Two Odes of Oedipus Tyrannos Translated by David R. Slavitt
Who is this man the oracle means?
Who did that unspeakable thing and bloodied his hands?
Now is the time for him to run
on quick feet, faster than fastest
horses, for after him comes the son of Zeus
with lightning’s deadly fire and, close on his heels,
the implacable Fates that never miss their mark.
From the snowy heights of Parnassus, the voice
sang out to order Thebans to hunt down
this unknown culprit, a beast that lurks
in savage jungles, hides in caves,
and scampers over the rocks, or a bull with a wounded
foot that hirples along, fleeing words
that well from earth to hover about his head.
Terrible, terrible trouble Tiresias brings.
I do not believe it; I do not disbelieve it.
I have no idea what to say.
I soar on wings of hope but fear the height.
I cannot read the future; I cannot read
the present, either.
What were Labdacus’ quarrels?
What were the grudges of Polybus, King of Corinth?
I never knew and never wanted to know.
But what am I to think of Oedipus now?
Do we dare oppose him, seeking justice
for Laius’ murder?
Apollo is wise, and Zeus truly is wise.
Looking down, they know the affairs of men.
But mortals here on earth,
how can we tell if a prophet is wiser than we are?
There are different kinds of wisdom one may use
for differing ends.
But Oedipus? How can I doubt him?
I saw with my own eyes the wingèd Sphinx
assail him, and he withstood her and by his wits
bested her and saved us. How can I now,
knowing how dear he is to the city,
think him guilty?
Alas! The generations of men
in their effort, honor, achievement, their pride. . .
and in the end it comes to nothing.
What man, after chasing all his life
for the shadow of happiness, can claim
more than a moment’s illusion?
Oedipus, your fate
is a chilling example.
You had everything anyone could have envied,
and in a moment, it’s gone.
Your arrows always flew to the target
accurate and amazing. Whatever you wanted,
there it was, in an instant,
almost without effort, more than the gods
ever intended for mere mortals.
Even Zeus was startled
to see you destroy
the Sphinx, that cruel maiden with terrible talons,
protecting us all from death.
Because of what you did, we called you our king,
giving you all honor, and you ruled mighty Thebes.
And now? Whose story is more heartbreaking? Who
has greater torments or more remorse?
Who has ever fallen farther or faster?
Great Oedipus, you emerged from birth’s tight harbor,
and then returned there in your bridal bed
to make fast where your father had been before you.
How could you plow that same furrow your father
sowed? How could it not cry out?
Time that sees all has found you out at last
and condemns your monstrous marriage that that was no marriage
and produced your offspring who were not offspring.
Son of Laius, I wish I had never beheld you.
You restored us to life, or only a dream of life
we lament sorely. From our lips come only dirges.
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