Fiction > Harvard Classics > Sophocles > Antigone
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Sophocles (c.496 B.C.–406 B.C.).  Antigone.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Lines 1000–1537
 
 
Ah, brother, thou didst find        1000
Thy marriage fraught with ill,
And in thy death hast smitten down my life.
 
Chor.  Acts reverent and devout
May claim devotion’s name,        1004
But power, in one who cares to keep his power,
May never be defied;
And thee thy stubborn mood,
Self-chosen, layeth low.        1008
 
ANTIG.  Unwept, without a friend,
Unwed, and whelmed in woe,
I journey on the road that open lies.
No more shall it be mine (O misery!)        1012
To look upon the holy eye of day,
And yet, of all my friends,
  Not one bewails my fate,
  No kindly tear is shed.        1016
 
Enter CREON
CREON.  And know ye not, if men can vantage gain
By songs and wailings at the hour of death,
That they will never stop? Lead, lead her on,
And, as I said, without delay immure        1020
In yon cavernous tomb, and then depart.
Leave her, or lone and desolate to die,
Or, living, in the tomb to find her home.
Our hands are clean in all that touches her;        1024
But she no more shall sojourn here with us.
 
ANTIG.  [turning towards the cavern] O tomb, my bridal chamber, vaulted home,
Guarded right well for ever, where I go
To join mine own, of whom, of all that die,        1028
As most in number Persephassa owns;
And I, of all the last and lowest, wend
My way below, life’s little span unfilled.
And yet I go, and feed myself with hopes        1032
That I shall meet them, by my father loved,
Dear to my mother, well-beloved of thee,
Thou dearest brother: I, with these my hands,
Washed each dear corpse, arrayed you, poured the stream,        1036
In rites of burial. And in care for thee,
Thy body, Polynices, honouring,
I gain this recompense. And yet ’twas well;
I had not done it had I come to be        1040
A mother with her children,—had not dared,
Though ’twere a husband dead that mouldered there,
Against my country’s will to bear this toil,
And dost thou ask what law constrained me thus?        1044
I answer, had I lost a husband dear,
I might have had another; other sons
By other spouse, if one were lost to me;
But when my father and my mother sleep        1048
In Hades, then no brother more can come.
And therefore, giving thee the foremost place,
I seemed in Creon’s eyes, O brother dear,
To sin in boldest daring. So himself,        1052
He leads me, having taken me by force,
Cut off from marriage bed and marriage feast,
Untasting wife’s true joy, or mother’s bliss,
With infant at her breast, but all forlorn,        1056
Bereaved of friends, in utter misery,
Alive, I tread the chambers of the dead.
What law of Heaven have I transgressed against?
What use for me, ill-starred one, still to look        1060
To any God for succour, or to call
On any friend for aid? For holiest deed
I bear this charge of rank unholiness.
If acts like these the Gods on high approve,        1064
We, taught by suffering, own that we have sinned;
But if they sin [looking at CREON], I pray they suffer not
Worse evils than the wrongs they do to me.
 
Chor.  Still do the same wild blasts        1068
Vex her poor storm-tossed soul.
 
CREON.  Therefore shall these her guards
Weep sore for this delay.
 
ANTIG.  Ah me! this word of thine        1072
Tells of death drawing nigh.
 
CREON.  I cannot bid thee hope
That other fate is thine.
 
ANTIG.  O citadel of Thebes, my native land,        1076
Ye Gods of old renown,
I go, and linger not.
Behold me. O ye senators of Thebes,
The last, love scion of the kingly race,        1080
What things I suffer, and from whom they come,
Revering still where reverence most is due.  [Guards lead ANTIGONE away.
 
STROPHE. I
Chor.  So Danæ’s form endured of old,
In brazen palace hid,        1084
To lose the light of heaven,
And in her tomblike chamber was enclosed,
And yet high honour came to her, O child,
And on her flowed the golden shower of Zeus.        1088
But great and dread the might of Destiny:
Nor tempest-storm, nor war,
Nor tower, nor dark-hulled ships
That sweep the sea, escape.        1092
 
ANTISTROPHE. I
Bitter and sharp in mood,
The son of Dryas, king
Of yon Edonian tribes,
By Dionysus’ hands,        1096
Was shut in prison cave,
And so his frenzy wild and soul o’erbold
Waste slowly evermore.
And he was taught that he, with ribald tongue        1000
In what wild frenzy, had attacked the Gods.
For fain had he the Mænad throng brought low,
And that bright flashing fire,
And roused the wrath of Muses sweet in song.        1104
 
STROPHE. II
And by Kyanean waters’ double sea
Are shores of Bosphorus, and Thracian isle,
As Salmydessus known, inhospitable,
Where Ares, God of all the region round,        1108
Saw the accursed wound
That smote with blindness Phineus’ twin-born sons
By a fierce stepdame’s hand,—
Dark wound, upon the dark-doomed eyeballs struck,        1112
Not with the stroke of sword,
But blood-stained hands, on point of spindle sharp.
 
ANTISTROPHE. II
And they in misery, miserable fate
Lamenting, waste away,        1116
Born of a mother wedded to a curse.
And she who claimed descent
From men of ancient fame,
The old Erechteid race,        1120
Daughter of Boreas, in far distant caves
Amid her father’s woods,
  Was reared, a child of Gods,
Swift moving as the steed, o’er lofty crag,        1124
And yet, my child, on her
  Bore down the Destinies,
  Whose years are infinite.
 
Enter TEIRESIAS, guided by a Boy.
TEIR.  Princes of Thebes, we come as travellers joined,
        1128
One seeing for both, for still the blind must use
A guide’s assistance to direct his steps.
 
CREON.  And what new thing, Teiresias, brings thee here?
 
TEIR.  That I will tell thee, and do thou obey        1132
The seer who speaks.
 
CREON.  Of old I was not wont
To differ from thy judgment.
 
TEIR.  Therefore, well        1136
And safely dost thou steer our good ship’s course.
 
CREON.  I, from experience, bear my witness still
Of good derived from thee.
 
TEIR.  Bethink thee, then,        1140
Thou walkest now upon a razor’s edge.
 
CREON.  What means this? Lo! I shudder at thy speech.
 
TEIR.  Soon shalt thou know, as I unfold the signs
Of my dread art. For sitting, as of old,        1144
Upon my ancient seat of augury,
Where every bird has access, lo! I hear
Strange cry of winged creatures, shouting shrill,
In clamour sharp and savage, and I knew        1148
That they were tearing each the other’s breast
With bloody talons, for their whirring wings
Made that quite clear; and straightway I, in fear,
Made trial of the sacrifice that lay        1152
On fiery altar. But the living flame
Shone not from out the offering; then there oozed
Upon the ashes, trickling from the bones,
A moisture, and it bubbled, and it spat,        1156
And, lo! the gall was scattered to the air,
And forth from out the fat that wrapped them round,
The thigh joints fell. Such omens of decay
From strange mysterious rites I learnt from him,        1160
This boy, who now stands here, for he is still
A guide to me, as I to others am.
And all this evil falls upon the state,
From out thy counsels; for our altars all,        1164
Our sacred hearths, are full of food for dogs
And birds unclean, the flesh of that poor wretch
Who fell, the son of Œdipus. And so
The Gods no longer hear our solemn prayers,        1168
Nor own the flame that burns the sacrifice;
Nor do the birds give cry of omen good,
But feed on carrion of a human corpse.
Think thou on this, my son: to err, indeed,        1172
Is common unto all, but having erred,
He is no longer reckless or unblest,
Who, having fallen into evil, seeks
For healing, nor continues still unmoved.        1176
Self-will must bear the guilt of stubbornness:
Yield to the dead, and outrage not a corpse.
What gain is it a fallen foe to slay?
Good counsel give I, planning good for thee;        1180
And of all joys the sweetest is to learn
From one who speaketh well, should that bring gain.
 
CREON.  Old man, as archers aiming at their mark,
So ye shoot forth your venomed darts at me;        1184
I know your augur’s skill, and by your arts
Long since am tricked and sold. Yes, gain your gains,
Get precious bronze from Sardis, Indian gold,
That corpse ye shall not hide in any tomb.        1188
Not though the eagles, birds of Zeus, should bear
Their carrion morsels to their master’s throne,
Not even fearing this pollution dire,
Will I consent to burial. Well I know        1192
That man is powerless to pollute the Gods.
But many fall, Teiresias, dotard old,
A shameful fall, who gloze their shameful words,
For lucre’s sake, with surface show of good.        1196
 
TEIR.  Ah, me! Does no man know, does none consider….
 
CREON.  Consider what? What trite poor saw is this?
 
TEIR.  How far good counsel heaped up wealth excels?
 
CREON.  By just so far methinks the greatest hurt        1200
Is sheer unwisdom.
 
TEIR.  Thou, at least, hast grown
From head to foot all full of that disease.
 
CREON.  Loath am I with a prophet evil words        1204
To bandy to and fro.
 
TEIR.  And yet thou dost so,
Saying that I utter speech that is not true.
 
CREON.  The race of seers is ever fond of gold.        1208
 
TEIR.  And that of tyrants loves the gain that comes
Of filthy lucre.
 
CREON.  Art thou ignorant, then,
That what thou say’st, thou speak’st of those that rule?        1212
 
TEIR.  I know it. ’Twas from me thou hadst the state,
By me preserved.
 
CREON.  Wise art thou as a seer,
But too much given to wrong and injury.        1216
 
TEIR.  Thou wilt provoke me in my wrath to speak
Of things best left unspoken.
 
CREON.  Speak them out!
Only take heed thou speak them not for gain.        1220
 
TEIR.  And dost thou, then, already judge me thus?
 
CREON.  Know that my judgment is not bought and sold.
 
TEIR.  Know, then, and know it well, that thou shalt see
Not many winding circuits of the sun,        1224
Before thou giv’st a quittance for the dead,
A corpse by thee begotten; for that thou
Hast trampled to the ground what stood on high,
And foully placed within a charnel-house        1228
A living soul. And now thou keep’st from them,
The Gods below, the corpse of one unblest,
Unwept, unhallowed. Neither part nor lot
Hast thou in them, nor have the Gods who rule        1232
The worlds above, but at thy hands they meet
This outrage. And for this they wait for thee,
The sure though slow avengers of the grave,
The dread Erinyes of the Gods above,        1236
In these same evils to be snared and caught.
Search well if I say this as one who sells
His soul for money. Yet a little while,
And in thy house men’s wailing, women’s cry,        1240
Shall make it plain. And every city stirs
Itself in arms against thee, owning those
Whose limbs the dogs have buried, or fierce wolves,
Or winged birds have brought the accursèd taint        1244
To city’s altar-hearth. Doom like to this,
Sure darting as an arrow to its mark,
I launch at thee (for thou dost grieve me sore),
An archer aiming at the very heart,        1248
And thou shalt not escape its fiery sting.
And now, O boy, lead thou me home again,
And let him vent his spleen on younger men,
And learn to keep his tongue more orderly,        1252
With better thoughts than this his present mood.  [Exit.
 
Chor.  The man has gone, O king, predicting woe,
And well we know, since first our raven hair
Was mixed with gray, that never yet his words        1256
Were uttered to our state and failed of truth.
 
CREON.  I know it too, ’tis that that troubles me.
To yield is hard, but, holding out, to smite
One’s soul with sorrow, this is harder still.        1260
 
Chor.  Much need is there, O Creon, at this hour,
Of wisest counsel.
 
CREON.  What, then, should I do?
Tell me and I will hearken.        1264
 
Chor.  Go thou first,
Release the maiden from her cavern tomb,
And give a grave to him who lies exposed.
 
CREON.  Is this thy counsel? Dost thou bid me yield?        1268
 
Chor.  Without delay, O king, for, lo! they come,
The God’s swift-footed ministers of ill,
And in an instant lay the wicked low.
 
CREON.  Ah, me! ’tis hard; and yet I bend my will        1272
To do thy bidding. With necessity
We must not fight at such o’erwhelming odds.
 
Chor.  Go, then, and act! Commit it not to others.
 
CREON.  E’en as I am I’ll go. Come, come, my men,        1276
Present or absent, come, and in your hands
Bring axes. Come to yonder eminence,
And I, since now my judgment leans that way,
Who myself bound her, now myself will loose.        1280
Too much I fear lest it should wisest prove
To end my life, maintaining ancient laws.  [Exit.
 
STROPHE. I
Chor.  O thou of many names,
Of that Cadmeian maid        1284
The glory and the joy,
Child of loud-thundering Zeus,
Who watchest over fair Italia,
And reign’st o’er all the bays that open wide,        1288
Which Deo claims on fair Eleusis’ coast:
Bacchus, who dwell’st in Thebes,
The mother city of thy Bacchant train,
Among Ismenus’ stream that glideth on,        1292
And with the dragon’s brood;
 
ANTISTROPHE. I
Thee, o’er the double peak of yonder height,
The flashing blaze beholds,
Where nymphs of Corycus        1296
Go forth in Bacchic dance,
And by Castalia’s stream;
And thee the ivied slopes of Nysa’s hills,
And vine-clad promontory,        1300
While words of more than mortal melody
Shout out the well-known name,
Send forth, the guardian lord
Of all the streets of Thebes.        1304
 
STROPHE. II
Above all cities thou,
With her, thy mother, whom the thunder slew,
Dost look on it with love;
And now, since all the city bendeth low        1308
Beneath the sullen plague,
Come thou with cleansing tread
O’er the Parnassian slopes,
Or o’er the moaning straits.        1312
 
ANTISTROPHE. II
O thou, who lead’st the band
Of stars still breathing fire,
Lord of the hymns that echo in the night,
Offspring of highest Zeus,        1316
Appear, we pray thee, with thy Naxian train,
Of Thyian maidens, frenzied, passionate,
Who all night long, in maddening chorus, sing
Thy praise, their lord, Iacchus.        1320
 
Enter Messenger
MESS.  Ye men of Cadmus and Amphion’s house,
I know no life of mortal man which I
Would either praise or blame. It is but chance
That raiseth up, and chance that bringeth low,        1324
The man who lives in good or evil plight,
And none foretells a man’s appointed lot.
For Creon, in my judgment, men might watch
With envy and with wonder, having saved        1328
This land of Cadmus from the bands of foes;
And, having ruled with fullest sovereignty,
He lived and prospered, joyous in a race
Of goodly offspring. Now, all this is gone;        1332
For when men lose the joys that sweeten life,
I cannot count this living, rather deem
As of a breathing corpse. His heaped-up stores
Of wealth are large; so be it, and he lives        1336
With all a sovereign’s state, and yet, if joy
Be absent, all the rest I count as naught,
And would not weigh them against pleasure’s charm,
More than a vapour’s shadow.        1340
 
Chor.  What is this?
What new disaster tell’st thou of our chiefs?
 
MESS.  Dead are they, and the living cause their death.
 
Chor.  Who slays, and who is slaughtered? Tell thy tale.        1344
 
MESS.  Hæmon is dead. His own hand sheds his blood.
 
Chor.  Was it father’s hand that struck the blow,
Or his own arm?
 
MESS.  He by himself alone,        1348
Yet in his wrath he charged his father with it.
 
Chor.  O prophet! true, most true, those words of thine.
 
MESS.  Since thus it stands, we may as well debate
Of other things in council.        1352
 
Chor.  Lo! there comes
The wife of Creon, sad Eurydice.
She from the house is come, or hearing speech
About her son, or else by chance.        1356
 
Enter EURYDICE
EURYD.  My friends,
I on my way without, as suppliant bound
To pay my vows at Pallas’ shrine, have heard
Your words, and so I chanced to slip the bolt        1360
Of the half-opened door, when, lo! a sound
Falls on my ears of evil near at hand,
And terror-struck I fell in deadly swoon
Back in my handmaids’ arms; yet tell it me,        1364
Tell the tale once again, for I shall hear,
By long experience disciplined to grief.
 
MESS.  Dear lady, I will tell thee: I was by,
And will not leave one word of truth untold.        1368
Why should we smooth and gloze, when all too soon
We should be found as liars? Truth is still
The best and wisest. Lo! I went with him,
Thy husband, in attendance, to the height        1372
Of yonder plain, where still all ruthlessly
The corpse of Polynices tombless lay,
Mangled by dogs. And, having prayed to her,
The Goddess of all pathways, and to Pluto,        1376
To look with favour on them, him they washed
With holy water; and what yet was left
We burnt in branches freshly cut, and heaped
A high raised grave from out the soil around,        1380
And then we entered on the stone-paved home,
Death’s marriage-chamber for the ill-starred maid.
And some one hears, while standing yet afar,
Shrill voice of wailing near the bridal bower,        1384
By funeral rites unhallowed, and he comes
And tells my master, Creon. On his ears,
Advancing nearer, falls a shriek confused
Of bitter sorrow, and with grieving loud,        1388
He utters one sad cry: “Me miserable!
And am I, then, a prophet? Do I wend
This day the dreariest way of all my life?
My son’s voice greets me. Go, my servants, go,        1392
Quickly draw near, and standing by the tomb,
Search ye and see; and where the joined stones
Still leave an opening, look ye in, and say
If I hear Hæmon’s voice, or if my soul        1396
Is cheated by the Gods.” And then we searched,
As he, our master, in his frenzy, bade us;
And, in the furthest corner of the vault,
We saw her hanging by a twisted cord        1400
Of linen threads entwined, and him we found
Clasping her form in passionate embrace,
And mourning o’er the doom that robbed him of her,
His father’s deed, and that his marriage bed,        1404
So full of sorrow. When he saw him there,
Groaning again in bitterness of heart,
He goes to him, and calls in wailing voice,
“Ah! wretched me! what dost thou! Hast thou lost        1408
Thy reason? In what evil sinkest thou?
Come forth, my child, on bended knee I ask thee.”
And then the boy, with fierce, wild gleaming eyes,
Glared at him, spat upon his face, and draws,        1412
Still answering naught, the sharp two-edged sword.
Missing his aim (his father from the blow
Turning aside), in anger with himself,
The poor ill-doomed one, even as he was,        1416
Fell on his sword, and drove it through his breast,
Full half its length, and clasping, yet alive,
The maiden’s arm, still soft, he there breathes out
In broken gasps, upon her fair white cheek,        1420
A rain of blood. And so at last they lie,
Dead bridegroom with dead bride, and he has gained
His marriage rites in Hades’ darksome home,
And left to all men witness terrible,        1424
That man’s worst ill is stubbornness of heart.  [Exit EURYDICE.
 
Chor.  What dost thou make of this? She turns again,
And not one word, or good or ill, will speak.
 
MESS.  I, too, am full of wonder. Yet with hopes        1428
I feed myself, she will not think it meet,
Hearing her son’s woes, openly to wail
Before her subjects, but beneath her roof
Will think it best to bear her private griefs.        1432
Too trained a judgment has she so to err.
 
Chor.  I know not. To my mind, or silence hard,
Or vain wild cries, are signs of bitter woe.
 
MESS.  Soon we shall know, within the house advancing,        1436
If, in the passion of her heart, she hides
A secret purpose. Truly dost thou speak;
There is a terror in that silence hard.
 
Chor.  [seeing CREON approaching with the corpse of HÆMON in his arms]  And, lo! the king himself comes on,        1440
And in his hands he bears a record clear,
No woe (if I may speak) by others caused,
  Himself the great offender.
 
Enter CREON bearing HÆMON’S body
        1444
CREON.  Woe! for the sins of souls of evil mood,
    Strong, mighty to destroy;
  O ye who look on those of kindred race,
    The slayers and the slain,        1448
Woe for mine own rash plans that prosper not;
Woe for thee, son; but new in life’s career,
    And by a new fate dying.
          Woe! woe!        1452
  Thou diest, thou art gone,
Not by thine evil counsel, but by mine.
 
Chor.  Ah me! Too late thou seem’st to see the right.
 
CREON.  Ah me!        1456
I learn the grievous lesson. On my head,
God, pressing sore, hath smitten me and vexed,
In ways most rough and terrible (ah me!),
Shattering the joy, and trampling underfoot.        1460
Woe! woe! We toil for that which profits not.
 
Enter Second Messenger
SEC. MESS.  My master! thou, as one who hast full store,
One source of sorrow bearest in thine arms,
And others in thy house, too soon, it seems,        1464
Thou need’st must come and see.
 
CREON.  And what remains
Worse evil than the evils that we bear?
 
SEC. MESS.  Thy wife is dead. Thy dead son’s mother true,        1468
Ill starred one, smitten with a deadly blow,
But some few moments since.
 
CREON.  O agony?
Thou house of Death, that none may purify,        1472
Why dost thou thus destroy me?
O thou who comest, bringing in thy train
            Woes horrible to tell,
Thou tramplest on a man already slain.        1476
What say’st thou? What new tidings bring’st to me?
          Ah me! ah me!
Is it that over all the slaughter wrought
My own wife’s death has come to crown it all?        1480
 
Chor.  It is but all too clear! No longer now
Does yon recess conceal her.  [The gates open and show the dead body of EURYDICE.
 
CREON.  Woe is me!
This second stroke I gaze on, miserable,        1484
What fate, yea, what still lies in wait for me?
Here in my arms I bear what was my son;
And there, O misery! look upon the dead.
Ah, wretched mother! ah, my son! my son!        1488
 
SEC. MESS.  Sore wounded, she around the altar clung,
And closed her darkening eyelids, and bewailed
The honoured bed of Megareus, who died
Long since, and then again that corpse thou hast;        1492
And last of all she cried a bitter cry
Against thy deeds, the murderer of thy son.
 
CREON.  Woe! woe! alas!
I shudder in my fear: Will no one strike        1496
A deadly blow with sharp two-edgèd sword?
Fearful my fate, alas!
And with a fearful woe full sore beset.
 
SEC. MESS.  She in her death charged thee with being the cause        1500
Of all their sorrows, his and hers alike.
 
CREON.  And in what way struck she the murderous blow?
 
SEC. MESS.  With her own hand below her heart she stabbed,
Hearing her son’s most pitiable fate.        1504
 
CREON.  Ah me! The fault is mine. On no one else,
Of all that live, the fearful guilt can come;
I, even I, did slay thee, wretched one,
I; yes, I say it clearly. Come, ye guards,        1508
Lead me forth quickly; lead me out of sight,
More crushed to nothing than the dead unborn.
 
Chor.  Thou counsellest gain, if gain there be in ills,
For present evils then are easiest borne        1512
When shortest lived.
 
CREON.  Oh, come thou, then, come thou,
Last of my sorrows, that shall bring to me
Best boon, my life’s last day. Come, then, oh, come        1516
That nevermore I look upon the light.
 
Chor.  These things are in the future. What is near,
That we must do. O’er what is yet to come
They watch, to whom that work of right belongs.        1520
 
CREON.  I did but pray for what I most desire.
 
Chor.  Pray thou for nothing more. For mortal man
There is no issue from a doom decreed.
 
CREON.  [looking at the two corpses]  Lead me, then, forth,        1524
vain shadow that I am,
Who slew thee, O my son, unwittingly,
And thee, too—(O my sorrow)—and I know not
Which way to look. All near at hand is turned        1528
Aside to evil; and upon my head
There falls a doom far worse than I can bear.
 
Chor.  Man’s highest blessedness
In wisdom chiefly stands;        1532
And in the things that touch upon the Gods,
’Tis best in word of deed
  To shun unholy pride;
  Great words of boasting bring great punishments;        1536
  And so to gray-haired age
  Comes wisdom at the last.
 

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