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ETEOCLES [addressing the crowd]
You citizens of Cadmus, any man
who seeks to guard the fortunes of a state
and guide the city’s tiller from the stern
must never do so with his eyes asleep,
and words he utters must be to the point.
For if we should succeed, the credit goes
to gods above, but if—and I do hope
this never comes to pass—we have bad luck,
the name Eteocles would then become
a single shout repeated many times
by citizens in every part of Thebes,
as they cried out in discontent and grief.
May our Protector Zeus, for his name’s sake,
shield our Cadmean town from all such ills!
But now you men—and I mean those who still
have not reached full maturity and those
whom time has taken past their ﬁnest years
but yet whose ample bodies are still strong,
as well as those now in their prime of life,
as is quite reasonable—all you men
must help to save the city and the altars
of your country’s gods, so that for children
and their most cherished nurse, our mother earth,
the honours due to them are not destroyed.
For she was the one who took the trouble
to give you all your childish nourishment
when you were infants, still crawling around
on her muniﬁcent soil. She raised you
and trusted you to live in houses here
and carry shields, so you would stand by her
when she required your help. Up to this point,
Zeus has favoured us. We have been besieged,
but, thanks to the will of the gods, the city
has, for the most part, coped with war quite well.
But now the prophet tending ﬂocks of birds,
who with his ears and his intelligence
and his unerring skill interprets omens
his birds provide without the use of ﬁre,
this man, this master of such prophecies,
has told us that in their night assembly
Achaeans are now planning an assault,
their greatest yet, to overwhelm our city.
So all of you must move—and with all speed-
to battlements and gates within the walls.
Go there with all your armour, fully man
the parapets, take up your positions
on tower platforms, and then, once in place,
wait there bravely for the gates to open.
You need not fear this crowd of foreigners.
Zeus will take care that things work well for us.
I have sent out spies to scout their army,
men whom I trust to carry out the task.
When I hear from them, I will not be caught
by any tricks our enemies might try.
[The CITIZENS leave to take up their positions. Enter the MESSENGER, one of the scouts Eteocles has sent out]
Eteocles, great king of the Cadmeans,
I have come back here bearing a report
describing what I know about that force
outside our walls. I scouted them myself
and clearly witnessed how they moved around.
Seven of their leaders, mighty warriors,
slaughtered a bull on a shield dyed black with blood,
then plunged their hands into the creature’s gore,
and swore by Ares, Enyo, and Terror,
who delights in blood, that they would either seize
this city of Thebes, devastate the town,
and empty it, or sacriﬁce their lives
and have their own blood mingle with the soil.
And on Adrastus’ chariot they placed
some personal tokens, so their parents
could remember them in their own homes?
They shed some tears, but no word of sorrow
passed their lips, for their spirits of steel,
aﬂame with courage, panted like lions
with warfare in their eyes. No fear of theirs
will keep you waiting for the proof of this.
I left them casting lots, allowing chance
to organize how each of them would lead
his own contingent to a chosen gate.
So you should pick the bravest warriors
from all the soldiers here inside the city
and set them in position at the gates,
right at the entrances—and quickly, too.
For the Argive forces heavily armed
are already drawing near, stirring up
clouds of dust, and glittering drops of foam
from panting horses sparkle on the plain.
So like a careful helmsman on a ship,
you must secure the city, before the storm
from Ares strikes us like a hurricane.
For their army, a massive tidal wave,
now roars across dry land, and you must seize
as quickly as you can an opportunity
to save us. As for me, whatever happens,
my loyal eyes will still be vigilant.
You will get clear reports, so you will know
what is going on out there, beyond the gates,
and will remain secure.
Robert Emmet Meagher
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Sons of Cadmus, citizens of Thebes,
it falls to the man at the civic helm
to plot the people’s course,
to keep sleepless watch over their well-being,
and to find the words to meet the day’s demands.
Today, if all goes well for us, the credit goes to god.
But if what we pray against comes true,
“Eteocles” will be the only name sluiced through the city’s streets on tongues wild with despair.
From such a fate may Zeus, the one we call our Preserver,
prove to be so.
I summon you all,
no matter whether the full ﬂame of manhood
is something you still kindle or conserve or embody.
You must be a bulwark to your city and to the altars of its gods, lest their honors be obliterated.
You must champion too your children,
and the Earth, your Mother, whose milk is sweetest of all.
In the myriad chores of rearing you, she overlooked nothing,
while you but crawled over her soft embrace.
Now she has lifted you up to the stature of men
who build your homes and shield them with your lives.
She has made you equal in faithfulness to the challenge at hand.
Until now, god has leaned our way.
No matter the long seige,
in this war we have had the best of it.
The gods have seen to that.
But now the seer speaks
a prophecy of birds not ﬂames,
cries of truth
perceived and pondered with a skill that never lies.
This master of his art tells of an assault,
Run, all of you!
Take up your arms!
Mount the battlements!
Secure the gates!
Throng the parapets!
Station yourselves in the towers!
Bolster your spirits,
as you take your stand in every door of every gate.
And when you face their number and the fury,
control your terror.
God will see you through.
To track the enemy’s every move,
I have sent out scouts and spies,
who will not betray my trust in them;
for their reports will be my guarantee
against whatever traps the foe may set.
Lord Eteocles, best of the Cadmeans,
I bring news,
intelligence regarding the enemy force.
I myself have seen everything I say.
Seven men—-commanders—ecstatic with rage,
slit a bull’s throat in sacriﬁce.
In a shield rimmed with iron,
they caught the bright blood jetting from the wound.
Then into the clotting gore they dipped their hands
and swore an oath to the hellish hag of war,
to hateful Ares, and his sanguinary son.
Either they will grind our city to powder,
filling their arms with its plunder
or they will spill out their lives
and make our land gulp their blood.
Their tears were the only sound they made
as they draped the battle-car of Adrastus
with tokens of remembrance,
bequeathed to mothers and fathers, standing in distant doorways, waiting.
Their virile hearts sent molten blood
coursing through their veins,
and their eyes burned with the glower of lions,
insatiate in slaughter.
No dread, no second-thoughts have cut my stride.
I come to you at once,
even as they draw lots, letting fate assign to each
the gate of his assault.
It is time to marshall at our gates the city’s best and boldest sons;
for the armored Argive host is on the move.
Even now their charging steeds spew the dust before our walls
with the froth of their approach.
Grip our city’s fate as you would a ship's wheel
and steer us through the shattering winds of war.
The enemy arches its back and roars across our plain
like a wave about to break.
You must stand against it, without a moment lost.
Meanwhile I will stand careful watch and keep you well-informed.
You will know from me
all there is to know out there, beyond our walls.
And, in here, that will make you safe.
Helen H. Bacon & Anthony Hecht
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Citizens, children of Kadmos,
whoever has charge of affairs in the stern of the ship,
holding the rudder, sleepless, unblinking,
must say what has got to be said.
If things go well for us, it's because of the god.
If, on the other hand,
a disaster should strike (which heaven forbid),
the moiling, the tidal groans, the sea-lamentation
would sound the name "Eteokles"
as wail and dirgc all through the city.
And I, Eteokles, alone the cause of weeping,
would be multiplied in the surge
and raving of all your voices,
and so prove fitly named
for the city of the Kadmeians.
May Zeus, Averter, forbid it.
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Clansmen of Cadmus, at the signal given
By time and season must the ruler speak
Who sets the course and steers the ship of State
With hand upon the tiller, and with eye
Watchful against the treachery of sleep.
For if all go aright, “thank Heaven," men say,
But if adverseIy—which may God forefend!—
ne name on many lips, from street to street,
Would bear the bruit and rumour of the time,
“Down with Eteocles!”-—a clamorous curse,
A dirge of ruin. May averting Zeus
Make good his title here, in Cadmus’ hold!
You it beseems now—boys unripened yet
To lusty manhood, men gone past the prime
And increase of the full begetting seed,
And those whom youth and manhood well combined
Array for action—all to rise in aid
Of city, shrines, and altars of all powers
Who guard our land; that ne’er, to end of time,
Be blotted out the sacred service due
To our sweet mother-land and to her brood.
For she it was who to their guest-right called
Your waxing youth, was patient of the toil,
And cherished you on the lands gracious lap,
Alike to plant the hearth and bear the shield
In loyal service, for an hour like this.
Mark now! until to-day, luck rules our scale;
For we, though long beleaguered, in the main
Have with our sallies struck the foemen hard.
But now the seer, the feeder of the birds,
(Whose art unerring and prophetic skill
Of ear and mind divines their utterance
Without the lore of ﬁre interpreted)
Foretelleth, by the mastery of his art,
That now an onset of Achaea’s host
Is by a council of the ni ht designed
To fall in double strengti upon our walls;
Up and away, then, to the battlements,
The gates, the bulwarks! don your panoplies,
Array you at the breast-work, take your stand
On ﬂoorings of the towers, and with good heart
Stand firm for sudden sallies at the gates,
Nor hold too heinous a respect for Hordes
Sent on you from afar: some god will guard!
I too, for shrewd espial of their camp,
Have sent forth scouts, and conﬁdence is mine
They will not fail nor tremble at their task,
And, with their news, I fear no foeman’s guile.
[Enter A SPY.]
Eteocles, high king of Cadmus’ folk,
I stand here with news certiﬁed and sure
From Argos’ camp, things by myself descried.
Seven warriors yonder, doughty chiefs of might,
Into the crimsoned concave of a shield
Have shed a buIl's blood, and, with hands immersed
Into the gore of sacrifice, have sworn
By Ares, lord of light, and by thy name,
Blood-lapping Terror, “Let our oath be heard-
Either to raze the walls, make void the hold
Of Cadmus—strive his children as they may-
Herbert Weir Smyth
The Loeb Classical Library translation.
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A large gathering of citizens of Thebes. Enter Eteocles with attendants.
Men of Cadmus's city, he who guards from the stern the concerns of the State and guides its helm with eyes untouched by sleep must speak to the point. For if we succeed, the responsibility is heaven's; but if—may it not happen—disaster is our lot, Eteocles would be the one name shouted many times throughout the city in the citizens' resounding uproars and laments. From these evils may Zeus the Defender, upholding his name, shield the city of the Cadmeans!
But now you—both he who is still short of his youthful prime, and he who, though past his prime, still strengthens the abundant growth of his body, and every man still in his prime, as is fitting—you must aid the State and the altars of your homeland's gods so that their honors may never be obliterated. You must aid, too, your children, and Mother Earth, your beloved nurse. For welcoming all the distress of your childhood, when you were young and crept upon her kind soil, she raised you to inhabit her and bear the shield, and to prove yourselves faithful in this time of need. And so, until today, God has been favorably inclined, for though we have long been under siege, the war has gone well for the most part through the gods' will. But now, as the seer, the herdsman of birds, informs us, using his ears and his mind to understand with unerring skill the prophetic birds unaided by sacrificial fire—he, master of such prophecy, declares that the greatest Argive attack is being planned in night assembly and that they will make plans to capture our city. Hurry each of you to the battlements and the gates of our towered walls! Rush with all your armor! Fill the parapets and take your positions on the platforms of the towers. Stand your ground bravely where the gates open out, and do not be afraid of this crowd of foreigners. God will bring it to a good end.
I myself have dispatched scouts and men to observe their army, and I am confident that their going is not in vain. Once I have heard their report, I will not be taken by any trickery.
Eteocles, mighty prince of the Cadmeans, I have returned with a sure report of the army outside the walls; I myself am an eyewitness of their actions. Seven warriors, fierce regiment-commanders, slaughtered a bull over a black shield, and then touching the bull's gore with their hands they swore an oath by Ares, by Enyo,1 and by Rout who delights in blood, that either they will level the city and sack the Cadmeans' town by force, or will in death smear this soil with their blood. And on Adrastus' chariot they were placing remembrances of themselves for their parents at home, and were shedding tears while so doing, but no piteous wailing escaped their lips. For their iron- hearted spirit heaved, blazing with courage, as of lions with war in their eyes. Your knowledge of these things was not delayed by fearfulness; for I left them casting lots to decide how each commander, his post assigned by chance, would lead his regiment against the gates. Therefore, choose the bravest men of the city and station them quickly at the outlets of the gates. For nearby already the Argive army in full armor is advancing in a flurry of dust, and glistening foam splatters the plain in drops from the horses' pantings. So you, like the careful helmsman of a ship, secure the city before Ares' blasts storm down upon it; for the wave of their army now crashes over the dry land. Seize the first opportune moment for doing this. For all else, I, on my part, will keep a reliable eye on the lookout, and you, by learning from my certain report what happens beyond the gates, shall remain unharmed.
O Zeus and Earth, and gods that guard our city, and Curse,2 potent agent of my father's vengeance, do not destroy my city, ripping it up from its foundations, captive of the enemy, a city that speaks in Greece's tongue, and do not destroy our hearths and homes. May they never hold the free land and city of Cadmus beneath the yoke of slavery! Be our protection! I am certain that what I ask is in our common interest; for a State that prospers pays honors to its gods.
Exit Eteocles, with citizens. The Chorus enters in fearful agitation.
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The Acropolis of Thebes
Citizens of Cadmus! it is fitting that he should speak things seasonable who has the care of affairs on the poop of a state, managing the helm, not lulling his eyelids in slumber. For if we succeed, the gods are the cause; but if, on the other hand (which heaven forbid), mischance should befall, Eteocles alone would be much bruited through the city by the townsmen in strains clamorous and in wailings, of which may Jove prove rightly called the Averter to55 the city of the Cadmæans. And now it behooves you—both him who still falls short of youth in its prime, and him who in point of age has passed his youth, nurturing the ample vigor of his frame and each that is in his prime, as is best fitting—to succor the city, and the altars of your country's gods, so that their honors may never be obliterated; your children too, and your motherland, most beloved nurse; for she, taking fully on herself the whole trouble of your rearing, nurtured you when infants crawling on her kindly soil, for her trusty shield-bearing citizens, that ye might be [trusty] for this service. And, for the present indeed, up to this day, the deity inclines in our favor; since to us now all this time beleaguered the war for the most part, by divine allotment, turns out well. But now, as saith the seer, the feeder of birds, revolving in ear and thoughts, without the use of fire, the oracular birds with unerring art—he, lord of such divining powers, declares that the main Achæan assault is this night proclaimed, and [that the Achæans] attempt the city.
But haste ye all, both to the battlements and the gates of the tower works; On! in full panoply throng the breastworks, and take your stations on the platforms of the towers, and, making stand at the outlets of the gates, be of good heart, nor be over-dismayed at the rabble of the aliens; God will give a happy issue. Moreover, I have also dispatched scouts and observers of the army, who will not, I feel assured, loiter on their way; and when I have had intelligence from these, I shall, in no point, be surprised by stratagem.
—Most gallant Eteocles! sovereign of the Cadmæans, I have come bearing a clear account of the matters yonder, from the army; and I myself am eye-witness of the facts. For seven chieftains, impetuous leaders of battalions, cutting a bull's throat, over an iron-rimmed shield, and touching with their hands the gore of the bull, by oath have called to witness Mars, Enyo, and Terror, that delights in bloodshed, that either having wrought the demolition of our city they will make havoc of the town of the Cadmæans, or having fallen will steep this land of ours in gore. Memorials too of themselves, to their parents at home, were they with their hands hanging in festoons at the car of Adrastus, dropping a tear, but no sound of complaint passed their lips. For their iron-hearted spirit glowing with valor was panting, as of lions that glare battle. And the report of these my tidings is not retarded by sluggishness. But I left them in the very act of casting lots, that so each of them, obtaining his post by lot, might lead on his battalion to our gates. Wherefore do thou with all speed marshal at the outlets of the gates the bravest men, the chosen of our city; for already the host of Argives hard at hand armed cap-à-pié is in motion, is speeding onward, and white foam is staining the plain with its drippings from the lungs of their chargers. Do thou then, like the clever helmsman of a vessel, fence our city before the breath of Mars burst like a hurricane upon it, for the main-land billow of their host is roaring. And for these measures do thou seize the very earliest opportunity; for the sequel I will keep my eye a faithful watch by day, and thou, knowing from the clearness of my detail the movements of those without, shalt be unscathed.
O Jupiter! and earth! and ye tutelary deities! and thou Curse, the mighty Erinnys of my sire! do not, I pray, uproot with utter destruction from its very base, a prey to foemen, our city, which utters the language of Greece, and our native dwellings. Grant that they may never hold the free land and city of Cadmus in a yoke of slavery; but be ye our strength—nay, I trust that I am urging our common interests, for a state that is in prosperity honors the divinities.
I wail over our fearful, mighty woes! the army is let loose, having quitted its camp, a mighty mounted host is streaming hitherward in advance; the dust appearing high in the air convinces me, a voiceless, clear, true messenger; the noise of the clatter of their hoofs upon the plain, reaching even to our couches, approaches my ears, is wafted on, and is rumbling like a resistless torrent lashing the mountain-side. Alas! alas! oh gods and goddesses, avert the rising horror; the white-bucklered well-appointed host is rushing on with a shout on the other side our walls, speeding its way to the city. Who then will rescue us, who then of gods and goddesses will aid us? Shall I then prostrate myself before the statues of the divinities? Oh ye blessed beings, seated on your glorious thrones, 'tis high time for us to cling to your statues—why do we deeply sighing delay? Hear ye, or hear ye not, the clash of bucklers? When, if not now, shall we set about the orison of the peplus and chaplets? I perceive a din, a crash of no single spear. What wilt thou do? wilt thou, O Mars, ancient guardian of our soil, abandon thine own land? God of the golden helm, look upon, look upon the city which once thou didst hold well-beloved. Tutelary gods of our country, behold, behold this train of virgins suppliant to escape from slavery, for around our city a surge of men with waving crests is rippling, stirred by the blasts of Mars. But, O Jove, sire all-perfect! avert thoroughly from us capture by the foemen; for Argives are encircling the fortress of Cadmus; and I feel a dread of martial arms, and the bits which are fastened through the jaws of their horses are knelling slaughter. And seven leaders of the host, conspicuous in their spear-proof harness, are taking their stand at our seventh gate,103 assigned their posts by lot. Do thou too, O Jove-born power that delightest in battle, Pallas, become a savior to our city; and thou, equestrian monarch, sovereign of the main, with thy fish-smiting trident, O Neptune, grant a deliverance, a deliverance from our terrors. Do thou too, O Mars, alas! alas! guard the city which is named after Cadmus, and manifestly show thy care—and thou, Venus, the original mother of our race, avert [these ills]—for from thy blood are we sprung; calling on thee with heavenward orisons do we approach thee. And thou, Lycæan king, be thou fierce as a wolf to the hostile army, [moved] by the voice of our sighs. Thou too, virgin-daughter of Latona, deftly adorn thyself with thy bow, O beloved Diana. Ah! ah! ah! I hear the rumbling of cars around the city, O revered Juno, the naves of the heavy-laden axles creak, the air is maddened with the whizzing of javelins—what is our city undergoing? What will become of it? To what point is the deity conducting the issue? ah! ah! A shower of stones too from their slingers is coming over our battlements. O beloved Apollo! there is the clash of brass-rimmed shields at the gates, and the just issue in battle must be decided by arms according to the disposal of Jove. And thou Onca, immortal queen, that dwellest in front of our city, rescue thy seven-gated seat. O gods, all-potent to save, O ye gods and goddesses, perfect guardians of the towers of this land, abandon not our war-wasted city to an army of aliens. Listen to these virgins, listen to our all-just prayers, as is most right, to the orisons of virgins which are offered with out-stretched hands. O beloved divinities, hovering around our city as its deliverers, show how ye love it; give heed to our public rituals, and when ye give heed to them succor us, and be ye truly mindful, I beseech ye, of the rites of our city which abound in sacrifices.