Oedipus the King
Nymphs with whom he love to toy?
OEDIPUS Elders, if I, who never yet before
Have met the man, may make a guess, methinks
I see the herdsman who we long have sought;
His time-worn aspect matches with the years
Of yonder aged messenger; besides
I seem to recognize the men who bring him
As servants of my own. But you, perchance,
Having in past days known or seen the herd,
May better by sure knowledge my surmise.
CHORUS I recognize him; one of Laius' house;
A simple hind, but true as any man. (Enter HERDSMAN.)
OEDIPUS Corinthian, stranger, I address thee first,
Is this the man thou meanest!
MESSENGER This is he.
OEDIPUS And now old man, look up and answer all
I ask thee. Wast thou once of Laius' house?
HERDSMAN I was, a thrall, not purchased but home-bred.
OEDIPUS What was thy business? how wast thou employed?
HERDSMAN The best part of my life I tended sheep.
OEDIPUS What were the pastures thou didst most frequent?
HERDSMAN Cithaeron and the neighboring alps.
OEDIPUS Then there
Thou must have known yon man, at least by fame?
HERDSMAN Yon man? in what way? what man dost thou mean?
OEDIPUS The man here, having met him in past times...
HERDSMAN Off-hand I cannot call him well to mind.
MESSENGER No wonder, master. But I will revive
His blunted memories. Sure he can recall
What time together both we drove our flocks,
He two, I one, on the Cithaeron range,
For three long summers; I his mate from spring
Till rose Arcturus; then in winter time
I led mine home, he his to Laius' folds.
Did these things happen as I say, or no?
HERDSMAN 'Tis long ago, but all thou say'st is true.
MESSENGER Well, thou mast then remember giving me
A child to rear as my own foster-son?
HERDSMAN Why dost thou ask this question? What of that?
MESSENGER Friend, he that stands before thee was that child.
HERDSMAN A plague upon thee! Hold thy wanton tongue!
OEDIPUS Softly, old man, rebuke him not; thy words
Are more deserving chastisement than his.
HERDSMAN O best of masters, what is my offense?
OEDIPUS Not answering what he asks about the child.
HERDSMAN He speaks at random, babbles like a fool.
OEDIPUS If thou lack'st grace to speak, I'll loose thy tongue.
HERDSMAN For mercy's sake abuse not an old man.
OEDIPUS Arrest the villain, seize and pinion him!
HERDSMAN Alack, alack!
What have I done? what wouldst thou further learn?
OEDIPUS Didst give this man the child of whom he asks?
HERDSMAN I did; and would that I had died that day!
OEDIPUS And die thou shalt unless thou tell the truth.
HERDSMAN But, if I tell it, I am doubly lost.
OEDIPUS The knave methinks will still prevaricate.
HERDSMAN Nay, I confessed I gave it long ago.
OEDIPUS Whence came it? was it thine, or given to thee?
HERDSMAN I had it from another, 'twas not mine.
OEDIPUS From whom of these our townsmen, and what house?
HERDSMAN Forbear for God's sake, master, ask no more.
OEDIPUS If I must question thee again, thou'rt lost.
HERDSMAN Well then-it was a child of Laius' house.
OEDIPUS Slave-born or one of Laius' own race?