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For his ill-starred wantoning,
Jocasta, in her distress of mind, goes to worship at the nearest religious altar. But a messenger arrives from Corinth with news of the death of King Polybus, the reputed father of Edipus. Jocasta is overjoyed. She hurries off an attendant to summon Edipus. Edipus, hearing the news, exclaims :
Ah! my Jocasta, who again will heed
But be that as it may, the grave
We are to imagine the keenly anguished pleasure with which Greek spectators would receive this temporary relief to Edipus--knowing as they do within themselves that it is a mere suspension of the inevitable catastrophe, an exquisitely tantalizing prolongation, provided for them by the poet, of the tense emotion proper to the tragic spectacle of a man vainly and unconsciously struggling, or anon ceasing to struggle, like a captured fly, in the cruel spider's-web of fate. But Edipus shudders with a chill of fear amid the very glow of his joy. His Corinthian mother, widow of King Polybus, survives, and he dreads the fulfillment of the oracle respecting his crime of incest with her. To remove this fear, the messenger from Corinth explains that Edipus was not true son to Polybus and his Corinthian queenthat he was to them merely an adopted son.
Whose true son, then, was he? But this the Corinthian messenger cannot reveal. Another man must be called, he, namely, who placed Edipus, a babe, in this informant's hands. But now let the dialogue, thus in part anticipated, proceed in the words of Sophocles:
Ed. Another gave me, then? You did not find me?
Ed. Can you describe him? Tell us what you know.
Ed. Of Laius once the sovereign of this land ?
Ed. And is he still alive for me to see?
Can you point out the swain he tells us of,
The time for this discovery is full come.
Whom thou didst seek before to see: but this
Could best be told by Queen Jocasta there.
Know'st thou, is this of whom he speaks the same ?
7o. What matter who? Regard not, nor desire
Even vainly to remember aught he saith.
I must disclose it.
As you love your life,
The sickness in my bosom is enough.
And waif of bondwomen, you still are noble.
Leave her to revel in her lordly line !
I speak to thee, and no word more forever. (Exit.]
Driven madly by wild grief? needs must fear
Lest from this silence she make sorrow spring.
Will persevere to know mine origin,
That I need shrink to search this to the end. [@dipus remains, and gazes toward the country, while the chorus sing.)
This choric song we omit.
Enters the Theban shepherd expected by the king. The Corinthian messenger and the just-arrived shepherd are mutually confronted and asked to identify each other. The old Theban hesitates, but the Corinthian refreshes his memory. The messenger from Corinth, pointing to Edipus, then says :
Mess. Friend, yonder is the infant whom we knew.
Call more than his for chastisement, old sir.
Ed. Thou wilt not answer him about the child.
Will make thee tell.
By all that's merciful
Pinion him straight !
Ed. Gave you the child he asks of to this man ?
Ed. Speak rightly, or your wish will soon come true.
Ed. You mean to keep us in suspense, I see.
Ed. Whence? Was't your own, or from another's hand ?
Ed. What Theban gave it, from what home in Thebes ?
Ed. You perish, if I have to ask again.
Ed. Slave-born, or rightly of the royal line ?
Ed. And to mine ear. But thou shalt tell it me!
Thy queen, within the palace, best should know.
My lord, she did.
I was to destroy him.
What were they ?
Ed. What then possessed thee to give up the child
To this old man?
Pity, my sovereign lord !
For if thou
Thou bear'st a heavy doom.
may I nevermore behold the day, Since proved accursèd in my parentage, In those I live with, and in him I slew !
The solemn chorus of Theban elders take up now their music, and chant, in mournful recitative, the lesson of what they have seen, as follows :
O tribes of living men,
For who of all the train
Too clearly 'tis expressed
Naught in mortality is blest.
With perfect aim didst kill
Thou, thou, art fallen at last
Like thee hath felt the curse
O Edipus renowned,