Copyright
William Cranston Lawton.

Ideals in Greek literature online

. (page 8 of 15)
Online LibraryWilliam Cranston LawtonIdeals in Greek literature → online text (page 8 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Creon
Call her not thine: thou hast no sister now.

ISMENE

But wilt thou tear her from thy son's embrace? ^

Creon
Are there no women in the world but she?

ISMENE

Not as their faith was plighted, each to each.

Creon
An evil wife I hke not for my son.

Antigone
Hsemon! beloved! hear not thy father's scorn.

Creon
Thou and thy love to me are wearisome.

Chorus
Wilt thou indeed snatch from thy son his bride?

Creon
*Tis death that will unloose their marriage-bond.

Chorus
It seems thou art resolved that she must die?

Creon

Of that we are agreed. Delay no more:
Ye, servants, lead them in. For from this time
Women they needs must be, and range no more:
Since ev'n the bold may play the runaway.
When death he sees close-creeping on his life.

1 This is our first hint of Antigone's engagement to her cousin Haemon.



Sophocles and the Antigone 121

THIRD EPISODE

{The princesses are led into the palace.)

Chorus
See, thy son Haemon comes hither, of all
Thy children the last. Comes he lamenting
The doom of the maiden, his bride Antigone—
And the frustrated hope of his marriage?

Creon
Soon we shall know, better than seers could say.
My son, in anger art thou come to me,
Hearing the sentence, not to be reversed,
Which on thy destined bride I have pronounced?
Or am I still thy friend, do what I may?

H^MON

Father, I am in thy hand: with thy wise counsels
Thou dost direct me; these I shall obey.

Creon
6e this thy dearest wish and next thy heart,
In all things to uphold thy father's will.
For to this end men crave to see grow up
Obedient children round them in their homes.
Never, my son, let for a woman's sake
Reason give way to sense, but know full well
Cold is the pleasure that he clasps, who woos
An evil woman to his board and bed.
What wounds so deeply as an evil friend?
Count then this maiden as thine enemy.
Loathe her, and give her leave, in that dark world
To which she goes, to marry with another.
He who to his own kith and kin does right,
Will in the state deal righteously with all.
Of such a man I shall not fear to boast.
Well he can rule, and well he would obey.
And in the storm of battle at his post



122 Ideals in Greek Literature

Firm he would stand, a comrade staunch and true.
But praise from me that man shall never have,
Who either boldly thrusts aside the law
Or takes upon him to instruct his rulers,
Whom, by the state empowered, he should obey.
In Httle and in much, in right and wrong.
The worst of evils is to disobey.
Cities by this are ruined, homes of men
Made desolate by this; this in the battle
Breaks into headlong rout the wavering line;
The steadfast ranks, the many lives unhurt,
Are to obedience due. We must defend
The government and order of the state.
And not be governed by a wilful girl.
We'll yield our place up, if we must, to men;
To women that we stooped, shall not be said.

Chorus

Unless an old man's judgment is at fault,

These words of thine, we deem, are words of wisdom.

H.EMON

Reason, my father, in the mind of man.

Noblest of all their gifts, the gods implant.

And how to find thy reasoning at fault,

I know not, and to learn I should be loth;

Yet for another it might not be amiss.

But I for thee am vigilant to mark

All that men say, or do, or find to blame.

Thy presence awes the simple citizen

From speaking words that shall not please thine ear.

But I hear what they whisper in the dark,

And how the city for this maid laments,

That of all women she the least deserving

Dies for most glorious deeds a death most cruel.

Who her own brother, fall'n among the slain.

Left not unburied there, to be devoured

By ravening dogs or any bird o' the air: —



Sophocles and the Antigone 123

"Should not her deed be blazoned all in gold?"

Upon the darkness still such whisper grows.

But I of all possessions that I have

Prize most, my father, thy prosperity.

Welldoing and fair fame of sire to son.

Of son to sire, is noblest ornament.

Cleave not, I pray thee, to this constant mind.

That what thou sayest, and nought beside, is truth

For men who think that only they are wise.

None eloquent, right-minded none, but they.

Often, when searched, prove empty. 'Tis no shame,

Ev'n if a man be wise, that he should yet

Learn many things, and not hold out too stiffly.

Cease from thy wrath; be not inexorable;

For if despite my youth I too may think

My thought, I'll say that best it is by far

That men should be all-knowing if they may,

But if — as oft the scale incHnes not so —

Why then by good advice 'tis good to learn.

Chorus
What in thy son's speech, king, is seasonable
'Tis fit thou shouldst receive: and thou in his:
For there is reason in the words of both.

Creon
Shall I, grown grey with age, be taught indeed—
And by this boy — to think what he thinks right.?

HLemon
Nothing that is not right : though I am young
Consider not my years, but how I act.

Creon
Whose business is't but mine how Thebes is governed?

H^MON

A city is none, that to one man belongs.






PORN^^-



124 Ideals in Greek Literature

Creon
Is it not held, the city is the king's?

H^MON

Finely thou'dst rule, alone, a land dispeopled!

Creon
O hateful spirit, ruled by a woman's will!

H^MON

To no base service wilt thou prove me bound.

Creon
Art thou not pleading all the time for her?

Hjemon
For thee and me, and for the gods below.

Creon
Thou shalt not marry her, this side the grave.

H^mon
If she must die, she shall: but not alone.

Creon
Art grown so bold, thou dost fly out in threats?

H^MON

What threats, to argue with a fooHsh purpose?

Creon
Slave — to thy mistress babble, not to me.

KLemon
Would' St thou have all the talking for thine own?

Creon
Is't come to this? But, by Olympus yonder.
Know well, thou shalt be sorry for these taunts,



Sophocles and the Antigone 115

Wherewith thou dost upbraid me. Slaves, what ho!

Bring that abhorrence hither, that she may die.

Now, in her bridegroom's sight, whilst here he stands.

HiEMON

Neither in my sight — imagine no such thing —
Shall she be slain; nor shalt thou from this hour
Look with thine eyes upon my face again:
To friends who love thy madness I commit thee.

(Exit.)

y Chorus

Suddenly, sire, in anger he is gone.
Young minds grow desperate, by grief distempered.

Creon
More than a man let him conceive and do;
He shall not save these maidens from their doom

Chorus
Both sisters art thou purposed to destroy?

Creon
Not her whose hands sinned not; thou askest well.

Chorus
What of the other? how shall she be slain?

Creon
By paths untrodden of men I will conduct her,
And shut her, living, in a vault, rock-hewn.
And there, with food, no more than shall suffice
To avert the guilt of murder from the city.
To Hades, the one god whom she reveres,
She, praying not to die, either shall have
Her asking, or shall learn, albeit too late,
That to revere the dead is fruitless toil.

{Exit.)



26 Ideals in Greek Literature

Chorus (Sings.)

Love, our conqueror, matchless in might,
Thou prevailest, O Love, thou dividest the prey
In damask cheeks of a maiden

Thy watch through the night is set.

Thou roamest over the sea;

On the hills, in the shepherd's huts, thou art;

Nor of deathless gods, nor of short-lived men,

From thy madness any escapeth.

Unjust, through thee, are the thoughts of the just.

Thou dost bend them, O Love, to thy will, to thy spite.

Unkindly strife thou hast kindled,

This wrangling of son with sire.

The fountains of my tears

1 can refrain no more.

Seeing Antigone here to the bridal chamber
Come, to the all-receiving chamber of Death

FOURTH EPISODE

Antigone (Led to the tomb.)

Friends and my countrymen, ye see me
Upon the last of all my ways
Set forth, the Sun-god's, latest light
Beholding, now and never more:
And me no bridal song hath ever sung.
But Acheron will make of me his bride

Chorus

Therefore renowned, with praise of men,
To yonder vault o' the dead thou goest.
By no slow-wasting sickness stricken,
Nor doomed to fall with those who win
The wages of the swords they drew.
But, being to thyself a law.
Alone of mortals the dark road
To deathward, living, thou shalt tread



Sophocles and the Antigone 127

Antigone
O Thebes, my city!
O wealthy men of Thebes!
But ye will witness — yes, to you I turn —
O fount Dircaean, and this sacred grove
Of Thebe the fair-charioted.
By what stern law, and how of friends unwept,
To that strange grave I go.
The massy dungeon for my burial heaped.
O luckless wight,

Exiled from earth nor housed below.
Both by the living and the dead disowned!

Chorus
To furthest brink of boldness thou didst stray.
And stumbling there, at foot of Justice's throne,
Full heavily, my daughter, hast thou fallen:
Yet of thy father's fault belike
This suffering pays the price.

Antigone
Thou hast touched, ev'n there, my bitterest pang of all,
A thrice-told tale, my father's grief —
And all our grievous doom.

Chorus
Religion prompts the reverent deed:
But power, to whomso power belongs.
Must nowise be transgressed; and thee
A self-willed temper hath o'erthrown.

Antigone

tomb! O nuptial chamber! O house deep-delved
In earth, safe-guarded ever! To thee I come.

And to my kin in thee, who many an one
Are with Persephone, dead among the dead:
And last of all, most miserably by far,

1 thither am going, ere my Ufe's term be done



2 8 Ideals in Greek Literature

But a good hope I cherish, that, come there,

My father's love will greet me, yea and thine,

My mother — and thy welcome, brother dear:

Since, when ye died, I with mine own hands laved

And dressed your limbs, and poured upon your graves

Libations; and like service done to thee

Hath brought me, Polynices, now to this.

Yet well I honoured thee, the wise will say:

Yet I transgressed— what ordinance of heaven?

Why to the gods, ill-fated, any more

Should I look up — whom call to succour — since

Impiety my piety is named?

But, if these things are pleasing to the gods,

I'll freely own I suffered for my fault;

If theirs the fault, who doomed me, may to them

No worse befall than they unjustly do!

Chorus
Stormily still o'er the soul of the maiden
The self-same gusts of passion sweep.

Creon
Therefore, I warn them, ruth for their lingering,
To those who lead her, this shall cause.

Antigone
Short shrift, swift death — ah! woe is me —
This speech portends.

Creon
Lay to thy soul no flattering hope.
That unfulfilled this doom may be.

Antigone
O country of Thebes and my father's city,
And gods my progenitors,
Lo, how they lead me — now, and delay not.
O all ye princes of Thebes, behold me —
Of the race of your kings, me, sole surviving —



Sophocles and the Antigone 129

What things at the hands of what men I suffer

For the fear of the gods I feared.

Because I feared to cast away the fear of Heaven.

(Exeunt.)

FIFTH EPISODE
(Enter Teiresias, the blind seer.)
Teiresias
Princes of Thebes, we come — one sight for both
Our common road descrying, as behooves
Bhnd men to find their way by help of others.

Creon
What tidings, old Teiresias, dost thou bring?

Teiresias
Hear then the prophet, and attend his speech.

Creon
Have I aforetime from thy wisdom swerved?

Teiresias
So, clear of shoals, thou pilotest the state.

Creon
The service thou hast rendered I attest.

Teiresias
Once more on razor's edge thy fortunes stand.

Creon
Hearing thy speech, I shudder: tell me more.

Teiresias
My art's prognostications hear and judge.
For in my ancient seat, to watch the birds
In that their general gathering-place, I sat,
And heard an unintelligible noise,
A cry and clangour of birds, confused with rage; ^



130 Ideals in Greek Literature

Scared by that sound, burnt-offerings I then

Essayed on blazing altars; but no flame

Leapt from the sacrifice; a clammy ooze

Reeked from the thighs, and 'mid the ashes dripped.

This from this boy I heard, whose eyes beheld

The failing signs of sacrifice obscure:

Others by me are guided, I by him.

And by thy will we are afilicted thus.

For now our hearths and altars every one

Have ravening dogs and birds fouled with the flesh

Of this poor fallen son of (Edipus;

And so no flame of victims burnt may move

Gods any more to hearken to our prayers.

And birds obscene flap forth a bodeful cry.

With fat of human carrion newly gorged.

Slight not, my son, such warning. For all men.

Both great and small, are liable to err:

But he who errs no more unfortunate

Or all unwise shall be, if having tripped

He rights the wrong nor stubbornly persists.

He who persists in folly is the fool.

Give death his due: stab not the fallen foe:

What valour is in this, to slay the slain?

Wisely I speak and well; and sweet it is

To hear good counsel, when it counsels gain.

Creon
Old man, ye all, as bowmen at a mark
Shoot at this man, and with your prophecies
Ye practice on me too, and mine own kin
Mere merchandise and sale work make of me.
Go to, but him, I say, ye shall not bury:
No, not if eagles, ministers of Zeus,
Should bear him piecemeal to their Master's throne.
Will I, for fear of such pollution, grant
Leave for his burial,^ knowing well that men
Soil not the stainless majesty of heaven.

* 1 The king, whose mind is as changeful as it is violent, instantly realizes
the impiety o? this utterance, and half retracts it.



Sophocles and the Antigone 131

But, aged seer, the wisest of mankind
Dishonourably may fall, who fairly speak
Dishonourable words, and all for gain.

Creon
Unlock them, only speaking not for gain.

Teiresias
So, for thy part indeed, methinks I shall.

Creon
Think not that in my purpose thou shalt trade.

Teiresias
But surely know that thou not many more
Revolving courses of the sun shalt pass.
Ere to thine own blood one, to make amends.
Dead for the dead, thou shalt have rendered up.
For that a living soul thou hast sent below.
And with dishonour in the grave hast lodged.
And that one dead thou boldest here cut off
From presence of the gods who reign below,
All rites of death, all obsequies denied —
With whom thou shouldst not meddle, nor the gods
In heaven, but of their due thou robb'st the dead.
Therefore The Avengers of Hades and the gods wait
For thee with ruin slow yet sure,
To take thee in the pit which thou hast dug.
Do I speak this for gold? Thyself shalt judge:
For, yet a little while, and wailings loud
Of men and women in thy house shall show.
So like a bowman have I launched at thee
In wrath, — for thou provok'st me, — shafts indeed
To pierce thy heart, and fail not, from whose smart
Thou'lt not escape. But now, boy, lead me home.
That he may vent his spleen on younger men.
And learn to keep a tongue more temperate.
And in his breast a better mind than now.

(Exit.)



132 Ideals in Greek Literature

Chorus
The man has prophesied dread things, O king,
And gone : and never have I known — not since
These temples changed their raven locks to snow —
That aught of false this city heard from him.

Creon
Yea, this I know, and much am I perplexed:
For hard it is to yield, but standing firm
I fear to pluck swift ruin on my pride.

Chorus
Son of Menoeceus, be advised in time.

Creon
Say then, what must I do? and I'll obey.

Chorus
Go, from her prison in the rock release
The maiden, and the unburied corpse inter.

Creon
Dost thou think this, and wouldst thou have me yield?

Chorus
Yea, king, and quickly; for the gods cut short
With sudden scathe the foolishness of men.

Creon
Hardly indeed, but yet with forced consent
ril do it, stooping to necessity.

Chorus
Do it, and go; leave not this task to others.

Creon
Even as I am. Til go; and, servants, haste.
That hear and hear me not; axes in hand,
All to yon spot, far-seen, make good your speed.



Sophocles and the Antigone 133

But I, since this way now my mind is bent,
Whom I myself have bound, myself will loose.
For now my heart misgives me, he lives best,
Whose feet depart not from the ancient ways.

{Exit.y

Convinced that the danger is now averted, the chorus
sing a confident hymn of supplication to Bacchus, the
especial local divinity of Thebes. During this song sev-
eral hours must be supposed to elapse.

EXODUS

Messenger {Entering.)
Neighbors of Cadmus,^ and the royal house
Of old Amphion,^ no man's life would I,
How high or low soever, praise or blame.
Since, who to-day has fortune, good or ill,
To-morrow's fortune lifts or lays him low;
For Creon before was happy, as I deemed;
Now all is lost. For when the joys of life
Men have relinquished, no more Ufe indeed.

Chorus
Of what grief now of princes wilt thou tell?

Messenger
Hsemon is dead: his death no stranger's act.

Chorus
Slain by himself, or by his father's hand?

Messenger
Wroth with his pitiless sire, he slew himself.

1 The King sets forth; but, perverse to the last, he waits to see the dead
buried, and lets slip the time when the living might yet have been rescued,

2 Ancient kings and founders of Thebes,



134 Ideals in Greek Literature

Chorus
Lo, hard at hand the miserable queen,
Eurydice: who from the house comes forth
Either by chance, or hearing of her son.

Eurydice {From the palace.)
Good townsmen, all, your conference I heard,
As to the doors I came, intending now
Of Pallas to entreat her heavenly aid.
But tell me now your tidings once again —
For, not unlearned in sorrow, I shall hear.

Messenger
Dear mistress, I will tell thee what I saw.
And not leave out one word of all the truth.
Thy husband hence I followed at the heels
To that high plain, where torn by dogs the body
Of Polynices lay, unpitied still.
A prayer we said to Hecate* in the way
And Pluto, their displeasure to refrain.
Then, sprinkling with pure water, in new-stript boughs
Wrapped round and burned the fragments that remained.
A lofty funeral-mound of native earth
We heaped for him; then sought the maiden's bed,
Her bridal bed with Hades in the rock.
And from afar a voice of shrill lament
About the unhallowed chamber some one heard,
And came to Creon, and told it to his lord.
And in his ears, approaching, the wild cry
Rang doubtfully, till now there brake from him
A word of sharp despair, **0 wretched man.
What fear is at my heart? and am I going
The wofuUest road that ever I have gone?
It is my son's voice greets me. Good servants, go.
Go nearer quickly; and standing by the tomb.
Even to the throat of the vault peer through and look,
Where the wrenched stonework gapes, if Haemon's voice
1 Goddess of roads and crossways, injured by the neglect of the corpse.



Sophocles and the Antigone 135

I recognize indeed, or by the gods

Am cheated!" Crazed with his fear, he spake; and we

Looked as he bade; and in the last of the tomb

We saw the maiden — hanged: about her neck

Some shred of Hnen had served her for a noose:

And fallen upon her, clasping her, he lay,

Wailing his wasted passion in the grave,

His fatal father, and his luckless bride.

His father saw, and crying a bitter cry

Went in, and with a lamentable voice

Called him, **0 rash, what is it that thou hast done?

What wouldst thou? On what madness hast thou rushed?

My son, come forth: I pray thee — I implore."

But with fierce eyes the boy glared at his sire

And looks of loathing, and for answer plucked

Forth a two-hilted sword, and would have struck,

But missed him, as he fled: and in that minute,

Wroth with himself, in his own side amain

Thrust deep the steel, unhappy; and conscious still

Folded the maiden in his fainting arms ;

Then, gasping out his life in one sharp breath.

Pelted her pale cheek with the crimson shower.

Dead with the dead he lies, such nuptial rites

In halls of Hades, luckless, having won.

Chorus
How should one deem of this. The queen, without
A word, of good or evil, has gone hence.

Messenger
Indeed, 'tis strange; but yet I feed on hope
That to lament in public for her son
She will not deign; but, as for private sorrow.
Will charge her women in the house to weep.
She is well tried in prudence, not to fail.

Chorus
I know not; but to me the too-much silence.
No less than clamorous grief, seems perilous,



136 Ideals in Greek Literature

Messenger
I will go hence to the house, and know, if aught
Of secret purpose in her raging heart
She hath kept locked from us. Thou sayest well:
The too-much silence may bode mischief too.

Chorus
Lo, the king comes hither himself, in his hands
The record, not doubtful its purport, bearing;
No grief (I dare say) wrought by another.
But the weight of his own misdoing.

Creon
Alas, my purblind wisdom's fatal fault.
Stubborn, and fraught with death!
Ye see us, sire and son.
The slayer and the slain.
O counsels all unblest!
Alas for thee, my son,
So young a life and so untimely quenched —
Gone from me, past recall —
Not by thy folly, but my own I

Chorus
Ah, how too late thou dost discern the truth !

Creon
Yea, to my cost I know: but then, methinks,
Oh, then some god with crushing weight
Leapt on me, drave me into frantic ways.
Trampling, alas for me.
In the base dust my ruined joy.
O toil and trouble of mortals — trouble and toil !

Second Messenger
Trouble, O king, thine own and none but thine.
Thou comest, methinks, part bearing in thy hands;
Part — in the house thou hast, and soon shalt see.



Sophocles and the Antigone 137

Creon
What more, what worse than evil, yet remains?

Second Messenger
Thy wife is dead, with desperate hand ev'n now
Self-slain, for this dead son for whom she lived.

Creon
O harbour of Hades, never to be appeased.
Why art thou merciless?
What heavy news is this?
Harsh news to me of grief.
That slays me, slain before!
A woful word indeed.

Telling of slaughter upon slaughter heaped,
To me, the twice-bereaved.
At one fell swoop, of son and wife!

Creon
Oh lead me hence, unprofitable; who thee
Unwittingly have slain.

Child, and my wife, unhappy; and know not now
Which way to look to either: for all things
Are crooked that I handle, and a fate
Intolerable upon my life hath leapt.

Chorus
First of all happiness far is wisdom.
And to the gods that one fail not of piety.
But great words of the overweening
Lay great stripes to the backs of the boasters;
Taught by adversity,
Old age learns, too late, to be wise.

Perhaps the poet felt this last scene necessary, in order
that he, or the just gods, may side unmistakably with
Antigone, overwhelming Creon in a doom far worse than
hers. Her utter loneliness, the absence of assurance,



138 Ideals in Greek Literature

uttered to her by any one, that her deed is and will be
fully appreciated, gives a certain austerity to the whole
drama. Either ^schylus or Euripides would have intro-
duced some divine character to justify her most completely.
But few readers will regret even the loneliness that sets,
as it were, upon an even loftier pedestal the generous
heroism of this all but faultless maid. Neither ancient
nor modern poet has delineated a nobler nature.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The version here used for the "Antigone" is Whitelaw's,
which is warmly praised by Jebb. Campbell and Plumptre have
also rendered the seven plays. Professor Jebb's masterly prose
translation appeared, originally, facing the Greek text, in his
exhaustive edition of Sophocles in seven luxurious volumes.
Those volumes also contain the best introductions, and literary
criticism generally, that the works of Sophocles have ever received.
This translation has just been made accessible, in a single vol-
ume (published by Macmillan), to those who are not students of
Greek.



CHAPTER VIII

EURIPIDES AND THE ALCESTIS

The Glory of Self-Sacrifice.

Euripides is in many ways the most modern of all
Greeks. The pathos of common life, the heroism shown
especially by those in humble station, often accorded ill
with the stately robes, the mask and buskin, of the tra-
ditional drama. While ^schylus feels the resistless
sweep of righteous law divine, and Sophocles at least
trusts that man, master of his own soul, may learn wis-
dom through suffering, Euripides is hopelessly perplexed
by the contradictions of life. If gods there be, he seems
to say, they must be quarrelsome, their rule chaotic. He
has even been seriously accused, in our own day, of an
effort to undermine all beHef in the very Olympic divini-
ties whom he is so fond of using for spectacular effect,
or to cut the knot of the tragic plot.

His happiest play, which is also the popular favorite,
is the oldest one of his preserved, having been performed


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryWilliam Cranston LawtonIdeals in Greek literature → online text (page 8 of 15)