[Enter OEDIPUS wearing the Imperial purple wool mantle, embroidered with gold threads are worn over a toga and tied at the neck. He has on high-laced sandals. JOCASTA is with him. She is dressed in a diaphanous pastel tunic, stola, and palla, which is attached to a diadem. The effect is more flowing than transparent. She wears gold, jewels, and a diamond brooch. He wears a garland, sheathed sword and belt.]
This insufferable night is almost at its end. The morning sun begins to show its hesitant face. It drags itself out from behind some silent ominous cloud, and stares unwillingly at the sick earth below, bringing with it gloom instead of hope. Beneath it our streets and homes, our temples—all glutted with the plague. New heaps of dead spewed up everywhere, stiffening in the sickly morning light. The brightening day to reveal… all too soon… the carnage night has brought.
Before this evil plague besieged my city our people were happy. Now there is disaster everywhere. I don’t understand why the gods have done this to us. I stopped the hideous Sphinx. Answered the riddle. Destroyed her utterly. And for that… as custom required… I was made king and husband to you, their widowed Queen.
And now this stinking pestilence has struck a second time, spreading havoc throughout the land, making me think that… I may be—in some unknown way— responsible for this catastrophe.
I feel at this very moment, the Fates are planning some savage stroke against me. What else should I think when the blight that ravages Thebes seems only to spare me and those closest to me. For what punishment am I reserved that I remain unscathed amidst the devastation that lays waste to everything in its path?
The city is in ruins. No section of the populace has escaped its deadly touch. It is obvious that unknowingly I have sinned, or the gods would not wish to wreck my kingdom.
Look around you. Have you been outside? Beyond the palace nothing grows. The harvests stand ruined. Springs have dried up and turned to stinking pools that reek of death. The stench of rotting corpses is everywhere. There isn’t time any longer for a proper burial. Instead… pile upon pile of diseased bodies are heaped upon the funeral pyres and set ablaze. Tearless relatives watch their once loved families go up in billowing black smoke, wondering when they’ll be next.
It seems we all await the funeral pyre. I should pray for a quick, merciful death. I don’t want to survive to the last… the final witness to the end of Thebes.
I will yield, but prepare yourself, Oedipus.
Outside the city there is a dark ilex grove. In the center overshadowing the entire wood stands a mammoth cypress tree. Next to it lay two ancient oaks gnarled and crumbled with the scars of age. The blackberry laurel grows there. Through this undergrowth flows a freezing stream still untouched by the surrounding plague. Here the sun never shines. Adjacent to this flowing stream is a stinking slime pit slowly oozing its putrid contents into a muddy swamp not far away. It is to this secluded spot that Tiresias, Manto and the other priests
brought me. As soon as we arrived the incantations began, because here it is always dark.
A pit was dug and a funeral pyre securely placed within. Then Tiresias donned his black funereal robe and wreathed his snow-white hair with the poisonous yew. Black oxen and black sheep were driven live into the searing flames. The screams those animals made still sound in my ears. With horrific tones he called upon the spirits of the dead while pouring blood on the fire as it consumed the burning beasts. Then wine and milk he added to these libations.
His sightless eyes fixed steadily on the ground. Once more he called upon the earth to vomit up its buried dead. A tremor shook the ground beneath our feet. Trees began to bow, trunks suddenly split apart, and the whole forest seemed to quake.
'They hear me,' the old man shouted. And with that, the ground cracked open beneath the funeral pyre, and those charred, sacrificial beasts disappeared into some bottomless pit, some empty sickly void, and in their place stood the viper's brood. A horrible roar rose up from what seemed to be the very bowels of Hades as if Cerberus, that triple-headed hound of Hell, had angered at our intrusion.
I saw Plague, the killer of us all. Then the dreadful shrieks of Horror and blind Fury filled the air. There Grief stood, tearing at her hair. Disease, hardly able to stand at all,
stumbled forward. Age, bowed under its own small burden, looked around for a place to hide from Fear, menacing us with its frightful form. I saw each wretched creature.
The blood stopped still in my veins, and like a spike stuck into the earth, I could not move. Even Manto was stunned despite her knowledge of his divinations. Tiresias showed no fear. His blindness gave him bravery. He continued to invoke the insubstantial shapes of those departed.
And they came, shivering and crowding in the shelter of our grove. First to emerge was mighty Zethus with Amphion his despised twin. Amphion was still holding the very lyre whose music charmed the stones of Thebes. Behind him was his wife Niobe turned to stone, but somehow moving, trying vainly to gather up her children dead around her. Next came mad Agave, followed by the rout who tore their king to pieces. Pentheus was with them too, form no longer human, but arrogant as ever. One creature tried to remain unseen, but Tiresias pressed on, and many times summoned up that hidden specter until its face looked up and it was Laius. It was an awful sight! Blood. still gushing from his limbs, his hair matted with filth.
And then, like one deranged, he cursed this house. This is what he said:
'Murderous house of Cadmus, you will never stop slaughtering each other until the last of you is dead. It is not because the gods are angry that you are dying. You bring it on yourselves. Your plague has not been brought by the south wind's noxious scourge, but by a king who claims a throne as recompense for murder. But the worst crime of all is hers. Her belly swollen with unholy issue gotten there by incestuous rape! My country rots because this pretended king defiles his father's marriage-bed.
Violates the very womb that gave him birth. Begets from his own mother his own brothers and sisters. I shall destroy his house. I shall bring Erinys to this incestuous bond, And she will crack her whip and split this royal house of shame. I shall overturn and crumble it to dust. Set the sons to slaughtering each other Until not one of the blasphemous lineage remains.'
There is more. Perhaps you've heard enough.
[Once the stage is empty, CHORUS leaves his seat in the auditorium, dons his mask, walks to the stage
and again addresses the audience.]
Of all the fortuitous ornaments that surround us — our children, positions of honor,
wealth, a noble name, a beautiful wife, a multitude of friends — Each is dependent on the uncertain and capricious whims of Chance and Fate.
We and our beloved possessions are no more than borrowed furniture. Nothing has been given to us in perpetuity. Our stage has been furnished with rented properties to be promptly returned when suddenly recalled. And when we hand these playthings back, it should be done with grace and no complaint. For no one has a guarantee of immortality — or even longevity.
Whatever gifts of Fortune we may relish, we enjoy them by permission of the goddess from whom they came. Let us then embrace the gaiety of our children, and the company of our friends while we can, And in return… give them the pleasure of our society.
Drain every source of happiness while it lasts… without delay. This night is not to be depended upon. No! That is too great an assumption. This hour is not to be depended upon. This fragile life must someday end.
Take heed! We are pursued by those no longer living, entreating us to join them.
[He removes his mask, and returns to his seat in the audience.]