Sophocles, Oedipus The
King, 427 BCE
Translation: David Green
Death of Jocasta
Shortest to hear and tell — our glorious
Unhappy women! How?
By her own hand. The worst of what was
you cannot know. You did not see the
Yet in so far as I remember it
you’ll hear the end of our unlucky
When she came raging into the house she
straight to her marriage bed, tearing
with both hands, and
crying upon Laius
long dead — Do you remember, Laius,
that night long past which bred a child
to send you to death and leave
a mother making children with her son?
And then she groaned and cursed the bed
she brought forth husband by her
by her own child, and infamous double
How after that she died I do not know —
for Oedipus distracted us from seeing.
He burst upon us shouting and we looked
to him as he paced frantically around,
begging us always: Give me a sword, I
to find this wife no wife, this mother’s
this field of double sowing whence I
and where I sowed my children! As he
some god showed him the way — none of us
Bellowing terribly and led by some
invisible guide he rushed on the two
wrenching the hollow bolts out of their
he charged inside. There, there, we saw
hanging, the twisted rope around her
When he saw her, he
cried out fearfully
and cut the dangling noose. Then, as she
poor woman, on the ground, what happened
was terrible to see. He tore the
the gold chased brooches fastening her
away from her and lifting them high
dashed them on his own eyeballs,
such things as: they will never see the
I have committed or had done upon me!
Dark eyes, now in day to come look on
forbidden faces, do not recognize
those whom you long for — with such
he struck he eyes again and yet again
with the brooches. And bleeding eyeballs
and stained his beard — no sluggish
but a black rain and
bloody hail poured down.
So it has broken — and
not on one head
but troubles mixed for
husband and wife.
The fortune of the days
gone by was true
good fortune — but today
groans and destruction
and death and shame — of
all ills can be named
not one is missing.
Is he now in any ease from pain?
for some one to unbar the doors and show
to all the men of Thebes, his father’s
his mother’s — no I cannot say the word,
it is unholy — for he’ll cast himself,
out of the land, he says, and not remain
to bring a curse upon his house, the
he called upon it in his proclamation.
he wants for strength, aye, and some one
to guide him;
his sickness is too great to bear. You,
will be shown that. The bolts are
Soon you will see a sight to waken pity
even in the horror of
it. (Enter the blinded Oedipus.)
Translation: Gilbert Murray, 1911
Death of Jocasta
One thing I bring thee first….’Tis quickly said.
Jocasta, our anointed queen,
Unhappy woman! How came death to
By her own hand. . . . Oh, of
what passed in there
Ye have been spared the worst.
Ye cannot see.
Howbeit, with that which still
is left in me
Of mind and memory, ye shall
hear her fate.
Like one entranced with passion,
through the gate
She passed, the white hand
flashing o’er her head.
Like blades that tear, and fled,
Toward her old bridal room, and
And the doors crashed behind
her. But we heard
Her voice within, crying to him
Her Laius, long dead; and things
Of the old kiss unforgotten,
that should bring
The lover’s death and leave the
loved a thing
Of horror, yea, a field beneath
Fore sire and son: then wailing
Across that bed of births
Husband from husband born and
child from child.
And, after that, I know not how
Found her. For sudden, with a
roar of wrath,
Burst Oedipus upon us. Then, I
We marked no more what passion
held the Queen,
But him, as in the fury of his
“ A sword! A sword! And show me
here,” he cried,
“That wife, no wife, that field
of bloodstained earth
Where husband, father, sin on
sin, had birth,
Polluted generations!” While he
Raged on, some god — for sure’t
was none of us —
Showed where she was; and with a
As though some hand had pointed
to the prey,
He dashed him on the chamber
door. The straight
Door-bar of oak, it bent beneath
Shook from its sockets free, and
in he burst
To the dark chamber.
There we saw
Hanged, swinging from a noose,
like a dead bird.
He fell back when he saw her.
Then we heard
A miserable groan, and straight
And loosed the strangling knot,
and on the ground
Laid her. — Ah, then the sight
of horror came!
The pin of gold, broad-beaten
like a flame,
He tore from off her breast,
and, left and right,
Down on the shuddering orbits of
Dashed it: “Out! Out! Ye never
more shall see
Me nor the anguish nor the sins
Ye looked on lives whose like
earth never bore,
Ye knew not those my spirit
Therefore be dark for ever!!”
Like a song
His voice rose, and again,
again, the strong
And stabbing hand fell, and the
And bleeding eyeballs streamed
upon his beard,
Wild rain, and gouts of hail
amid the rain.
yea, afflictions twain
From man and woman broken, now
In downfall. All the riches
Saw in this house were rich in
What call ye now our riches?
Delusion, Death, Shame, all that
eye or ear
Hath ever dreamed of misery, is
And now how fares he? Doth the
He shouts for one to open wide
And lead him forth, and all
His father’s murderer, his
mother’s. . . . Nay,
Such words I will not speak. And
Is set, to cast himself in
Out to the wild, not walk ‘mid
Bearing the curse he bears. Yet
sore his need
Of strength and of some guiding
hand. For sure
He hath more burden now than man
But see, the gates
fall back, and that appears
Which he who loathes shall pity
— yea, with tears.
Oedipus is led in,
blinded and bleeding.
The Old Men bow down
and hide their
Faces; some of them weep.