*[start of Section 3: Lines 179-376]
Elders, the gods have righted one again
Our storm-tossed ship of state, now safe in port.
But you by special summons I convened
As my most trusted councilors; first, because
I knew you loyal to Laius of old;
Again, when Oedipus restored our State,
Both while he ruled and when his rule was o’er,
Ye still were constant to the royal line.
Now that his two sons perished in one day,
Brother by brother murderously slain,
By right of kinship to the Princes dead,
I claim and hold the throne and sovereignty.
Yet ’tis no easy matter to discern
The temper of a man, his mind and will,
Till he be proved by exercise of power;
And in my case, if one who reigns supreme
Swerve from the highest policy, tongue-tied
By fear of consequence, that man I hold,
And ever held, the basest of the base.
And I contemn the man who sets his friend
Before his country. For myself, I call
To witness Zeus, whose eyes are everywhere,
If I perceive some mischievous design
To sap the State, I will not hold my tongue;
Nor would I reckon as my private friend
A public foe, well knowing that the State
Is the good ship that holds our fortunes all:
Farewell to friendship, if she suffers wreck.
Such is the policy by which I seek
To serve the Commons and conformably
I have proclaimed an edict as concerns
The sons of Oedipus; Eteocles
Who in his country’s battle fought and fell,
The foremost champion–duly bury him
With all observances and ceremonies
That are the guerdon of the heroic dead.
But for the miscreant exile who returned
Minded in flames and ashes to blot out
His father’s city and his father’s gods,
And glut his vengeance with his kinsmen’s blood,
Or drag them captive at his chariot wheels–
For Polyneices ’tis ordained that none
Shall give him burial or make mourn for him,
But leave his corpse unburied, to be meat
For dogs and carrion crows, a ghastly sight.
So am I purposed; never by my will
Shall miscreants take precedence of true men,
But all good patriots, alive or dead,
Shall be by me preferred and honored.
Son of Menoeceus, thus thou will’st to deal
With him who loathed and him who loved our State.
Thy word is law; thou canst dispose of us
The living, as thou will’st, as of the dead.
See then ye execute what I ordain.
On younger shoulders lay this grievous charge.
Fear not, I’ve posted guards to watch the corpse.
What further duty would’st thou lay on us?
Not to connive at disobedience.
No man is mad enough to court his death.
The penalty _is_ death: yet hope of gain
Hath lured men to their ruin oftentimes.
My lord, I will not make pretense to pant
And puff as some light-footed messenger.
In sooth my soul beneath its pack of thought
Made many a halt and turned and turned again;
For conscience plied her spur and curb by turns.
“Why hurry headlong to thy fate, poor fool?”
She whispered. Then again, “If Creon learn
This from another, thou wilt rue it worse.”
Thus leisurely I hastened on my road;
Much thought extends a furlong to a league.
But in the end the forward voice prevailed,
To face thee. I will speak though I say nothing.
For plucking courage from despair methought,
‘Let the worst hap, thou canst but meet thy fate.’
What is thy news? Why this despondency?
Let me premise a word about myself?
I neither did the deed nor saw it done,
Nor were it just that I should come to harm.
Thou art good at parry, and canst fence about
Some matter of grave import, as is plain.
The bearer of dread tidings needs must quake.
Then, sirrah, shoot thy bolt and get thee gone.
Well, it must out; the corpse is buried; someone
E’en now besprinkled it with thirsty dust,
Performed the proper ritual–and was gone.
What say’st thou? Who hath dared to do this thing?
I cannot tell, for there was ne’er a trace
Of pick or mattock–hard unbroken ground,
Without a scratch or rut of chariot wheels,
No sign that human hands had been at work.
When the first sentry of the morning watch
Gave the alarm, we all were terror-stricken.
The corpse had vanished, not interred in earth,
But strewn with dust, as if by one who sought
To avert the curse that haunts the unburied dead:
Of hound or ravening jackal, not a sign.
Thereat arose an angry war of words;
Guard railed at guard and blows were like to end it,
For none was there to part us, each in turn
Suspected, but the guilt brought home to none,
From lack of evidence. We challenged each
The ordeal, or to handle red-hot iron,
Or pass through fire, affirming on our oath
Our innocence–we neither did the deed
Ourselves, nor know who did or compassed it.
Our quest was at a standstill, when one spake
And bowed us all to earth like quivering reeds,
For there was no gainsaying him nor way
To escape perdition: _Ye_are_bound_to_tell_
_The_King,_ye_cannot_hide_it_; so he spake.
And he convinced us all; so lots were cast,
And I, unlucky scapegoat, drew the prize.
So here I am unwilling and withal
Unwelcome; no man cares to hear ill news.
I had misgivings from the first, my liege,
Of something more than natural at work.
O cease, you vex me with your babblement;
I am like to think you dote in your old age.
Is it not arrant folly to pretend
That gods would have a thought for this dead man?
Did they forsooth award him special grace,
And as some benefactor bury him,
Who came to fire their hallowed sanctuaries,
To sack their shrines, to desolate their land,
And scout their ordinances? Or perchance
The gods bestow their favors on the bad.
No! no! I have long noted malcontents
Who wagged their heads, and kicked against the yoke,
Misliking these my orders, and my rule.
‘Tis they, I warrant, who suborned my guards
By bribes. Of evils current upon earth
The worst is money. Money ’tis that sacks
Cities, and drives men forth from hearth and home;
Warps and seduces native innocence,
And breeds a habit of dishonesty.
But they who sold themselves shall find their greed
Out-shot the mark, and rue it soon or late.
Yea, as I still revere the dread of Zeus,
By Zeus I swear, except ye find and bring
Before my presence here the very man
Who carried out this lawless burial,
Death for your punishment shall not suffice.
Hanged on a cross, alive ye first shall make
Confession of this outrage. This will teach you
What practices are like to serve your turn.
There are some villainies that bring no gain.
For by dishonesty the few may thrive,
The many come to ruin and disgrace.
May I not speak, or must I turn and go
Without a word?–
Begone! canst thou not see
That e’en this question irks me?
Where, my lord?
Is it thy ears that suffer, or thy heart?
Why seek to probe and find the seat of pain?
I gall thine ears–this miscreant thy mind.
What an inveterate babbler! get thee gone!
Babbler perchance, but innocent of the crime.
Twice guilty, having sold thy soul for gain.
Alas! how sad when reasoners reason wrong.
Go, quibble with thy reason. If thou fail’st
To find these malefactors, thou shalt own
The wages of ill-gotten gains is death.