My children, last in the long line of Kadmos’ descendants,
Why have you gathered here before me?
What help do you want?
The whole city stinks of incense;
The whole city rings with chants and prayers.
So, my children, I, the one they call Oidipous,
Known the world over, thought I shouldn’t find out
Second-hand, but have come here to hear for myself.
You – old man – you look like someone who can speak
For the others – you tell me why you’re all here.
Are you frightened of something, or in need?
And of course I’ll listen: I’d be hard-hearted indeed if I didn’t pity such a petition as this.
Yes, Oidipous, ruler of my country,
You see how we who cluster round your altar
Are of all ages: there are some who’ve not long left the nest,
And others heavy with age – priests – I’m the priest of Zeus,
And these are the best of our young people.
The rest of the people are packed in the market,
Either at the two shrines of Athene,
Or where the river Ismenos speaks to us in the ashes.
They’re there because, as you can see,
Our city, like a ship in high seas, is
Unable to lift its prow, is sinking under waves of blood.
Our city’s dying: our crops fail,
Our cattle sicken; our women’s birthpangs
Bring no birth: the hateful god of plague
With his hot torch of fever has fallen on our land,
Emptied Thebes, and paid into Death’s account
Fat deposits of screams and shrieks.
Now, I’m not saying you’re a god, and neither are
These others, but we do think, when things are
Going bad, when we’ve fallen out with the gods,
We do think you’re the best of men.
When you came you released Thebes from the tax
We used to pay the Cruel Singer, and you did all this
Without help from us – we taught you nothing – but
By all accounts you saved our lives.
And now, great Oidipous, all of us here beg you,
Whether a god, or a man, has told you something,
We beg you to find a way of saving us.
(For people experienced in difficult decisions
Find something of interest even in disasters…)
Come, best of men! Save the city!
Come! Be on guard! Don’t forget we call you
Saviour, because of your passion in the past.