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The Phoenissae   


foot by foot, till catching up splintered rock he let it fly and shivered
the other's spear; and now was the combat equal, for each had lost
his lance. Then clutching their sword-hilts they closed, and round
and round, with shields close-locked, they waged their wild warfare.
Anon Eteocles introduced that crafty Thessalian trick, having some
knowledge thereof from his intercourse with that country; disengaging
himself from the immediate contest, he drew back his left foot but
kept his eye closely on the pit of the other's stomach from a distance;
then advancing his right foot he plunged his weapon through his navel
and fixed it in his spine. Down falls Polyneices, blood-bespattered,
ribs and belly contracting in his agony. But that other, thinking
his victory now complete, threw down his sword and set to spoiling
him, wholly intent thereon, without a thought for himself. And this
indeed was his ruin; for Polyneices, who had fallen first, was still
faintly breathing, and having in his grievous fall retained his sword,
he made last effort and drove it through the heart of Eteocles. There
they lie, fallen side by side, biting the dust with their teeth, without
having decided the mastery.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Ah, woe is thee! Oedipus, for thy sorrows! how
I pity thee! Heaven, it seems, has fulfilled those curses of thine.
MESSENGER Now hear what further woes succeeded. Just as her two sons
had fallen and lay dying, comes their wretched mother on the scene,
her daughter with her, in hot haste; and when she saw their mortal
wounds, "Too late," she moaned, "my sons, the help I bring"; and throwing
herself on each in turn she wept and wailed, sorrowing o'er all her
toil in suckling them; and so too their sister, who was with her,
"Supporters of your mother's age I dear brothers, leaving me forlorn,
unwed!" Then prince Eteocles with one deep dying gasp, hearing his
mother's cry, laid on her his moist hand, and though he could not
say a word, his tear-filled eyes were eloquent to prove his love.
But Polyneices was still alive, and seeing his sister and his aged
mother he said, "Mother mine, our end is come; I pity thee and my
sister Antigone and my dead brother. For I loved him though he turned
my foe, I loved him, yes! in spite of all. Bury me, mother mine, and
thou, my sister dear, in my native soil; pacify the city's wrath that
may get at least that much of my own fatherland, although I lost my
home. With thy hand, mother, close mine eyes (therewith he himself
places her fingers on the lids)
; and fare ye well; for already the
darkness wraps me round."
So both at once breathed out their life of sorrow. But when their
mother saw this sad mischance, in her o'ermastering grief she snatched
from a corpse its sword and wrought an awful deed, driving the steel
right through her throat; and there she lies, dead with the dead she
loved so well, her arms thrown round them both.
Thereon the host sprang to their feet and fell to wrangling, we maintaining
that victory rested with my master, they with theirs; and amid our
leaders the contention raged, some holding that Polyneices gave the
first wound with his spear, others that, as both were dead, victory
rested with neither. Meantime Antigone crept away from the host; and
those others rushed to their weapons, but by some lucky forethought
the folk of Cadmus had sat down under arms; and by a sudden attack
we surprised the Argive host before it was fully equipped. Not one
withstood our onset, and they filled the plain with fugitives, while
blood was streaming from the countless dead our spears had slain.
Soon as victory crowned our warfare, some began to rear an image to
Zeus for the foe's defeat, others were stripping the Argive dead of
their shields and sending their spoils inside the battlements; and
others with Antigone are bringing her dead brothers hither for their
friends to mourn. So the result of this struggle to our city hovers
between the two extremes of good and evil fortune. (The MESSENGER
goes out.)

CHORUS (chanting) No longer do the misfortunes of this house extend
to hearsay only; three corpses of the slain lie here at the palace
for all to see, who by one common death have passed to their life

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