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The Phoenissae   


ETEOCLES If all were at one in their ideas of honour and wisdom,
there would have been no strife to make men disagree; but, as it is,
fairness and equality have no existence in this world beyond the name;
there is really no such thing. For instance, mother, I will tell thee
this without any concealment; I would ascend to the rising of the
stars and the sun or dive beneath the earth, were I able so to do,
to win a monarch's power, the chief of things divine. Therefore, mother,
I will never yield this blessing to another, but keep it for myself;
for it were a coward's act to lose the greater and to win the less.
Besides, I blush to think that he should gain his object by coming
with arms in his hand and ravaging the land; for this were foul disgrace
to glorious Thebes, if I should yield my sceptre up to him for fear
of Argive might. He ought not, mother, to have attempted reconcilement
by armed force, for words compass everything that even the sword of
an enemy might effect. Still, if on any other terms he cares to dwell
here, he may; but the sceptre will I never willingly let go. Shall
I become his slave, when I can be his master? Never! Wherefore come
fire, come sword! harness your steeds, fill the plains with chariots,
for I will not forego my throne for him. For if we must do wrong,
to do so for a kingdom were the fairest cause, but in all else virtue
should be our aim.
LEADER Fair words are only called for when the deeds they crown are
fair; otherwise they lose their charm and offend justice.
JOCASTA Eteocles, my child, it is not all evil that attends old age;
sometimes its experience can offer sager counsel than can youth. Oh
why, my son, art thou so set upon Ambition, that worst of deities?
Forbear; that goddess knows not justice; many are the homes and cities
once prosperous that she hath entered and left after the ruin of her
votaries; she it is thou madly followest. Better far, my son, prize
Equality that ever linketh friend to friend, city to city, and allies
to each other; for Equality is man's natural law; but the less is
always in opposition to the greater, ushering in the dayspring of
dislike. For it is Equality that hath set up for man measures and
divisions of weights and hath distinguished numbers; night's sightless
orb, and radiant sun proceed upon their yearly course on equal terms,
and neither of them is envious when it has to yield. Though sun and
gloom then both are servants in man's interests, wilt not thou be
content with thy fair share of thy heritage and give the same to him?
if not, why where is justice? Why prize beyond its worth the monarch's
power, injustice in prosperity? why think so much of the admiring
glances turned on rank? Nay, 'tis vanity. Or wouldst thou by heaping
riches in thy halls, heap up toil therewith? what advantage is it?
'tis but a name; for the wise find that enough which suffices for
their wants. Man indeed hath no possessions of his own; we do but
hold a stewardship of the gods' property; and when they will, they
take it back again. Riches make no settled home, but are as transient
as the day. Come, suppose I put before thee two alternatives, whether
thou wilt rule or save thy city? Wilt thou say "Rule"?
Again, if Polyneices win the day and his Argive warriors rout the
ranks of Thebes, thou wilt see this city conquered and many a captive
maid brutally dishonoured by the foe; so will that wealth thou art
so bent on getting become a grievous bane to Thebes; but still ambition
fills thee. This I say to thee; and this to thee, Polyneices; Adrastus
hath conferred a foolish favour on thee; and thou too hast shown little
sense in coming to lay thy city waste. Suppose thou conquer this land
(which Heaven forefend!) tell me, I conjure thee, how wilt thou rear
a trophy to Zeus? how wilt thou begin the sacrifice after thy country's
conquest or inscribe the spoils at the streams of Inachus with "Polyneices
gave Thebes to the flames and dedicated these shields to the gods"?
Oh! never, my son, be it thine to win such fame from Hellas! If, on
the other hand, thou art worsted and thy brother's cause prevail,
how shalt thou return to Argos, leaving countless dead behind? Some
one will be sure to say, "Out on thee! Adrastus, for the evil bridegroom
thou hast brought unto thy house; thanks to one maid's marriage, ruin

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