Chorus of Theban Elders
Even DanaŽ's beauty endured exchanging the light
of the heavens for chambers bound in bronze.(108)945
Hidden in a tomb-
like chamber, she was bent to the yoke.
And yet, honored in birth, O child, child,
she became keeper for the gold-streaming seed of Zeus.950
But the power of fate (whatever it may be) is terrible and wonderful.
Neither wealth nor Ares,
no tower, no dark ships
beaten by the sea can escape it.
Yoked was Dryas' hot-headed son,955
King of Edonians, for his heart-stinging rage.(109)
Shut away at Dionysus'
command in a rocky bondage.
Thus his madness' flowering might, terrible and wonderful,
trickles away. That one in madness touched the god 960
with heart-stinging tongues and came to know him.
He would stop the women taken by god
and the fire of the god's holy Eu-oi-oi-oi-oi (110)
and anger the Muses who love the flute.965
Beside the expanse of the twin seas' Dark Rocks,(111)
lie the shores of the Bosphorus . . . and Thracian
Salmydessus where its neighbor Ares 970
saw upon the two sons of Phineus
an accursed wound
of blindness dealt by his savage wife,
a wound inflicting blindness upon orbs
appealing for vengeance from eyes pierced975
by bloody hands and pointed shuttles.(112)
Wretchedly wasting away, they weep their wretched
suffering, having birth from a mother ill-wed.980
The queen is the seed of
the sons of Erechtheus, an ancient lineage,
and in far-off caves
she was reared amid paternal storms,
daughter of Boreas, swift with the horses across the steep hills,985
child of gods. But even over that one
the long-lived Fates wielded power, child.
[An old man, led by a boy, enters by the gangway from the city.(113)]
Lords of Thebes, we come by a common road,
two seeing from one. For the blind,
this way by a guide is usual.990
What is new, aged Tiresias?
I shall inform you, and, for your part, obey the prophet.
I did not differ before from your purpose, did I?
No, and you steered the city on a straight course.
From experience I can bear witness to your aid.(114)995
Now that you have come onto the razor's edge of chance, start thinking.
What is it? How I shudder at your voice.
You shall know when you have heard the marks of my craft.
Sitting at the ancient seat for watching birds,(115)
where lies my sanctuary for every bird,1000
I hear an unknown sound of birds shrieking
with a gadfly(116) sinister and barbarous.
And that they were tearing one another apart with murderous claws, I came
to realize, for the whirling of wings was not without its own mark.
Frightened, I immediately tested the burnt offerings1005
on altars set fully ablaze, but from the sacrifices
Hephaestus did not shine forth, but onto the ashes
the juices oozing from the thigh pieces were melting
and smoking and sputtering, and the bladders
were exploding gall into the air, and dripping1010
thigh bones were exposed from their enveloping fat.
Such things I learned from this boy,
prophecies withering away from rites bearing no marks,
for he is my guide as I am for others.
As for this situation, the city is sick from your thinking.1015
Absolutely all our altars and braziers
are filled by birds and dogs with the meat
of the unfortunate fallen son of Oedipus.
No longer do the gods accept prayers from us
at sacrifices or the flames from our thigh pieces,1020
nor do the birds scream cries that mark meaning clearly
since they are glutted on the fat of a slain man's blood.
Therefore, think about this, child. For men,
all of them, it is common to make mistakes.
Whenever he does make a mistake, that man is still not1025
foolish or unhappy who, fallen into evil,
applies a remedy and does not become immovable.
Stubborn self-will incurs a charge of stupidity.
No, yield to the dead, and do not goad
the deceased. What valor this-- to slay the dead again?1030
I have thought this out well and speak for
your good. Learning from someone speaking kindly
is very pleasant, if he speaks to your profit.
Elder, all of you, like bowmen at their target,
shoot arrows at this man. I am not without experience
of that prophetic craft of yours. By the tribe of those1035
of your ilk, I have been sold off like wares and loaded as cargo before.
Pursue your profits, sell electrum from Sardis,(117)
if you wish, and the gold of India.
You will not hide that one with a tomb,
not even if Zeus's eagles want to seize1040
him for meat and carry him to the thrones of Zeus.
Not even fearing this pollution,
will I give him up for burying, for well I know that
none among men has the power to pollute gods.
They fall shameful falls, old man Tiresias, those of mortals 1045
who are very clever, whenever they utter shameful
words nobly for the sake of profit.
does any man know, does he consider . . .
Just what? What old saw are you saying?
by how much the best of possessions is good counsel?1050
By as much, I suppose, as not to have sense is the greatest harm.
You certainly were full of this sickness.
I prefer not to speak evil of a prophet.
And yet, you do, when you say I prophecy falsely.
Yes, for the whole family of prophets is philos to silver.1055
And the family of absolute rulers holds disgraceful profits as philoi.
Do you know what you are saying you say of sovereigns?(118)
I do, since on my account you saved the city and have it now.
You are a skilled prophet but one who is philos to wrongdoing.
You will goad me to say in my breast that ought not be moved. 1060
Move them. Only do not do so by speaking for profit.
Do I seem to you to speak that way?
Know that you are not going to sell my purpose.
Know this well: you will no longer
finish many successive laps of the sun1065
in which you yourself will have repaid one
from your own loins, a corpse in return for corpses,
because you have cast one of those up here down there,
and while domiciling a living being in a tomb without honor,
you have one of those belonging to the lower gods up here,1070
a corpse without portion, without burial rites, without holiness.
In those things, neither you nor the gods above have
a share, but for this they(119) are being violated by you.
For this reason, mutilators whose destruction comes afterwards,
lie in ambush for you, the Erinyes of Hades and the gods,1075
so that you may be caught in these same evils.
Consider whether I am saying this, silvered
in bribes, for the wearing away of not a long time
will reveal the laments for men, for women in your house.(120)
All the cities(121) are thrown into disorder by hostility(122) 1080
whose severed bodies either dogs have consecrated
or beasts or some winged bird, carrying
an unhallowed stench into the city of their hearths.
Such bolts, for you rile me, like an archer
I let loose in rage at your heart,1085
sure bolts whose heat you will not run out from under.
Boy, lead us home, so this one
may vent his rage on younger men
and learn to nourish a tongue calmer
and a mind in his breast better than he now bears.1090
[Exit Tiresias, led by the boy.]
Lord, the man is gone after uttering terrible prophecies.
We know, from the time I put on
white hair from black,
that he never cried out falsehood to a city.
I know this myself, and I shutter in my breast.1095
For to yield is terrible, but to resist and
smite my rage with ruin present a terrible alternative.
There is need, son of Menoeceus, to take good counsel.
What ought I to do, then? Tell me. I will obey.
Go, release the maiden from the cavernous room,1100
and build a tomb for the one lying forth.
You advise this? It is best for me to yield?
As quickly as possible, lord, the gods' swift-footed
Harms cut short those who think badly.(123)
Ah me! it is hard, but I abandon my heart to do it. 1105
A vain battle must not be waged against necessity.
Go, and do these things. Do not entrust them to others.
I should go just as I am. Come, come, servants,
both those present and those not present. Take up
axes, and rush to the place in plain sight.(124) 1110
Since my opinion turns around in this direction,
I bound her myself, and I will go there and release her.
For I fear that it is best for one to end
his life preserving the established customs.