A monologue from the play by Sophocles
NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from Greek Dramas. Ed. Bernadotte Perrin. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1904.
Sirs, the vessel of our state, after being tossed on wild waves, hath once more been safely steadied by the gods:
and ye, out of all the folk, have been called apart by my summons, because I knew, first of all, how true and constant was your reverence for the royal power of Laius;
how, again, when Oedipus was ruler of our land, and when he had perished, your steadfast loyalty still upheld their children.
Since, then, his sons have fallen in one day by a twofold doom–each smitten by the other, each stained with a brother’s blood–
I now possess the throne and all its powers, by nearness of kinship to the dead. No man can be fully known, in soul and spirit and mind,
until he hath been seen versed in rule and law-giving. For if any, being supreme guide of the state, cleaves not to the best counsels, but, through some fear,
keeps his lips locked, I hold, and have ever held, him most base; and if any makes a friend of more account than his fatherland,
that man hath no place in my regard. For I–be Zeus my witness, who sees all things always–would not be silent if I saw ruin, instead of safety, coming to the citizens;
nor would I ever deem the country’s foe a friend to myself; remembering this, that our country is the ship that bears us safe,
and that only while she prospers in our voyage can we make true friends. Such are the rules by which I guard this city’s greatness.
And in accord with them is the edict which I have now published to the folk touching the sons of Oedipus;
that Eteocles, who hath fallen fighting for our city, in all renown of arms, shall be entombed, and crowned with every rite that follows the noblest dead to their rest.
But for his brother, Polyneices–who came back from exile, and sought to consume utterly with fire the city of his fathers and the shrines of his fathers’ gods–
sought to taste of kindred blood, and to lead the remnant into slavery–touching this man,
it hath been proclaimed to our people that none shall grace him with sepulture or lament, but leave him unburied, a corpse for birds and dogs to eat, a ghastly sight of shame.