Sophocles - Quotes

The European Graduate School EST. 1994

Ismene, sister, mine own dear sister, knowest thou what ill there is, of all bequeathed by Oedipus, that Zeus fulfils not for us twain while we live? Nothing painful is there, nothing fraught with ruin, no shame, no dishonour, that I have not seen in thy woes and mine. And now what new edict is this of which they tell, that our Captain hath just published to all Thebes? Knowest thou aught? Hast thou heard? Or is it hidden from thee that our friends are threatened with the doom of our foes?

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Antigone. 442 B.C.E.

Nay, we must remember, first, that we were born women, as who should not strive with men; next, that we are ruled of the stronger, so that we must obey in these things, and in things yet sorer. I, therefore, asking the Spirits Infernal to pardon, seeing that force is put on me herein, will hearken to our rulers. for 'tis witless to be over busy.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Antigone. 442 B.C.E.

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.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Antigone. 442 B.C.E.

Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man; the power that crosses the white sea, driven by the stormy south-wind, making a path under surges that threaten to engulf him; and Earth, the eldest of the gods, the immortal, the unwearied, doth he wear, turning the soil with the offspring of horses, as the ploughs go to and fro from year to year.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Antigone. 442 B.C.E.

And the light-hearted race of birds, and the tribes of savage beasts, and the sea-brood of the deep, he snares in the meshes of his woven toils, he leads captive, man excellent in wit. And he masters by his arts the beast whose lair is in the wilds, who roams the hills; he tames the horse of shaggy mane, he puts the yoke upon its neck, he tames the tireless mountain bull.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Antigone. 442 B.C.E.

And speech, and wind-swift thought, and all the moods that mould a state, hath he taught himself; and how to flee the arrows of the frost, when 'tis hard lodging under the clear sky, and the arrows of the rushing rain; yea, he hath resource for all; without resource he meets nothing that must come: only against Death shall he call for aid in vain; but from baffling maladies he hath devised escapes.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Antigone. 442 B.C.E.

Cunning beyond fancy's dream is the fertile skill which brings him, now to evil, now to good. When he honours the laws of the land, and that justice which he hath sworn by the gods to uphold, proudly stands his city: no city hath he who, for his rashness, dwells with sin. Never may he share my hearth, never think my thoughts, who doth these things!

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Antigone. 442 B.C.E.

Blest are they whose days have not tasted of evil. For when a house hath once been shaken from heaven, there the curse fails nevermore, passing from life to life of the race; even as, when the surge is driven over the darkness of the deep by the fierce breath of Thracian sea-winds, it rolls up the black sand from the depths, and there is sullen roar from wind-vexed headlands that front the blows of the storm.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Antigone. 442 B.C.E.

Father, the gods implant reason in men, the highest of all things that we call our own. Not mine the skill-far from me be the quest!-to say wherein thou speakest not aright; and yet another man, too, might have some useful thought.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Antigone. 442 B.C.E.

Love, unconquered in the fight, Love, who makest havoc of wealth, who keepest thy vigil on the soft cheek of a maiden; thou roamest over the sea, and among the homes of dwellers in the wilds; no immortal can escape thee, nor any among men whose life is for a day; and he to whom thou hast come is mad.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Antigone. 442 B.C.E.

Son of Laertes, ever do I behold thee

Scheming to snatch some vantage o'er thy foes.

And now among the tents that guard the ships

Of Ajax, camped at the army's outmost verge,

Long have I watched thee hunting in his trail,

And scanning his fresh prints, to learn if now

He be within or forth. Skilled in the chase

Thou seemest, as a keen-nosed Spartan hound.

For the man but now has passed within, his face

And slaughterous hands streaming with sweat and blood.

No further need for thee to peer about

Inside these doors. But say what eager quest

Is thine, that I who know may give thee light.

Sophocles and R. C. Trevelyan (Translator). Ajax. 440 B.C.E.

Voice of Athena, dearest of Gods to me,

How clearly, though thou be invisible,

Do I hear thy call, and seize it with my soul,

As when a bronze-mouthed Tyrrhene trumpet sounds!

Rightly thou judgest that on a foe's trail,

Broad-shielded Ajax, I range to and fro.

Him, and no other, I have long been tracking.

This very night against us he has wrought

A deed incredible, if in truth 'tis he.

For we know nothing sure, but drift in doubt.

Gladly I assumed the burden of this task.

For not long since we found that our whole spoil

Had been destroyed, both herds and flocks, slaughtered

By some man's hand, their guardians dead beside them.

Now 'tis on him that all men lay this guilt:

And a scout who had seen him swiftly bounding

Across the plain alone with reeking sword,

Informed me and bore witness. I forthwith,

Darting in hot chase, now pick out his tracks,

But now, bewildered, know not whose they are.

Timely thou comest. As in past days, so

In days to come I am guided by thy hand.

Sophocles and R. C. Trevelyan (Translator). Ajax. 440 B.C.E.

'Twas I restrained him, casting on his eyes

O'ermastering notions of that baneful ecstasy,

That turned his rage on flocks and mingled droves

Of booty yet unshared, guarded by herdsmen.

Then plunging amid the thronging horns he slew,

Smiting on all sides; and one while he fancied

The Atreidae were the captives he was slaughtering,

Now 'twas some other chief on whom he fell.

And I, while thus he raved in maniac throes,

Urged him on, drove him into the baleful toils.

Thereafter, when he had wearied of such labours,

He bound with thongs such oxen as yet lived,

With all the sheep, and drove them to his tents,

As though his spoil were men, not horned cattle.

Now lashed together in the hut he tortures them.

But to thee too will I expose this madness,

That seeing thou mayst proclaim it to all the Greeks.

Boldly await him here, nor apprehend

Mischance; for I will turn aside his eyes,

Foiling his vision lest he see thy face.

Sophocles and R. C. Trevelyan (Translator). Ajax. 440 B.C.E.

Warned therefore by his fate, never do thou

Thyself utter proud words against the gods;

Nor swell with insolence, if thou shouldst vanquish

Some rival by main strength or by wealth's power.

For a day can bring all mortal greatness low,

And a day can lift it up. But the gods love

The wise of heart, the froward they abhor.

Sophocles and R. C. Trevelyan (Translator). Ajax. 440 B.C.E.

Son of Telamon, lord of Salamis' isle,

On its wave-washed throne mid the breaking sea,

I rejoice when fair are thy fortunes:

But whene'er thou art smitten by the stroke of Zeus,

Or the vehement blame of the fierce-tongued Greeks,

Then sore am I grieved, and for fear I quake,

As a fluttering dove with a scared eye.

Even so by rumour murmuring loud

Of the night late-spent our ears are assailed.

Sophocles and R. C. Trevelyan (Translator). Ajax. 440 B.C.E.

Aiai! Who ever would have thought my name

Would harmonise so aptly with my woes?

For now well may I wail that sound out twice,

Yea thrice; such woeful destinies are mine,

Whose father from this land of Ida won

Fame's noblest guerdon over the whole host,

And crowned with praises only sailed back home;

But I, his son, who to the self-same Troy

Came after him, in might no less than he,

Nor rendering meaner service by my deeds,

Dishonoured by the Argives perish thus.

Sophocles and R. C. Trevelyan (Translator). Ajax. 440 B.C.E.

For 'tis base for a man to crave long life

Who endures never-varying misery.

What joy can be in day that follows day,

Bringing us close then snatching us from death?

As of no worth would I esteem that man

Who warms himself with unsubstantial hopes.

Nobly to live, or else nobly to die

Befits proud birth. There is no more to say.

Sophocles and R. C. Trevelyan (Translator). Ajax. 440 B.C.E.

O take thought for me too. Do we not owe

Remembrance, where we have met with any joy?

For kindness begets kindness evermore

But he who from whose mind fades the memory

Of benefits, noble is he no more.

Sophocles and R. C. Trevelyan (Translator). Ajax. 440 B.C.E.

All things the long and countless lapse of time

Brings forth displays, then hides once more in gloom.

Nought is too strange to look for; but the event

May mock the sternest oath, the firmest will.

Thus I, who late so strong, so stubborn seemed

Like iron dipped, yet now grow soft with pity

Before this woman, whom I am loath to leave

Midst foes a widow with this orphaned child.

But I will seek the meadows by the shore:

There will I wash and purge these stains, if so

I may appease Athena's heavy wrath.

Then will I find some lonely place, where I

May hide this sword, beyond all others cursed,

Buried where none may see it, deep in earth.

May night and Hades keep it there below.

Sophocles and R. C. Trevelyan (Translator). Ajax. 440 B.C.E.

O sunlight! O thou hallowed soil, my own

Salamis, stablished seat of my sire's hearth,

And famous Athens, with thy kindred race,

And you, ye springs and streams, and Trojan plains,

Farewell, all ye who have sustained my life.

This is the last word Ajax speaks to you.

All else in Hades to the dead will I say.

Sophocles and R. C. Trevelyan (Translator). Ajax. 440 B.C.E.

My children, latest born to Cadmus old,

Why sit ye here as suppliants, in your hands

Branches of olive filleted with wool?

What means this reek of incense everywhere,

And everywhere laments and litanies?

Children, it were not meet that I should learn

From others, and am hither come, myself,

I Oedipus, your world-renowned king.

Ho! aged sire, whose venerable locks

Proclaim thee spokesman of this company,

Explain your mood and purport. Is it dread

Of ill that moves you or a boon ye crave?

My zeal in your behalf ye cannot doubt;

Ruthless indeed were I and obdurate

If such petitioners as you I spurned.

Sophocles and F. Storr (Translator). Oedipus The King. 429 B.C.E.

Therefore, O King, here at thy hearth we sit,

I and these children; not as deeming thee

A new divinity, but the

first of men;

First in the common accidents of life,

And first in visitations of the Gods.

Art thou not he who coming to the town

Of Cadmus freed us from the tax we paid

To the fell songstress? Nor hadst thou received

Prompting from us or been by others schooled;

No, by a god inspired (so all men deem,

And testify) didst thou renew our life.

And now, O Oedipus, our peerless king,

All we thy votaries beseech thee, find

Some succor, whether by a voice from heaven

Whispered, or haply known by human wit.

Tried counselors, methinks, are aptest found

To furnish for the future pregnant rede.

Upraise, O chief of men, upraise our State!

Look to thy laurels! for thy zeal of yore

Our country's savior thou art justly hailed:

O never may we thus record thy reign:--

"He raised us up only to cast us down."

Uplift us, build our city on a rock.

Thy happy star ascendant brought us luck,

O let it not decline! If thou wouldst rule

This land, as now thou reignest, better sure

To rule a peopled than a desert realm.

Nor battlements nor galleys aught avail,

If men to man and guards to guard them tail.

Sophocles and F. Storr (Translator). Oedipus The King. 429 B.C.E.

O wealth and empiry and skill by skill

Outwitted in the battlefield of life,

What spite and envy follow in your train!

See, for this crown the State conferred on me.

A gift, a thing I sought not, for this crown

The trusty Creon, my familiar friend,

Hath lain in wait to oust me and suborned

This mountebank, this juggling charlatan,

This tricksy beggar-priest, for gain alone

Keen-eyed, but in his proper art stone-blind.

Say, sirrah, hast thou ever proved thyself

A prophet? When the riddling Sphinx was here

Why hadst thou no deliverance for this folk?

And yet the riddle was not to be solved

By guess-work but required the prophet's art;

Wherein thou wast found lacking; neither birds

Nor sign from heaven helped thee, but I came,

The simple Oedipus; I stopped her mouth

By mother wit, untaught of auguries.

This is the man whom thou wouldst undermine,

In hope to reign with Creon in my stead.

Methinks that thou and thine abettor soon

Will rue your plot to drive the scapegoat out.

Thank thy grey hairs that thou hast still to learn

What chastisement such arrogance deserves.

Sophocles and F. Storr (Translator). Oedipus The King. 429 B.C.E.

Not so, if thou wouldst reason with thyself,

As I with myself. First, I bid thee think,

Would any mortal choose a troubled reign

Of terrors rather than secure repose,

If the same power were given him? As for me,

I have no natural craving for the name

Of king, preferring to do kingly deeds,

And so thinks every sober-minded man.

Now all my needs are satisfied through thee,

And I have naught to fear; but were I king,

My acts would oft run counter to my will.

Sophocles and F. Storr (Translator). Oedipus The King. 429 B.C.E.

But O condemn me not, without appeal,

On bare suspicion. 'Tis not right to adjudge

Bad men at random good, or good men bad.

I would as lief a man should cast away

The thing he counts most precious, his own life,

As spurn a true friend. Thou wilt learn in time

The truth, for time alone reveals the just;

A villain is detected in a day.

Sophocles and F. Storr (Translator). Oedipus The King. 429 B.C.E.

When with swift strides the stealthy plotter stalks

I must be quick too with my counterplot.

To wait his onset passively, for him

Is sure success, for me assured defeat.

Sophocles and F. Storr (Translator). Oedipus The King. 429 B.C.E.

O woe is me! Mehtinks unwittingly

I laid but now a dread curse on myself.

Sophocles and F. Storr (Translator). Oedipus The King. 429 B.C.E.

If one should say, this is the handiwork

Of some inhuman power, who could blame

His judgment? But, ye pure and awful gods,

Forbid, forbid that I should see that day!

May I be blotted out from living men

Ere such a plague spot set on me its brand!

Sophocles and F. Storr (Translator). Oedipus The King. 429 B.C.E.

My lot be still to lead

The life of innocence and fly

Irreverence in word or deed,

To follow still those laws ordained on high

Whose birthplace is the bright ethereal sky

No mortal birth they own,

Olympus their progenitor alone:

Ne'er shall they slumber in oblivion cold,

The god in them is strong and grows not old.

Sophocles and F. Storr (Translator). Oedipus The King. 429 B.C.E.

My lords, ye look amazed to see your queen

With wreaths and gifts of incense in her hands.

I had a mind to visit the high shrines,

For Oedipus is overwrought, alarmed

With terrors manifold. He will not use

His past experience, like a man of sense,

To judge the present need, but lends an ear

To any croaker if he augurs ill.

Since then my counsels naught avail, I turn

To thee, our present help in time of trouble,

Apollo, Lord Lycean, and to thee

My prayers and supplications here I bring.

Lighten us, lord, and cleanse us from this curse!

For now we all are cowed like mariners

Who see their helmsman dumbstruck in the storm.

Sophocles and F. Storr (Translator). Oedipus The King. 429 B.C.E.

Out on it, lady! why should one regard

The Pythian hearth or birds that scream i' the air?

Did they not point at me as doomed to slay

My father? but he's dead and in his grave

And here am I who ne'er unsheathed a sword;

Unless the longing for his absent son

Killed him and so I slew him in a sense.

But, as they stand, the oracles are dead--

Dust, ashes, nothing, dead as Polybus.

Sophocles and F. Storr (Translator). Oedipus The King. 429 B.C.E.

Why should a mortal man, the sport of chance,

With no assured foreknowledge, be afraid?

Best live a careless life from hand to mouth.

This wedlock with thy mother fear not thou.

How oft it chances that in dreams a man

Has wed his mother! He who least regards

Such brainsick phantasies lives most at ease.

Sophocles and F. Storr (Translator). Oedipus The King. 429 B.C.E.

Let the storm burst, my fixed resolve still holds,

To learn my lineage, be it ne'er so low.

It may be she with all a woman's pride

Thinks scorn of my base parentage. But I

Who rank myself as Fortune's favorite child,

The giver of good gifts, shall not be shamed.

She is my mother and the changing moons

My brethren, and with them I wax and wane.

Thus sprung why should I fear to trace my birth?

Nothing can make me other than I am.

Sophocles and F. Storr (Translator). Oedipus The King. 429 B.C.E.

O thou pure sunlight, and thou air, earth's canopy, how often have ye heard the strains of my lament, the wild blows dealt against this bleeding breast, when dark night fails! And my wretched couch in yonder house of woe knows well, ere now, how I keep the watches of the night,- how often I bewail my hapless sire; to whom deadly Ares gave not of his gifts in a strange land, but my mother, and her mate Aegisthus, cleft his head with murderous axe, as woodmen fell an oak. And for this no plaint bursts from any lip save mine, when thou, my father, hath died a death so cruel and so piteous!

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Electra. 410 B.C.E.

But what measure is there in my wretchedness? Say, how can it be right to neglect the dead? Was that impiety ever born in mortal? Never may I have praise of such; never when my lot is cast in pleasant places, may I cling to selfish ease, or dishonour my sire by restraining the wings of shrill lamentation! For if the hapless dead is to lie in dust and nothingness, while the slayers pay not with blood for blood, all regard for man, all fear of heaven, will vanish from the earth.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Electra. 410 B.C.E.

I am ashamed, my friends, if ye deem me too impatient for my oft complaining; but, since a hard constraint forces me to this, bear with me. How indeed could any woman of noble nature refrain, who saw the calamities of a father's house, as I see them by day and night continually, not fading, but in the summer of their strength? I, who, first, from the mother that bore me have found bitter enmity; next, in mine own home I dwell with my father's murderers; they rule over me, and with them it rests to give or to withhold what I need.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Electra. 410 B.C.E.

Does not this crown our miseries with cowardice? For tell me,- Or let me tell thee,- what I should gain by ceasing from these laments? Do not live?- miserably, I know, yet well enough for me. And I vex them, thus rendering honour to the dead, if pleasure can be felt in that world. But thou, who tellest me of thy hatred, hatest in word alone, while in deeds thou art with the slayers of thy sire. I, then, would never yield to them, though I were promised the gifts which now make thee proud; thine be the richly-spread table and the life of luxury. For me, be it food enough that I do not wound mine own conscience; I covet not such privilege as thine,- nor wouldst thou, wert thou wise. But now, when thou mightest be called daughter of the noblest father among men, be called the child of thy mother; so shall thy baseness be most widely seen, in betrayal of thy dead sire and of thy kindred.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Electra. 410 B.C.E.

If I am not an erring seer and one who fails in wisdom, justice, that hath sent the presage, will come, triumphant in her righteous strength,- will come ere long, my child, to avenge. There is courage in my heart, through those new tidings of the dream that breathes comfort. Not forgetful is thy sire, the lord of Hellas; not forgetful is the two-edged axe of bronze that struck the blow of old, and slew him with foul cruelty.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Electra. 410 B.C.E.

Henceforth I must be a slave again among those whom most I hate, my father's murderers. Is it not well with me? But never, at least, henceforward, will I enter the house to dwell with them; nay, at these gates I will lay me down, and here, without a friend, my days shall wither. Therefore, if any in the house be wroth, let them slay me; for 'tis a grace, if I die, but if I live, a pain; I desire life no more.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Electra. 410 B.C.E.

No generous soul deigns, by a base life, to cloud a fair repute, and leave a name inglorious; as thou, too, O my daughter, hast chosen to mourn all thy days with those that mourn, and hast spurned dishonour, that thou mightest win at once a twofold praise, as wise, and as the best of daughters.

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Electra. 410 B.C.E.

Ah, memorial of him whom I loved best on earth! Ah, Orestes, whose life hath no relic left save this,- how far from the hopes with which I sent thee forth is the manner in which I receive thee back! Now I carry thy poor dust in my hands; but thou wert radiant, my child, when I sped the forth from home! Would that I had yielded up my breath, ere, with these hands, I stole thee away, and sent thee to a strange land, and rescued the from death; that so thou mightest have been stricken down on that self-same day, and had thy portion in the tomb of thy sire!

Sophocles and R. C. Jebb (Translator). Electra. 410 B.C.E.


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