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ANTIGONE and ISMENE before the Palace gates.

ANTIGONE Ismene, sister of my blood and heart, See'st thou how Zeus would in our lives fulfill The weird of Oedipus, a world of woes! For what of pain, affliction, outrage, shame, Is lacking in our fortunes, thine and mine? And now this proclamation of today Made by our Captain-General to the State, What can its purport be? Didst hear and heed, Or art thou deaf when friends are banned as foes?

ISMENE To me, Antigone, no word of friends Has come, or glad or grievous, since we twain Were reft of our two brethren in one day By double fratricide; and since i' the night Our Argive leaguers fled, no later news Has reached me, to inspirit or deject.

ANTIGONE I know 'twas so, and therefore summoned thee Beyond the gates to breathe it in thine ear.

ISMENE What is it? Some dark secret stirs thy breast.

ANTIGONE What but the thought of our two brothers dead, The one by Creon graced with funeral rites, The other disappointed? Eteocles He hath consigned to earth (as fame reports) With obsequies that use and wont ordain, So gracing him among the dead below. But Polyneices, a dishonored corse, (So by report the royal edict runs) No man may bury him or make lament-- Must leave him tombless and unwept, a feast For kites to scent afar and swoop upon. Such is the edict (if report speak true) Of Creon, our most noble Creon, aimed At thee and me, aye me too; and anon He will be here to promulgate, for such As have not heard, his mandate; 'tis in sooth No passing humor, for the edict says Whoe'er transgresses shall be stoned to death. So stands it with us; now 'tis thine to show If thou art worthy of thy blood or base.

ISMENE But how, my rash, fond sister, in such case Can I do anything to make or mar?

ANTIGONE Say, wilt thou aid me and abet? Decide.

ISMENE In what bold venture? What is in thy thought?

ANTIGONE Lend me a hand to bear the corpse away.

ISMENE What, bury him despite the interdict?

ANTIGONE My brother, and, though thou deny him, thine No man shall say that I betrayed a brother.

ISMENE Wilt thou persist, though Creon has forbid?

ANTIGONE What right has he to keep me from my own?

ISMENE Bethink thee, sister, of our father's fate, Abhorred, dishonored, self-convinced of sin, Blinded, himself his executioner. Think of his mother-wife (ill sorted names) Done by a noose herself had twined to death And last, our hapless brethren in one day, Both in a mutual destiny involved, Self-slaughtered, both the slayer and the slain. Bethink thee, sister, we are left alone; Shall we not perish wretchedest of all, If in defiance of the law we cross A monarch's will?--weak women, think of that, Not framed by nature to contend with men. Remember this too that the stronger rules; We must obey his orders, these or worse. Therefore I plead compulsion and entreat The dead to pardon. I perforce obey The powers that be. 'Tis foolishness, I ween, To overstep in aught the golden mean.

ANTIGONE I urge no more; nay, wert thou willing still, I would not welcome such a fellowship. Go thine own way; myself will bury him. How sweet to die in such employ, to rest,-- Sister and brother linked in love's embrace-- A sinless sinner, banned awhile on earth, But by the dead commended; and with them I shall abide for ever. As for thee, Scorn, if thou wilt, the eternal laws of Heaven.

ISMENE I scorn them not, but to defy the State Or break her ordinance I have no skill.

ANTIGONE A specious pretext. I will go alone To lap my dearest brother in the grave.

ISMENE My poor, fond sister, how I fear for thee!

ANTIGONE O waste no fears on me; look to thyself.

ISMENE At least let no man know of thine intent, But keep it close and secret, as will I.

ANTIGONE O tell it, sister; I shall hate thee more If thou proclaim it not to all the town.

ISMENE Thou hast a fiery soul for numbing work.

ANTIGONE I pleasure those whom I would liefest please.

ISMENE If thou succeed; but thou art doomed to fail.

ANTIGONE When strength shall fail me, yes, but not before.

ISMENE But, if the venture's hopeless, why essay?

ANTIGONE Sister, forbear, or I shall hate thee soon, And the dead man will hate thee too, with cause. Say I am mad and give my madness rein To wreck itself; the worst that can befall Is but to die an honorable death.

ISMENE Have thine own way then; 'tis a mad endeavor, Yet to thy lovers thou art dear as ever. [Exeunt]

CHORUS (Str. 1) Sunbeam, of all that ever dawn upon Our seven-gated Thebes the brightest ray, O eye of golden day, How fair thy light o'er Dirce's fountain shone, Speeding upon their headlong homeward course, Far quicker than they came, the Argive force; Putting to flight The argent shields, the host with scutcheons white. Against our land the proud invader came To vindicate fell Polyneices' claim. Like to an eagle swooping low, On pinions white as new fall'n snow. With clanging scream, a horsetail plume his crest, The aspiring lord of Argos onward pressed.

(Ant. 1) Hovering around our city walls he waits, His spearmen raven at our seven gates. But ere a torch our crown of towers could burn, Ere they had tasted of our blood, they turn Forced by the Dragon; in their rear The din of Ares panic-struck they hear. For Zeus who hates the braggart's boast Beheld that gold-bespangled host; As at the goal the paean they upraise, He struck them with his forked lightning blaze.

(Str. 2) To earthy from earth rebounding, down he crashed; The fire-brand from his impious hand was dashed, As like a Bacchic reveler on he came, Outbreathing hate and flame, And tottered. Elsewhere in the field, Here, there, great Area like a war-horse wheeled; Beneath his car down thrust Our foemen bit the dust.

Seven captains at our seven gates Thundered; for each a champion waits, Each left behind his armor bright, Trophy for Zeus who turns the fight; Save two alone, that ill-starred pair One mother to one father bare, Who lance in rest, one 'gainst the other Drave, and both perished, brother slain by brother.

(Ant. 2) Now Victory to Thebes returns again And smiles upon her chariot-circled plain. Now let feast and festal should Memories of war blot out. Let us to the temples throng, Dance and sing the live night long. God of Thebes, lead thou the round. Bacchus, shaker of the ground! Let us end our revels here; Lo! Creon our new lord draws near, Crowned by this strange chance, our king. What, I marvel, pondering? Why this summons? Wherefore call Us, his elders, one and all, Bidding us with him debate, On some grave concern of State?

[Enter CREON]

CREON Elders, the gods have righted one again Our storm-tossed ship of state, now safe in port. But you by special summons I convened As my most trusted councilors; first, because I knew you loyal to Laius of old; Again, when Oedipus restored our State, Both while he ruled and when his rule was o'er, Ye still were constant to the royal line. Now that his two sons perished in one day, Brother by brother murderously slain, By right of kinship to the Princes dead, I claim and hold the throne and sovereignty. Yet 'tis no easy matter to discern The temper of a man, his mind and will, Till he be proved by exercise of power; And in my case, if one who reigns supreme Swerve from the highest policy, tongue-tied By fear of consequence, that man I hold, And ever held, the basest of the base. And I contemn the man who sets his friend Before his country. For myself, I call To witness Zeus, whose eyes are everywhere, If I perceive some mischievous design To sap the State, I will not hold my tongue; Nor would I reckon as my private friend A public foe, well knowing that the State Is the good ship that holds our fortunes all: Farewell to friendship, if she suffers wreck. Such is the policy by which I seek To serve the Commons and conformably I have proclaimed an edict as concerns The sons of Oedipus; Eteocles Who in his country's battle fought and fell, The foremost champion--duly bury him With all observances and ceremonies That are the guerdon of the heroic dead. But for the miscreant exile who returned Minded in flames and ashes to blot out His father's city and his father's gods, And glut his vengeance with his kinsmen's blood, Or drag them captive at his chariot wheels-- For Polyneices 'tis ordained that none Shall give him burial or make mourn for him, But leave his corpse unburied, to be meat For dogs and carrion crows, a ghastly sight. So am I purposed; never by my will Shall miscreants take precedence of true men, But all good patriots, alive or dead, Shall be by me preferred and honored.

CHORUS Son of Menoeceus, thus thou will'st to deal With him who loathed and him who loved our State. Thy word is law; thou canst dispose of us The living, as thou will'st, as of the dead.

CREON See then ye execute what I ordain.

CHORUS On younger shoulders lay this grievous charge.

CREON Fear not, I've posted guards to watch the corpse.

CHORUS What further duty would'st thou lay on us?

CREON Not to connive at disobedience.

CHORUS No man is mad enough to court his death.

CREON The penalty is death: yet hope of gain Hath lured men to their ruin oftentimes.

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