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When led with nuptial fire !
Crimes from thyself concealed
And shown thee with clear ray,
O Laius' fatal son,
In tones of agony,
Something meantime--that is, during the choric chanthas been passing behind the scenes. A second messenger comes forward to announce the suicide of the queen. Edipus himself, raging through the palace, found her hanging by the neck apparently already dead. He undid the noose, but from this point let Sophocles, through the messenger, tell the tale :
Was truly happy, but the present hour
"A hateful sight, yet one thou needs must pity," is the form of announcement with which the second messenger, having closed his story, ushers now the blinded Edipus upon the stage. The chorus exclaim at sight of him, with mingled pity and horror. Edipus himself bursts out (we use for this next extract the extraordinarily fine rendering of Mr. Whitelaw):
O thou thick cloud of darkness,
Pierces my inmost soul.
No marvel if, in such extremity,
Thy grief is twofold, as thy suffering is. Edipus, nevertheless, is touched with even such a token of kindness, and answers gratefully. To the inquiry what power impelled him to put out his own eyes, “ Apollo, O my friends, Apollo,” is his answer. It is but lukewarm friendliness that the chorus show the king, in the dialogue which follows. Poor Edipus, however, in his low estate, is fain to be thankful for scant measure of human sympathy now.
The crisis of the tragic interest past, it is, henceforward to the close of the poem, the poet's problem to let down the high-wrought emotions of the spectators, by smooth and easy cadence, to a calm mood of suitable ethic or religious awe. With what skill the tension is gradually relaxed! Bad art it would have been in Sophocles either to close at the climax or to permit a sudden violent descent.
The just limits of our space forbid us to display all this at full. We plunge into the prolonged lamentations of Edipus, at the point where he refers to his children:
Thou Creon, shalt provide. As for my sons,
Whom most I love? Can this be truth I utter?
Thou ever hadst in this, thy comfort now.
May Heaven protect thee better far than me!
From whence, instead of sights or sounds enjoyed,
And who will marry you ? No man, my daughters ;
But look with pity upon their youth, thus left
May find more blessing than your father knew.
Yea, for strong occasion calls,
Tell me, let us hear and know.
God alone can let thee go.
Thou wilt sooner gain that boon.
Come, but leave thy children.
Think not all things to command.
CHORUS. Dwellers in our native Thebe, fix on (Edipus your eyes, Who resolved the dark enigma, noblest champion and most wise.
Glorious, like a sun he mounted, envied of the popular throng; Now he sinks in seas of anguish, plunged the lashing waves among. Therefore, with the old-world sages, waiting for the final day, I will call no mortal happy, while he holds his house of clay, Till without one pang of sorrow, all his hours have passed away. Sophocles himself almost fulfilled, in the happy closing of his long career, the hard requirement that his chorus, "with the old-world sages," here repeats.
The third member of the great tragical triumvirate of Greece was Euripides. The great tragical triumvirate, we say—but it ought not to be forgotten that, besides Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, who alone survive to us in their productions, there flourished in Athens, at the same time with these, other tragedians then scarcely less famous than they.
Euripides was born, an Athenian (480 B. C.), in the year, perhaps on the day, of the battle of Salamis. He had a long career; but, though born some years after, he died a few months before, his generous, more prosperous, but not more popular rival-Sophocles. It was one of those graceful acts which so well became the genius and the character of the latter, that he signalized his sorrow over the death of his peer, by causing the actors in his own next play to appear in mourning for the loss of Euripides. Aristophanes, on the contrary, persecuted Euripides, even in his grave.
Of one play of Euripides we are fortunate in possessing a version from no less a master than Mr. Robert Browning. It happily chances, too, that this play is precisely the one which, of all the extant works of Euripides, we should in any case have wished to present to our readers. It is the Alcestis.