and loudly boasting that even the awful lightning of Zeus would not
stay him from giving the city to utter destruction; and even as he
spoke, he crept up beneath the hail of stones, gathered under the
shelter of his shield, mounting from rung to rung on the smooth ladder;
but, just as he was scaling the parapet of the wall, Zeus smote him
with a thunderbolt; loud the earth re-echoed, and fear seized every
heart; for his limbs were hurled from the ladder far apart as from
a sling, his head toward the sky, his blood toward earth, while his
legs and arms went spinning round like Ixion's wheel, till his charred
corpse fell to the ground. But when Adrastus saw that Zeus was leagued
against his army, he drew the Argive troops outside the trench and
halted them. Meantime our horse, marking the lucky omen of Zeus, began
driving forth their chariots, and our men-at-arms charged into the
thick of the Argives, and everything combined to their discomfiture;
men were falling and hurled headlong from chariots, wheels flew off,
axles crashed together, while ever higher grew the heaps of slain;
so for to-day at least have we prevented the destruction of our country's
bulwarks; but whether fortune will hereafter smile upon this land,
that rests with Heaven; for, even as it is, it owes its safety to
Victory is fair; and if the gods are growing kinder, it would be well
JOCASTA Heaven and fortune smile; for my sons are yet alive and my
country hath escaped ruin. But Creon seems to have reaped the bitter
fruit of my marriage with Oedipus, by losing his son to his sorrow,
a piece of luck-for Thebes, but bitter grief to him. Prithee to thy
tale again and say what my two sons next intend.
MESSENGER Forbear to question further; all is well with thee so far.
JOCASTA Thy words but rouse my suspicions; I cannot leave it thus.
MESSENGER Hast thou any further wish than thy sons' safety?
JOCASTA Yea, I would learn whether in the sequel I am also blest.
MESSENGER Let me go; thy son is left without his squire.
JOCASTA There is some evil thou art hiding, veiling it in darkness.
MESSENGER Maybe; I would not add ill news to the good thou hast heard.
JOCASTA Thou must, unless thou take wings and fly away.
MESSENGER Ah! why didst thou not let me go after announcing my good
news, instead of forcing me to disclose evil? Those two sons of thine
are resolved on deeds of shameful recklessness, a single combat apart
from the host, addressing to Argives and Thebans alike words I would
they had never uttered. Eteocles, taking his stand on a lofty tower,
after ordering silence to be proclaimed to the army, began on this
wise, "Ye captains of Hellas, chieftains of Argos here assembled,
and ye folk of Cadmus, barter not your lives for Polyneices or for
me! For I myself excuse you from this risk, and will engage my brother
in single combat; and if I slay him, will possess my palace without
rival, but if I am worsted I will bequeath the city to him. Ye men
of Argos, give up the struggle and return to your land, nor lose your
lives here; of the earth-sown folk as well there are dead enough in
those already slain."
So he; then thy son Polyneices rushed from the array and assented
to his proposal; and all the Argives and the people of Cadmus shouted
their approval, as though they deemed it just. On these terms the
armies made a truce, and in the space betwixt them took an oath of
each other for their leaders to abide by. Forthwith in brazen mail
those two sons of aged Oedipus were casing themselves; and lords of
Thebes with friendly care equipped the captain of this land, while
Argive chieftains armed the other. There they stood in dazzling sheen,
neither blenching, all eagerness to hurl their lances each at the
other. Then came their friends to their side, first one, then another,
with words of encouragement, to wit:
"Polyneices, it rests with thee to set up an image of Zeus as a trophy,
and crown Argos with fair renown."
Others hailed Eteocles: "Now art thou fighting for thy city; now,
if victorious, thou hast the sceptre in thy power."