Two Odes of Oedipus Tyrannos Translated                       by David R. Slavitt

Ode I


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?


Ode IV



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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