descent, he repairs to Delphi, in order to discover the truth as to his parentage. Warned by the oracle not to return to his country, he proceeds towards Bœotia, and at the spot called the divided way, encounters Laios, whom in a skirmish he slays, not knowing him to be his father. Pursuing his journey he arrives at Thebes, where, after solving the riddle of the Sphinx, he obtains the kingdom, and marries Jocasta, by whom he becomes the father of two sons, Eteocles and Polyneikes, and of two daughters, Antigone and Ismene. The truth respecting his unhappy marriage being at length brought to light, he in despair puts out his eyes, and resigns the government to his sons. They, wishing that the family shame should be concealed from the eyes of men, place him in confinement, and it is related in one fragment of the Thebais, that instead of the shoulder of the victims sacrificed on the altar, they sent him the less honourable portions. This, in his rage, he cast upon the ground, and, at the same time, prayed to the gods that his sons might perish, each by the hand of the other. Reference appears to be made to this ancient form of the tradition in the Seven (v. 787). The brothers, fearing lest their father's curse should be fulfilled, make an agreement to reign over the Theban territory in turn, each for the space of a year. Eteocles, as the elder, reigns first, and at the appointed time Polyneikes comes to demand the sceptre, which his brother refuses to resign. Polyneikes retires to Argos, and persuades Adrastos, his father-in-law, to assist him to recover the throne. Accordingly, that prince and five other chiefs, accompanied by Polyneikes, march against the Cadmeian city. With their appearance before the walls the third member of the trilogy opens.

Such, in outline, is the terrible story which ushers in "The Seven against Thebes." The first tragedy probably ended with the death of Laios, while the wrath of Œdipus, and his curse, twice pronounced against his sons, would doubtless form a principal feature of the second drama. This we may infer from the prominence given to the curse in the concluding member of the trilogy.

I cannot but think, however, that we should misread the poet did we imagine that the death of the brothers resulted from the inevitable operation of their father's curse. Eteocles, though courageous, is full of insatiable rage, and instead of yielding to the pathetic pleading of the Chorus, exults in the prospect of fratricide; while Polyneikes is represented as sharing the malignant hatred of his brother (v. 632). Eteocles, moreover, by retaining the sovereignty, violates the claims of justice; and Polyneikes, by seeking to regain it with the assistance of an invading host, is guilty of impiety towards his country: thus the death of the brothers, through mutual slaughter, is the penalty due to their respective wrongdoing, and, as such, offers no violence to our sense of justice. King Apollo, it is true, the awful Seventh, is represented as taking his station at the seventh gate, and avenging upon the sons of Œdipus the ancient transgression of Laios; at the same time the poet makes us feel that they have themselves succumbed to the evil tendencies inherent in the race, and thus it is that their father's curse has exercised its dread ascendency over their destiny.

Had the trilogy terminated with the death of the brothers such a catastrophe would have violated an essential canon of classical dramatic art, which requires the final reconciliation of the principles brought into collision during the action of the play. These principles, in the drama before us, are—duty to the family, and duty to the State; the harmonious action of which is necessary to the well-being of society. Thus it would appear that the decree of the senate respecting the burial of the royal brothers, which has been regarded as a dramatic blunder on the part of Æschylus, is in fact essential for bringing about a satisfactory dénouement. When, in spite of the prohibition of the senate, Antigone proclaims her heroic determination to inter her brother, she claims our warmest sympathy and admiration: had she stood alone, her heroism and sisterly affection would have offered a refreshing relief to the deadly hatred of the brothers. The action of the Chorus gives, however, a deeper significance to the episode. The Chorus, it must be remembered, represents in the Greek theatre the moral conscience of the age, in its most elevated form;[3] a character strikingly exemplified in the drama before us. At the commencement, indeed, they are timid Theban women, who, vividly realizing the brutal outrages offered to women after the capture of a beleaguered city, are possessed by overwhelming fear. As the drama develops, however, they gradually assume a loftier tone; the words of expostulation addressed by them to Eteocles are full of piety and wisdom: when, therefore, one half of the Chorus follow, with Antigone, the body of Polyneikes, and the other half, with Ismene, that of Eteocles, we may understand that the poet intended thus to recognise the equal sacredness of the principles respectively represented by the sisters, namely, allegiance to the holy tie of kindred-blood, and fealty to the State—the object, in Greek civilization, of the most ardent patriotism.

The great Theban trilogy, as remarked by Bunsen, begins and ends with deeds of horror; but as the last and heaviest judgment is executed, gracious images of the future surround the bodies of the slain; the devoted heroism displayed by the Theban women "is a living pledge for the moral order of tho world," and offers a spectacle commensurate in grandeur with the darker features of the drama.

Very interesting is the protest thus offered by the prophet-bard of antiquity against that want of respect for women, and that jealousy of their participation in the functions of men, which find such frequent expression in Greek literature, and which are embodied in the insolent language addressed by Eteocles to the Chorus at the commencement of the drama (v. 169).

Such examples as that of the Theban women may have inspired the wise utterance of Plato, who declares that for the legislator to leave women without education, and without sufficient scope for their energies, is materially to cripple the power of the State.[4]

With regard to the political bearing of the drama, K. O. Müller remarks that Æschylus strove to moderate the restless struggles of his countrymen after democracy and dominion over other Greeks. The description of the upright Amphiaraus, who wished not to seem, but to be the best; the wise general from whose mind, as from the deep furrows of a well-ploughed field, noble counsels proceed, was universally applied by the Athenian people to Aristeides, and was doubtless intended by Æschylus for him. In conclusion, I may allude to the passage in the Iliad which relates how, when the invading army reached Asôpos' banks, Tydeus was sent forward to Thebes to speak the common message of the host. Admitted into the palace of Eteocles, undaunted though alone, he challenged the Cadmeians to combat, and, through Athena's aid, came off victorious. Whereupon the Cadmeians sought to compass his returning steps, and planted an ambush of fifty warriors; these Tydeus slew, one only being left to bear the tidings homeward.

This treachery on the part of the Cadmeians furnishes a motive for the impetuous eagerness manifested by Tydeus to advance to the attack: it may also throw light upon the iron-hearted purpose of the infuriated chiefs, which found expression in their terrible oath—

"the town to raze,
And ravage the Cadmeian's citadel,
Or, dying, to imbrue this earth with blood."

 

 

THE SEVEN AGAINST THEBES.

Eteocles.

BURGHERS of Cadmos, timely words beseem
Him at the stern who guards the city's weal,
Guiding the helm with lids unsoothed by sleep;
For, if we prosper, God alone is praised,
But if, which Heaven forefend, mischance befall,
One man, Eteocles, through all the town,
In noiseful rhymes and wailings manifold
Would by the folk be chanted; which may Zeus,
True to his sacred name, Averter, turn
From our Cadmeian city; you meanwhile
It now behoveth—him alike who fails
Of youth's fair prime, and him whose bloom is past,
Yet nursing still his body's stalwart strength,
And each one grown to manhood, as befits—
The State to aid and shrines of native gods,
That ne'er their honours be erased; to aid
Your children too, and this your mother earth,
Beloved nurse, who, while your childish limbs
Crept on her friendly plain, all nurture-toil
Full kindly entertained, and fostered you
Her denizens to be, in strait like this
Shield-bearing champions, trusty in her cause.
And so far, to the present day, in sooth
God in our favour hath inclined the scale;
For unto us, so long beleaguered here,
War prospers in the main, through heaven's high will;—
But now, so speaks the seer, augur divine,
Without fire omens, but in ear and mind
Marking, with faultless skill, presageful birds,—
He, lord of these divining arts, declares
That the prime onset of the Achaian host,
Night-plotted, threatens even now the town;
Haste, to the turrets then and bastion-gates 30
Rush in full panoply;—the breastworks throng,
Take station on the platforms of the towers,
And, biding at the outlets of the ports,
Be of good courage, nor this alien swarm
Dread over-much; God will rule all for good.
Myself have scouts sent forth and army spies,
Who, as I trust, no bootless journey make;
And having heard their tidings, in no wise
Shall I by guileful stratagem be caught.

[Exeunt Citizens.

[Enter Messenger.]


Messenger.

Noble Eteocles, Cadmeians' lord,
I come clear tidings bringing of the host;— 40
Myself eye-witness am of what befel;
For seven impetuous warriors, captains bold,
Slaying the sacred bull o'er black-rimmed shield,
And touching with their hands the victim's gore,
Ares, Enȳo, and blood-thirsting Fear
Invoked, and by them sware, our town to raze,
And ravage the Cadmeian's citadel,
Or, dying, to imbrue this earth with blood.
And for their parents whom at home they left,
With their own hands around Adrastos' car 50
Memorials they were hanging, shedding tears,
But from their lips no word of ruth was heard;
For iron-hearted purpose, all aglow
With manly courage, breathed as lions breathe,
Whose eyeballs glare with battle. Such my news,
Which by no sluggishness have been delayed.
I left them casting lots that each might lead,
As Fate assigned, his squadron to the gates;
Hence at their outlets marshal with all speed
Our bravest men, our city's chosen sons;
For near already, raising dust, comes on,
Full-armed, the Argive host, while glistening foam 60
Mottles the plain with flakes from panting steeds.
But thou, like prudent helmsman of the ship,
Make stanch the city, before Ares' blasts
Swoop down; for loud the army's land-wave roars;
Thou, for this charge, the swiftest moment seize:
Myself, sure watch, a wary eye will keep,
And thou, through certain tidings, knowing all
Outside that happens, without scath shalt be.

[Exit.


Eteocles.

O Zeus, and Earth, and Gods our town who guard,
And thou strong curse, Erinys of my sire, 70
My city, where the speech of Hellas flows,
With utter ruin, captured by the foe,
Uproot ye not, nor our domestic hearths,
But grant that our free land and Cadmos' town
In vassal bondage never may be held.
Be ye our strength;—our common weal, I urge,
For thriving cities honour best the gods.

[Exit.


[Enter Chorus of Theban Maidens.]


Chorus.

I wail forth mighty, fear-inspiring woes!
An army hurries, from its camp set free!
A mounted host onward in ample tide
Towards our city flows. 80
Dust that on air doth ride,
Dumb herald, clear and true, persuadeth me.
Clatter of horse-hoofs on my natal plain
Brings to mine ear war's dismal sound;
Air-borne it floats around;
Like mountain-lashing flood's resistless flow
It roars amain.
Alas! ah me!
Ye gods and goddesses, oh turn aside
The impending woe.


Leader of the 1st Half Chorus.

With battle-shout, straight to our city-wall
The host white-shielded speeds in fair array. 90


1st Maiden.

Who will deliver?

 

2nd Maiden.

Succour us who may,
Or god or goddess?


3rd Maiden.

Prostrate shall I fall
Their shrines before?


4th Maiden.

Ye Blest ones here who reign
Now is the time to clasp your statues, now.


5th Maiden.

Burdened with sorrow, why, oh why delay?


6th Maiden.

The clash of shields meets it, or not your ear?


7th Maiden.

When, if not now, shall we our prayers begin
With sacred peplus and wool-tufted bough?


8th Maiden.

I mark the rattling din!
It is the clatter of no single spear. 100


9th Maiden.

Ares, tutelary god of old,
Thy proper soil betraying what wilt gain?


10th Maiden.

O golden-helmèd god, the State behold
Which once to count belovèd thou didst deign.

 

Leader of 1st Half Chorus.

Ye tutelary gods, the land who hold,
Come ye, come all, look on this virgin train
Who, dreading bonds, as suppliants on you call.


Leader of 2nd Half Chorus.

For lo! with slanting plumes
A surge of warriors round our city wall,
On blasts of Ares riding, hoarsely booms. 110


Chorus. Strophe I.

Do thou, O Zeus, all-perfect Sire, do thou
Avert, thou canst, our capture by the foe;
For Cadmos' fort Argives encircle now;
Weapons of war my heart appal, for lo,
To chargers' mouths made fast, their metal gear
Rings slaughter, and with pride elate,
Seven chiefs, conspicuous o'er the host,
With panoply of spear,
Each having gained by lot his post,
Stand, prompt for battle, at the seventh gate.

*****


Mesode.

Thou too, Zeus-born, war-loving power, do thou, 120
Pallas, our city from destruction save;
Equestrian Lord, thou ruler of the wave,
Poseidon, with fish-piercing trident now
Grant respite from our fears, grant respite thou.


Antistrophe I.

Ares, alas! Our town, the name which bears
Of Cadmos, guard;—show forth thy care divine;
Kypris, do thou, fore-mother of our line,
These ills avert, for from thy blood we came;
Thee we approach with god-invoking prayers. 130
Thou too, Lykeian[5] Lord, thy name
Attesting, as our groans ascend,
Smite thou the hostile host;—[6]
And thou from Leto who dost boast
Thy heavenly birth, thy bow, dread virgin, bend.


Strophe II.

The din of chariot wheels, alas, ah me,
Around our walls I hear;
O Hera, mighty queen!
From axles overburden'd creak the naves. 140
O Artemis most dear!
Madden'd by hurtling spears vext ether raves.
What ails the city? What its doom will be?
God guides the issue to what goal unseen?


Antistrophe II.

A stone-shower hits the towers, alas, ah me,
Striking their very crown.
Apollo, our dear Lord!
With clang of brass-bound shields our gates resound.
Zeus only can accord 150
With righteous issue that the strife be crowned.
O Onca,[7] here enthroned, blest Deity,
Do thou protect our seven-gated town.


Strophe III.

O ye all-puissant powers,
Dread guardians of our towers,
Of either sex, oh hear us, nor betray
A city toiling 'neath the spear,
To hosts of alien speech. These virgins hear,
Most justly hear, with outstretched hands who pray. 160


Antistrophe III.

Divinities most dear,
As Saviours mustering near
Our city walls—show forth the love ye bear.
Care for our fanes, with aspect kind,
And caring for them save. O hear our prayer,
Our sacrificial rites call ye to mind.


[Re-enter Eteocles.]


Eteocles (to the Chorus).

I ask you, ye insufferable brood,
Is this course best, fittest the State to save,
The leaguered host to hearten—falling thus
Before the statues of our city's gods,
To shout and wail—a nuisance to the wise?
In trouble or in dear prosperity,
Ne'er be it mine with womankind to dwell.
In rule, her insolence keeps all aloof,
In fear, worse ill she brings to home and State;
So have ye now, rushing in hurried flight,
Roused in our townsmen soulless cowardice.
Ye serve, as best ye may, the foe without, 180
While we within bring ruin on ourselves;
Such aid he reapeth who with women dwells.
So if there be who heeds not my command,
Or man or woman, or aught else between,
The fatal pebble shall decide their doom,
Nor death by stoning at the people's hand
Shall they escape. What passeth out of doors
Is man's concern; let woman counsel not.
Bide thou within, and no more mischief cause.
Dost hear or not? Or speak I to the deaf?


Chorus. Strophe I.

Dear son of Œdipus, I trembled sore, 190
Hearing of rattling cars the roar, the roar,
When wheel-impelling axles shrieked amain,
When sounded on mine ear
The noise of fire-wrought gear—
Within the chargers' mouths their guiding rein.


Eteocles.

What then? doth sailor means of safety find,
[8]The stern forsaking for the prow, what time
His vessel labours mid the ocean wave?


Chorus. Antistrophe I.

Relying on the gods, as was but meet,
When at our gates pattered the deadly sleet, 200
With hurrying pace I sought their statues old;
By fear possest, I there
Poured to the Blest my prayer,
That they our city's prowess would uphold.


Eteocles.

Pray that our towers be stanch 'gainst foemen's spear.


Chorus.

Grant not the gods this boon?

 

Eteocles.

Ay, but 'tis said,
That from a captured town the gods depart.


Chorus. Strophe II.

Ne'er may this conclave of the gods take flight
While I behold the day;
And never may this city meet my sight 210
Foe-trampled, and to hostile fire a prey.


Eteocles.

The gods invoking, be not ill-advised;
Obedience mother is of good success,
Sure pledge of safety;—so the saying runs.[9]


Chorus. Antristrophe II.

True, but the strength of god is mightier still,
And oft, in direst strait,
It lifteth from the lowest depths of ill
Him who, with cloud-veiled eyes, was desperate.


Eteocles.

Men's part it is to offer sacrifice
And victims to the gods, when foes assail; 220
Thine to be silent and to bide within.


Chorus. Strophe III.

'Tis through the gods we dwell
In city unsubdued;
Through them our towers repel
The hostile multitude.
What anger can this move?

 

Eteocles.

I grudge thee not due homage to the gods;
But lest faint-hearted ye the burghers make,
Tranquil abide, nor yield o'ermuch to tear.


Chorus. Antistrophe III.

Hearing unwonted din,
In tumult and in fear,
Trembling my heart within,
I drew this fortress near;
This seat of gods above. 230


Eteocles.

If now of dying or of wounded men
Ye hear, bear them not off with loud laments,
For 'tis on human slaughter Ares feeds.[10]


Chorus.

But hark! the snorting of the steeds I hear.


Eteocles.

Hear, if thou must; but hear not over-loud.


Chorus.

Groans from its base our fort, girt round by foes.


Eteocles.

Mine is the task to counsel in this strait.

 

Chorus.

Woe's me! More loud the rattling at the gates.


Eteocles.

Hush, nor alarm the city with these cries.


Chorus.

Associate gods, our towers abandon not. 240


Eteocles.

Plague on thee! canst thou not in silence bear?


Chorus.

Co-burgher gods! save me from slavery.


Eteocles.

Thyself enslavest, thee and all the town.


Chorus.

All-puissant Zeus, turn 'gainst the foe thy bolt.


Eteocles.

Zeus! what a gift to man was womankind!


Chorus.

Wretched as men are in a captured town.


Eteocles.

The statues touching, dost renew thy cries?


Chorus.

Through want of heart fear seizes on my tongue.


Eteocles.

I pray thee grant me but one trifling boon.

 

Chorus.

Speak quickly then, so shall I quickly know. 250


Eteocles.

Be still, unhappy one, scare not thy friends.


Chorus.

Still am I;—with the rest I'll bear my doom.


Eteocles.

This word I to thy former words prefer.
Moreover keeping from these shrines aloof,
Proffer the better prayer, e'en that the gods
Our allies prove; then having heard my prayers,
Do thou the auspicious, sacred Pæan raise,
Hellas' accustomed shout of sacrifice,
Cheering to friends, dispelling dread of foes.—
Unto our country's tutelary gods, 260
The plain who haunt, the market-place who guard,
To Dirka's fountains, and Ismenos' waters,
Make I this promise, that—if all go well,
And this our town be saved—with blood of sheep
Dyeing the sacred hearths, and slaying bulls
In the gods' honour, trophies I will plant,
And will aloft on spears, the shrines before,
Hang in the sacred fanes the spoils of war.
Pray to the gods such prayers, not with fond moans,
Neither with sobs of anguish vain and wild,
For none the more wilt thou escape thy doom. 270
Meanwhile, six men of war, myself the seventh,
I, at the seven outlets of the ports,
In gallant style will marshal 'gainst the foe,
Ere hurrying scouts and swiftly-rushing news
Arrive, and by the stress set all ablaze.

[Exit Eteocles.


Chorus. Strophe I.

I heed, but terror leaves my heart no rest,
And in my bosom anxious care,
Sad neighbour, doth enkindle there
Dread of the wall-surrounding multitude;
Like trembling dove am I, that for her brood 280
Doth serpents fear, fell inmates of her nest;
For some against our towers,
A warlike throng, in numbers strong,
Advance;—ah what will me betide?
Others, 'gainst citizens on every side
Sore pelted, hurl the rugged stone;
Put forth, O kindred gods, your utmost powers,[11]
Save host and State as Sire who Cadmos own. 290


Antistrophe I.

And say what soil of earth will ye obtain
Better than this, if ye betray
To foreign foes this fertile land
And Dirka's water, richest draught of all
That the earth-circling God sends forth amain,
And progeny of Tethys.[12] Hence we call, 300
Gods, on your guardian band;—
Into the powers outside our towers
Sending the coward's deadly fear,
Which fatuous casts the shield away,
Earn for these burghers glory. Hear,
Oh hear my shrill-voiced wailings and retain,
As Saviours of our State, your stedfast reign.


Strophe II.

For sad it were, before its time 310
To hurl, enslaved, as booty of the spear,
A city famed of old, to Hades drear,
In crumbling ashes laid by Argive foe,
Through heaven's high will, in shameful overthrow;
That women old and virgins in their prime
Like horses by their hair be dragged, ah me,
Their robes around them rent, to slavery.
Waileth the city emptied of its store,
While captives, to destruction led 320
Lamenting, swell the mingled roar.
This heavy doom forebodingly I dread.


Antistrophe II.

For maids whose bloom is at the full,
Before the rites the scarce ripe fruit that cull,
How grievous 'tis far from their homes to wend
On hateful journey! What then? I declare
Who sleep in death than these far better fare.
Full many woes a captured town attend;
As captive one his enemy doth seize, 330
Another slays, or round him scatters fire,
While the whole city is with smoke defil'd,
And people-taming Ares, wild
With frenesy, all sanctities
Foully polluting, doth their rage inspire.


Strophe III.

Loud clamour through the town prevails,
Destruction's net draws near,
And man by man is slaughtered with the spear;
The new-born infant wails, 340
Its gory bleating at the breast is heard;
There Rapine, sister to wild Tumult, reigns.
Spoiler to spoiler gives the word;
The empty-handed empty-handed hails,
Seeking a partner in his gains,
Each greedy for nor less nor equal share.
In scenes like these how may we hope to fare?


Antistrophe III.

And fruitage too of every sort 350
Is wasted ruthlessly,
Earth-strewn, sad sight to housewife's cheerless eye;
And earth's fair gifts, the sport
Of worthless surge, are swept away
In common ruin; maidens in their prime
Are with new sorrow filled; for they
Of haughty foemen now must own the sway,
Forceful their wretched couch who climb; 360
Their hope that death, their tear-fraught woes to end,
O'er them may soon her sheltering night extend.


Leader of 1st Half Chorus.

The army-scout, to me it seemeth, friends,
Brings us some recent tiding from the host,
Plying in haste his charioteering feet.


Leader of 2nd Half Chorus.

And lo! our king, offspring of Œdipus,
Comes in fair time the herald's news to hear.
Unmeasured too his footsteps are through haste.


[Enter Eteocles and Train.]


Messenger.

I, the foe's movements knowing, can report 370
How at the gates each hath his post by lot.
Tydeus already at the Proitid gates
Raves; but to cross Ismenos' ford the seer
Forbids, for inauspicious are the rites.
But Tydeus, frenzied, hankering for fight,
Blusters with yell like serpent's noonday hiss,
And at the skilful seer, Oïcles' son,
Aimeth the taunt that he, through cowardice,
Fawneth on death and battle. Shouting thus,
A triple shadowy plume, his helmet's mane,
He shakes, and underneath his hollow shield, 380
Bells, wrought of brass, clang terror; and he bears,
Enchased upon its front, this proud device—
The nightly firmament ablaze with stars,
And in mid-buckler shines the full-orb'd moon
Conspicuous, queen of stars and eye of night.
Thus raving, he, in haughty garniture,
Shouts near the river banks, in love with war,
As charger, panting fiercely 'gainst the curb,
Hearing the trumpet's blare, with fury chafes.
Whom, as antagonist, to him wilt set?
Who, when the bolts are loosed, may warrant give,
As champion to defend the Proitid gates? 390


Eteocles.

I tremble at no panoply of man,
Neither have mere devices power to wound;
Plumage and bell bite not without the spear.
This Night too, glittering with stars of heaven,
Which is, thou sayest, set upon his shield,
If spelled aright, may truthful omen prove.
For if in death night fall upon his eyes,
Then to its bearer will this proud device,
Justly and fitly, answer to its name, 400
And 'gainst himself his pride shall prophesy.
To Tydeus, this brave son of Astacos
I will oppose, as warden of the gates;
He, nobly born, revereth honour's throne,
And boastful words abhors; to shameful deeds
Laggart, no craven soul he loves to be.
Scion of heroes sprung from dragon's teeth.
Whom Ares spared, true offspring of the soil
Is Melanippos; Ares will decide
The issue by the die;—but his true kin,
Justice, hath sent him forth, her champion, 410
From his own mother foeman's spear to ward.


Chorus. Strophe I.

Grant to my champion victory,
Ye deities, since forth he wends
To battle justly and our State defends.
But ah, by fear possest, I dread to see
Their gory fates who perish for their friends.


Messenger.

Him may the gods thus with fair fortune crown!
The Electran gates hath Capaneus by lot,
A giant he, o'ertopping him first nam'd.
His vaunt outsoareth mortal pride; these towers 420
He threats with horrors, which may Fate avert.
For, God assenting or in God's despite,
He vows our town to ravage; not heaven's wrath,
Down leaping on the plain, e'en at his feet,
Shall hold him back; lightnings and thunderbolts
To noonday solar beams he likeneth.
A naked man his blazon, bearing fire;
Flares in his hands a torch, for service prompt;
In golden characters, ho cries aloud,
The City I will burn. Against this man
Send thou—but who such foeman will confront? 430
This boaster who will meet and tremble not?

 

Eteocles.

Here also gain accrueth upon gain.
When in o'erweening thoughts vain men indulge
Their true bewrayer is their proper tongue.
Now threatens Capaneus, for fight equipped,
Scorning the gods; and, practising his tongue,
With senseless joy, though mortal, he to heaven,
High surging words upsends, defying Zeus;
Full faith have I that Zeus, with justice' aid,
Him with his fire-charged thunderbolt will smite,
No whit resembling noonday's solar beams. 440
Him to confront, despite his raving tongue,
Is hero marshall'd, ay, a soul of fire,
Stout Polyphontes; trusty bulwark he,
By grace of tutelary Artemis,
And kindly aid of other gods. Tell on,
Who against other gates the lot hath drawn?


Chorus. Antistrophe I.

Perish who vaunteth mightily
Against our city! His career
May thunder check, ere, with o'erweening spear,
My home invading, me as captive prey 450
He driveth from my girlish haunts away!


Messenger.

Him next who drew his station at the ports
I'll name. For to Eteocles, third chief,
From upturn'd brazen casque leapt the third lot,
His band against Neistan gates to lead.
His steeds, loud snorting in their frontlet-gear,
Eager to reach the gates, circling he drives;
Whistle their nozzles in barbaric guise,
With breath sonorous from their nostrils filled.
With no mean blazon is his shield adorned; 460
A man in armour, to his foeman's tower,
Eager to storm it, climbs a ladder's rungs;
And he too shouts in written characters,
That him not Ares from the walls shall hurl.
Against this man a trusty champion send,
The yoke of bondage from this town to ward.


Eteocles.

Him will I straight with happy omens send;
Yea, sent is Megareus, whose vaunts are deeds;
Scion of Creon, from the heroes sprung
Full-armed who rose from earth-sown dragon's teeth,
He from the gates will not retire dismayed 470
By noisy snorting of infuriate steeds;
But either, dying, will repay our land
His nurture-fee, or, seizing warriors twain,
Ay, and the city on his foeman's shield,
Will with the spoils his father's house adorn.
Now of another brag, nor grudge thy words.


Chorus. Strophe II.

For him success I pray,
O champion of my home; for them instead
Ill-fortune; and as they,
With frenzied spirit, utter 'gainst our town
High-sounding words, may Zeus, Avenger dread,
By wrathful ire possest, on them look down! 480


Messenger.

One more, a fourth, the neighbour-gate who holds,
Onca-Athena's, shouting stands hard by;
The mighty form of huge Hippomedon;
I shook with terror, I deny it not,
As the vast orb he whirled, his buckler's disk;
Certes no vulgar artist was the man
Who this device hath wrought upon his shield;
Typhon forth darting from fire-breathing lips
Flame's quivering sister, smoke of dusky hue;
And all around the hollow-bellied shield 490
Circled a coil of intertwining snakes.
Himself hath raised his war-cry, and inspired
By Ares, raves like Thyiad for the fight,
Death in his glance. Against such man's attack
Needs must we be prepared, for at our gates
Rout is already boastfully proclaimed.


Eteocles.

First Onca-Pallas, near our city gates
Holding her seat, hating man's insolence,
Shall him ward off, like fell snake from her brood.
Him to oppose hath Œnops' valiant son,
Hyperbios, been chosen—man to man, 500
Willing at Fortune's call his fate to prove.
Neither in form, in courage, nor in arms
Blameworthy; them hath Hermes fairly matched
Since foe will foe confront, while on their shields
They into conflict bring two hostile gods.
For Typhon, breathing fire, the one doth bear,
While Father Zeus upon Hyperbios' shield
Sits, firmly throned, wielding his fiery bolt;
But Zeus defeated no one yet hath seen.
Such on each side the friendship of the gods; 510
We with the victors, with the vanquish'd they.
Thus will it with the mortal champions fare,
If Zeus than Typhon stronger be in fight;
And to Hyperbios, as the legend reads
Set on his shield, a saviour Zeus will prove.


Chorus. Antistrophe II.

Firm is my trust that he
The hateful form who beareth on his shield
Of earth-born deity,
Adverse to Zeus, to men a shape of dread
And to the long-lived gods, prone in the field,
Before our gate shall fling his own proud head. 520


Messenger.

Such be the issue! At the northern gates
The fifth is marshalled, near the tomb which holds
Zeus-born Amphīon. By his spear he swears,
Which more than God he honours, or his eyes,
That the Cadmeian's stronghold he will spoil,
Despite of Zeus. So speaks the stripling hero,
Scion fair-faced of mother mountain-reared;
Over his cheek spreadeth the tender down,
Hair thickly sprouting of youth's budding prime. 530
But he with savage temper, which belies
His maiden name, and with an eye of dread,
Taketh his post;—yet stands he at our gates
Not without vaunt, for on his shield brass-wrought,
His body's rounded bulwark, he doth wield
The raw-devouring Sphinx, our city's shame,
Her form stud-fastened, brilliantly embossed.
A man she holds beneath her, a Cadmeian,
A target so for missiles thickly showered.
Hither he comes no peddling fight to wage, 540
Nor the long route he traversed to disgrace;
Parthenopaios, an Arcadian born,
But denizen of Argos; such a man
Doth Argos' kindly nurture now repay
By threats against our towers, which heaven avert!


Eteocles.

From the high gods may they the doom obtain
Planned against us; so, with these godless vaunts,
Themselves, o'erthrown, shall perish utterly.
'Gainst this Arcadian, him thou tellest of,
The warrior Actor stands; no boaster he,
But with a hand which sees the thing to do;
Brother of him whom I before described. 550
No fluent, deedless, tongue will he admit
Within our gates to aggravate our ills,
Nor him allow to pass, on hostile shield
Who bears the image of that hateful pest.

*****

No! 'neath our walls, sore-batter'd, she will rail
At him who fain would carry her within.
If heaven so wills, herein I truth shall speak.


Chorus. Strophe III.

His word my breast doth rend,
Standeth my hair on end,
Hearing the haughty boast 560
Of haughty men profane;
Ye Gods, above who reign,
Here, in our land, smite ye their alien host!


Messenger.

Sixth, let me name a man most sage of heart,
Amphiarâos, prophet, first in arms;
He, marshall'd at the Homoloian gates,
Tydeus with keen reproaches oft assails,
As homicide, disturber of the State,
To Argos prime instructor in these harms,
Erinys' herald, Slaughter's minister, 570
Adviser to Adrastos of these ills;
And on thy brother Polyneikes' might,
He calls, dissecting his ill-omened name;[13]
Then in conclusion, twice with emphasis
His name repeating, utters forth these words:
"Pleasing to gods in sooth is such a deed,
Lovely for future years to hear and toll,
The city of thy sires and native gods
To spoil, made captive by an alien host.
Can Justice the maternal fountain quench?[14] 580
Thy Fatherland, if captur'd through thy zeal,
How can it e'er again be thine ally?
Myself I shall this land enrich, a seer
'Neath hostile earth sepulchred. Fight we now!
For no dishonourable doom I look."
Thus spake the seer, wielding his rounded shield,
All brass, but no device was on its orb;
For just to be, he longs, not just to seem,
Ripe wisdom reaping from his deep-plough'd mind,
Whence honest counsels grow. Against this man 590
Champions, I charge thee, send, skilful and brave,
For terrible is he who fears the gods.


Eteocles.

Woe for the omen which the righteous makes
Companion of the impious; nought is worse
In any cause than evil fellowship;
Its fruit may not be garner'd; Até's field
Yields death for harvest; yea, the godly man,
With headstrong sailors bent on villainy,
Mounting the bark, sinks with the heaven-loathed crew; 600
Or, just himself, but leagued with citizens
Ruthless to strangers, heedless of the gods,
Caught in the self-same snare, he prostrate lies,
Smitten with them by God's impartial scourge.
So too this seer himself, Oïcles' son,
A righteous man, pious, discreet, and brave,—
This mighty soothsayer, with bold-tongued men
Unholy, in despite of reason, joined,
Their march who trail to reach the far-off city,—[15]
He, if Zeus will, with them shall down be dragged. 610
But he, methinks, our gates will not assail;
Not by faint heart withheld or dastard will,
But knowing 'tis his doom in fight to perish,
If fruit there be in Loxias' oracles;
And He or silence keeps or speaks in season.
Yet against him stout Lasthenes we'll post,
A stranger-hating warden of the gates;
He, old in mind, yet blooms in youthful prime,
With eye swift-glancing,[16] and not slow of hand
To snatch from 'neath his shield the naked spear. 620
But victory is still the gift of God.


Chorus. Antistrophe III.

Our just entreaties crown,
Ye gods, and bless our town!
On the invading powers
Turn ye war's spear-wrought woe!
May Zeus, outside our towers,
With his dread thunder smiting, lay them low!


Messenger.

Now at the seventh gate the seventh chief,
Thy proper mother's son, I will announce,
What curses for the state he imprecates;
That he may stand upon the walls, he prays:—
That, heralded as king to all the land,
With paeans for its capture, he with thee
Fighting, may slay thee, dying by thy side,
Or thee, who wrong'd him, chasing forth alive,
Requite in kind his proper banishment.
Such words he shouts and calls upon the gods,
Who o'er his race preside and Fatherland,
With gracious eye to look upon his prayers.[17]

*****

A well-wrought buckler, newly forged, he bears,
With two-fold blazon riveted thereon; 640
For there a woman leads, with sober mien,
A mailèd warrior, enchased in gold;—
Justice her style, and thus the legend speaks:
"This man I will restore, and he shall hold
The city and his fathers' palace-homes."
Such the devices of the hostile chiefs.
'Tis for thyself to choose whom thou wilt send;
But never shalt thou blame my herald-words;
To guide the rudder of the State be thine!


Eteocles.

O heaven-demented race of Œdipus, 650
My race, tear-fraught, detested of the gods.
Alas, our father's curses now bear fruit.
But it beseems not to lament or weep,
Lest lamentations sadder still be born.
For him, too truly Polyneikes named,—
What his device will work we soon shall know;
Whether his braggart words, with madness fraught,
Gold-blazoned on his shield, shall lead him back.
Had Justice, virgin child of Zeus, in sooth
Guided his deeds and thoughts, this might have been; 660
But neither when he fled the darksome womb,
Nor in his childhood, nor in youth's fair prime,
Nor when his chin thick hair o'erspread, with him
Hath Justice converse held, or claimed him hers;
Nor in this outrage on his Fatherland,
Deem I she now beside him deigns to stand.
For Justice would in sooth belie her name
Did she with this all-daring man consort.
In these regards confiding will I go,
Myself will meet him. Who with better right? 670
Brother 'gainst brother, chieftain against chief,
And foeman against foe, I'll take my stand.
Quick, bring my greaves, bulwark 'gainst spear and stones.


Chorus.

Dearest of mortals, son of Œdipus,
Be not in wrath like him of fatal name;
Let Argive warriors with Cadmeians fight;
It is enough; their blood may be atoned;
But death of brothers, each by other slain,—
Old age to such pollution never comes.


Eteocles.

If any one bear evil, let it be 680
Without disgrace, sole profit to the dead;
On base and evil deeds no glory waits.


Chorus. Strophe IV.

What art so eager for, my son?
Let not Infatuation's spell,
Spear-frenzied, soul-possessing, bear thee on:
No, the first germ of evil passion quell.


Eteocles.

Since God himself the matter presses on,
Let all of Laios' race, 'neath Phœbos' ban,
Drift with the breeze, Cocytos' wave its goal.


Chorus. Antistrophe IV.

Thee passion biting to the quick
O'er masters, onward thou art led,
A bitter-fruited deed to consummate 690
Of blood, unlawful for thy hand to shed.


Eteocles.

E'en so, for my dear father's hostile curse,
Now ripe, broods over my dry tearless eyes,
Telling that later doom hath prior gain.[18]

 

Chorus. Strophe V.

But do not thou press on;
Thy life if Fortune crowneth, none
As coward thee will brand.
Thy house Erinys, black with storm, will leave,
When, proffer'd by thy hand,
Due meed of sacrifice the gods receive.


Eteocles.

The gods, methinks, have long neglected us,
Our doom the only offering they esteem. 700
Why longer fawn then upon deadly fate?


Chorus. Antistrophe V.

Now is the very hour
When near she stands. Her hostile power
At length may own the sway
Of tardy change-wind, and in kindlier mood
Attend thee on thy way;
But now she seethes with fury unsubdued.


Eteocles.

Seethed over hath the curse of Œdipus.
Too true the Phantoms of my nightly dreams,
Ghastly dividers of our father's wealth.


Chorus.

To women yield, although thou love them not.


Eteocles.

Say what may yet be done, and speak in brief. 710

 

Chorus.

Tread not this pathway to the seventh gate.


Eteocles.

My whetted soul with words thou shalt not blunt.


Chorus.

Such conquest, in defeat, the God respects.


Eteocles.

The armed warrior brooks not such a word.


Chorus.

Wouldst thou in sooth cull thine own brother's blood?


Eteocles.

Grant but the gods, from harm he shall not 'scape.

[Exit Eteocles.


Chorus. Strophe I.

I shudder lest the house-destroying Might,
Unlike to gods, true prophetess of ill,
A sire's invok'd Erinys, now fulfil 720
The wrathful curses, fraught with bitter hate,
Of Œdipus infatuate.
Child-slaying Eris urges on the fight.


Antistrophe I.

The lots between them doth a stranger deal,
Chalybian colonist from Scythia's bound,
Divider stern of wealth, raw-hearted steel,
Who to the twain allotteth so much ground
To dwell on as they hold when slain,
Stript of all portion in their wide domain. 730


Strophe II.

But when in death they lie,
Spear-mangled, each by other slain;—
When drinks their native dust the gory rain.
Who then with lustral rites may purify?
Who cleanse them from that stain?
O horrors new upon this house that wait,
Blent with the direful ills of earlier date!


Antistrophe II.

For of the crime I tell
On which of old swift vengeance fell, 740
Yet whose dread issue the third age doth wait;
When Laios, 'gainst Apollo's will divine,
From Pythia's central shrine
Who thrice proclaimed the sacred oracle,
"Die without issue wouldst thou save the State,—"


Strophe III.

Yet he, by friends o'erpower'd, perverse of mind,
Begat his proper woe
In Œdipus, the parricide, who dared,
In field unhallow'd whence he sprang, to sow 750
A bloody offshoot. Frenzy blind
In wedlock the infatuate couple paired.


Antistrophe III.

And now a sea of ill leads wave on wave;—
One falls and one doth rear
Against the city's stern, with clamour rude
Its triple crest—between, fence slight to save, 760
The breadth of wall extends. I fear
Lest with its kings the city be subdued.


Strophe IV.

For the dread reconcilements now at last,
Of curses breathed of old, fulfilment find,
Nor doth the fated mischief lag behind.
When wealth of merchants seeking gain
O'erweighted is, into the briny main
From the ship's stern the precious freight is cast.


Antistrophe IV.

For to what mortal did or gods or men,
His co-mates of the State, such honour pay, 770
And diverse-nurtured multitudes, as then
To Œdipus they paid, whose hand
Had from the ravening monster purged the land,
That riddling post which seized on men for prey.


Strophe V.

But when, unhappy wight,
Apprised of his dire wedlock, anguish-fraught,
Stung with intolerable pain,
Frenzied at heart, he twofold mishcief wrought;
For with the hand that had his father slain, 780
His proper eyes he did bereave of sight.[19]

 

Antistrophe V.

And at his sons he flung,
By ignominious treatment vex'd at heart,
Curses, alas, with bitter tongue,
That they with iron-wielding hand should part
One day their wealth. I tremble lest that vow
Erinys, swift of foot, accomplish now.

[Enter Messenger.


Messenger.

Ye maidens, mother-nurtured, courage take,
Our city hath escaped the vassal yoke; 790
The boasts of haughty men are come to nought.
Our city floats in calm, and from the shock
Of many billows yet hath sprung no leak.
Staunch are our towers; the champions whom we set,
In single combat to defend our gates,
Their pledges have redeem'd. At the six gates
All prospers in the main; the seventh gate
Apollo, King, the awful seventh, chose,
Avenging on the sons of Œdipus
Laios' ill-counselled trespass wrought of old.


Chorus.

What new event hath to the city chanced? 800


Messenger.

Saved is the city, but the brother kings—


Chorus.

What sayest thou? Through fear I am distraught.

 

Messenger.

Be calm and listen. Œdipus' two sons—


Chorus.

Ah wretched me! Prophet I am of ills.


Messenger.

Earth drinks their blood, each by the other slain.


Chorus.

Came they to this? 'Tis horrible, yet speak.


Messenger.

Dead are our chiefs by fratricidal hands.


Chorus.

Then are they slain by hands too brotherly.


Messenger.

Prone in the dust they lie, too true the tale.


Chorus.

Thus dealt the god impartially with both.


Messenger.

Yea, he himself destroys th' ill-fated race.


Chorus.

Cause have we here for gladness and for tears. 810
The city prospers but its governors,
Twin captains have, with Scythia's welded steel,
Between them portioned all their heritage,
Holding what each received in sepulture,
Borne onward by their father's direful curse.

 

Chorus.

O mighty Zeus, and all ye guardian powers
Who save, in very sooth, these towers
Of Cadmos, whether now 820
Shall I rejoice, and in triumphant strain,
Our town's unharming saviour, Fortune, hail,
Or those war-chiefs bewail,
Wretched, ill-fated, childless twain,
Who rightly, as their names avow—[20]
Names full of glory and of strife.
Are through intent unhallowed reft of life.


Strophe.

Dark curse, with full completion crowned,
Of Œdipus, inherent in the race!
Hovers an evil chill my heart around. 830
Like Bacchanal, when on mine ear
The tidings fell that the blood-dripping slain
Through evil Fate had died—their tomb to grace,
A dirge I wove, sad strain.—
Ill-omened is this concert of the spear.


Antistrophe.

Their father's baleful curse hath wrought,
Untired, its battle to the bitter end;
Now Laios' wilful counsels have their meed.
Around the city hovers care;
Not blunted are the oracles;—this deed 840

[The bodies of the brothers are brought in.]

Which ye have wrought, oh lamentable pair,
All credence doth transcend.
Dire woes are come, not by mere rumour taught.


Epode.

Lo, obvious now to sight the herald's tale!
Twofold anxieties, disasters twain
Of pride[21] and mutual slaughter, fraught
With twofold doom.
To their dread issue are these evils brought.
What can I sing? What but the grievous bale
Fixed at the heart of this ill-fated home?
But now, in escort of the dead,
Oh friends! adown grief's sobbing gale,
With measured beat of hands on head, 850
Ply ye the oar-stroke, ply amain,
Which over Charon's river evermore
Wafteth the galley, black of sail,[22]
Unchartered, to the sunless reign,
Untrodden by the god of light,
Invisible to mortal sight,
The all-receiving shore.

[As the funeral procession advances, Antigone and Ismene are seen approaching.]

But for a task of bitter pain,
Their brothers' requiem to intone,
Antigone draws with Ismene near;
From lovely, deep-zoned breasts, I deem
Will they, in no ambiguous strain,
With fitting wail their woes deplore,
And ere their utterance reach our ear,
Us, too, it doth beseem 860
Erinys' harsh-toned hymn to sing,
And hostile pæan chant to Hades' King.
Oh most unhappy in your brothers, ye
Of all who round their garments cast the zone;
I weep, I moan,—
Here is no guile,—these wailings that I pour
Come from my very heart, unfeignedly.


Semi-chorus I. Strophe I.

Woe! Woe!
Ye frantic ones, your friends who disobeyed,
By sorrow unsubdued, unhappy twain, 870
Spear-armed your father's house who captive made.


Semi-chorus II.

Wretched in sooth, wretched their doom, both slain,
Their house o'erwhelming in their overthrow.


Semi-chorus I. Antistrophe I.

Woe! Woe!
O ye your household walls in dust who laid,
Who bitter kingship tasted; war's keen blade
To you, at length, hath reconcilement brought.


Semi-chorus II.

The dread Erinys of their sire hath wrought,
Fulfilling his stern curse, this stubborn woe.


Semi-chorus I. Strophe II.

Both smitten through the breast,
Yea, through the heart, sprung from one common womb!

*****

Woe! Woe! ye fiend possest!
Woe for the curse of mutual-slaughtering doom!


Semi-chorus II.

Smitten, as ye relate,
Smitten in home and life, with ruin dire,
By Wrath transcending speech, and vengeful Hate, 890
Sprung from the curse of Œpidus, their sire.


Semi-chorus I. Antristrophe II.

The city groans amain,
The turrets groan, groans the man-loving plain;
But with their kin doth bide
Their wealth, dire cause to that ill-fated twain
Of strife, whose issue death to either side.


Semi-chorus II.

With hearts keen whetted they
Their wealth apportioned, equal shares they gain;—
Friends blame the umpire,[23] neither may their fray 900
Be now applauded in triumphal strain.

 

Semi-chorus I. Strophe III.

Steel-smitten, hapless pair!
Steel-smitten, lie they there.
What fortune, one perchance may ask,
Awaiteth them?—A share
In their ancestral tomb.


Semi-chorus II.

Grief, with heart-piercing groan,
Escorts them from their home—sad task;—
Sorrow unfeigned and unfeignèd moan,
Distressful, joyless, din! 910
Wasteth my heart as from its depths within
True tears I shed, weeping those princes' doom.


Semi-chorus I. Antistrophe III.

This o'er them one may say,
O'er that unhappy twain;—
That to their friends much bale they wrought
And to the alien host,
Slaughtered in deadly fray.


Semi-chorus II.

Of womankind on earth,
Of all, the mother's name who boast, 920
Most wretched she who gave them birth;—
Wedding her son these forth she brought,
By kindred hands and mutual murder slain.


Semi-chorus I. Strophe IV.

Brothers indeed together reft of life,
Severed in conflict rude;—
Falling in frenzied strife,
So did they end their feud.


Semi-chorus II.

Stayed is their hate, and on the gory plain 930
Commingled is their life;
Too truly of one blood these foemen now.
Stern umpire of their strife,
The fire-born stranger from beyond the main,
The whetted steel. Hostile was Ares too,
Bitter apportioner of wealth, I trow,
Making the curse paternal all too true.


Semi-chorus I. Antistrophe IV.

Of heaven-sent woe allotted shares have they;—
Unhappy, doom'd from birth! 940
Lies 'neath their lifeless clay
Wealth fathomless of—earth.


Semi-chorus II.

Oh ye who your own house have caused to bloom
With many bitter woes!
O'er you at last these curses their shrill lay
Have chanted, fraught with doom;
For now your race is turned to flight,
In utter rout. Ay, on the very gate
Where fell your deadly blows,
Stands Atè's trophy;—and the fiend elate
After her twofold conquest ceased from fight. 950

 

[Enter Antigone and Ismene.—The former addresses the corpse of Polyneikes, the latter that of Eteocles.]


Antigone.

Smiting, thou wast smitten.


Ismene.

Slaying, thou wast slain.


Antigone.

Thou with spear didst slaughter.


Ismene.

Thee the spear laid low.


Antigone.

In thy toil most wretched.


Ismene.

Wretched in thy woe.


Antigone.

Pour forth lamentations.


Ismene.

Mourners, weep amain.


Antigone.

Prostrate lies the slayer.


Ismene.

Near him lies the slain.


Antigone.Strophe.

Alas! with wailing raves my spirit. 960

 

Ismene.

Moans my heart within my breast.


Antigone.

Worthy thou of all lamentings.


Ismene.

Direst fate hath thee oppressed.


Antigone.

By thy friend wert reft of life.


Ismene.

Thou thy friend hast slain in strife.


Antigone.

Twofold horrors to relate.


Ismene.

Twofold to behold.


Antigone.

Brothers these by brothers slain.


Ismene.

Near them stand we, sisters twain.


Antigone.

Deadly deeds to tell of. 970


Ismene.

Deadly to behold.

 

Chorus.

Woe, woe, for wretched Fate,
Donor of baleful dower!
Woe for the shade august of Œdipus!
O swart Erinys strong art thou in power!


Antigone.Antistrophe.

Woes, alas, to sight distressing,


Ismene.

Showed he me, his exile past.


Antigone.

After slaying he returned not.


Ismene.

Saved, his breath away he cast.


Antigone.

Perished hath he; all too true. 980


Ismene.

Ay, and him he also slew.


Antigone.

Wretched kindred!


Ismene.

Wretched fate!


Antigone.

Cares from kindred strife that flow.

 

Ismene.

Steeped, alas, in threefold woe.


Antigone.

Deadly deeds to tell of.


Ismene.

Deadly to behold.


Chorus.

Woe, woe, for wretched Fate,
Donor of baleful dower!
Woe for the shade august of Œdipus! 990
O swart Erinys strong art thou in power!


Antigone.Epode.

This in sooth by proof thou knowest.


Ismene.

Thou not later this hast learned.


Antigone.

To this city when thou camest.


Ismene.

And 'gainst him thy spear hast turned.


Antigone.

Woe! alas! Dire trouble!


Ismene.

Woe! alas! Dire grief.

 

Antigone.

On our house hath fallen.


Ismene.

Ay, and on this land.


Antigone.

On me above all others.


Ismene.

On me who forward see. 1000


Antigone.

Woe for these wretched brothers!


Ismene.

Woe, Leader-King, for thee!


Antigone.

Of all men most lamented!


Ismene.

*****


Antigone.

O ye possessed by Atè!


Ismene.

Where shall we lay the twain?


Antigone.

In spot most rich in honour.

 

Ismene.

Woe, Sire, thy wedded-bane!


[Enter Herald.


Herald.

Me it behoves to publish the resolve,
And statute of Cadmeia's senators.
Eteocles, for love he bore the land, 1010
Shall be with kindly obsequies interred.
For in our city, warding off her foes,
Death he encountered; free from all offence
Against his country's rites, blameless, he died
Where for the young to die is glorious.
Of him, I thus am ordered to proclaim.
But this, his brother Polyneikes' corse,
Unburied to cast forth, of dogs the prey,
As ravager of this Cadmeian land,
Unless against his spear some god had stood;
Thus e'en in death polluted he will lie, 1020
Cursed of ancestral gods in scorn of whom,
With alien host, he sought the town to capture.
By wingèd fowl entombed, inglorious,
For him this just requital is decreed;—
No rearing of the mound by pious hands,
No shrill-voiced wail shall grace his funeral,
Unhonour'd thus with tender obsequies.
So they who rule Cadmeians have ordained.


Antigone.

But to Cadmeia's rulers I declare,
If none will join in burying this man, 1030
Myself will bury him, and take the risk,
Interring mine own brother:—shame is none
To cancel fealty and brave the State.
Dread tie the common womb from which we sprang,—
Of wretched mother born and hapless sire.
Wherefore my soul, do thou take willing share
In woes he willed not; living, aid the dead
With sisterly affection; his dear flesh
No hollow-bellied wolves shall piecemeal rend;
Let none suppose it;—woman though I be,
Tomb and interment will I scheme for him: 1040
Ay, bearing earth in fold of flaxen robe,
Him will I shroud;—let none suppose aught else.
Courage! Effectual means will fail me not.


Herald.

I warn thee not to disobey the State.


Antigone.

I warn thee publish no vain words to me.


Herald.

Harsh is the people just escaped from harm.


Antigone.

Harsh let them be; unearthed he shall not lie.


Herald.

Whom the State loathes wilt honour with a tomb?


Antigone.

Ay, for the gods have not dishonoured him.[24] 1050

 

Herald.

Not till he peril brought upon this land.


Antigone.

The wrong he bore with wrongs he would requite.


Herald.

Ay, but 'gainst all he wrought instead of one.


Antigone.

Last of the gods is Strife to close dispute.
Yet him I will inter, spare then thy words.


Herald.

But know thou headstrong art, and I forbid.


Chorus.

Woe! Woe! Dire mischiefs, vaunting loud,
House-ruiners, ye Furies dread,
Who from its roots have quenched in doom 1060
The race of Œdipus;—alas!
What must I do? What sorrows bear?
What plan devise? How may I dare
Neither for thee the tear to shed
Nor to escort thee to the tomb?
But from the terrors of the crowd
Trembling, I shrink. Thou wilt obtain

[Addressing the corpse of Eteocles.]

Many to weep thy death,—but he
Forlorn, unwept, will pass,
Mourn'd by a sister's lonely-wailing strain.
Who may to this agree?


Semi-chorus I.

Let the city strike with doom, 1070
Or not, who Polyneikes mourn;
We will go and to the tomb
Him escort,—a train forlorn;
For this woe is common dower,
And the claims of right
In our townsmen's sight
Vary with the hour.


Semi-chorus II.

But this other follow we,
As the city doth approve
And Justice;—for in sooth 'twas he,
After those who reign above,
And might of Zeus,—Cadmeia's realm 1080
Who in chief did save
From the alien wave
Which threatened to o'erwhelm.


[Exeunt in solemn procession. Antigone and Semi-chorus I. follow the corpse of Polyneikes; Ismene and Semi-chorus II. that of Eteocles.]



  1. Paley.
  2. An interesting exposition of the solar character of the Theban legend will be found in Coxe's "Mythology of the Aryan Nations," chap. x.
  3. Hegel.
  4. Laws, vii. 805.
  5. The word λύκειος, as an epithet of Apollo, has been variously interpreted to mean, 1st, the wolf-destroyer, from λύκος, a wolf; 2nd, the Lycian god, from λυκηγενής, Lycian-born; 3rd, the god of light, from a supposed ancient noun, λύκη, light. In the text it is generally understood to bear the first of these significations. Sophocles, in the 'Electra' (6), calls Apollo the wolf-slaying god (λυκοκτόνος).
  6. Λύκειος γενοῦ—a pun upon the epithet "Λύκειος"—be a wolf-destroyer to the hostile host.
  7. Our poet cannot have mistaken the names borne by the gates of Thebes in his own day; but two of them, Oncan and Borrhæan, differ from the names as given by Pausanias some four centuries later. Pausanias has the four names, Proitid, Electran, Neïtan and Homoloid, in common with Æschylus; but besides, he has the Ogygian, the Crenæan, and the Hypistai (supreme), or gates of Supreme Jupiter, who had a temple near them. Æschylus informs us that Athena had a temple near the Oncan gates; probably she was hence locally entitled Oncan Athena. Oncan was thought to be a Phœnician epithet introduced into Thebes by Cadmos. We can only guess that they were the gates called Ogygian (ancient) in the time of Pausanias. Onca, as a Hebrew word, cannot be confidently interpreted; but it may belong to the same root as Anak, a celebrated family (of giants. Æschylus does not name the seventh gate, which may have been the Hypistan. It is quite possible that Borrhæan (or Borrheian, in some editions) meant simply the north gate, and was a secondary appellation. We have Βοῤῥας (ἄνεμος), with double ρ, in Thucydides.

    I am indebted for the above note to my friend Professor Newman.

  8. The sailor prayed to the figure of his tutelary god upon the prow.
  9. The text of this line is uncertain.
  10. Φόνῳ βροτῶν. It is not easy to decide whether we should retain φόνῳ, the reading of the best MSS., or adopt φόβῳ, with Blomfield and Dindorf, from the Aldine.—Paley.
  11. This follows the conjectural παντὶ τρόπῳ δὲ, συγγενεῖς θεοὶ, answering metrically to καὶ πόλεως ῥυτῆρες ἔλ | θετ᾽.
  12. Tethys. An ancient sea-goddess, one of the daughters of Heaven and Earth, wife of Okeanos. Rivers and streams were said to be their progeny. Amphitrita is understood to be another name of this goddess, and Thetis to be only another form of the name Tethys. So Virgil, in 4th Eclogue, uses Thetis.
  13. Πολυ-νεικης—much strife.
  14. Alluding to the device of Justice upon his shield.
  15. He intimates sarcastically that they are marching not, as they propose, to the city of Thebes, but to the far-off city of Hades.
  16. Literally, "swift-footed."
  17. I omit a line which is regarded as spurious.
  18. λέγουσα κέρδος πρότερον ὑστέρου μόρου.

    Two translations of this line are offered:
    1. Announcing gain prior to later doom.
    2. Announcing prior gain of later doom.

    I have adopted the latter, where πρότερον is used as antithetic to ὕστερον, but means superior, not earlier. The announcement may be regarded as a sarcastic intimation that there is no hope of life; that the only advantage that either brother can gain is to be the last to die.

  19. The epithet κρεισσοτέκνων being considered corrupt, I have omitted it.
  20. οἵ δῆτ᾽. As only one of the brothers, Polyneikes, could be said to have perished ὀρθῶς κατ᾽ ἐπωνυμίαν, Hermann thinks part of a verse lost with an allusion to the name of Eteocles.—Paley. I have adopted Mr. Newman's suggestion, κάρτ᾽ ἐτεοκλεῖς καὶ πολυνείκεις.
  21. Hermann reads, δίδυμ᾽ ἀγανόρεα.
  22. The dark-rigged boat of Charon is here contrasted with the sacred white-sailed galley which went on an annual public mission from Athens to Delos, the favourite seat of Apollo.
  23. The umpire alluded to is the sword.
  24. Whatever the true Greek text, this seems to be the sentiment.



 

NOTES.

The Seven against Thebes.

286. The abrupt τί γένωμαι; cannot be right. I make no doubt that the poet's syntax was continuous; whether στείχουσι στεφανωταί, or, ποτὶ πύργου . . . . στείχουσι στεφάνωμα, as in Soph. Antig., or again, στεγάνωμα, the roof.

338. κορκορυγαὶ δ᾽ ἀν᾽ ἄστυ, ποτὶ πόλιν δ᾽ | ὁρκάνα πυργῶτις, should be responded to by παντοδαπὸς δὲ καρπὸς χαμάδις πεσὼν | ἀλγύνει κυρήσας. First, I make little doubt that ποτὶ πόλιν should be ποτιπίλναται (approaches) which answers all the conditions of the case. Next, the Cretic ὁρκάνα convicts the Molossus ἀλγύνει as false. Πυργῶτις is wrong both in metre and in sense. Ὁρκάνα must be the net-rope, by which victors swept the streets and squares, and caught runaways. It seems to be alluded to in Iliad, v. 487, where it has the epithet πάναγρος, which in the tragic poets may be παντᾰγρος, or here, perhaps, παντᾰγρεῦτις.

In 356–364 Hermann has rightly discerned, that the νύκτερον τέλος does not mean death, but violation of the person; that ἐλπίς means apprehension, fear, and that εὐνὰν has been inserted by some one who did not understand the word τέλος aright. For τλήμονες εὐνὰν Hermann has τλῆμον αἷσιν: but it seems to me that we rather need (writing ἐκ τυχόντος, "any random man," for εὐτυχοῦντος)—

τλήμοσιν γὰρ αἰχμάλωτον
ἀνδρὸς ἐκ τυχόντος (ὡς
δυσμενῶν ὑπερτέρων)
ἐλπίς εστι νύκτερον τέλος μολεῖν,
ζακλαύτων ἀλγέων ἐπίῤῥοθον.

Here αἰχμάλωτον must agree with τέλος—rather harsh; and ἐπίῤῥοθον expresses, that this is a new misery superadded—an after-clap. I have changed the singulars, δυσμενοῦς, ὑπερτέρου, into plurals.

781. κρεισσοτέκνων is clearly absurd, μισοτέκνων a highly probable correction.

728. It is incredible that the poet should have written ἀραίας ἀρὰς, as in the old text; and to alter ἀραίας into ἀρὰς makes a very weak tautology. I feel some conviction that the poet wrote ἀγρίας τροφούς, fierce nurses, which he then expounds to be the Ἀρὰς.

826. I think the true text must be—

οἳ δῆτ᾽ ὀρθῶς κατ᾽ ἐπωνυμίαν
[κάρτ᾽ ἐτεοκλεῖς] καὶ πολυνεικεῖς

in fact, καὶ demands ἐτεοκλεῖς preceding.

998. πῆμα πατρὶ πάρευνον. Πῆμα is interpreted of Jocasta; but could a pious daughter abruptly call her mother a pest? To me it seems that the death of the two brethren was a woe sleeping in the grave by the side of the father.

1041. οὐ διατετίμηται is obviously corrupt. I suggest—

ἤδη τὰ τουδ᾽ οὐ δῆτ᾽ ἀτίμητ᾽ ἦν θεοῖς.

"Hitherto his fortunes have not been dishonoured by the gods." The reply is: "No; not before he attacked this country"—which quite agrees.