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.
Your prayers are heard: and if you will obey
Your king, and hearken to his words, you soon
Shall find relief; myself will heal your woes.
I was a stranger to the dreadful deed,
A stranger e’en to the report till now;
And yet without some traces of the crime
I should not urge this matter; therefore hear me.
I speak to all the citizens of Thebes,
Myself a citizen–observe me well:
If any know the murderer of Laius,
Let him reveal it; I command you all.
But if restrained by dread punishment
He hide the secret, let him fear no more;
For naught but exile shall attend the crime
Whene’er confessed; if by a foreign hand
The horrid deed was done, who points him out
Commands our thanks, and meets a sure reward;
But if there be who knows the murderer,
And yet conceals him from us, mark his fate,
Which here I do pronounce: Let none receive
Throughout my kingdom, none hold converse with him,
Nor offer prayer, nor sprinkle o’er his head
The sacred cup; let him be driven from all,
By all abandoned, and by all accursed,
For so the Delphic oracle declared;
And therefore to the gods I pay this duty
And to the dead. Oh! may the guilty wretch,
Whether alone, or by his impious friends
Assisted, he performed the horrid deed,
Denied the common benefits of Nature,
Wear out a painful life! And oh! if here,
Within my palace, I conceal the traitor,
On me and mine alight the vengeful curse!
To you, my people, I commit the care
Of this important business; ’tis my cause,
The cause of Heaven, and your expiring country.
E’en if the god had naught declared, to leave
This crime unexpiated were most ungrateful.
He was the best of kings, the best of men;
That sceptre now is mine which Laius bore;
His wife is mine; so would his children be
Did any live; and therefore I am bound,
E’en as he were my father, to revenge him.
Yes, I will try to find his murderer,
I owe it to the son of Labdacus,
To Polydorus, Cadmus, and the race
Of great Agenor. Oh! if yet there are,
Who will not join me in the pious deed,
From such may earth withhold her annual store,
And barren be their bed, their life most wretched,
And their death cruel as the pestilence
That wastes our city! But on you, my Thebans,
Who wish us fair success, may justice smile
Propitious, and the gods forever bless!