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The Phoenissae   


surrendering me to cowardice. Though an old man may be pardoned, yet
in my case there is no excuse for betraying the country that gave
me birth. So I will go and save the city, be assured thereof, and
give my life up for this land. For this were shame, that they whom
no oracles bind and who have not come under Fate's iron law, should
stand there, shoulder to shoulder, with never a fear of death, and
fight for their country before her towers, while I escape the kingdom
like a coward, a traitor to my father and brother and city; and wheresoe'er
I live, I shall appear a dastard. Nay, by Zeus and all his stars,
by Ares, god of blood, who 'stablished the warrior-crop that sprung
one day from earth as princes of this land, that shall not be! but
go I will, and standing on the topmost battlements, will deal my own
death-blow over the dragon's deep dark den, the spot the seer described,
and will set my country free. I have spoken. Now I go to make the
city a present of my life, no mean offering, to rid this kingdom of
its affliction. For if each were to take and expend all the good within
his power, contributing it to his country's weal, our states would
experience fewer troubles and would for the future prosper. (MENOECEUS
goes out.)

CHORUS (singing, strophe)
Thou cam'st, O winged fiend, spawn of earth and hellish viper-brood,
to prey upon the sons of Cadmus, rife with death and fraught with
sorrow, half a monster, half a maid, a murderous prodigy, with roving
wings and ravening claws, that in days gone by didst catch up youthful
victims from the haunts of Dirce, with discordant note, bringing a
deadly curse, a woe of bloodshed to our native land. A murderous god
he was who brought all this to pass. In every house was heard a cry
of mothers wailing and of wailing maids, lamentation and the voice
of weeping, as each took up the chant of death from street to street
in turn. Loud rang the mourners' wail, and one great cry went up,
whene'er that winged maiden bore some victim out of sight from the
city.
(antistrophe)
At last came Oedipus, the man of sorrow, on his mission from Delphi
to this land of Thebes, a joy to them then but afterwards cause of
grief; for, when he had read the riddle triumphantly, he formed with
his mother an unhallowed union, woe to him! polluting the city; and
by his curses, luckless wight, he plunged his sons into a guilty strife,
causing them to wade through seas of blood. All reverence do we feel
for him, who is gone to his death in his country's cause, bequeathing
to Creon a legacy of tears, but destined to crown with victory our
seven fenced towers. May our motherhood be blessed with such noble
sons, O Pallas, kindly queen, who with well-aimed stone didst spill
the serpent's blood, rousing Cadmus as thou didst to brood upon the
task, whereof the issue was a demon's curse that swooped upon this
land and harried it. (The FIRST MESSENGER enters.)
MESSENGER Ho there! who is at the palace-gates? Open the door, summon
Jocasta forth. Ho there! once again I call; spite of this long delay
come forth; hearken, noble wife of Oedipus; cease thy lamentation
and thy tears of woe. (JOCASTA enters from the palace in answer to
his call.)

JOCASTA Surely thou art not come, my friend, with the sad news of
Eteocles' death, beside whose shield thou hast ever marched, warding
from him the foeman's darts? What tidings art thou here to bring me?
Is my son alive or dead? Declare that to me.
MESSENGER To rid thee of thy fear at once, he lives; that terror
banish.
JOCASTA Next, how is it with the seven towers that wall us in?
MESSENGER They stand unshattered still; the city is not yet a prey.
JOCASTA Have they been in jeopardy of the Argive spear?
MESSENGER Aye, on the very brink; but our Theban warriors proved
too strong for Mycenae's might.
JOCASTA One thing tell me, I implore; knowest thou aught of Polyneices,
is he yet alive? for this too I long to learn.

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