The Theban Plays of Sophocles


Yale University Press

Copyright © 2007 David R. Slavitt
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-11776-9


Chapter One

Antigone

Dramatis Personae

ANTIGONE daughter and half-sister of Oedipus

ISMENE sister of Antigone

CHORUS of elders of Thebes

CREON Antigone's uncle (brother of Jocasta, Antigone's mother)

GUARD one of those sent to watch over Polyneices' corpse

TIRESIAS the blind prophet of Apollo

HAEMON son of Creon and Eurydice, fianc�� of Antigone

MESSENGER a servant of Creon's

SECOND MESSENGER another in Creon's household

EURYDICE Creon's wife, Haemon's mother

Silent Roles

ATTENDANTS of Creon

GUARDS of Antigone, after her arrest

SERVANTS of Eurydice

BOY Tiresias's guide

Prologue

[The gateway of the palace of Thebes. ANTIGONE enters from the left, which is the direction of the city. She whistles what is a prearranged signal. ISMENE enters from the center, which is to say, from the interior of the palace.]

ANTIGONE

Dear sister, Ismene, what evils that come from Oedipus our father has Zeus not sent to burden our lives? There is nothing, no shame, no pain, no sorrow, no disgrace that you and I have not endured. And now comes the general's new proclamation. What have you heard? Or do you take no notice of how our enemies move against our friends?

ISMENE

No word have I had, good or bad, since we two sisters have lost two brothers who died at the same hour, each by the other's hand. And the Argive army fled in the night. But beyond that, nothing that either helps or hurts my sorry fortune.

ANTIGONE

So I assumed, which is why I called you here outside the courtyard gates, to speak in private.

ISMENE

What is it? Your expression is very dark! Tell me.

ANTIGONE

You know that Creon has honored one of our brothers in burial rites and dishonored the other. Eteocles he has interred according to law and custom more or less to be dignified among the dead below. But for our other brother, Polyneices, who fought as bravely and died in the same combat, he has forbidden these rites, proclaiming to all that none may cover his corpse or lament it, and that he shall be left, unmourned, for the carrion birds to defile and feast on. This, they say, is the order of noble Creon to you and me. To us! He is coming here to proclaim it to all the people and let us know that those who defy him will be stoned to death. That is the new trouble. And now you can prove who you are: good sister or coward and disgrace to our brave ancestors.

ISMENE

But sister! What do you think we can possibly do now, you and I, to untie the difficult knot?

ANTIGONE

You must decide whether to share the risk. Will you help me?

ISMENE

I'm afraid to ask. Help how?

ANTIGONE

Will you give me a hand? To bury our brother's body?

ISMENE

How can you think of a burial? It is forbidden.

ANTIGONE

I will do it, whether you help or not. He is still my brother and yours too.

ISMENE

Think what Creon will do! It's reckless. Consider the risk.

ANTIGONE

He has no right to keep me from doing right.

ISMENE

Omoi! Think of our father and how he died, hated, notorious-for the crimes that he himself had brought to light. And then, with his own hands, he blinded himself to shut out the light forever. And then Jocasta, his mother and also his wife, hanged herself. And our two brothers died by each other's swords. Now you and I are left ... But think how our fate could be worse than any of theirs to die that way for having defied Creon, flouting the law and his power. We are mere women and cannot fight against men. The laws of the state have force behind them. We must submit and obey even in so painful a thing as this. I pray that the dead may forgive me and understand that I am constrained, with no choice but to yield. What you are proposing is beyond us.

ANTIGONE

I am not trying to persuade you. No, even if you were willing, I would not let you join me in this now. Be what you are. You have made your choice, as I have made mine. I will bury my brother, and if I die, it shall be with honor. He is my own; I will lie with my own, not guilty of any crime, but pious, holy. We are dead for a long time, and to death's demands there is no ending ever.

As for you,

ignore the gods if you can. Do as you like.

ISMENE

I do not ignore the laws of the gods. But I cannot ignore the laws of the city and of men.

ANTIGONE

Take what comfort you can in that excuse. I will go to heap up dirt for my dead brother.

ISMENE

Antigone, I am terrified for you.

ANTIGONE Don't be. Think of yourself. I wish you well.

ISMENE

But keep it quiet at least. Let no one know, and I promise you I will not say a word.

ANTIGONE

Broadcast it to the world. I shall hate you if you do not proclaim this to everyone.

ISMENE

Your heart is hot as fire for chilling deeds.

ANTIGONE

I am pleasing the gods and the dead more than myself.

ISMENE

But will you? Can you? Has your strength no limit?

ANTIGONE

At least I shall find out what that limit is.

ISMENE

To try to do the impossible is wrong.

ANTIGONE

I'll hate you if you say that. And our dead brother will hate you as well. Let me have my plan, however rash. There is danger, but it won't be the worst death that can take me. However much I suffer, at least I shall know that I did not die in dishonor.

ISMENE

Do as you will. You're a fool. But a good sister.

[ISMENE exits into the palace. ANTIGONE exits to the right, in the direction of the countryside and the battlefield. The CHORUS of elders enters from the left.]

Parodos

CHORUS

O sun, whose fairest light ever bathed the gates of Thebes, you fixed the golden eye of day, rising over Dirce's stream, on the man who came from Argos in dazzling armor as he fled in fear and you shook his bridle free.

FIRST CHORISTER

Contentiousness goaded Polyneices on, him of many quarrels, to fly like a shrill eagle on snow-white wings that fluttered like his helmet's horsehair crest and, bristling weapons, assault our city.

SECOND CHORISTER

Ringing round our seven gates their sharp spears were hungry for blood but before our gore glutted their gullets or the god of fire's pine-fed flames had destroyed the city's diadem of walls and towers, he was gone, repulsed, the clangor of war behind him now, for Thebes had fended him off, a fierce dragon breathing the fire of battle.

CHORUS

Zeus hates the tongues of braggarts and seeing them swarming toward us, arrogant, flashing gold, he flung down his fire upon them, to strike the first man who raced up our walls, crowing Capanaeus.

FIRST CHORISTER

We heard his cry of triumph turn to terror's scream as he fell in flames to the hard earth, that firebrand now a guttering torch.

SECOND CHORISTER

The others behind him fell back, appalled by his death and then their own in the din of battle. The war god filled their mouths with the bitter dust from his proud chariot's wake.

FIRST CHORISTER

Seven captains at seven gates, and they left all their hopes and their weapons, sacrifices to Zeus, who gives victory's trophies ...

SECOND CHORISTER

Except those two unfortunate sons of the same mother and father, who met face to face in rage wielding spears against each other in combat to share a common death.

CHORUS

Now the glory of Victory has come to rejoice in Thebes' procession of chariots. Let us forget our troubles and visit the temples where Bacchus presides over the city to sing and dance the night away to make earth tremble.

Scene I

[Enter, CREON from the palace. He mounts a raised step from which he will speak.]

FIRST CHORISTER

But here is our new king, Creon ...

SECOND CHORISTER

Menoeceus' son!

FIRST CHORISTER

Whom the gods have given us. What new plans has he devised to answer Fate's fresh conundrums? Why has he convoked his council of elders? What will he proclaim?

CREON

Citizens! With a heavy hand the gods have shaken the city's foundation, but now those same gods have steadied them and us and have restored our fortunes. I have summoned you here, chosen because I know your hearts have always been loyal to Laius' throne and power. When Oedipus ruled you trusted in him; and when Oedipus died, you were loyal to his heirs, his children. Now they are both dead, a double disaster on a single day, killing and being killed, defiling, defiled. And the power devolves to me, as a kin of their house. I realize that to see into any man's soul and test the mettle of his thought and judgment, you have to observe him in action discharging the duties of high office. I have only contempt for one who is cautious, keeps his mouth shut, consults, and schemes for advantage, his or his kinfolk's. I will look to the good of the entire city, and I call Zeus to witness that I shall speak out if I should ever see that ruin threatens the safety of Thebes, and I shall take bold action. I will never be a friend to one who means harm to our city and its people. I value friendship, but I turn my back on any who may imperil the ship of state on which I serve as captain. These are the rules by which I live. My only aim, believe me, is to make our city great. I therefore proclaim my first edict relating to the brothers, Oedipus's sons: Eteocles, who died fighting for Thebes and gave his life for us in the recent battle, we shall bury with all honor, performing the rites due to noble men who descend below; but Polyneices, his brother, who came from exile to assault his city, burn it down to the ground, and drink his people's blood, to enslave us all ...

I proclaim that none shall bury him or lament or do him honor, but his corpse shall be left for carrion birds and dogs to foul and feed on.

This is what I have decided, for it would be wrong to treat in the same way the patriot and the traitor. Those who are loyal to the city deserve respect when they are alive and every honor when they die.

FIRST CHORISTER

No one can argue with that. If that is your pleasure, Creon, son of Menoeceus, we shall obey.

It is surely within your power to make the laws that apply both to the living and the dead.

CREON

That is my will. See to it that no one dares disobey.

SECOND CHORISTER

Surely, such duty must fall to younger men ...

CREON

No fear! There will be soldiers to guard the corpse.

FIRST CHORISTER

Then what is it that you want us to do?

CREON

That you give no aid to any who defy me.

FIRST CHORISTER

No one is foolish enough to want to die.

CREON

You take my point exactly. Hold on to your lives with the same care as you hold on to your purses.

[Enter GUARD]

GUARD

My lord, I wish I could say I was out of breath from running fast, but that would not be the truth. Indeed, I have stopped many times, have thought of flight, and my mind was full of contradictory notions. Fool, it asked, why do you hurry so to your sure ruin? And then it asked: dare you delay? If someone gets there first, and Creon already knows, how will it go for you? So I hastened, and hesitated, and hastened again not knowing what to do. In the end, I listened to duty's voice and am here, to make my report, afraid but resigned to my fate, whatever it is.

CREON

What is the trouble, man? Out with it. Speak.

GUARD

First, know this. It wasn't me. I didn't do it or see who did it. It wasn't my fault!

CREON

Get to the point. Jump in! What in the world do you find it so hard to tell me? Speak up, I say.

GUARD

It's ... a terrible thing. I don't know how to begin.

CREON

Blurt it out, man, and then just ... go away!

GUARD

Polyneices' body ... Someone ... It's buried. There is ... dust that someone has scattered over the corpse. And then just disappeared. Without a trace.

CREON

What man would have dared?

GUARD

I have no idea. I tell you, my lord, there was no mark on the ground of spade or pick. No footprints, no cartwheel tracks. The morning watch discovered it, and we went and were shocked, as you can imagine. The body was covered with dust to please the ghost. No dog had attacked, no beast or carrion bird had torn the body. We suspected one another, each man swearing by all the gods in heaven he wasn't the one, and each was ready to walk through fire to prove he hadn't done it and didn't know who did. Then one said that we had to report it to you, and we all fell silent and stared at the ground, for we knew he was right. But which should go? We drew lots. I lost. And here I am, though I wish I weren't as much as you must wish it. I'm sorry. Nobody welcomes the bringer of bad news.

SECOND CHORISTER

My lord, as I have been thinking the matter over, I wonder, is this an act of the gods ...?

CREON

Be still, before you drive me into a frenzy, old man. The thing you say is ... stupid. The gods did this? Why? What god could care for this traitor's corpse? What you suggest is offensive to heaven and me! Would they favor a man who came to burn their temples and their sacred altars, destroy our state and its laws? Do the gods favor the wicked? What are you saying? From the very beginning, I have heard the sedition, the whispers in back alleys, have seen the shaking heads. I know the plots and schemes! It's greed, the love of money that drives them. And somebody bribed somebody! It's money that ruins cities, money that drives men from their homes, money that corrupts the minds of the good with thoughts of evil!

[To the GUARD]

Whoever was paid to do this shall pay, I swear. By Zeus himself I take my solemn oath! Find who it is and bring him here, or death will be what you wish for, strung up alive and groaning in the pain you deserve for this dereliction of duty or treachery or whatever it was. Whatever they paid you men, you'll come to realize it wasn't nearly enough.

GUARD

Am I dismissed? Or may I say something?

CREON

Your words are hardly music to my ears.

GUARD

Are your ears the trouble, or is it perhaps your mind?

CREON

Your cheek is impressive. Anyway, what's the difference?

GUARD

My speech may grate on your ears, but the person who did the deed is the one who really bothers you.

CREON

You're quite the chatterbox!

GUARD

I am not guilty.

CREON

So you claim, but I don't have to believe you. You sold your honor for money!

GUARD

No, we didn't. It's dreadful that you believe what isn't true.

CREON

Then find out who sold out and bring him to me. Prove me wrong, or bear the brunt of my anger.

[Exit CREON into the palace.]

GUARD

Bring him the man? As if it were that easy. What I won't be bringing here anymore is myself ... I can hardly believe I'm still a free man. Safety is what I want. And I won't look for it here. I thank the gods that somehow I'm still alive!

[Exit GUARD]

Ode I

FIRST CHORISTER

Many things are awesome, but none is more awesome than man. He ventures out on the gray sea lashed by the winter winds, braving cresting waves. He plows the yielding earth year after year with the strength of his tamed stallions.

(Continues...)



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