Oedipus the King
Sophocles (c. 420 BCE)
This translation, which has been prepared by Ian Johnston of
Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC, is in the public
domain and may be used, in whole or in part, without permission
and without charge, provided the source is acknowledged—
released August 2004.
The translator would like to acknowledge the invaluable help
provided by Sir Richard Jebb’s translation and commentary.
Sophocles (495 BC-405 BC) was a famous and successful
Athenian writer of tragedies in his own lifetime. Of his 120 plays,
only 7 have survived. Oedipus the King, also called Oedipus
Tyrannos or Oedipus Rex, written around 420 BC, has long been
regarded not only as his finest play but also as the purest and
most powerful expression of Greek tragic drama.
Oedipus, a stranger to Thebes, became king of the city after the
murder of king Laius, about fifteen or sixteen years before the
start of the play. He was offered the throne because he was
successful in saving the city from the Sphinx, an event referred to
repeatedly in the text of the play. He married Laius’ widow,
Jocasta, and had four children with her, two sons, Eteocles and
Polyneices, and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene.
OEDIPUS: king of Thebes
PRIEST: the high priest of Thebes
CREON: Oedipus’ brother-in-law
CHORUS of Theban elders
TEIRESIAS: an old blind prophet
BOY: attendant on Teiresias
JOCASTA: wife of Oedipus, sister of Creon
MESSENGER: an old man
SERVANT: an old shepherd
SECOND MESSENGER: a servant of Oedipus
ANTIGONE: daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, a child
ISMENE: daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, a child
SERVANTS and ATTENDANTS on Oedipus and Jocasta
! Sophocles – Oedipus the King! 1
(CC) BY-NC-SA, Ian Johnston 2004
how, with gods’ help, you gave us back our lives.
So now, Oedipus, our king, most powerful
in all men’s eyes, we’re here as suppliants,
all begging you to find some help for us,
either by listening to a heavenly voice,
or learning from some other human being. ” 50
For, in my view, men of experience
provide advice which gives the best results.
So now, you best of men, raise up our state.
Act to consolidate your fame, for now,
thanks to your eagerness in earlier days,
the city celebrates you as its saviour.
Don’t let our memory of your ruling here
declare that we were first set right again,
and later fell. No. Restore our city,
so that it stands secure. In those times past ” 60
you brought us joy—and with good omens, too.
Be that same man today. If you’re to rule
as you are doing now, it’s better to be king
in a land of men than in a desert.
An empty ship or city wall is nothing
if no men share your life together there.
OEDIPUS: My poor children, I know why you have come—
I am not ignorant of what you yearn for.
For I well know that you are ill, and yet,
sick as you are, there is not one of you ” 70
whose illness equals mine. Your agony
comes to each one of you as his alone,
a special pain for him and no one else.
But the soul inside me sorrows for myself,
and for the city, and for you—all together.
You are not rousing me from a deep sleep.
You must know I’ve been shedding many tears
and, in my wandering thoughts, exploring
many pathways. After a careful search
I followed up the one thing I could find ” 80
and acted on it. So I have sent away
my brother-in-law, son of Menoeceus,
Creon, to Pythian Apollo’s shrine,
to learn from him what I might do or say
to save our city. But when I count the days—
the time he’s been away—I now worry
what he’s doing. For he’s been gone too long,
well past the time he should have taken.
But when he comes, I’ll be a wicked man
if I do not act on all the god reveals. ” 90
PRIEST: What you have said is most appropriate,
for these men here have just informed me
that Creon is approaching.
OEDIPUS: Lord Apollo,
as he returns may fine shining fortune,
bright as his countenance, attend on him.
PRIEST: It seems the news he brings is good—if not,
he would not wear that wreath around his head,
a laurel thickly packed with berries.4
OEDIPUS: We’ll know soon enough—he’s within earshot.
[Enter CREON. OEDIPUS calls to him as he approaches]
! Sophocles – Oedipus the King! 3
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