Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles, 401 BC
1. Show me the man who asks an over-abundant share
2. Of life, in love with more, and more ill content
3. With less, and I will show you one in love
4. With foolishness.
5. In the accumulation of many years
6. Pain is in plenty, and joy not anywhere
7. When life is over-spent
8. And at the last there is the same release
9. When Death appears,
10. Unheralded by music, dance or, song,
11. To give us peace.
12. Say what you will, the greatest boon is not to be;
13. But, life begun, soonest to end is best,
14. And to that bourne from which our way began
15. Swiftly return....
16. ...O my sisters, my sisters! What can I say?
17. Which is the more to be pitied, I or my father,
18. For the unhappy plight I see him in: an exile
19. In this strange land, with only you beside him:
20. His dress - the old foul garments he has worn
21. To threadbare squalor on his aging body;
22. Blind - and his white hair tousled by the breeze;
23. And just as beggarly the scanty victuals
24. He scrapes to satisfy his piteous hunger.
25. I know it now - too late! Wretch that I am!
26. I know, I admit I have treated you heartlessly;
27. I accuse myself, and need no other witness.
28. But Mercy sits beside the throne of God
29. And shares in all his dealings; so, my father,
30. May you yet come to know her. For what is done
31. There will be remedy; no worse can come...
32. ...But I claim the protection of the god; it was at his altar
33. The King of this country found me and gave me leave
34. To speak and be answered and go my way unharmed.
35. I ask you, friends, to uphold my right in this,
36. And you, my sisters, and my father... ---
37. ...Listen to the reason why I am here,
38. I am an exile, driven from my fatherland.
39. Because I claimed my birthright, the right to sit
40. In the seat of your former sovereignty, my brother,
41. My younger brother, Eteocles, expelled me
42. The case was never argued; there was no fight
43. But somehow he got the city on his side.
44. I suppose it was due to the curse upon your name;
45. And the oracles I have consulted bear this out....
46. ...Now then why am I here?
47. I am here to bring you, father, our earnest petition -
48. Mine and my friends’ - seven of them, each with his army...
49. ...Now, father, it is the earnest prayer of all this company,
50. For the sake of your daughters, for your own life’s sake,
51. That you resign this anger you cherish against me
52. Now, as I go forth on my quest for vengeance
53. Against the brother who has supplanted me.
54. If oracles are true, the victory
55. Will lie with those that win your patronage.
56. Both you and I are homeless outcasts, both
57. Condemned alike to beg for hospitality,
58. While the usurper lording it at home,
59. Laughs at us both. My blood revolts at it!
60. But, with your blessing on my enterprise,
61. I’ll send him packing; and when we’re rid of him,
62. I shall restore you to your rightful place,
63. And take my own. With your consent I win
64. Certain success; without it certain death...
65. ...Listen, scoundrel!
66. You held the sceptre and the royal throne
67. Before your brother seized them, and it was you
68. That drove your father out of doors. You made him
69. A homeless vagabond; this is your gift.
70. This pauperhood, at which you affect to weep,
71. Finding yourself in the same predicament.
72. It is not time for tears. This is my life
73. To bear til life is ended, and my death
74. Is on your head. You yoked me to this burden,
75. You banished me, you taught me how to beg;
76. You would have seen me dead, but I had daughters
77. Whose never-failing care has nursed my life.
78. They are my sons; you are some other man’s
79. They eye of Fate is on you, and her wrath
80. Will visit you yet more nearly, if it is true
81. Your armies are in train for Thebes. That city
82. Will never fall to you; but you shall fall,
83. You and your brother, with blood on both your heads.
84. I cursed you once before; I curse you now...
85. ...Away! You have no father here, vile brute!
86. And take this malediction in your ears.
87. May you never defeat your motherland;
88. May you never return alive to Argos;
89. May you, in dying, kill your banisher,
90. And, killing, die by him who shares your blood.
91. This is my prayer...
92. ...All this for nothing!
93. And worse than nothing. All those trusting friends,
94. And the high hopes in which we marched from Argos,
95. Brought to this end? An end I dare not name
96. To any of them, I cannot turn them back.
97. I must go on in silence to what awaits me.
98. But O my sisters, if all these pitiless curses
99. Which you have heard, fulfill themselves in act,
100. And if you ever come again to Thebes,
101. By all the gods, remember me with kindness.
102. Give me a grave, and reverent offices.
103. So to the commendation which you earn
104. For faithful service here, more may be added
105. By what you do for me.
Sophocles. "Oedipus at Colonus: Episode 4." Trans. E. F. Watling. The Theban Plays. N.p.: Penguin, 1974. 108-11. Print.
The Chorus's purpose in the opening speech of this excerpt is