A monologue from the play by Euripides
NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from The Plays of Euripides in English, vol. ii. Trans. Shelley Dean Milman. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1922.
Believe me, O Eteocles my son,
Old age is not by wretchedness alone
Attended: more discreetly than rash youth
Experience speaks. Why dost thou woo ambition,
That most malignant goddess? O forbear!
For she’s a foe to justice, and hath entered
Full many a mansion, many a prosperous city,
Nor left them till in ruin she involves
All those who harbour her: yet this is she
On whom thou doat’st. ‘Twere better, O my son,
To cultivate equality, who joins
Friends, cities, heroes, in one steadfast league
For by the laws of nature, through the world
Equality was ‘stablished: but the wealthy
Finds in the poorer man a consant foe;
Hence bitter enmity derives its source.
Equality, among the human race,
Measures, and weights, and numbers hath ordained:
Both the dark orb of night and radiant sun
Their annual circuits equally perform;
Each, free from envy, to the other yields
Alternately; thus day and night afford
Their services to man. Yet wilt not thou
Be satisfied to keep an equal portion
Of these domains, and to thy brother give
His due. Where then is justice? Such respect
As sober reason disapproves, why pay’st thou
To empire, to oppression crowned with triumph?
To be a public spectacle thou deem’st
Were honourable. ‘Tis but empty pride.
When thou hast much already, why submit
To toils unnumbered? What’s superfluous wealth
But a mere name? Sufficient to the wise
Is competence: for man possesses naught
Which he can call his own. Though for a time
What bounty the indulgent gods bestow
We manage, they resume it at their will:
Unstable riches vanish in a day.
Should I to thee th’ alternative propose
Either to reign, or save thy native land,
Couldst thou reply that thou hadst rather reign?
But if he conquer, and the Argive spears
O’erpower the squadrons who from Cadmus spring,
Thou wilt behold Thebes taken, wilt behold
Our captive virgins ravished by the foe:
That empire which thou seek’st will prove the bane
Of thy loved country; yet thou still persist’st
In mischievous ambition’s wild career.
Thus far to thee. And now to you I speak,
O Polynices; favours most unwise
Are those Adrastus hath on you bestowed,
And with misjudging fury are you come
To spread dire havoc o’er your native land.
If you (which may the righteous gods avert!)
This city take, how will you rear the trophies
Of such a battle? How, when you have laid
Your country waste, th’ initiatory rites
Perform, and slay the victims? On the banks
Of Inachus displayed, with what inscription
Adorn the spoils–“From blazing Thebes these shields
Hath Polynices won, and to the gods
Devoted”? Never, O my son, through Greece
May you obtain such glory. But if you
Are vanquished and Eteocles prevail,
To Argos, leaving the ensanguined field
Strewn with unnumbered corses of the slain,
How can you flee for succour? ‘Twill be said
By some malignant tongue: “A curst alliance
Is this which, O Adrastus, thou hast formed:
We to the nuptials of one virgin owe
Our ruin.” You are hastening, O my son,
Into a twofold mischief: losing all
That you attempt, and causing your brave friends
To perish. O my sons, this wild excess
Of rage, with joint occurrence, lay aside.
By equal folly when two chiefs inspired
To battle rush, dire mischief must ensue.