JEAN COCTEAU The Infernal Machine

The Infernal Machine

T ra n sla tio n b y C a rl W ild m a n
their captain
the queen, widow of Laius
T IRESIAS , a soothsayer, nearly blind
T H E P HAN T O M O F LAIU S , the dead king
AN U B IS, Egyptian God of
the Dead
son of Laius
CRE ON , brother of Jocasta
of Laius
AN T IG O N E , daughter of Oedipus
“He will kill his father. He will marry his mother.”
To thwart this oracle of Apollo, Jocasta, Queen of Thebes,
leaves her son on the mountainside with his feet pierced and
bound. A shepherd of Corinth finds the nursling and carries it
to Polybius. Polybius and Merope, king and queen of Corinth,
were bemoaning a sterile marriage. The child, Oedipus or
Pierced-feet, respected by bears and wolves, is to them a
heaven-sent gift. They adopt him.
When a young man, Oedipus questions the oracle of Delphi.
The god speaks: You will murder your father and marry your
mother. He must therefore fly from Polybius and Merope. The
fear of patricide and incest drives him on towards his fate.
One evening, arriving at the cross-roads of Delphi and Daulis,
he meets an escort. A horse jostles him; a quarrel starts; a
servant threatens him; he replies with a blow from his stick.
The blow misses the servant and kills the master. This dead
man is Laius, the old king of Thebes. Patricide!
The escort, fearing an ambush, took to its heels. Oedipus,
unsuspecting, passed on. Besides, he is young, enthusiastic;
this accident is soon forgotten.
During one of his halts, he learns of the scourge of the Sphinx.
The Sphinx, “the Winged Virgin,” “the Singing Bitch,” is
killing off the young men of Thebes. This monster asks a riddle
and kills those who do not guess it. Queen Jocasta, widow of
Laius, offers her hand and her crown to the conqueror of the
Like the young Siegfried to come, Oedipus rushes on. He is
consumed with curiosity and ambition. The meeting takes
place. What was the nature of this meeting? Mystery. Be that
as it may, Oedipus enters Thebes a conqueror, he marries the
queen. Incest!
For the gods really to enjoy themselves, their victim must fall
from a great height. Years come and go in prosperity. Two
daughters and two sons complicate the monstrous union. The
people love their king. But the plague suddenly descends upon
them. The gods accuse an anonymous criminal of infecting the
country and demand that he shall be driven out. From one
discovery to another, and as if intoxicated by misfortune,
Oedipus, in the end, finds himself up against the wall. The trap
1shuts. All becomes clear. With her red scarf, Jocasta hangs
herself. With the golden brooch of the hanging woman,
Oedipus puts out his eyes.
Spectator, this machine, you see here wound up to the full in
such a way that the spring will slowly unwind the whole length
of a human life, is one of the most perfect constructed by the
infernal gods for the mathematical destruction of a mortal.
A patrol path round the ramparts of Thebes. High
walls. A stormy night. Summer lightning. The din and
bands of the popular district can be heard.
They’re having a good time!
THE SOLDIER. Trying to.
YOUNG SOLDIER . Well, any way, they dance all night.
SOLDIER . They can’t sleep, so they dance.
YOUNG SOLDIER . All the same, they’re getting tight and going
with women, and spending their nights in night clubs, while I
am tramping up and down with you. Well I, for one, cant stand
it any longer! I can’t stand it! I can’t! D’you see? That’s flat. I
can’t stand it any longer.
SOLDIER . Desert.
YOUNG SOLDIER . Oh! no. I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to
put my name down for the Sphinx.
The four scenes should be planted on a little platform in the centre of the stage,
surrounded by nocturnal curtains. The slope of the platform varies according
to the requirements of the scenes. Besides the lighting of details, the four acts
should be flooded in the livid mythical light of quicksilver.
What for?
YOUNG SOLDIER . What do you mean? Why, to do something,
of course. To put an end to this nerve-racking business and this
ghastly inaction.
SOLDIER . Out of a stew into a funk.
SOLDIER . Yes, just that... funk! I’ve seen brighter and sturdier
lads than you who got the wind up. Unless the gentleman
wishes to down the Sphinx and draw the first prize.
YOUNG SOLDIER . And why not, after all? The only man to
come back alive from the Sphinx became an idiot, I know. But,
supposing what he jibbers is true. What if it is a riddle. What if
I guess it. What...
SOLDIER . But, my poor son of a bitch, don’t you realize that
hundreds upon hundreds of chaps who’ve been to the stadium
and college and everything have left their carcasses behind
there, and you, a poor little second-class soldier like you wants
YOUNG SOLDIER . I shall go! I shall, because I can’t bear any
longer counting the stones of this wall, hearing that band,
and seeing your rotten mug, and... (He stamps.)
SOLDIER . That’s the stuff, my hero! I was expecting this attack
of nerves. I like that better. Now... Now... enough crying...
Let’s calm ourselves... there, there, there...
YOUNG SOLDIER . I hate you!
The SOLDIER bangs his spear against the wall behind
the YOUNG SOLDIER who becomes rigid.
What’s up?
YOUNG SOLDIER . Didn’t you hear anything?
SOLDIER . No... where?
Ah!... I seemed... I thought for a
SOLDIER . You’re like a sheet... What’s the matter? Are you
going to pass out?
YOUNG SOLDIER . It’s silly... I seemed to hear a knock. I
thought it was him!
SOLDIER . The Sphinx?
YOUNG SOLDIER . No, him, the ghost, the phantom, you
SOLDIER . The phantom? Our dear old phantom of Laius?
And is that what turns your stomach over? Really!
Y O U N G SOLDIER . Sorry.
SO L D IE R . You’re sorry, old son of a gun? Don’t be so silly!
To start with, there’s a good chance that our phantom will
not appear again after last night’s business. That’s that. And
besides, what are you sorry about? Look at things squarely.
We can hardly say this phantom has scared us. Oh! well,...
the first time perhaps... But, after that, eh?... He was a
decent old phantom chap, almost a pal, a relief. Well, if the
idea of this phantom makes you jumpy, it’s because you’re
in a real state of nerves, like me, like everybody in Thebes,
rich or poor alike, except a few big pots who make
something out of everything. There’s not much fun in war,
but do you imagine it’s amusing to fight an unknown
enemy? We’re beginning to get fed up with oracles, happy
deaths and heroic mothers. Do you think I should pull your
leg as I do if my nerves weren’t on edge, and do you think
you’d burst into tears, and that lot over there’d get tight and
dance? No, they would stay tucked securely in bed, and
we’d be playing dice while waiting for friend phantom.
Y O U N G SOLDIER . I say...
SOLDIER. Well?...
YOUNG SOLDIER . What d’you think it’s like... the Sphinx?
Oh! give the Sphinx a rest. If I knew what it was
like I shouldn’t be here doing guard-duty with you tonight.
YOUNG SOLDIER . Some make out it’s no bigger than a hare,
and is timid, and has a sweet little woman’s head. But I think it
has a woman’s head and breast, and sleeps with the young
SOLDIER . Oh, look here! Shut up and forget it!
YOUNG SOLDIER . Perhaps it doesn’t ask anything and doesn’t
even touch you. You meet it, look at it, and die of love.
SOLDIER . All we needed was for you to go and fall in love with
the public scourge. After all, public scourge... between
ourselves, do you know what I think about this public
scourge?... It’s a vampire! Yes, a common or garden vampire!
Some old man who is in hiding from the police, and somehow
they don’t manage to lay hands on him.
YOUNG SOLDIER . A vampire with a woman’s head?
SOLDIER . Oh! not him! Oh! no! A real old vampire with a
beard and moustache, and a belly. He sucks your blood and
that’s how it is they bring corpses back to their families, all
with the same wound in the same place: the back of the neck!
And now, go and see for yourself if you’re still keen.
YOUNG SOLDIER . You say that...
SOLDIER . I say that... I say that... Hi!... The chief.
They stand up to attention. The CHIEF enters and
folds his arms.
Easy!... Well, my lads... Is this where we see phantoms?
CHIEF . Silence! You will speak when I ask you. Which of you
two has dared...
YOUNG SOLDIER . It’s me, chief.
Good lord! whose turn to speak is it? Are you going to
keep quiet? I was asking: which of you two has dared to make
a report touching the service, in a high place, without it passing
through the accepted channels? Right over my head. Answer.
SOLDIER . It wasn’t his fault, chief, he knew...
CHIEF. Was it you or he?
YOUNG SOLDIER . Both of us, but I...
CHIEF . Silence! I want to know how the High Priest came to
hear of what happens at night at this post, while I myself heard
YOUNG SOLDIER . It’s my fault, chief, my fault. My comrade
here didn’t want to say anything about it. But I thought I ought
to speak and, as this incident didn’t concern the service... and,
well... I told his uncle everything; because his uncle’s wife is
sister to one of the queen’s linen-maids, and his brother-in-law
is in Tiresias’ temple.
SOLDIER . That’s why I said it was my fault, chief.
C H IE F . All right! Don’t burst my ear-drums. So... this incident
doesn’t concern the service. Very good, oh! very good!... And
it seems... this famous incident which doesn’t concern the
service is a ghost story?
Y O U N G S O L D IE R . Yes, chief.
CHIEF . A ghost appeared to you one night when you were on
sentry-duty, and this ghost said to you... Just what did this
ghost say to you?
Y O U N G S O L D IE R . He told us, chief, he was the spectre of
King Laius, and he had tried to appear several times since his
murder, and he begged us to find some way of warning Queen
Jocasta and Tiresias with all speed.
C H I E F . With all speed! Fancy that! What a nice old phantom!
And... didn’t you ask him, say, why you had the honour of this
visit and why he doesn’t appear directly before the queen or
S O L D IE R .
Yes, chief, I asked him, I did. His answer was that
he wasn’t free to put in an appearance anywhere, and that the
ramparts were the most favorable spot for the people who had
died violent deaths, because of the drains.
C H IE F . Drains?
S O L D IE R . Yes, chief. He said drains, meaning the fumes you
only find there.
CHIEF . ‘Struth! A very learned specter, and he doesn’t hide his
light under a bushel. Did he scare you much? And what did he
look like? What was his face like? What clothes did he wear?
Where did he stand, and what language did he speak? Are his
visits long or short? Have you seen him on different occasions?
Although this business doesn’t concern the service, I must
admit I am curious to learn from your lips a few details about
the manners and customs of ghosts.
Y O U N G S O L D IE R . We were scared the first night, chief, I
admit. I ought to have said he appeared very suddenly, like a
lamp lighting up, there in the thickness of the wall.
S O L D IE R . We saw it together.
Y O U N G S O L D I E R . It was hard to make out the face and the
body; the mouth when it was open, was clearer, and a white
tuft of his beard, and a large red stain, bright red, near the right
ear. He spoke with difficulty and couldn’t somehow manage to
get out more than one sentence at a time. But you’d better ask
my comrade here about that, chief. He explained to me how it
was the poor man couldn’t manage to get it over.
S O L D IE R . Oh! you know, chief, it’s nothing very difficult! He
spent all his energy in the effort to appear, that is, in leaving
his new shape and taking on the old, so that we could see him.
That’s the reason why each time he spoke a little better, he
began to disappear, became transparent like, and you could see
the wall through him.
And as soon as he spoke badly you could see
him very well. But you saw him badly as soon as he spoke
well, and began saying the same thing over again. “Queen
Jocasta. You must... You must... Queen... Queen... Queen
Jocasta... You must... You must warn the queen... You must
warn Queen Jocasta... I ask you, gentlemen, I ask you, I... I...
Gentlemen... I ask... you must... you must... I ask you,
gentlemen, to warn... I ask you... The queen... Queen Jocasta...
to warn, gentlemen, to warn... Gentlemen... Gentlemen...”
That’s how he went on.
SOLDIER . And you could see he was afraid of disappearing
before he’d said all his words right to the end.
YOUNG SOLDIER . And see here, listen a mo’, d’you remember?
Every time the same business. The red stain went last. Just like
a ship’s light on the wall, chief.
SOLDIER . The whole business was over in a second!
YOUNG SOLDIER . He has appeared in the same place five times,
every night, a little before dawn.
SOLDIER . But, last night which was unlike the others, we...
well, we had a bit of a dust-up, and my comrade here decided
to tell the royal house everything.
CHIEF. Well! Well! And how was this night “unlike the others,”
which, if I’m not mistaken, caused a dispute between you... ?
SOLDIER . It was like this, chief... You know, guard duty isn’t
exactly all beer and skittles.
Y O U N G SOLDIER . So really we were waiting for the phantom.
SOLDIER . We betted, saying:
Y O U N G SOLDIER . Will come...
SOLDIER . Won’t...
Y O U N G SOLDIER . Will come...
SOLDIER . Won’t... and it may seem a funny thing to say, but it
was a comfort to see him.
Y O U N G SOLDIER . A habit, as you might say.
We ended by imagining we saw him when he wasn’t
there. We’d say to each other: “It’s moving! The wall is
lighting up. Don’t you see anything? No. But you must do.
Over there, I tell you... The wall isn’t the same. Don’t you see,
look, look!”
Y O U N G SOLDIER . And we looked and stared our eyes out. We
dared not move.
SOLDIER . We watched for the least change.
Y O U N G SOLDIER And when, at last, it came, we could breathe
again, and weren’t the least bit afraid.
SOLDIER . The other night, we watched and watched, and stared
ourselves nearly blind; we thought he’d not show up, when he
began to come stealthily... not at all quickly like on the first
nights. And once he was visible, he changed his sentences and
told us as well as he could that something fearful had
happened, a thing of death which he couldn’t explain to the
living. He spoke of places where he could go and places where
he couldn’t go, and that he had been where he shouldn’t and
knew a secret which he shouldn’t know, and that he would be
discovered and punished, and afterwards he wouldn’t be
allowed to appear, he wouldn’t be able to appear any more.
(Solemn voice) “I shall die my last death,” he said, “and it will
be finished, finished. You see, gentlemen, there is not a
moment to lose. Run! Warn the queen! Find Tiresias!
Gentlemen! Gentlemen! have pity!...” He was begging away
and day was breaking. And there he stuck!
Y O U N G SOLDIER . Suddenly we thought he’d go mad.
SOLDIER . We understood from sentences without beginning or
end that he had left his post, you know,... didn’t know how to
disappear, and was lost. We saw him going through the same
performance to disappear as to appear, and he couldn’t manage
it. So then he asked us to insult him, because, he said, insulting
ghosts is the way to make them go. The silliest thing about it
5was that we hadn’t the guts to do it. The more he repeated:
“Come on! young men, insult me! Let yourselves go, do your
best... Oh, come on!” -- the more idiotic we looked.
Y O U N G S O L D I E R . And the less we found to say!...
S O L D I E R . Yes, that is the limit! And yet, it’s not for lack of
blasting the chiefs.
CHIEF. Very nice of you, gentlemen, I’m sure! Thank you for
the chiefs.
S O L D I E R . Oh! I didn’t mean that, chief... I meant... I meant the
princes, crowned heads, ministers, the government, what... the
powers that be. We had even chatted about injustices... But the
king was such a good old phantom, poor King Laius, that the
swearwords wouldn’t come. He was urging us on and we were
dithering: “Go on then! Hop it, you son of a bitch!” In short,
we gave him bouquets!
Y O U N G S O L D I E R . Because, you see, chief: son of a bitch is a
friendly way of speaking among soldiers.
CHIEF. It’s as well to know.
SOLDIER . Go then! Go on then!... son of a... you old... Poor
phantom! He hung there between life and death and he was
outside himself with fear because of the cocks and the sun.
When, all of a sudden, we saw the wall become the wall again,
and the red stain go out. We were dog tired.
Y O U N G S O L D IE R . It was after that night that I decided to
speak to his uncle as he refused to speak himself.
C H IE F . Your phantom doesn’t seem to be very punctual.
S O L D IE R . Oh! chief, you know, he may not show himself
C H IE F . I am in his way, no doubt.
SOLDIER . No, chief. But after last night...
C H I E F . But I understand from what you say that your phantom
is very polite. He will appear, I’m quite sure. In the first place,
the politeness of kings is punctuality, and the politeness of
phantoms consists in taking on human form, according to your
ingenious theory.
SOLDIER . Possibly, chief, but it’s also possible that with
phantoms there are no more kings, and they may mistake a
century for a minute. So if the phantom appears in a thousand
years instead of this evening...
C H IE F . You’re a clever sort of chap, but patience has its limits.
I tell you this phantom will appear. I tell you my presence is
upsetting him, and I tell you that no one outside the service
must pass along this sentry path.
S O L D IE R . Yes, chief.
C H IE F (in an outburst). So, phantom or no phantom, I order
you to stop the first person who turns up unless he gives the
password, got it?
S O L D IE R . Yes, chief.
C H IE F . And don’t forget to patrol. That’s all!
The two S O L D IE R S stand stiffly at shoulder-arms.
(false exit). Don’t try any clever tricks! I’ve got my eye
on you.
He disappears. Long silence.
That’s that.
YOUNG SOLDIER . He thought we were trying to pull his leg.
SOLDIER . Oh, no, my friend! He thought some one was trying
to pull our legs.
Y O U N G SO LD IER . Ours?
SOLD IER. Yes, my friend. I get to know lots of things through
my uncle. The queen is nice, but at bottom she isn’t liked; they
find her... (He strikes his head.) They say she is eccentric and
has a foreign accent, and is under the influence of Tiresias.
6This Tiresias advises the queen to do everything that will harm
her. Do this... and do that... She tells him her dreams, and asks
him if she ought to get up right foot or left foot first; he leads
her by the nose and licks her brother’s boots, and plots with
him against the sister. They are a low lot there. I wouldn’t
mind betting the chief thought the phantom was from the same
source as the Sphinx. A priest’s trick to attract Jocasta and
make her believe anything they scam.
SOLDIER. Pretty flabbergasting, eh? But that’s how it is... (In a
very low voice) As for me, I believe in the phantom, take it
from me. But, for that very reason and because they don’t
believe in it, I advise you to keep your mouth shut. You’ve
already succeeded in making a fine hash of things. Take down
this report: “Has given proof of an intelligence well above his
YOUNG SOLDIER. Still, if our king.. .
SOLDIER. Our king!... Our king!... Half a mo’!... A dead king
isn’t a living king. It’s like this, if King Laius were living, well,
between ourselves, he would manage on his own and wouldn’t
come looking for you to do his errands in town.
They move off towards the right by the patrol path.
(at the bottom of the steps. She has a very
strong accent, the international accent of royalty). Still another
flight! I hate steps! Why all these steps? We can see nothing!
Where are we?
VOICE OF TIRESIAS. But, Madam, you know what I think of this
escapade, and I didn’t...
VOICE OF JOCASTA . Stop it, Zizi. You only open your mouth to
say silly things. This is not the time for moral lessons.
You should have taken another guide. I am
nearly blind.
What is the use of being a soothsayer, I
wonder! Why, you don’t even know where the steps are. I shall
break my leg! It will be your fault, Zizi, your fault, as usual.
TIRESIAS . My fleshly eyes have gone out to the advantage of an
inner eye which has other uses than counting steps.
JOCASTA . And now he’s cross all over his eye! There! there!
We love you, Zizi, but these flights of steps upset me so. We
had to come, Zizi, we simply had to!
TIRESIAS . Madam...
JOCASTA . Don’t be obstinate. I had no idea there were all these
wretched steps. I am going to go up backwards. You will
steady me. Don’t be afraid. I am leading you. But if I looked at
the steps, I should fall. Take my hands. Forward!
They appear on the set.
There... there... there... four, five, six, seven...
JOCASTA arrives on the platform and moves to
the right. T IR E S IA S treads on the end of her scarf.
She utters a cry.
What is it?
JOCASTA . It’s your foot, Zizi! You’re walking on my scarf.
TIRESIAS . Forgive me...
JOCASTA . Ah! he’s cross! But it isn’t you that I am annoyed
with, it’s the scarf! I am surrounded by objects which hate me!
All day long this scarf is strangling me. At one time, it catches
in the branches, at another, it gets wound on to the hub of a
carriage, another time, you tread on it. It’s a positive fact. And
7I am afraid of it, but I dare not be separated from it! Awful! It
will be the death of me.
T IR E S IA S . Look what a state your nerves are in.
JOCASTA. And what is the use of your third eye, I should like to
know? Have you found the Sphinx? Have you found the
Murderers of Laius? Have you calmed the people? Guards are
stationed at my door and I am left with things that hate me, that
want my death!
TIRESIAS . From mere hearsay...
JOCASTA . I feel things. I feel things better than all of you (She
puts her hand on her belly.) I feel them there! Has every stone
been turned to discover the murderers of Laius?
T IR E S IA S . Madam knows very well the Sphinx made further
searches impossible.
JOCASTA . Well, I for one don’t care a jot about your fowls’
entrails... I feel, there... that Laius is suffering and wants to
complain. I am determined to get to the bottom of this story,
and to hear this young guard for myself; and I shall hear him. I
am your queen, Tiresias, don’t you forget it.
T IR E S IA S . My dear child, you must try and understand a poor
blind man who adores you, watches over you, and wishes you
were sleeping in your room instead of running after a shadow
on the ramparts.
JOCASTA (with mystery). I do not sleep.
TIRESIAS . You don’t sleep?
JOCASTA . No, Zizi, I don’t sleep. The Sphinx and the murder
of Laius have put my nerves all on edge. You were right there;
even better than that, if I fall asleep for so much as a minute I
have a dream, one dream only, and I am ill for the whole day.
TIRESIAS . Isn’t it my business to interpret dreams?...
JOCASTA. The place of the dream is rather like this platform, so
I’ll tell you. I am standing in the night, cradling a kind of
nursling. Suddenly, this nursling becomes a sticky paste which
runs through my fingers. I shriek and try to throw this paste
away, but... Oh! Zizi... if only you knew, it’s foul... This thing,
this paste stays hanging on to me, and when I think I’m free of
it, the paste flies back and strikes me across the face. And this
paste is living. It has a kind of mouth which fixes itself on
mine. And it creeps everywhere, it feels after my belly, and my
thighs. How beastly!
TIRESIAS . Calm yourself.
JOCASTA . I don’t want to sleep any more, Zizi... I don’t want to
sleep any more. Listen to that music. Where is it? They don’t
sleep either. It’s lucky for them they have that music. They are
afraid, Zizi... and rightly. They must dream horrible things and
they don’t want to sleep. And while I think of it, why this
music? Why is it allowed? Do I have music to keep me from
sleeping? I didn’t know these places stayed open all night.
How is it there is this scandal, Zizi? Creon must send out
orders! This music must be stopped! This scandal must stop at
T I R E S IA S . Madam, I implore you to calm yourself and to give
up this idea. You’re beside yourself for lack of sleep. We have
authorized these bands so that the people don’t become
demoralized, to keep up their courage. There would be
crimes... and worse than that if there were no dancing in the
working-class district.
J O C A S T A . Do I dance?
T I R E S IA S . That’s different. You are in mourning for Laius.
T I R E S IA S . So are they all, Zizi. All of them! Every one! And
yet they can dance and I can’t. It’s too unfair... I shall...
T I R E S IA S . Some one coming, Madam.
J O C A S T A . I say, Zizi, I’m shaking. I have come out with all
my jewels.
T I R E S IA S . There’s nothing to fear. You won’t meet prowlers
on the patrol path. It must be the guards.
8Perhaps the soldier I am looking for?
T I R E S IA S . Don’t move. We’ll find out.
The SOLDIERS enter. They see J O C A S T A and T I R E S IA S .
Steady, looks like somebody.
S O L D I E R . Where have they sprung from? (Aloud) Who goes
T I R E S IA S (to JOCAST A ). We are going to get into hot water.
(Aloud) Listen, my good men...
YOUNG S O L D I E R . Password.
T I R E S I A S . You see, Madam, we ought to have the password.
You’re getting us into an awful mess.
J O C A S T A . Password? Why? What password? How silly, Zizi.
I shall go and speak to him myself.
T IRESIAS . Madam, I implore you. They have instructions.
These guards might not recognize you, nor believe me. It’s
very dangerous.
JO CAST A . How romantic you are! You see dramas
SOLDIER . They’re whispering together. Perhaps they will jump
out on us.
T IRESIAS (to the SOLDIERS ). You have nothing to fear. I am
old and nearly blind. Let me explain my presence on these
ramparts, and the presence of the person who accompanies me.
SOLDIE R . No speeches. The password!
T IRESIAS . One moment. Just a moment. Listen, my good men,
have you seen any gold coins?
SOLDIE R . Attempted bribery.
He goes towards the right to guard the patrol path
and leaves the YOUNG SO LDIER opposite T IRE SIAS.
You’re wrong. I meant: have you seen the
queen’s portrait on a gold coin?
Y O U N G SO LD IE R. Yes!
T IRESIAS (gets out of the way and shows JOCASTA , who is
counting the stars, in profile). And... don’t you recognize... ?
YOUNG SOLDIER. I don’t see the connection you mean between
the queen, who is quite young, and this matron.
JO CAST A . What does he say?
T IRESIAS . He says he finds Madam very young to be the
JO CAST A . He’s entertaining!
T IRESIAS (to the SO LDIER ). Fetch your chief.
SO LD IER . Not necessary. I have orders. Clear off! Look sharp!
T IRESIAS . You’ll learn of this!
JO CAST A . Zizi, what is it now? What does he say?
The CHIEF enters.
What’s this?
YOUNG SOLDIER. Chief! Two people here are wandering about
without the password.
C H IEF (going towards T IRESIAS ). Who are you? (He
suddenly recognizes T IRE SIAS. ) My lord! (He bows.) How
can I ever apologize enough?
T IRESIAS . Phew! Thanks, Captain. I thought this young warrior
was going to run us through.
C H IEF . How can you forgive me? (To the YOUNG SOLDIER )
Idiot! leave us.
The YOUNG SOLDIER goes to his comrade on the
extreme right.
(to the
What a brick!
9T I R E S IA S .
Don’t scold him! He was obeying orders...
C H I E F . Such a visit... in such a place! What can I do for you,
my lord?
T IRESIAS (standing back to show J O C A S T A ). Her Majesty!
starts back.
(bows at a respectful distance). Madam!...
No ceremony, please! I should like to know which
guard saw the phantom?
C H I E F . The clumsy young oaf who allowed himself to ill-use
my lord Tiresias, and if Madam...
J O C A S T A . See, Zizi. What luck! I was right in coming... (To the
C H I E F ) Tell him to approach.
CHIEF (to TIRESIAS ). My lord, I don’t know if the queen fully
realizes that this young soldier would explain himself better
through the medium of his chief; and that, if he speaks alone,
Her Majesty risks...
JOCASTA. What now, Zizi?...
TIRESIAS . The chief was pointing out to me that he is used to
the men and he might serve as a kind of interpreter.
JOCASTA . Send the chief away! Has the boy a tongue, or not?
Let him come near.
TIRESIAS (aside to the CHIEF ). Don’t insist, the queen is
CHIEF . Very well... (He goes to his SOLDIERS . To the YOUNG
SOLDIER ) The queen wants to speak to you. And control your
tongue. I’ll pay you out for this, young fellow-me-lad.
JOCASTA . Come here!
The CHIEF pushes the YOUNG SOLDIER forward.
Go along then! Go on, booby, forward. You won’t be
eaten. Excuse him, Your Majesty. Our boys are scarcely
familiar with court ways.
JOCASTA . Ask that man to leave us alone with the soldier.
TIRESIAS . But, Madam...
JOCASTA . And no but--Madams... If this Captain stays a
moment longer, I shall kick him.
TIRESIAS . Listen, chief. (He leads him aside.) The queen wants
to be alone with the guard who has seen something. She has
whims. She might become displeased with you and I couldn’t
do anything about it.
CHIEF . Right. I’ll leave you... If I stayed it was because...
well... I don’t mean to give you advice, my lord... But, between
you and me, be on your guard about this phantom story. (He
bows.) My lord... (A long salute to JOCASTA . He passes near
the SOLDIER .) Hi! The queen wishes to stay alone with your
JOCASTA . Who is the other soldier? Has he seen the phantom?
YOUNG SOLDIER . Yes, Your Majesty, we were on guard-duty
JOCASTA . Then let him stop. Let him stay there! I’ll call him if
I want him. Good evening, Captain, you are free.
CHIEF (to the SOLDIER ). We’ll have this out later!
He goes out.
You have mortally offended that
About time too! Generally it’s the men who are
mortally offended and never the chiefs. (To the YOUNG
SOLDIER ) How old are you?
Exactly his age! He would be his age... He looks
splendid! Come nearer. Look, Zizi, what muscles! I adore
knees. You can tell the breed by the knees. He would look like
that too... Isn’t he fine, Zizi. Feel these biceps, like iron...
TIRESIAS . I am sorry, Madam, but you know... I’m no
authority. I can scarcely see what they’re like.
JOCASTA . Then feel... Test them. Thighs like a horse! He steps
away! Don’t be afraid... The old grandpa is blind. Heaven
knows what he’s imagining, poor lad. He’s quite red! He’s
adorable! And nineteen!
YOUNG SOLDIER . Yes, Your Majesty!
JOCASTA (mocking him). Yes, Your Majesty! Isn’t he just too
delicious? Ah! what a shame! Perhaps he doesn’t even know
he’s handsome. (As one speaks to a child) Well,... did you see
the phantom?
YOUNG SOLDIER . Yes, Your Majesty!
JOCASTA . The phantom of King Laius?
YOUNG SOLDIER. Yes, Your Majesty! The king told us he was
the king.
JOCASTA . Zizi... what do you know with all your fowls and
stars? Listen to this boy... And what did the king say?
TIRESIAS . (leading JOCASTA away). Madam! Be careful, these
young people are hotheaded, credulous... pushful... Be on your
guard. Are you certain this boy has seen the phantom, and,
even if he has seen it, is it really the phantom of your husband?
JOCASTA . Gods! How unbearable you are! Unbearable and a
spoilsport. Every time you come and break the spell and you
stop miracles with your intelligence and incredulity. Please, let
me question this boy on my own. You can preach afterwards.
(to the YOUNG SOLDIER ) Listen...
YOUNG SOLDIER. Your Majesty!...
JOCASTA (to TIRESIAS ). I’ll find out straight away whether he
has seen Laius. (To the YOUNG SOLDIER ) How did he speak?
He spoke quickly and a lot, Your Majesty,
ever such a lot, and he got mixed up, and he didn’t manage to
say what he wanted to.
JOCASTA . That’s he! Poor dear! But why on these ramparts?
The stench...
YOUNG SOLDIER . That’s it, Your Majesty... The phantom said
it was because of the swamps and the rising fumes that he
could appear.
JOCASTA . How interesting! Tiresias, you would never learn
that from your birds. And what did he say?
TIRESIAS . Madam, Madam, you must at least question him
with some order. You’ll muddle this youngster’s head
JOCASTA . Quite right, Zizi, quite right. (To the YOUNG
SOLDIER ) What was he like? How did you see him?
YOUNG SOLDIER . In the wall, Your Majesty. A sort of
transparent statue, as you might say. You can see the beard
most clearly, and the black hole of the mouth as it speaks, and
a red stain on the temple, bright red.
JOCASTA . That’s blood!
YOUNG SOLDIER . Fancy! We didn’t think of that.
JOCASTA . It’s a wound! How dreadful! ( LAIUS appears.) And
what did he say? Did you understand anything?
YOUNG SOLDIER . It wasn’t easy, Your Majesty. My comrade
noticed that he had to make a big effort to appear, and each
time he made an effort to express himself clearly, he
disappeared; then he was puzzled as to how to set about it.
JOCASTA . Poor dear!
THE PHANTOM . Jocasta! Jocasta! My Wife! Jocasta!
They neither hear nor see him during the whole of the scene.
11(addressing the SOLDIER ). And were you not able to
grasp anything intelligible?
PHANTOM . Jocasta!
SOLDIER . Well, yes, my lord. We understood he wanted to
warn you of a danger, put you on your guard, both the queen
and you, but that’s all. The last time he explained he knew
some secrets he ought not to have known, and if he was
discovered, he would not be able to appear again.
PHANTOM . Jocasta! Tiresias! Can’t you see me? Can’t you hear
JOCAST A . And didn’t he say anything else? Didn’t he say
anything particular?
SOLDIER . Ah, well, Your Majesty! Perhaps he didn’t want to
say anything particular in our presence. He was asking for you.
That is why my comrade tried to inform you.
JOCASTA . Dear boys! And I have come. I knew very well. I felt
it there! You see, Zizi, with all your doubts. And tell us, young
soldier, where the spectre appeared. I want to touch the spot.
PHANTOM . Look at me! Listen to me, Jocasta! Guards, you
always saw me before. Why not see me now? It’s a torment.
Jocasta! Jocasta!
While these words are being uttered, the Soldier goes
to the place where the PHANTOM is. He touches it
with his hand.
There. (He strikes the wall.) There, in the wall.
YOUNG SOLDIER. Or in front of the wall. It was difficult to
make out.
JOCASTA . But why doesn’t he appear tonight? Do you think he
will still be able to appear?
PHANTOM . Jocasta! Jocasta! Jocasta!
I am sorry, Madam, I don’t think so, after what
happened last night. I’m afraid there may have been a bit of a
dust-up, Your Majesty may be too late.
JOCASTA . What a shame! Always too late. Zizi, I am always
the last person in the whole kingdom to be informed. Think of
the time that has been wasted with your fowls and oracles! We
ought to have run, to have guessed. We shall learn absolutely
nothing! And there will be disasters. And it will be your fault,
Zizi, your fault, as usual.
TIRESIAS . Madam, the queen is speaking in front of these men.
JOCASTA . Yes, I am speaking in front of these men! I suppose I
ought to restrain myself? When King Laius, the dead King
Laius, has spoken in front of these men. But he has not spoken
to you, Zizi, nor to Creon. He hasn’t been to the temple to
show himself. He showed himself on the patrol path to these
men, to this boy of nineteen who is so handsome and looks
TIRESIAS . I implore you...
JOCASTA . Yes, I am overwrought, you must try to understand.
These dangers, this spectre, this music, this pestilential smell...
And there’s a storm about. I can feel it in my shoulder. I am
stifling, Zizi, stifling.
PHANTOM . Jocasta! Jocasta!
JOCASTA . I think I hear my name. Didn’t you hear anything?
TIRESIAS . My poor lamb. You’re worn out. Day is breaking.
You are dreaming where you stand. Are you even sure this
phantom business hasn’t come from the fatigue of these young
men on the watch who force themselves not to sleep and live in
this depressing, swampy atmosphere?
P HAN T O M . Jocasta! For pity’s sake, listen to me! Look at me!
Gentlemen, you are kind. Keep the queen. Tiresias! Tiresias!
T IRESIAS (to the Y O U NG SOLDIER ). Step aside a moment, I
want to speak to the queen.
12The Y O U N G
goes to his comrade.
Gentlemen! Mercy! Am I invisible? Can’t you hear
Well, old son! You’ve clicked! She’s fallen for
it! Petted by the queen, eh!
YOU NG SOLD IE R . Look here!...
SOLDIE R . You’re made for life. Don’t forget your pals.
T IRESIAS. ... Listen! Cockcrow. The phantom will not return.
Let us go home.
JO CAST A . Did you see how handsome he is?
T IRESIAS . Don’t revive those sad things, my lamb. If you had a
JOCASTA . If I had a son, he would be handsome, brave, he
would guess the riddle and kill the Sphinx. He would return
T IRESIAS . And you would go without a husband.
JOCASTA . Little boys always say: “I want to become a man so
that I can marry mother.” It’s not such a bad idea, you know,
Tiresias. Is there a sweeter union, a union that is sweeter and
more cruel, and prouder, than that couple: a son and a young
mother? Listen, Zizi, just now, when I touched that young
guard, Heaven alone knows what he must have thought, the
poor lad, and I myself nearly fainted. He would be nineteen,
Tiresias, nineteen! The same age as this soldier. Can we be
sure Laius did not appear to him because of this likeness?
Jocasta! Jocasta! Jocasta! Tiresias! Jocasta!
(to the SOLDIERS ). My friends, do you think it is any
use waiting?
PHANTOM . For pity’s sake!
SOLDIER . Frankly, no, my lord. The cocks are crowing. He will
not appear now.
Come along! I will be obedient. But I am very glad I
questioned the boy. You must find out his name and where he
lives. (She goes towards the steps.) I had forgotten these steps,
Zizi!... That band is making me ill. Listen, we can go back
through the higher town by the little streets and we can visit the
night clubs.
TIRESIAS . Madam, you don’t mean it.
JOCASTA . Oh! now he’s beginning again! He’ll send me simply
raving! Mad and off my head. I’ve got my veils on, Zizi, how
do you expect I should be recognized?
TIRESIAS . My child, you said yourself you have come out
wearing all your jewels. Your brooch alone has pearls as large
as an egg.
JOCASTA . I am a martyr! Others can laugh and dance and
amuse themselves. Do you imagine I am going to leave this
brooch at the palace where it simply strikes everybody’s eye?
Call the guard. Tell him to help me down these steps. And you
can follow us.
TIRESIAS . But, Madam, since the presence of this young man
affects you...
JOCASTA . He is young and strong. He will help me, and I
shan’t break my neck. Obey your queen once, at least.
TIRESIAS . Hi!... No, he... Yes, you... Help the queen down the
SOLDIER . You see, old man!
YOUNG SOLDIER (approaching). Yes, my lord.
PHANTOM . Jocasta! Jocasta! Jocasta!
JOCASTA . He’s nervous! And flights of steps hate me. Steps,
hooks, and scarves. Oh! yes, they do, they hate me! They’re
after my death. (A cry) Ho!
YOUNG SOLDIER . Has the queen hurt herself?
No, silly! Your foot! Your foot!
YOUNG SOLDIER . What foot?
TIRESIAS . Your foot on the end of the scarf. You nearly
strangled the queen.
JOCASTA . Zizi, you are utterly ridiculous. Poor darling. There
you go calling him a murderer because he walks, as you did, on
this scarf. Don’t upset yourself, my boy. My lord is absurd. He
never misses an opportunity of hurting people’s feelings.
TIRESIAS . But, Madam,...
JOCASTA . You are the one who is clumsy. Come along. Thank
you, my boy. Send your name and address to the temple. One,
two, three, four... Marvelous! Zizi! Do you see how well I’m
getting down. Eleven, twelve... Zizi, are you following? Two
more steps. (To the SOLDIER ) Thank you. I can manage now.
Help grandpa!
disappears left, with TIRESIAS . Cocks are heard.
Through your fault, I shall never know
what my poor Laius wanted.
PHANTOM . Jocasta!
VOICE OF TIRESIAS . That story is all very vague.
VOICE OF JOCASTA . What? very vague? What do you mean,
vague? It’s you who are vague with your third eye. That boy
knows what he has seen, and he has seen the king. Have you
seen the king?
VOICE OF JOCASTA . Have you seen him?... No... Well... It’s
amazing... it’s like...
The voices die away.
Jocasta! Tiresias! Have pity!
The two SOLDIERS turn to each other and see the PHANTOM .
Oh! the spectre!
Gentlemen, at last! I am saved! I kept calling,
SOLDIER . You were there?
PHANTOM . During the whole of your talk with the queen and
Tiresias. Then why was I invisible?
YOUNG SOLDIER . I’ll run and fetch them!
PHANTOM . What? You stop him?
YOUNG SOLDIER . Let me go...
SOLDIER . When the joiner comes the chair stops wobbling; when
you get to the shoemender, your sandal stops hurting you; when
you get to the doctor, you no longer feel the pain. Fetch them!
They would only have to arrive to make the phantom disappear.
PHANTOM. Alas! Do these simple souls then know what the
priests cannot divine?
YOUNG SOLDIER . I shall go.
PHANTOM . Too late... Stay. It is too late. I am discovered. They
are coming; they are going to take me. Ah! they’re here! Help!
Help! Quick! Tell the queen a young man is approaching
Thebes, and on no account... No! No! Mercy! Mercy! They’ve
got me! Help! Ended! I... I... Mercy... I... I...
Long silence. The two SOLDIERS , back to the
audience, contemplate endlessly the place in the
wall where the PHANTOM disappeared.
Not so lively!
These things are beyond us, old man.
YOUNG SOLDIER . But what is clear is that, in spite of death, that
fellow wanted, at all costs, to warn his wife of a danger which is
threatening her. My duty is to overtake the queen and the high-
priest and repeat to them word for word what we have just
SOLDIER . Do you want the queen? (The YOUNG SOLDIER shrugs
his shoulders.) Then... he only had to appear to them and talk to
them, they were there. We saw him all right ourselves and they
didn’t, and they even prevented us from seeing him, and that
takes the biscuit. This proves that dead kings become private
individuals. Poor Laius! Now he knows how easy it is to get into
touch with the great of the earth.
SOLDIER . Oh! us! It’s easy to get into touch with men, you
coon... But, don’t you see... chiefs, queens, and high priests...
they always go before it happens, or come when it’s all over.
YOUNG SOLDIER . What’s “it?”
SOLDIER . How should I know?... I understand myself, that’s the
chief thing.
YOUNG SOLDIER . And you wouldn’t go and warn the queen?
SOLDIER . A word of advice: let princes deal with princes,
phantoms with phantoms, and soldiers with soldiers. (Flourish.)
An unpeopled spot on a hill overlooking Thebes, by moonlight.
The road to Thebes (from right to left) passes over the fore-
stage. It gives the impression of rounding a high leaning stone
whose base is fixed at the lower end of the platform and forms
the support for the wings on the right. Behind the ruins of a
little temple is a broken wall. In the middle of the wall stands a
complete pedestal which used to indicate the entrance to the
temple and bears the trace of a chimera: a wing, a foot, a
haunch. Broken and overturned columns. For the Shades of
Anubis and Nemesis at the end, a record by the actors can
declaim the dialogue, whilst the actress mimes the part of the
dead girl with the head of a jackal.
When the curtain rises a girl in a white dress is seen sitting
among the ruins. The head of a jackal lies in her lap, its body
remaining hidden behind her. Distant bugle-calls.
THE SPHINX . That’s the last call. We’re free.
Spectators, let us imagine we can recall the minutes
we have just lived through together and relive them elsewhere.
For, while the Phantom of Laius was trying to warn Jocasta on
the ramparts of Thebes, the Sphinx and Oedipus met on a hill
overlooking the town. The bugle-calls, moon, stars, and crowing
cocks will be the same.
ANUBIS gets up and the JACKAL’S head is seen to
belong to him.
It’s the first. There’ll be two more before
the gates are closed.
THE SPHINX . It’s the last. I’m quite sure it’s the last.
You’re sure because you want the gates closed, but
I’m sorry duty forces me to contradict you; we’re not free. That
was the first bugle call. We’ll wait.
THE SPHINX . I may have been mistaken, but...
ANUBIS. May have been mistaken! You were...
THE SPHINX . Anubis!
ANUBIS. Sphinx?
THE SPHINX. I’ve had enough of killing, enough of dealing out
ANUBIS . We must obey. There are mysteries within mystery,
gods above gods. We have our gods and they have theirs.
That’s what is called infinity.
THE SPHINX . You see, Anubis, there is no second call. It’s you
who are mistaken, let us go...
ANUBIS . Do you mean you would like this night to pass
without any deaths?
THE SPHINX . Yes! I do, indeed! Yes! Although it’s growing
late, I tremble to think some one may still come by.
ANUBIS . You’re getting sensitive.
THE SPHINX . That’s my business.
ANUBIS . Don’t get cross.
THE SPHINX . Why must we always be acting without aim,
without end, without understanding? Why, for example, should
you have a dog’s head, Anubis? Why have the god of the dead
in the shape given to him by credulous people? Why must we
have an Egyptian god in Greece and why must he have a dog’s
ANUBIS . It’s marvelous, how like a woman you look when it
comes to asking questions.
THE SPHINX . That is no answer!
ANUBIS . Well, my answer is: that logic forces us to appear to
men in the shape in which they imagine us; otherwise, they
would see only emptiness. Moreover, neither Egypt nor Greece
nor death, neither the past nor the future has any meaning for
us. Further, you know only too well to what use I must put this
jaw. And finally, our masters prove their wisdom by giving me
a material form which is not human and so preventing me from
losing my head, however beastly it may be; for I am your
keeper, remember. I can see that if they had given you a mere
watchdog we should already be in Thebes with me on a leash
and you sitting in the middle of a band of young men.
THE SPHINX . How stupid you are!
ANUBIS . Then try and remember that these victims who touch
the girl-figure you have assumed are no more than noughts
wiped off a slate, even if each of these noughts were an open
mouth calling for help.
THE SPHINX . That may be. But here the calculations of gods are
hard to follow... Here we kill. Here the dead really die. Here I
do kill.
While the SPHINX was speaking with her eyes on the
ground, ANUBIS pricked up his ears, looked round,
and moved silently off over the ruins where he
When the SPHINX raises her eyes, she looks for
ANUBIS and finds herself face to face with a small
group of people who enter down stage right, and
whom ANUBIS had scented. The group is composed
of a Theban MATRON , her little boy and girl.
The MATRON is dragging her daughter along.
The boy is walking ahead.
Look where you’re going! Get along now!
Don’t look behind you! Leave your sister alone! Go on... (She
sees the SPHINX as the little boy stumbles into her.) Look out! I
told you to look where you’re going! Oh! I’m so sorry,
16madam... He never looks where he’s going... He hasn’t hurt
you, has he?
THE SPHINX . No! not at all, madam.
THE MATRON . I didn’t expect to meet any one on my path at
such an hour.
THE SPHINX . I’m new to these parts, I haven’t been long in
Thebes; I was on my way to a relative who lives in the country
and got lost.
THE MATRON . Poor dear! And where does your relative live?
THE SPHINX . ...Near the twelfth milestone.
THE MATRON . The very part I come from! I had lunch with my
family, at my brother’s place, you know. He made me stay to
dinner. And then you know you begin gossiping and don’t
notice the time, and so here I am going home after curfew with
my brats half-asleep already.
THE SPHINX . Good-night, madam.
THE MATRON . Good-night. (She makes to go.) And... I say...
don’t linger on the way. I know the likes of you and me
haven’t much to fear... but I wouldn’t be too bold, if I were
you, till I was inside the walls.
THE SPHINX . Are you afraid of thieves?
THE MATRON. Thieves! Ye gods, what could they get out of
me? Oh! no, my dear. Where do you come from? Any one can
see you’re not from the town. Thieves! I should think so! I
mean the Sphinx!
THE SPHINX . Do you really, madam, honestly and truly believe
in that nonsense yourself?
THE MATRON . That nonsense indeed! How young you are.
Young people are so disbelieving these days. Oh! yes, they are.
That’s how disasters happen. Let alone the Sphinx, I’ll give
you a case from my family... My brother that I’ve just left...
(She sits down and lowers her voice.) He married a beautiful
tall blonde from the north. One night he wakes up and what
does he find? His wife in bed without head or entrails. She was
a vampire. When he’d got over the first fright, what does my
brother do? without a moment’s hesitation he finds an egg and
lays it on the pillow in the place of his wife’s head. That’s how
you stop vampires getting back into their body. All at once he
hears a moaning. It was the head and entrails flying wildly
across the room and begging my brother to take away the egg.
My brother wouldn’t, and the head went from moans to anger,
from anger to tears, from tears to kisses. To cut a long story
short, my idiot brother takes away the egg and lets his wife get
back into her body. Now he knows his wife is a vampire and
my sons make fun of their uncle. They maintain that he made
up this entire vampire story to disguise the fact that his wife
really did go out, but with her body, and that he let her come
back, and that he’s a coward and ashamed of himself. But I
know very well my sister-in-law is a vampire... And my sons
are in danger of marrying fiends from the Underworld, all
because they are obstinate and disbelieving. And the same with
the Sphinx - I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, but it’s only the
likes of my sons and you who don’t believe in it.
THE SPHINX . Your sons... ?
THE MATRON . Not the little brat who just bumped into you. I
mean my boy of seventeen...
THE SPHINX . You have several sons, have you?
THE MATRON . I had four. Now I have three. Seven, sixteen,
and seventeen. And I can tell you ever since that wicked beast
appeared the house has been impossible.
THE SPHINX . Your sons quarrel... ?
THE MATRON . I mean, my dear, that it’s impossible to live
under the same roof. The one who’s sixteen is only interested
in politics. According to him the Sphinx is a bugbear used to
scare the poor and to impose on them. There may have been
something like your old Sphinx at one time - that’s how my
17son speaks - but now the old Sphinx is dead; and he’s merely a
priests demon and an excuse for police jobbery. They fleece
and loot and terrorize the masses and then blame it all on the
Sphinx. It’s a good thing the Sphinx has broad shoulders.
Whose fault is it that we starve to death, that prices go up, and
that bands of looters swarm over the countryside? Why, the
Sphinx’s, of course. And the Sphinx is to blame because
business is bad, and the government’s weak and one crash
follows another; because the temples are glutted with rich
offerings whilst mothers and wives are losing the bare
necessities of life, and because foreigners with money to spend
are leaving the town... Ah, you should see him, miss, how he
gets up on the table, shouting, waving his arms, and stamping
his feet and then he denounces those who are responsible for it
all, preaches revolt, eggs on the anarchists, shouting at the top
of his voice names that are enough to get us all hanged. And
between ourselves, miss... I know... you can take it from me...
the Sphinx exists all right, but they’re making the most of it.
You can be sure of that. What we want is a man, a dictator!
THE SPHINX . And... what about the brother of your young
THE MATRON . Oh! he’s another kettle of fish. He despises his
brother, he despises me, he despises the gods, he despises
everything. He makes you wonder where he can get hold of all
he comes out with. He says, if you please, that the Sphinx
would interest him if it killed for killing’s sake, but that this
Sphinx of ours is in league with the oracles, and so it doesn’t
interest him.
THE SPHINX. And your fourth son? When was it... ?
THE MATRON . I lost him nearly a year ago. He was just
THE SPHINX . Poor woman... What did he die of?
The MATRON . The Sphinx.
(gloomily). Ah!...
THE MATRON. I t’s all very well for his younger brother to
maintain he was a victim of police intrigues... Oh! no. There’s
no mistake, he died through the Sphinx. Ah! my dear... if I live
to a hundred I’ll never forget that scene. One morning (he
hadn’t been home that night) I thought I heard him knock; I
opened the front door and saw the underneath of his poor feet
and then there followed a long way off, ever so far away, his
poor little face, and in the back of his neck - look, just here - a
large wound from which the blood had already stopped
flowing. They brought him to me on a stretcher. Then I went:
Ho! and fell, all of a heap... A blow like that, you know, you
don’t get over in a hurry. You may be thankful you don’t come
from Thebes, thankful if you have no brothers... You’re
lucky... My other boy, the orator, wants to avenge him. What’s
the good? But he hates the priests, and my poor son was one of
a series of human offerings.
THE SPHINX . Human offerings?
THE MATRON . To be sure. During the first months of the
Sphinx the soldiers were sent to avenge the fine young men
who were found dead all over the place, and they returned
empty-handed. The Sphinx couldn’t be found. Then, as there
was a rumour that the Sphinx asked riddles, young people from
the schools were sacrificed; and then the priests stated that the
Sphinx demanded human offerings. At that, the youngest and
weakest and fairest were chosen.
THE SPHINX . Poor woman!
THE MATRON . I tell you, my dear, what we want is a man of
action. Queen Jocasta is still young. At a distance you would
say she was twenty-nine or thirty. What we want is a ruler to
fall from the sky, marry her, and kill the beast; some one to
make an end of corruption, lock up Creon and Tiresias,
improve the state of finance and liven up the people, some one
18who would care for the people and save us, yes, that’s it, save
THE SON . Mummy!
THE SON . Mummy... I say, mummy, what does the Sphinx look
THE MATRON . I don’t know. (To the SPHINX ) And what d’you
think is the latest? They’re asking us to contribute our last
farthings for a monument to those killed by the Sphinx! Will
that bring them back to us, I should like to know.
THE SON . Mummy... what is the Sphinx like?
THE SPHINX . Poor little chap! His sister’s asleep. Come along...
The son clings to the skirt of the SPHINX .
Now don’t worry the lady.
THE SPHINX . He’s all right. (She strokes his neck.)
THE SON . I say, mummy, is this lady the Sphinx?
THE M ATRON . Little silly. (To the SPHINX ) I hope you don’t
mind. At that age children don’t know what they’re saying...
(She gets up.) Oh my! (She takes the little girl who is asleep in
her arms.) Come along now! off we go, lazy-bones!
THE SON . Mummy, is that lady the Sphinx? I say, mummy, is
the Sphinx that lady? Is that the Sphinx, mummy?
THE MATRON . Sh! Don’t be silly. (To the SPHINX ) Well, good
evening. Excuse my gossiping to you. I was glad to stop for a
breather... And... take care. (Fanfare) Quickly. There’s the
second bugle. After the third we’ll be shut out.
THE SPHINX . Go along, quickly. I’ll hurry my way. You’ve put
me on my guard.
THE MATRON . Believe me, we’ll not feel safe until there comes
a man who will rid us of this scourge. (She goes out left.)
I say, mummy, what’s the Sphinx look like?
Why wasn’t it that lady? Then, what’s he like?
THE SPHINX . A scourge!
ANUBIS (coming from among the ruins). That woman would
have to come along here just now.
THE SPHINX . I’ve been unhappy for the past two days, for two
days now I’ve been carrying on in this miserable way in the
hope that this massacre would come to an end.
ANUBIS . Don’t worry. You’re all right.
THE SPHINX . Listen. This is my secret wish and these the
circumstances which would allow me to mount my pedestal for
a last time. A young man will climb the hill, I shall fall in love
with him. He’ll have no fear. And when I ask my question he
will answer as to an equal. He will give the answer, d’you hear,
Anubis, and I shall fall dead.
ANUBIS . Make no mistake: only your mortal form will fall
THE SPHINX . And isn’t that the form I should want to live in to
make him happy!
ANUBIS. It’s nice to see that human form doesn’t make a great
goddess become a little woman.
THE SPHINX . You see how right I was. That bugle we heard
was the last after all!
ANUBIS. Daughter of men! One is never finished with you. I
tell you no! No!
He leaves her side and mounts an overturned column.
That was the second. When I’ve heard another one you can go.
THE SPHINX . What is it?
ANUBIS . Bad news.
THE SPHINX . Some one coming?
The SPHINX gets up beside ANUBIS and looks into
the wings, right.
I can’t! I can’t and won’t question this young
man. You needn’t ask me to.
ANUBIS . I should say, if you’re like a young mortal, he’s like a
young god.
THE SPHINX . What grace, Anubis, and what shoulders! He’s
ANUBIS . I’ll hide. Don’t forget you are the Sphinx. I’m keeping
my eye on you. I’ll be with you at the first sign.
THE SPHINX . Anubis, listen... quickly...
ANUBIS . Sh!... He’s here.
ANUBIS hides. OEDIPUS enters up stage right. He
is walking along with his eyes on the ground. He starts.
Oh! I’m sorry...
I startled you.
OEDIPUS . Well... no... I was dreaming, I was miles away, and
suddenly, before me...
THE SPHINX . You took me for an animal.
OEDIPUS . Almost.
THE SPHINX . Almost? Almost an animal, that’s the Sphinx.
OEDIPUS . Yes, I know.
THE SPHINX . You admit you took me for the Sphinx. Thank
OEDIPUS . Oh! I soon realized my mistake.
THE SPHINX . Too kind. The truth of the matter is, it can’t be so
amusing to find yourself suddenly face to face with the Sphinx,
if you’re a young man.
And... if you’re a girl?
THE SPHINX . He doesn’t attack girls.
OEDIPUS . Because girls avoid his haunts and are not supposed
to go out alone when the light is failing.
THE SPHINX . You do well to mind your own business, young
man, and let me go my way.
OEDIPUS . Which way?
THE SPHINX . You’re simply amazing. Must I give my reasons
for being out to a complete stranger?
OEDIPUS . And suppose I guessed your reason?
THE SPHINX . You amuse me.
OEDIPUS . Aren’t you moved by curiosity, the curiosity which is
raging amongst all modern young women, the curiosity to
know what the Sphinx looks like? If he has claws, or a beak, or
wings, and whether he takes after the tiger or the vulture?
THE SPHINX . Oh! come, come.
OEDIPUS . The Sphinx is the criminal of the day. Who’s seen
him? No one. Fabulous rewards are promised to the first
person who discovers him. The faint of heart tremble. Young
men die... But a girl, couldn’t she venture into the forbidden
area, setting orders at defiance, and dare what no reasonable
person would dare, to unearth the monster, surprise him in his
lair, get a view of him?
THE SPHINX . You’re on the wrong tack, I tell you. I’m going
back to a relative who lives in the country, and as I had
forgotten the very existence of a Sphinx and that the outskirts
of Thebes are not safe, I was resting a moment on the stones of
these old ruins. You see how far you’re out.
OEDIPUS . What a pity! For some time now I’ve only run across
people as dull as ditchwater; so I hoped for something more
unusual. Pardon me.
THE SPHINX . Good evening!
OEDIPUS . Good evening!
20They pass each other. But OEDIPUS turns back.
I say! Pardon me. I may appear unpleasant, but, I must say, I
can’t bring myself to believe you. Your presence in these ruins
still intrigues me enormously.
THE SPHINX . You’re simply incredible.
OEDIPUS . Because if you were like other girls you would
already have made off as fast as your legs would carry you.
THE SPHINX . My dear boy, you’re quite absurd.
OEDIPUS. It seemed to me so marvelous to find in a girl a
worthy competitor.
THE SPHINX . A competitor? Then you are looking for the
OEDIPUS . Looking for him? Let me tell you, I’ve been on the
march for a whole month. Probably that’s why I appeared ill-
mannered just now. I was so wild with excitement as I drew
near Thebes that I could have shouted my enthusiasm to the
merest block of stone, when, instead of a block of stone, what
stands in my path but a girl in white. So I couldn’t help talking
to her about what was uppermost in my mind and attributing to
her my own intentions.
THE SPHINX . But surely, a moment ago, when you saw me
spring out of the shadow, you didn’t seem to me very much on
the alert for a man who wants to measure his strength with the
OEDIPUS . That is true. I was dreaming of fame, and the beast
would have caught me unawares. Tomorrow in Thebes I shall
equip myself and the hunt will begin.
THE SPHINX . You love fame?
OEDIPUS . I’m not sure about that. I like trampling crowds,
trumpet-calls, flying banners, waving palm-branches, the sun,
gold and purple, happiness, luck - you know, to live!
THE SPHINX . Is that what you call living?
Don’t you?
THE SPHINX . No, I must say I have quite a different idea of life.
OEDIPUS . What’s that?
THE SPHINX. To love. To be loved by the one you love.
OEDIPUS . I shall love my people and they me.
THE SPHINX . The public square is not a home.
OEDIPUS . The public square has nothing to do with it. The
people of Thebes are looking for a man. If I kill the Sphinx I
shall be that man. Queen Jocasta is a widow; I shall marry
THE SPHINX . A woman who might be your mother!
OEDIPUS . The important thing is that she is not.
THE SPHINX . Do you imagine that a queen and her people
would give themselves up to the first comer?
OEDIPUS . Would you call the vanquisher of the Sphinx a first
comer? I know the promised reward is the queen. Don’t laugh
at me. Please listen. You must. I must prove that my dream
isn’t merely a dream. My father is King of Corinth. My father
and mother were already old when I was born and I lived in a
court of gloom. Too much fuss and comfort produced in me a
feverish longing for adventure. I began to pine and waste away,
when one evening a drunk shouted at me that I was a bastard
and that I was usurping the place of a legitimate son. Blows
and abuse followed, and the next day, despite the tears of
Merope and Polybius, I decided to visit the sanctuaries and
question the gods. They all replied with the same oracle: you
will murder your father and marry your mother.
OEDIPUS . Yes, I mean it. At first this oracle fills you with
horror, but my head is firmly fixed on my shoulders! I reflected
on the absurdity of the whole thing. I made allowances for the
gods and the priests, and I came to this conclusion: either the
oracle hid a less serious meaning which had to be discovered,
21or the priests who communicate from temple to temple by
means of birds found it perhaps to their advantage to put this
oracle into the mouth of the gods and to weaken my chances of
coming into power. Briefly, I soon forgot my fears, and, I own,
profiting by this threat of parricide and incest, I fled the court
so that I might satisfy my thirst for the unknown.
THE SPHINX . Now it’s my turn to feel dazed. I’m sorry I rather
made fun of you. Will you forgive me, Prince?
OEDIPUS . Give me your hand. May I ask your name? Mine is
Oedipus; I’m nineteen.
THE SPHINX . Oh! what does it matter about mine, Oedipus?
You must like illustrious names... That of a little girl of
seventeen wouldn’t interest you.
OEDIPUS . That’s unkind.
THE SPHINX . You adore fame. Yet I should have thought the
surest way of foiling the oracle would be to marry a woman
younger than yourself.
OEDIPUS . That doesn’t sound like you. That’s more like a
mother of Thebes where marriageable young men are few.
THE SPHINX . And that’s not like you either. That was a gross,
common thing to say.
OEDIPUS . So, I shall have walked the roads past mountain and
stream merely to take a wife who will quickly become a
Sphinx, worse than that, a Sphinx with breasts and claws!
THE SPHINX . Oedipus...
OEDIPUS . No, thank you! I prefer to try my luck. Take this belt:
with that you will be able to get to me when I have killed the
beast. (Business.)
THE SPHINX . Have you ever killed?
OEDIPUS . Yes, once. At the cross-roads of Delphi and Daulis. I
was walking along like a moment ago. A carriage was
approaching driven by an old man with an escort of four
servants. When I was on a level with the horses, one of them
reared and knocked me into a serving-man. The fool tried to
strike me, I aimed a blow at him with my stick, but he dodged
down and I caught the old man on the temple. He fell and the
horses bolted, dragging him along. I ran after them, the
servants were terrified and fled; I found myself alone with the
bleeding body of the old man and the horses who screamed as
they rolled about entangled, and broke their legs. It was
dreadful... dreadful...
THE SPHINX . Yes, isn’t it... it’s dreadful to kill.
OEDIPUS . Oh, well, it wasn’t my fault and I think no more
about it. The thing is to clear all obstacles, to wear blinkers,
and not to give way to self-pity. Besides, there is my star.
THE SPHINX . Then farewell, Oedipus. I am of the sex which is
disturbing to heroes. Let us go our ways, we can have little in
OEDIPUS . Disturbing to heroes, eh! You have a high opinion of
your sex.
THE SPHINX . And... supposing the Sphinx killed you?
OEDIPUS . His death depends, if I’m not mistaken, on questions
which I must answer. If I guess right he won’t even touch me,
he’ll just die.
THE SPHINX . And if you do not guess right?
OEDIPUS . Thanks to my unhappy childhood, I have pursued
studies which give me a great start over the riff-raff of Thebes.
THE SPHINX . I’m glad to hear it.
OEDIPUS . And I don’t think this simple-minded monster is
expecting to be confronted by a pupil of the best scholars of
THE SPHINX . You have an answer to everything. A pity, for, I
own, Oedipus, I have a soft spot for weak people, and I should
like to have found you wanting.
OEDIPUS . Farewell.
22The SPHINX makes one step as if to rush in
pursuit of OEDIPUS , stops, but cannot resist the call.
Until her “I! I!” the SPHINX does not take her eyes off
those of OEDIPUS ; she moves as it were round this
immobile, steady, vast gaze from under eyelids
which do not flicker.
OEDIPUS . Did you call me?
THE SPHINX . One last word. For the moment does nothing else
occupy your mind, nothing else fire your heart, nothing stir
your spirit save the Sphinx?
OEDIPUS . Nothing else, for the moment.
THE SPHINX . And he... or she who brought you into his
presence... I mean who would help you... I mean who may
perhaps know something to help bring about this meeting...
would he or she in your eyes assume such prestige that you
would be touched and moved?
OEDIPUS . Naturally, but what does all this mean?
THE SPHINX . And supposing I, I myself, were to divulge a
secret, a tremendous secret?
OEDIPUS . You’re joking!
THE SPHINX . A secret which would allow you to enter into
contact with the enigma of enigmas, with the human beast,
with the singing bitch, as it is called, with the Sphinx?
OEDIPUS . What! You? You? Did I guess aright, and has your
curiosity led you to discover... ? No! How stupid of me. This is
a woman’s trick to make me turn back.
THE SPHINX . Good-bye.
OEDIPUS . Oh! Forgive me?...
THE SPHINX . Too late.
OEDIPUS . I’m kneeling a simple fool who begs forgiveness.
You’re a fatuous young man who is sorry to have
lost his chance and is trying to get it back.
OEDIPUS . I am and I’m ashamed. Look, I believe you, I’ll
listen. But if you have played me a trick, I shall drag you by
the hair and grip you till the blood flows.
THE SPHINX . Come here.
She leads him opposite the pedestal.
Shut your eyes. Don’t cheat. Count up to fifty.
OEDIPUS (with his eyes shut). Take care!
THE SPHINX . It’s your turn to do that.
One feels that something extraordinary is happening.
The SPHINX bounds across the ruins, disappears behind
a wall and reappears in the real pedestal, that is, she
seems to be fastened on to the pedestal, the bust resting
on the elbows and looking straight ahead, whereas the
actress is really standing, and only less her bust appear
and her arms in spotted gloves with her hands
grasping the edge; out of the broken wing suddenly
grow two immense, pale, luminous wings and the
fragment of statue completes her, prolonging her,
and appearing to belong to her. OEDIPUS is heard
counting 47, 48, 49, then he makes a pause and shouts 50.
He turns round.
THE SPHINX (in a high distant voice, joyous and terrible). Yes,
I! I, the Sphinx!
OEDIPUS . I’m dreaming!
You are no dreamer, Oedipus. You know what
you want, and did want. Silence. Here I command. Approach.
with his arms held stiffly by his body as if
paralyzed, tries frantically to free himself.
Come forward. ( OEDIPUS falls on his knees.) As
your legs refuse their help, jump, hop... It’s good for a hero to
make himself ridiculous. Come along! Move yourself! Don’t
worry, there’s nobody to see you.
writhing with anger, moves forward on his knees.
That’s it. Stop! And now...
OEDIPUS . And now, I’m beginning to understand your
methods, what moves you make to lure and slay.
THE SPHINX . ...And now, I am going to give you a demon-
stration, I’m going to show you what would happen in this
place, Oedipus, if you were any ordinary handsome youth from
Thebes, and if you hadn’t the privilege of pleasing me.
OEDIPUS . I know what your pleasantries are worth.
He knits up all the muscles of his body. It is
obvious he is struggling against a charm.
Yield! Don’t try to screw up your muscles and
resist. Relax! If you resist you will only make my task more
delicate and I might hurt you.
OEDIPUS . I shall resist!
He shuts his eyes and turns his head away.
You need not shut your eyes or turn away your
head. For it is not by my look nor by my voice that I work. A
blind man is not so dexterous, the net of a gladiator not so
swift, nor lightning so fine, nor a coachman so stiff, nor a cow
so weighty, nor a schoolboy working at his sums with his
tongue out so good, nor a ship so hung with rigging, so spread
with sails, secure and buoyant; a judge is not so incorruptible,
insects so voracious, birds so bloodthirsty, the egg so noc-
turnal, Chinese executioners so ingenious, the heart so fitful,
the trickster’s hand so deft, the stars so fateful, the snake
moistening its prey with saliva so attentive. I secrete, I spin, I
pay out, I wind, I unwind, I rewind, in such a way that it is
enough for me to desire these knots for them to be made, to
think about them for them to be pulled tight or slackened. My
thread is so fine it escapes the eye, so fluid you might think
you were suffering from a poison, so hard a quiver on my part
would break your limbs, so highly strung a bow stroked
between us would make music in the air; curled like the sea,
the column and the rose, muscled like the octopus, contrived
like the settings of our dreams, above all invisible, unseen, and
majestic like the blood circulating in statues, my thread coils
round you in fantastic patterns with the volubility of honey
falling upon honey.
OEDIPUS . Let me go!
THE SPHINX . And I speak, I work, I wind, I unwind, I calculate,
I meditate, I weave, I winnow, I knit, I plait, I cross, I go over
it again and again, I tie and untie and tie again, retaining the
smallest knots that I shall later on have to untie for you on pain
of death; I pull tight, I loosen, I make mistakes and go back, I
hesitate, I correct, entangle and disentangle, unlace, lace up
and begin afresh; and I adjust, I agglutinate, I pinion, I strap, I
shackle, I heap up my effects, till you feel that from the tip of
your toes to the top of your head you are wrapped round by all
24the muscles of a reptile whose slightest breath constricts yours
and makes you inert like the arm on which you fall asleep.
OEDIPUS (in a weak voice). Let me be! Mercy!...
THE SPHINX . And you will cry for mercy, and you won’t have
to be ashamed of that, for you won’t be the first. I have heard
prouder than you call for their mothers, and I have seen more
insolent than you burst into tears; and the more silent are even
weaker than the rest: they faint before the end and I have to
minister to them after the fashion of embalmers in whose hands
the dead are drunk men no longer able to stand on their feet!
OEDIPUS . Merope!... Mother!
THE SPHINX . Then, I should command you to advance a little
closer, and I should help you by loosening your limbs. So! And
I should question you. I should ask you, for example: What
animal is it that goes on four legs in the morning, in the
afternoon on two, and in the evening on three? And you would
cudgel your brains, till in the end your mind would settle on a
little medal you won as a child, or you would repeat a number,
or count the stars between these two broken columns; and I
should make you return to the point by revealing the enigma.
Man is the animal who walks on four legs when he is a child,
on two when he is full-grown, and when he is old with the help
of a stick as a third leg.
OEDIPUS . How idiotic!
THE SPHINX . You would shout: How idiotic! You all say that.
Then, since that cry only confirms your failure, I should call
my assistant, Anubis. Anubis!
ANUBIS appears and stands on the right of the pedestal
with folded arms and his head turned to one side.
And I should make you go down on your knees.
Go on... Go on... that’s right... Do as you’re told. And you’d
bend your head... and Anubis would bound forward. He would
open his wolf-like jaws!
utters a cry.
I said: would bend, would bound forward, would open...
Haven’t I always been careful to express myself in that mood?
Why that cry? Why that horrified expression? It was a demon-
stration, Oedipus, simply a demonstration. You’re free.
OEDIPUS . Free! (He moves an arm, a leg... He gets up, he reels,
he puts his hand to his head.)
ANUBIS . Pardon me, Sphinx, this man cannot leave here
without undergoing the test.
ANUBIS . Question him.
OEDIPUS . But...
ANUBIS . Silence! Question this man.
A silence. OEDIPUS turns his back and remains motionless.
I’ll question him... All right... I’ll question him...
(With a last look of surprise at ANUBIS ) What animal is it that
walks on four legs in the morning, on two in the afternoon, and
on three in the evening?
OEDIPUS . Why, man, of course! He crawls along on four legs
when he’s little, and walks on two legs when he is big, and
when he’s old he helps himself along with a stick as a third leg.
The SPHINX sways on her pedestal
Oh! Sphinx... Oh! Sphinx, madam! Please, no! No!
(making bit way to the left). Victory!
25He rushes out left. The SPHINX slips down into the
column, disappears behind the wall, and reappears
Oedipus! Where is he? Where is he?
ANUBIS . Gone, flown. He is running breathlessly to proclaim
his victory.
THE SPHINX . Without so much as a look my way, without a
movement betraying feeling, without a sign of gratitude.
ANUBIS . Did you expect anything else?
THE SPHINX . Oh, the fool! Then he has not understood a single
ANUBIS . Not a single thing.
THE SPHINX . Kss! Kss! Anubis... Here, here, look, after him,
quickly, bite him, Anubis, bite him!
ANUBIS . And now it’s all going to begin afresh. You’re a
woman again and I’m a dog.
THE SPHINX . I’m sorry. I lost my head, I’m mad. My hands are
trembling. I’m like fire. I wish I could catch him again in one
bound, I’d spit in his face, claw him with my nails, disfigure
him, trample on him, castrate him and flay him alive!
ANUBIS . That’s more like yourself.
THE SPHINX . Help me! Avenge me! Don’t stand there idle!
ANUBIS . Do you really hate this man?
ANUBIS. The worst that could happen to him would seem too
good to you?
THE SPHINX . It would.
ANUBIS (holding up the SPHINX’S dress). Look at the folds in
this cloth. Crush them together. Now if you pierce this bundle
with a pin, remove the pin, smooth the cloth till all trace of the
old creases disappears, do you think a simple country loon
would believe that the innumerable holes recurring at intervals
result from a single thrust of a pin?
THE SPHINX . Certainly not.
ANUBIS . Human time is a fold of eternity. For us time does not
exist. From his birth to his death the life of Oedipus is spread
flat before my eyes, with is series of episodes.
THE SPHINX . Speak, speak, Anubis, I’m burning to hear. What
d’you see?
ANUBIS . In the past Jocasta and Laius had a child. As the
oracle gave out that this child would be a scourge...
THE SPHINX . A scourge!
ANUBIS . A monster, an unclean beast...
THE SPHINX . Quicker, quicker!
ANUBIS . Jocasta bound it up and sent it into the mountains to
get lost. A shepherd of Polybius found it, took it away, and, as
Polybius and Merope were lamenting a sterile marriage...
THE SPHINX . I can’t contain myself for joy.
ANUBIS . They adopted it. Oedipus, son of Laius, killed Laius
where the three roads cross.
THE SPHINX . The old man.
ANUBIS . Son of Jocasta, he will marry Jocosta.
THE SPHINX . And to think I said to him: “She might be your
mother.” And he replied: “The important thing is that she is
not.” Anubis! Anubis! It’s too good to be true...
ANUBIS . He will have two sons who will kill each other, and
two daughters one of whom will hang herself. Jocasta will
hang herself...
THE SPHINX . Stop! What more could I hope for? Think,
Anubis: the wedding of Jocasta and Oedipus! The union of
mother and son... And will he know soon?
ANUBIS . Soon enough.
THE SPHINX . What a moment to live! I have a foretaste of its
delights. Oh! to be present!
You will be.
THE SPHINX . Is that true?...
ANUBIS . I think the moment has come to remind you who you
are and what a ridiculous distance separates you from this little
body which is listening to me. You who have assumed the role
of Sphinx! You, the Goddess of Goddesses! You, the greatest
of the great! The implacable! Vengeance! Nemesis!
prostrates himself.
Nemesis... (She turns her back to the audience
and remains a while erect, making a cross with her arms.
Suddenly she comes out of this hypnotic state and rushes up
stage.) Once more, if he is in sight, I should like to feed my
hatred, I want to see him run from one trap to another like a
stunned rat.
ANUBIS . Is that the cry of the awakening goddess or of the
jealous woman?
THE SPHINX . Of the goddess, Anubis, of the goddess. Our gods
have cast me for the part of the Sphinx, and I shall show
myself worthy of it.
ANUBIS . At last!
THE SPHINX (looks down on the plain, leaning over to examine
it. Suddenly she turns around. The last trace of the greatness
and fury which had transformed her has disappeared). Dog!
you lied to me.
THE SPHINX . Yes, you! Liar! liar! Look along the road.
Oedipus is coming back, he’s running, he’s flying, he loves
me, he has understood!
ANUBIS . You know very well, Madam, what accompanies his
success and why the Sphinx is not dead.
Look how he jumps from rock to rock, just as my
heart leaps in my breast.
ANUBIS. Convinced of his triumph and your death this young
fool has just realized that in his haste he’s forgotten the most
important thing.
THE SPHINX . Mean wretch! Do you mean to tell me he wants to
find me dead?
ANUBIS . Not you, my little fury: the Sphinx. He thinks he’s
killed the Sphinx; he will have to prove it. Thebes won’t be
satisfied with a fisherman’s yarn.
THE SPHINX . You’re lying. I’ll tell him everything. I’ll warn
him. I’ll save him. I’ll turn him away from Jocasta, from that
miserable town...
ANUBIS . Take care.
THE SPHINX . I shall speak.
ANUBIS . He’s coming. Let him speak first.
OEDIPUS out of breath, comes in down stage left.
He sees the SPHINX and ANUBIS standing side by side.
(saluting). I’m happy to see, Madam, what good
health the immortals enjoy after their death.
THE SPHINX . What brings you back here?
OEDIPUS . The collecting of my due.
Angry movement on the part of ANUBIS towards OEDIPUS ,
who steps back.
Anubis! (With a gesture she orders him to leave
her alone. He goes behind the ruins. To OEDIPUS ) You shall
have it. Stay where you are. The loser is a woman. She asks
one last favour of her master.
Excuse me for being on my guard, but you’ve taught
me to distrust your feminine wiles.
THE SPHINX . Ah! I was the Sphinx. No, Oedipus... You will
bear my mortal remains to Thebes and the future will reward
you... according to your deserts. No... I ask you merely to let
me disappear behind this wall so that I may take off this body
in which, I must confess, I have, for some little while, felt
rather... cramped.
OEDIPUS . Very well. But be quick. At the last bugles... (The
bugles are heard.) You see, I speak of them and they are
sounded. I must waste no time.
THE SPHINX (hidden). Thebes will not leave a hero standing at
her gates.
VOICE OF ANUBIS (from behind the ruins). Hurry, Madam,
hurry. It looks as though you’re inventing excuses and
dawdling on purpose.
THE SPHINX (hidden). Am I the first, God of the Dead, whom
you’ve had to drag by the clothes?
OEDIPUS. You’re trying to gain time, Sphinx.
THE SPHINX (hidden). So much the better for you, Oedipus. My
haste might have served you ill. A serious difficulty occurs to
me. If you bear into Thebes the body of a girl instead of the
monster which the people expect, the crowd will stone you.
OEDIPUS . That’s true! Women are simply amazing; they think
of everything.
THE SPHINX (hidden). They call me: The virgin with the
claws... The singing bitch... They will want to identify my
fangs. Don’t be alarmed. Anubis! My faithful dog! Listen,
since our faces are only shadows, I want you to give me your
jackal’s head.
OEDIPUS . Splendid idea!
(hidden). Do what you like, so long as this shameful
playacting may come to an end and you may become yourself
once more.
THE SPHINX (hidden). I shan’t be long.
OEDIPUS. I shall count up to fifty as I did before. I’ll have my
own back.
ANUBIS (hidden). Madam, Madam, what are you waiting for?
THE SPHINX. Now I’m ugly, Anubis. A monster!... Poor boy...
supposing I frighten him...
ANUBIS . Don’t worry, he won’t even see you.
THE SPHINX . Is he blind then?
ANUBIS. Many men are born blind and only realize it the day a
home-truth hits them between the eyes.
OEDIPUS . Fifty!
ANUBIS (hidden). Go on... Go on...
THE SPHINX . (hidden). Farewell, Sphinx.
From behind the wall comes the staggering figure of a
girl with a jackal’s head. She waves her arms in the
air and falls.
About time too! (He rushes forward, not stopping to
look, lifts the body, and takes a stand down stage right. He
carries the body before him on his outstretched arms.) No! not
like that! I should look like that tragedian I saw in Corinth
playing the part of a king carrying the body of his son. The
pose was pompous and moved no one. (He tries holding the
body under his left arm; behind the ruins on the mound appear
two giant forms covered with rainbow veils: the gods.)No! I
should be ridiculous. Like a hunter going home empty-handed
after killing his dog.
ANUBIS (the form on the right). To free your goddess’s body of
all human contamination, perhaps it might be as well for this
28Oedipus to disinfect you by bestowing on himself at least a
title of demi-god.
NEMESIS (the form on the left). He is so young...
OEDIPUS . Hercules! Hercules threw the lion over his
shoulder!... (He puts the body over his shoulder.) Yes, over my
shoulder. Over my shoulder! Like a demi-god!
ANUBIS (veiled). Isn’t he simply incredible!
OEDIPUS (moving off towards the left, taking two steps after
each of his thanksgivings). I have killed the unclean beast.
NEMESIS (veiled). Anubis... I feel very ill at ease.
ANUBIS . We must go.
OEDIPUS . I have saved the town!
ANUBIS. Come along, mistress, let us go.
OEDIPUS . I shall marry Queen Jocasta!
NEMESIS (veiled). Poor, poor, poor mankind!... I can stand no
more, Anubis... I can’t breathe. Let us leave the earth.
OEDIPUS . I shall be king!
A murmur envelopes the two huge forms. The veils
fly round them. Day breaks. Cocks crow.
The coronation and nuptial celebrations have been
going on since dawn. The crowd has just acclaimed the queen
and the conqueror of the Sphinx for the last time.
Every one goes home. In the little square of the royal palace
now rises only the slight murmur of a fountain. Oedipus and
Jocasta find privacy at last in the nuptial chamber. They are
very tired and heavy with sleep. In spite of a few hints and
civilities on the part of destiny, sleep will prevent them from
seeing the trap which is closing on them for ever.
The platform represents JOCASTA’S bedroom, which is as red
as a little butcher’s shop amid the town buildings. A broad bed
covered with white furs. At the foot of the bed, an animal’s
skin. On the right of the bed, a cradle. On the right fore-stage,
a latticed bay window, looking on to the square of Thebes. On
the left fore-stage, a movable mirror of human size. OEDIPUS
and JOCASTA are wearing their coronation costumes. From the
moment the curtain rises, they move about in the slow motion
induced by extreme fatigue.
JOCASTA . Phew! I’m done! You are so active, dear! I am
afraid, for you, this room will become a cage, a prison.
OEDIPUS . My dear love! A scented bedroom, a woman’s room,
yours! After this killing day, those processions, that ceremon-
ial, that crowd which still clamored for us under our very
JOCASTA . Not clamored for us... for you, dear.
OEDIPUS . Same thing.
JOCASTA . You must be truthful, my young conqueror. They
hate me. My dress annoys them, my accent annoys them, they
are annoyed by my blackened eyelashes, my rouge, and my
OEDIPUS . It’s Creon who annoys them! The cold, hard,
inhuman Creon! I shall make your star rise again. Ah! Jocasta!
What a magnificent programme!
JOCASTA . It was high time you came. I can’t stand it any more.
OEDIPUS. Your room a prison! Your room, dear... and our bed.
JOCASTA . Do you want me to remove the cradle? After the
death of the child, I had to have it near me, I couldn’t sleep... I
was too lonely... But now...
29(in an indistinct voice). But now...
OEDIPUS . I said... I said... that it’s he... he... the dog... I mean...
the dog who won’t... the dog... the fountain dog... (His head
JOCASTA . Oedipus! Oedipus!
OEDIPUS (awakens, startled). What?
JOCASTA . You were falling asleep, dear!
OEDIPUS . Me? Never.
JOCASTA . Oh, yes, you were, dear. You were telling me about a
dog who won’t... a fountain-dog. And I was listening.
She laughs and herself seems to be becoming vague.
I was asking you if you wanted me to remove the
cradle, if it worries you.
OEDIPUS . Am I such a kid as to fear this pretty muslin ghost?
On the contrary, it will be the cradle of my luck. My luck will
grow in it beside our love until it can be used for our first son.
So you see!...
JOCASTA . My poor love... You’re dropping with fatigue and
here we stand... (Same business as with OEDIPUS )... stand on
this wall...
OEDIPUS . What wall?
JOCASTA . This rampart wall. (She starts.) A wall... What? I...
I... (Haggard) What’s happening?
OEDIPUS (laughing). Well, this time it’s you dreaming. We’re
tired out, my poor sweet.
JOCASTA . I was asleep? Did I talk?
OEDIPUS . We are a pretty pair! Here I go telling you about
fountain-dogs, and you tell me about rampart walls: and this is
our wedding night! Listen, Jocasta, if I happen to fall asleep
again (are you listening?), do please awaken me, shake me, and
if you fall asleep, I’ll do the same for you. This one night of all
must not founder in sleep. That would be too sad.
JOCASTA . You crazy darling you, why? We have all our life
before us.
OEDIPUS . Maybe, but I don’t want sleep to spoil the miracle of
passing this joyous night alone, unutterably alone with you. I
suggest we remove these heavy clothes, and as we’re not
expecting any one...
JOCASTA . Listen, my darling boy, you’ll be cross...
OEDIPUS . Jocasta, don’t tell me there’s still some official duty
on the program!
JOCASTA . While my women are doing my hair, etiquette
demands that you receive a visit.
OEDIPUS . A visit? At this hour?
JOCASTA . A visit... a visit... a purely formal visit.
OEDIPUS . In this room?
JOCASTA . In this room.
OEDIPUS . From whom?
JOCASTA . Now don’t get cross. From Tiresias.
OEDIPUS . Tiresias? I refuse!
JOCASTA . Listen, dear...
OEDIPUS . That’s the limit! Tiresias playing the part of the
family pouring out their farewell advice. How comic! I shall
refuse his visit.
JOCASTA . You crazy dear, I am asking you to. It’s an old
custom in Thebes that the high priest must in some way bless
the royal marriage bonds. And besides, Tiresias is our old
uncle, our watchdog. I am very fond of him, Oedipus, and
Laius adored him. He is nearly blind. It would be unfortunate if
you hurt his feelings and set him against our love.
OEDIPUS . That’s all very well... in the middle of the night...
Do! Please, for our sake and the sake of the future.
It’s essential. See him for five minutes, but see him and listen
to him. I ask you to.
She kisses him.
I warn you I shan’t let him sit down.
I love you, dear. (Long kiss) I shall not be long. (At
the right-hand exit) I am going to let him know he can come.
Be patient. Do it for my sake. Think of me.
She goes out. OEDIPUS , alone, looks at himself in the
mirror and tries attitudes. TIRESIAS comes in left,
unheard. OEDIPUS sees him in the middle of the room
and turns about face.
I am listening.
TIRESIAS . Steady, My Lord. Who told you I had saved up a
sermon for your especial benefit?
OEDIPUS . No one, Tiresias, no one. But I don’t suppose you
find it pleasant acting as kill-joy. I suggest you are waiting for
me to pretend I have received your advice. I shall bow, and you
will give me the accolade. That would be enough for us in our
tired state and at the same time custom would be satisfied.
Have I guessed right?
TIRESIAS . It is perhaps correct that there is at the bottom of this
procedure a sort of custom, but for that, it would be necessary
to have a royal marriage with all the dynastic, mechanical, and,
I admit, even irksome business which that entails. No, My
Lord. Unforeseen events bring us face to face with new
problems and duties. And you will agree, I think, that your
coronation, and your marriage, appear in a form which is
difficult to classify, and does not fit into any code.
No one could say more graciously that I have crashed
on Thebes like a tile from a roof.
OEDIPUS . You must know, then, that classifiable things reek of
death. You must strike out in other spheres, Tiresias, quit the
ranks. That’s the sign of masterpieces and heroes. An original,
that’s the person to astonish and to rule.
TIRESIAS . Right! Then you will admit that, as I have taken on a
job outside the ceremonial sphere, I am striking out on a new
line for myself.
OEDIPUS . To the point, Tiresias, to the point.
TIRESIAS . Good. Then I’ll go straight to the point and speak in
all frankness. My Lord, your auguries look black, very black. I
must put you on your guard.
OEDIPUS . Well, if I didn’t expect that! Anything else would
have surprised me. This is not the first time the oracles have set
about me and my audacity has thwarted them.
TIRESIAS . Do you believe they can be thwarted?
OEDIPUS . I am the living proof of it. And even if my marriage
upsets the gods, what about your promises, your freeing of the
town, and the death of the Sphinx? And why should the gods
have pushed me on as far as this room, if this marriage
displeases them?
TIRESIAS . Do you think you can solve the problem of free will
in a minute? Ah! power, I fear, is going to your head.
OEDIPUS . And power is slipping away from you.
TIRESIAS . Take care! You are speaking to a high priest.
OEDIPUS . Take care yourself, high priest. Must I remind you
that you are speaking to your king?
TIRESIAS . To the husband of my queen, My Lord.
OEDIPUS . Jocasta notified me a little while ago that her power
is to pass into my hands, in full. Say that to your master.
TIRESIAS . I serve only the gods.
Well, if you prefer that way of putting it, say that to
the person who is awaiting your return.
TIRESIAS . Headstrong youth! You don’t understand me.
OEDIPUS . I understand perfectly well: an adventurer is in your
way. I expect you hope I found the Sphinx dead on my path.
The real conqueror must have sold it to me, like those hunters
who buy the hare from a poacher. And supposing I have paid
for the mortal remains, whom will you find ultimately as the
conqueror of the Sphinx? The same type of person who has
been threatening you every minute and preventing Creon from
sleeping: a poor second-class soldier whom the crowd will bear
in triumph and who will claim his due... (Shouting) his due!
TIRESIAS . He would not dare.
OEDIPUS . Ah! you see! I have made you say it. That’s the
secret of the intrigue. There go your beautiful promises. That is
what you were counting on.
TIRESIAS . The queen is more to me than my own daughter. I
must watch over her and defend her. She is weak, credulous,
OEDIPUS . You are insulting her.
TIRESIAS . I love her.
OEDIPUS . She is in need of no one’s love but mine.
TIRESIAS. About this love, Oedipus, I demand an explanation.
Do you love the queen?
OEDIPUS . With all my being.
TIRESIAS . I mean do you love to take her in your arms?
OEDIPUS . I love most of all to be taken in her arms.
TIRESIAS . I appreciate that delicate distinction. You are young,
Oedipus, very young. Jocasta might be your mother. I know,
oh! I know, you are going to reply...
OEDIPUS . I am going to reply that I have always dreamed of
such a love, an almost motherly love
Oedipus, aren’t you confusing love and love of
glory? Would you love Jocasta if she were not on a throne?
OEDIPUS . A stupid question which is always being asked.
Would Jocasta love me if I was old, ugly, and had not appeared
out of the unknown? Do you fancy you cannot be infected by
love through touching purple and gold? Are not the privileges
of which you speak of the very substance of Jocasta, an organic
part of her? We have been each other’s from all eternity.
Within her body lies fold after fold of a purple mantle which is
much more regal than the one she fastens on her shoulders. I
love and adore her, Tiresias. At her side, I seem to occupy at
last my proper place. She is my wife, she is my queen. I
possess her, I shall keep her, I shall find her again, and neither
by prayers nor threats can you drag from me obedience to
orders from heaven knows where.
TIRESIAS . Think it over again, Oedipus. The omens and my
own wisdom give me every reason to fear this wild marriage.
Think it over.
OEDIPUS . Rather late, don’t you think?
TIRESIAS . Have you had experience of women?
OEDIPUS . Not the slightest. And to complete your astonishment
and coyer myself with ridicule in your eyes, I am a virgin.
OEDIPUS . The high priest of a capital is astonished that a
country boy should put all his pride in keeping himself pure for
a single offering. You would, no doubt, have preferred a
degenerate prince, a puppet, so that Creon and the priests could
work the strings.
TIRESIAS . You are going too far!
OEDIPUS . Must I order you again...
TIRESIAS . Order? Has pride sent you mad?
Don’t put me into a rage! My patience is at an end,
my temper is ungovernable, and I am capable of any unpre-
meditated act.
TIRESIAS . What arrogance!... Weak and arrogant!
OEDIPUS . You will have brought it on yourself.
He throws himself upon TIRESIAS , seizing him by the neck.
Let me go... Have you no shame?...
OEDIPUS . You are afraid that I could, from your face, there,
there, close up, and in your blind man’s eyes, read the real
truth about your behaviour.
TIRESIAS . Murderer! Sacrilege!
OEDIPUS . Murderer! I ought to be... One day, I shall probably
have to repent for this foolish respect, and if I dared... Oh! oh!
Why! Gods! look here... here... in his blind man’s eyes, I had
no idea it was possible.
TIRESIAS . Let me go! Brute!
OEDIPUS. The future! My future, as in a crystal bowl.
TIRESIAS . You will repent...
OEDIPUS . I see, I see... Soothsayer, you have lied! I shall marry
Jocasta... A happy life, rich, prosperous, two sons...
daughters... and Jocasta still as beautiful, still the same, in love,
a mother in a palace of happiness... Now it’s not so clear, not
clear. I want to see! It’s your fault, soothsayer... I want to see!
He shakes him.
Curse you!
(suddenly recoiling, letting TIRESIAS go, and putting
his hands over his eyes). Oh! filthy wretch! I am blind. He’s
thrown pepper at me. Jocasta! Help! Help!...
I threw nothing, I swear. You are punished for your
OEDIPUS (writhing on the ground). You lie!
TIRESIAS . You wanted to read by force the secrets my diseased
eyes hold and that I myself have not yet interpreted; and you
are punished.
OEDIPUS . Water, water, quickly, it’s burning me...
TIRESIAS (laying his hands over OEDIPUS ’ face). There, there...
Be a good boy... I forgive you. Your nerves are on edge. Come,
keep still. Your sight will return, I swear. I expect you got to
the point which the gods wish to keep in darkness, or they may
be punishing you for your impudence.
OEDIPUS . I can see a little... I think.
TIRESIAS . Are you in pain?
OEDIPUS . Less... the pain is going. Ah!... it was like fire, red
pepper, a thousand pinpoints, a cat’s paw scrabbling in my eye.
Thank you...
TIRESIAS . Can you see?
OEDIPUS . Not clearly, but I can see, I can see. Phew! I really
thought I was blind for good and that it was one of your kind of
tricks. Besides, I rather deserved it.
TIRESIAS . It’s nice to believe in miracles when miracles suit us,
and when they don’t, it’s nice to believe in them no longer but
say it is a trick on the part of the soothsayer.
OEDIPUS . Forgive me. I am of a violent and vindictive dis-
position. I love Jocasta. I was waiting for her, impatiently, and
this extraordinary phenomenon, all those images of the future
in the pupil of your eyes put me under a spell, made me dizzy -
as if I was drunk.
TIRESIAS . Can you see better now? It is an almost blind man
asking you.
Quite, and I have no more pain. Heavens, I’m
ashamed of my conduct towards an infirm old man and a
priest. Will you accept my apologies?
TIRESIAS . I was only speaking for your own good and
OEDIPUS . Tiresias, in a way I owe you something in return, a
confession that is difficult to make, and which I had promised
myself I would make to no one.
TIRESIAS . A confession?
OEDIPUS . I noticed during the coronation ceremony that you
and Creon were making signs to one another. Do not deny it.
Well, I wished to keep my identity secret; but I give it up.
Listen carefully, Tiresias. I am not a wanderer. I come from
Corinth. I am the only child of King Polybius and Queen
Merope. A nobody will not soil this marriage bed. I am a king
and son of a king.
TIRESIAS . My lord. (He bows.) A word from you would have
cleared the atmosphere of the uneasiness created by your
incognito. My little girl will be so glad...
OEDIPUS . But wait! I ask you as a favour to safeguard at least
this last night. Jocasta still loves in me the wanderer dropped
out of the clouds, the young man stepping suddenly out of the
shadows. It will unfortunately be only too easy to destroy this
mirage tomorrow. In the meantime, I hope the queen will
become sufficiently submissive for her to learn without disgust
that Oedipus is not a prince fallen from the sky, but merely a
prince. I wish you good evening, Tiresias. Jocasta will be on
her way back. I am dropping with fatigue... and we want to
remain in intimacy together. That is our desire.
TIRESIAS . My lord, excuse me. ( OEDIPUS makes a sign to him
with his hand. TIRESIAS stops at the left-hand exit.) One last
OEDIPUS (loftily). What is it?
Forgive my boldness. This evening, after the closing
of the temple, a beautiful young girl came into the private
chapel where I work and, without a word of excuse, handed me
this belt and said: “Give it to Lord Oedipus and repeat word for
word this sentence: Take this belt: with that you will be able to
get to me when I have killed the beast.” I had scarcely tucked
away the belt when the girl burst out laughing and disappeared,
but I couldn’t make out in what direction.
OEDIPUS (snatching away the belt). And that’s your trump
card. You have already built up a whole system in order to
destroy my hold on the queen’s head and heart. How should I
know? A previous promise of marriage... A girl takes her
revenge... The temple scandal... Tell-tale find...
TIRESIAS . I was fulfilling my commission. That’s all.
OEDIPUS . Miscalculation and bad policy. Go... and carry this
bad news with all speed to prince Creon. ( TIRESIAS stays on the
threshold.) He reckoned he was going to scare me! But in point
of fact, it is I who scare you, Tiresias, I scare you. I can see it
written in large letters on your face. It wasn’t so easy to
terrorize the child. Confess that the child terrifies you,
grandpa! Confess, grandpa! Confess I terrify you! Confess at
least I make you afraid!
OEDIPUS is lying face down on the animal-skin. TIRESIAS
is standing like a bronze statue. Silence. Then thunder.
Yes. Very afraid. (He leaves, walking backwards.
His prophetic voice can be heard.) Oedipus! Oedipus! listen to
me. You are pursuing classic glory. There is another kind:
obscure glory, the last resource of the arrogant person who
persists in opposing the stars.
remains looking at the belt. When JOCASTA
34comes in, in her night-dress, he quickly hides the belt
under the animal-skin.
Well now? What did the old bogy say? He must have
tormented you.
OEDIPUS . Yes... no...
JOCASTA. He’s a monster. He must have proved to you that you
are too young for me.
OEDIPUS . You are beautiful, Jocasta...!
JOCASTA . ...That I am old.
OEDIPUS . He rather gave me to understand that I loved your
pearls, and your diadem.
JOCASTA . Always damaging everything! Spoiling everything!
Doing harm!
OEDIPUS . But you can take it from me, he didn’t manage to
scare me. On the contrary, I scared him. He admitted that.
JOCASTA . Well done! My love! You, dear, after my pearls and
OEDIPUS . I am happy to see you again without any pomp,
without your jewels and orders, white, young, and beautiful, in
our loving room.
JOCASTA . Young! Oedipus!... You mustn’t tell lies...
OEDIPU S. Again...
JOCASTA . Don’t scold me.
OEDIPUS. Yes, I shall scold you! I shall scold you because a
woman like you ought to be above such nonsense. A young
girl’s face is as boring as a white page on which my eyes can
read nothing moving; whereas your face!... I must have the
scars, the tattooing of destiny, a beauty which has weathered
tempests. Why should you be afraid of crows’ feet, Jocasta?
What would a silly little girl’s look or smile be worth beside
your remarkable face; struck by fate, marked by the hangman,
and tender, tender and... (He notices that JOCASTA is weeping.)
Jocasta! my dear little girl, you’re crying! Whatever’s the
matter?... Oh, look here... What have I done? Jocasta!...
JOCASTA . Am I so old then... so very old?
OEDIPUS . My dear crazy girl! It’s you who persist in...
JOCASTA . Women say things to be contradicted. They always
hope it isn’t true.
OEDIPUS . My dear Jocasta!... How silly I am! What a clumsy
bear I am... Darling... Calm yourself, and kiss me... I meant...
JOCASTA . Never mind... I am being ridiculous.
She dries her eyes.
It’s all my fault.
It isn’t... There... the black is running into my eye
now. ( OEDIPUS coaxes her.) It’s all over.
OEDIPUS . Quick, a smile. (Slight rumbling of thunder) Listen.
JOCASTA . My nerves are bad because of the storm.
OEDIPUS . The sky is so bright with stars, so pure.
JOCASTA . Yes, but there is a storm brewing somewhere. When
the fountain makes a still murmur like silence, and my
shoulder aches, there is always a storm about and summer
She leans against the bay window. Summer lightning.
Come here, quickly...
Oedipus!... come here a moment.
OEDIPUS . What is it?...
JOCASTA . The sentry... look, lean out. On the bench on the
right, he’s asleep. Don’t you think he’s handsome, that boy?
with his mouth wide open.
OEDIPUS . I’ll teach him to sleep. I’ll throw some water in his
open mouth.
OEDIPUS . How dare he sleep when guarding the queen!
JOCASTA . The Sphinx is dead and you’re alive. Let him sleep
in peace! May all the town sleep in peace! May they all sleep
every one!
OEDIPUS . Lucky sentry!
JOCASTA . Oedipus! Oedipus! I should like to make you
jealous, but it isn’t that... This young guard...
OEDIPUS . What is so extraordinary about this young guard
JOCASTA . During that famous night, the night of the Sphinx,
while you were encountering the beast, I had an escapade on
the ramparts with Tiresias. I had heard that a young soldier had
seen the spectre of Laius, and that Laius was calling for me to
warn me of a threatening danger. Well... that soldier was the
very sentry who is guarding us.
OEDIPUS . Who is guarding us!... Any way... Let him sleep in
peace, my kind Jocasta. I shall guard you all right on my own.
Of course, not the slightest sign of the spectre of Laius.
JOCAST A . Not the slightest, I’m sorry to say... Poor lad! I
touched his shoulders and legs, and kept saying to Zizi,
“Touch, touch,” and I was in a state... because he was like you.
And it’s true, you know, Oedipus, he was like you.
OEDIPUS . You say: “This guard was like you.” But, Jocasta,
you didn’t know me then; it was impossible for you to know or
to guess...
JOCASTA . Yes, indeed, that’s true. I expect I meant to say my
son would be about his age. (Silence) Yes... I am getting
muddled. It’s only now that this likeness strikes me. (She
shakes off this uneasy feeling.) You’re a dear, you’re good-
looking, I love you. (After an attitude) Oedipus!
OEDIPUS . My goddess!
I approve of your not telling the story of your victory
to Creon or to Tiresias, or to everybody (With her arms round
his neck), but to me... to me!
OEDIPUS (freeing himself). I had your promise!... And but for
that boy...
JOCASTA . Is the Jocasta of yesterday the Jocasta of now?
Haven’t I a right to share your memories without anybody else
knowing anything about it?
OEDIPUS . Of course.
JOCASTA . And do you remember, you kept saying: “No, no,
Jocasta, later, later when we are in our loving room.” Well,
aren’t we in our loving room?...
OEDIPUS . Persistent monkey! Charmer! She always ends by
getting what she wants. Now lie still... I am beginning.
JOCASTA . Oh, Oedipus! Oedipus! What fun! What fun! I’m
quite still.
lies down, shuts her eyes, and keeps still.
begins lying, hesitating, inventing,
accompanied by the storm.
Now. I was nearing Thebes. I was following the
goattrack which rounds the hill to the south of the town. I was
thinking of the future, of you whom I imagined less beautiful
than you are in reality, but still, very beautiful, painted, and
sitting on a throne in the centre of a group of ladies-in-waiting.
Supposing you do kill it, I thought, would you, Oedipus, dare
to ask for the promised reward? Should I dare to go near the
queen?... And I kept walking and worrying myself, when all of
a sudden I came to a halt. My heart was beating hard. I had just
heard a sort of song. The voice that sang it was not of this
world. Was it the Sphinx? My haversack contained a knife. I
slipped the knife under my tunic and crept along. Do you
36happen to know the ruins of a little temple on that hill, with a
pedestal and the hind-quarters of a chimera? (Silence.)
Jocasta... Jocasta... Sleeping?
JOCASTA (awaking with a start). What? Oedipus...
OEDIPUS . You were sleeping.
JOCASTA . I wasn’t.
OEDIPUS . Oh, yes, you were. There’s a fickle little girl for you!
She demands a story and then goes and falls asleep in the
middle of it instead of listening.
JOCAST A . I heard it all. You’re mistaken. You were speaking
of a goat-track.
OEDIPUS . A long way past the goat-track!...
JOCASTA . Don’t be angry, darling. Are you cross with me?...
JOCASTA . Yes, you are cross with me, and rightly. What a
stupid silly I am! That’s what age does for you.
OEDIPUS . Don’t be sad. I’ll start the story again, I promise you,
but first of all you and I must lie down side by side and sleep a
little. After that, we shall get out of this glue and this struggle
against sleep which is spoiling everything. The first one to
wake up will wake the other. Promise.
JOCASTA . Promised. Poor queens know how to sleep sitting,
for a minute between two audiences. But give me your hand. I
am too old, Tiresias was right.
OEDIPUS . Perhaps so for Thebes, where girls are marriageable
at thirteen. Then what about me? Am I an old man? My head is
drooping; I am woken up by my chin hitting my chest.
JOCASTA . You? That’s quite different, it’s the dustman, as
children saw! But as for me... You began to tell me the most
marvellous story in the world and I go and doze away like a
grandma beside the fire. And you will punish me by never
beginning it over again, and finding excuses... Did I talk?
Talk? No. I thought you were being very attentive.
You naughty girl, have you some secrets you are afraid you
might disclose to me during your sleep?
JOCASTA . I was simply afraid of those foolish things that we
sometimes say when sleeping.
OEDIPUS . You were resting as good as gold. So long, my little
JOCASTA . So long, my king, my love.
Hand in hand, side by side, they shut their eyes and fall
into the heavy sleep of people who struggle against
sleep. A pause. The fountain soliloquizes. Slight
thunder. Suddenly, the lighting becomes the lighting of
dreams. The dream of OEDIPUS . The aninml-skin is pushed
up. It it lifted by the head of ANUBIS . He shows the belt
at the end of his out-stretched arm. OEDIPUS tosses about
and turns over.
(in a slow mocking voice). Thanks to my unhappy
childhood, I have pursued studies which give me a great start
over the riff-raff of Thebes, and I don’t think this simple-
minded monster is expecting to be confronted by a pupil of the
best scholars of Corinth. But if you have played a trick on me,
I shall drag you by the hair. (Up to a howl) I shall drag you by
the hair, I shall drag you by the hair, I shall grip you till the
blood flows!... I shall grip you till the blood flows!...
JOCASTA (dreaming). No, not that paste, not that foul paste!...
OEDIPUS (in a distant, muffled voice). I shall count up to fifty:
one, two, three, four, eight, seven, nine, ten, ten, eleven,
fourteen, five, two, four, seven, fifteen, fifteen, fifteen, fifteen,
three, four...
ANUBIS . And Anubis would bound forward. He would open his
wolf-like jaws!
37He disappears under the platform. The animal-skin
resumes its normal appearance.
Help me! Help! Help! Come to me! Everybody!
Come here!
JOCASTA . What? What is it? Oedipus! my darling! I was
sleeping like a lump! Wake up! (She shakes him.)
OEDIPUS (Struggling and talking to the SPHINX ). Oh! Madam,
Madam! Mercy, Madam! No! No! No! No, Madam!
JOCASTA . My pet, don’t scare me so. It’s a dream. This is me,
me, Jocasta, your wife, Jocasta.
OEDIPUS . No, no! (He awakens.) Where was I? How ghastly!
Jocasta, is that you?... What a nightmare, what a horrible
JOCAST A . There, there, it’s all over, you are in our room, dear,
in my arms...
OEDIPUS . Didn’t you see anything? Really, how silly I am, it
was that animal-skin... Phew! I must have talked. What did I
JOCASTA . It’s your turn now. You were shouting: “Madam!
No, no, Madam! No, Madam. Mercy, Madam!” Who was that
wicked woman?
OEDIPUS . I’ve forgotten now. What a night!
JOCASTA . And as for me! Your shouts saved me from an un-
speakable nightmare. Look! You’re soaked through, swimming
in perspiration. It’s my fault. I let you go to sleep in all those
heavy clothes, golden chains, clasps, and those sandals which
cut your heel... (She lifts him up. He falls back.) Come along!
What a big baby! I can’t possibly leave you in this state. Don’t
make yourself heavy, help me...
She lifts him up, takes off his tunic and rubs him down.
(still in a vague state). Yes, my little darling mother...
JOCASTA (mocking him). “Yes, my little darling mother...”
What a child! Now he’s taking me for his mother.
OEDIPUS (awake). Oh, forgive me, Jocasta, my love, I am being
so silly. You see I’m half asleep, I mix up everything. I was
thousands of miles away with my mother who always thinks I
am too cold or too hot. You’re not cross?
JOCASTA . Silly boy! Let me see to you, and sleep away. All the
time he’s excusing himself and asking forgiveness. My word!
What a polite young man! He must have been taken care of by
a very kind mother, very kind, and then you go and leave her,
there. But I mustn’t complain of that. I love with all the
warmth of a woman in love that mother who petted you and
kept you and brought you up for me, for us.
OEDIPUS . Sweet.
JOCASTA . I should say so! Your sandals. Raise your left leg.
(She takes off his sandals.) And now the right.
Same business; suddenly she utters a terrible cry.
Hurt yourself?
JOCASTA . No... no... (She recoils, and stares like a mad
creature at OEDIPUS’ feet.)
OEDIPUS . Ah! my scars... I didn’t know they were so ugly. My
poor darling, did they alarm you?
JOCASTA . Those holes... how did you get them?... They must
come from such serious injuries...
OEDIPUS . From the hunt, I think. I was in the woods; my nurse
was carrying me. Suddenly from a clump of trees a wild boar
broke cover and charged her. She lost her head and let me go. I
fell and a woodcutter killed the animal while it was belabour-
ing me with its tusks... It’s true! But she is as pale as a ghost!
My darling! I ought to have warned you. I’m so used to them
38myself, those awful holes. I didn’t know you were so
JOCASTA . It’s nothing...
OEDIPUS . Weariness and sleepiness put us into this state of
vague terror... you had just come out of a bad dream...
JOCASTA . No,... Oedipus. No. As a matter of fact, those scars
remind me of something I am always trying to forget.
OEDIPUS . I always strike unlucky.
JOCASTA . You couldn’t possibly know. It’s to do with a
woman, my foster-sister and linen-maid. She was with child at
the same age as myself, at eighteen. She worshipped her
husband despite the difference of age and wanted a son. But
the oracles predicted so fearful a future for the child that, after
giving birth to a son, she had not the courage to let it live.
JOCAST A . Wait... Imagine what strength of mind a poor woman
must have to do away with the life of her life... the son from
her womb, her ideal on earth and love of loves.
OEDIPUS . And what did this... woman do?
JOCASTA . With death in her heart, she bored holes in the feet of
the nursling, tied them, carried it secretly to a mountain-side
and abandoned it to the wolves and bears. (She hides her face.)
OEDIPUS . And the husband?
JOCASTA . Every one thought the child had died a natural death,
and that the mother had buried it with her own hands.
OEDIPUS . And... this woman... still lives?
JOCASTA . She is dead.
OEDIPUS . So much the better for her, for my first example of
royal authority would have been to inflict on her, publicly, the
worst tortures, and afterwards, to have her put to death.
JOCASTA . The oracles were clear and matter-of-fact. Before
those things a woman always feels so stupid and helpless.
To kill! (Recalling LAIUS ) Of course, it isn’t
infamous to kill when carried away by the instinct of self-
defence, and when bad luck is involved. But basely to kill in
cold blood the flesh of one’s flesh, to break the chain... to cheat
in the game!
JOCASTA . Oedipus, let’s talk about something else... your
furious little face upsets me too much.
OEDIPUS . Yes, let us talk about something else. I should be in
danger of loving you less if you tried to defend this miserable
JOCASTA . You’re a man, my love, a free man and a chief! Try
and put yourself in the place of a child-mother who is
credulous about the oracles, worn out, disgusted, confined, and
terrified by the priests...
OEDIPUS . A linen-maid! That’s her only excuse. Would you
have done it?
JOCASTA (with a gesture). No, of course not.
OEDIPUS . And don’t run away with the idea that to fight the
oracles requires a herculean determination. I could boast and
pose as a wonder; I should be lying. You know, to thwart the
oracles, I only had to turn my back on my family, my longings,
and my country. But the farther I got from my native town, and
the nearer I came to yours, the more I felt I was returning
JOCASTA . Oedipus! Oedipus, that little mouth of yours which
chatters away, that little wagging tongue, those frowning
eyebrows and fiery eyes! Couldn’t the eyebrows relax a little,
Oedipus, and the eyes close gently for once, and that mouth be
used for softer caresses than words?
OEDIPUS . There I go again. A bear, a great bear, and a clumsy
one at that.
JOCASTA . You are a child.
OEDIPUS . I’m not a child!
Now he’s off again! There, there, be a good boy.
OEDIPUS . You’re right. I’m behaving very badly. Calm this
talkative mouth with yours, and these feverish eyes with your
JOCASTA . One moment. I’ll shut the grating. I don’t like to
know that grating’s open at night.
OEDIPUS . I’ll go.
JOCASTA . You stay lying down... I’ll take a look in the mirror
at the same time. Do you want to embrace a fright? After all
this excitement, the gods alone know what I look like. Don’t
make me nervous. Don’t look at me. Turn the other way,
OEDIPUS . I’m turning over. (He lies across the bed with his
head on the edge of the cradle.) There, I’m shutting my eyes.
( JOCASTA goes to the window.)
JOCASTA (to OEDIPUS ). The little soldier is still asleep, he’s
halfnaked... and it isn’t warm tonight... poor lad!
Oedipus! Oedipus! There’s a drunk and the sentry
doesn’t hear him. I hate drunks. I want him sent away, and the
soldier woken up. Oedipus! Oedipus! Please! (She shakes him.)
OEDIPUS . I wind, I unwind, I calculate, I meditate, I weave, I
winnow, I knit, I plait, I cross,...
JOCASTA . What’s he saying? How beautifully he sleeps! I
might die, he wouldn’t notice it.
THE DRUNK . Politics!
He sings. As soon as the first lines are sung, JOCASTA
leaves OEDIPUS , putting his head back on the edge
of the cradle, and goes to the middle of the room.
She listens.
Madam, what ever are you at?
Madam, what ever are you at?
Your husband’s much too young,
Much too young for you, that’s flat... Flat...
Et cetera....
She goes to the movable mirror; suddenly, she stops,
listening in the direction of the square. A DRUNK is
talking very loud with long pauses between his reflections.
Politics!... Pol - i - tics! What a mess!
They just tickle me to death!... Ho! Look! a dead’un!... Sorry, a
mistake: ’s a soldier asleep... Salute! Salute the sleeping army!
Silence. JOCASTA stands on her toes, and tries to see outside.
Politics!... (Long silence) It’s a
disgrace... a disgrace...
JOCASTA . Oedipus, my dear!
OEDIPUS (in his sleep). Hi!
Oh! The beasts...
Madam, what ever are you at
With this holy marriage?
During what follows, JOCASTA , bewildered, goes to
the window on tip-toe. Then she returns to the bed, and
leaning over OEDIPUS , watches his face, but still looking
from time to time in the direction of the window,
where the voice of the DRUNK alternates with the murmur
of the fountain and the cock-crows. She lulls the
sleep of OEDIPUS by gently rocking the cradle.
Now, if I were in politics... I’d say to the queen:
Madam!... a minor can’t be your man... Take a husband who’s
serious, sober, and strong... a husband like me...
VOICE OF THE GUARD (who has just awakened. He gradually
recovers his self-assurance). Move on!
VOICE OF THE DRUNK . Salute the waking army!...
THE GUARD . Move on! And look sharp!
THE DRUNK . You might at least be polite...
As soon as the GUARD is heard, JOCASTA leaves the
cradle, having first muffled OEDIPUS’ head in the muslin.
D’you want me to stop your mouth?
THE DRUNK . I’m clearing off, I’m clearing off.
During these remarks, JOCASTA goes to the mirror. She
cannot see herself owing to the moonlight conflicting
with the dawn. She takes the mirror by its supports and
moves it away from the wall. The mirror itself stays
fastened to the scenery. JOCASTA drags the frame along,
trying to get some light, glancing at OEDIPUS who sleeps
on. She brings the piece of furniture carefully into
the foreground, opposite the prompter’s box, so that the
public becomes her mirror and JOCASTA looks at herself
in full view of all.
(very distant).
Your husband’s much too young,
Much too young for you, that’s flat!... Flat!...
crows, a kind of snoring noise front the rhythmic,
youthful breathing of OEDIPUS . JOCASTA , with her
face up against the empty mirror, lifts her cheeks by
Seventeen years soon pass. The great plague in
Thebes seems to be the first set-back to that renowned good
luck of Oedipus. For their infernal machine to work properly,
the gods wanted all ill-luck to appear in the guise of good luck.
After delusive good fortune, the king is to know true
misfortune and supreme consecration, which, in the hands of
the cruel gods, makes of this playing-card king, in the end, a
Cleared of the bedroom, the red hangings of which are pulled
away into the flies, the platform seems to be surrounded by
walls which grow in size. It finally represents an inner
courtyard. By a balcony high up JOCASTA’S room is made to
communicate with this court. One gets to it through an open
door below, in the centre.
When the curtain rises, OEDIPUS , aged, and wearing a little
beard, stands near to the door. TIRESIAS and CREON are stand-
ing on the right and left of the court. Centre right, a young boy
rests one knee on the ground: he is the MESSENGER from
What have I done to shock people now, Tiresias?
Sound of the SENTRY’S footsteps, bugle-calls, cock-
You are enlarging on things, as usual. I think, and
I’ll say again, it might be more decent to learn of a father’s
death with less joy.
OEDIPUS . Indeed. (To the MESSENGER ) Don’t be afraid, boy.
Tell me, what was the cause of Polybius’ death? Is Merope so
very terribly unhappy?
MESSENGER . King Polybius died of old age, my lord, and... the
queen, his wife, is barely conscious. She is so old she can’t
fully realize even her misfortune.
OEDIPUS (his hand to his mouth). Jocasta! Jocasta!
appears on the balcony; she parts the curtain.
She is wearing her red scarf.
What is it?
How pale you are! Don’t you feel well?
JOCASTA . I admit that what with the plague, the heat, and visits
to the hospitals I feel quite exhausted. I was resting on my bed.
OEDIPUS . This messenger has brought me great news, worth
disturbing you for.
JOCASTA (astonished). Good news?...
OEDIPUS . Tiresias blames me for finding it good: My father is
JOCASTA . Oedipus!
OEDIPUS . The oracle told me I should be his murderer, and that
I should be the husband of my mother. Poor Merope! She is
very old, and my father, Polybius, has died a good natural
JOCASTA . The death of a father it never a happy event, as far as
I know.
OEDIPUS . I hate play-acting and conventional tears. To be quite
genuine, I was so young when I left my father and mother, that
I no longer have any particular feelings for them.
Lord Oedipus, if I may...
OEDIPUS . You may, my boy.
MESSENGER. Your indifference is not really indifference. I can
explain it to you.
OEDIPUS . Something new.
M ESSENGER . I ought to have begun at the end of the story. On
his death-bed, the king of Corinth asked me to tell you that you
are only his adopted son.
MESSENGER . My father, one of Polybius’ shepherds, found you
on a hill, at the mercy of wild beasts. He was a poor man; he
carried his find to the queen who used to weep because she had
no children. This is how the honour of performing such an
extraordinary mission at the Theban court has fallen to me.
TIRESIAS . This young man must be exhausted after his journey,
and he has crossed our town which is full of unhealthy
stenches. Perhaps it would be better if he took some refresh-
ment and rested before being questioned.
OEDIPUS . No doubt, Tiresias, you would like the torture to last.
You think my world is tottering. You don’t know me well
enough. Don’t you rejoice too soon. Perhaps I am happy to be
a child of fortune.
TIRESIAS . I was only putting you on your guard against your
sinister habit of questioning, seeking to know and understand
OEDIPUS . Whether I am a child of the muses or of a common
tramp, I shall question without fear; I will know things.
JOCASTA . Oedipus, my love, he is right. You get excited... You
get excited... and you believe everything you’re told, and then
OEDIPUS . Upon my word! That’s the last straw! Unflinchingly
I withstand the hardest knocks, and you all plot to make me put
up with these things and not try to find out where I come from.
Nobody is plotting... my love... but I know...
OEDIPUS . You’re wrong, Jocasta. Nobody knows me at present,
neither you, nor I, nor any one else. (To the M ESSENGER ) Don’t
tremble, my lad. Speak up. Tell us more.
MESSENGER . That’s all I know, Lord Oedipus, except that my
father untied you when you were half-dead, hanging by your
wounded feet from a short branch.
OEDIPUS . Oh! so that’s how we come by those fine scars!
JOCASTA . Oedipus, Oedipus, dear... come up here... Anybody
would think you enjoy plunging knives into your wounds.
OEDIPUS . And so those were my swaddling clothes!... My story
of the hunt is... false, like so many others. Well, if that’s the
way things are... I may come of a god of the woods and a
dryad, and have been nourished by wolves. Don’t you rejoice
too soon, Tiresias!
TIRESIAS . You do me an injustice...
OEPIDUS . At any rate, I haven’t killed Polybius, but... now I
come to think of it... I have killed a man.
OEDIPUS . Yes! I! Oh! you needn’t be alarmed. It was
accidental, and sheer bad luck! Yes, I have killed, soothsayer,
but as for parricide, you’d better officially give it up. During a
brawl with the serving-men, I killed an old man at the cross-
roads of Delphi and Daulis.
JOCASTA . At the cross-roads of Delphi and Daulis!...
She disappears as if drowning.
There’s marvelous material for you to build up a
really fine catastrophe. That traveler must have been my father.
“Heavens, my father!” But incest won’t be so easy, gentlemen.
What do you think, Jocasta?... (He turns round and sees
JOCASTA has disappeared.) Splendid! Seventeen years of
happiness, and a perfect reign, two sons, two daughters, and
then this noble lady only has to learn that I am the stranger
whom, by the way, she first loved, and she turns her back on
me. Let her sulk! Let her sulk! I shall be left alone with my
CREON . Your wife, Oedipus, is ill. The plague is demoralizing
us all. The gods are punishing the town and desire a victim. A
monster is hiding in our midst. They demand he shall be found
and driven out. Day after day the police have failed and the
streets are littered with corpses. Do you realize what an effort
you are asking of Jocasta? Do you realize that you are a man
and that she is a woman, an aging woman at that, and a mother
who is disturbed about the contagion? Before blaming Jocasta
for a movement of impatience, you might have tried to excuse
OEDIPUS I see what you are getting at, brother. The ideal
victim, the monster in hiding... From one coincidence to
another... wouldn’t it be a pretty job, with the help of the
priests and the police, to succeed in muddling the people of
Thebes and make them believe I am that monster!
CREON . Don’t be absurd!
OEDIPUS . I think you’re capable of anything, my friend. But
Jocasta, that’s another matter... I am astonished at her attitude.
(He calls her.) Jocasta! Jocasta! Where are you?
TIRESIAS . She looked as though her nerves were all on edge.
She is resting... let her be.
OEDIPUS . I am going... (He goes toward the MESSENGER. )
Now, let us come to the point...
OEDIPUS . Holes in my feet... bound... on the mountainside...
How did I fail to understand at once?... And then I wondered
why Jocasta...
43It’s very hard to give up enigmas... Gentlemen, I was not the
son of a dryad. Allow me to introduce you to the son of a
linen-maid, a child of the people, a native product.
CREON . What’s this all about?
OEDIPUS . Poor Jocasta! One day I unwittingly told her what I
thought of my mother... I understand everything now. She must
be terrified, and utterly desperate. In short... wait for me. I
must question her at all costs, leaving nothing in the dark, so
that this horrible farce may come to an end.
He leaves by the middle door. CREON immediately
rushes to the MESSENGER , whom he pushes out
through the door on the right.
He is mad. What does all this mean?
Don’t move. A storm is coming to us from the most
distant ages. The thunderbolt is aimed at this man, and I ask
you, Creon, to let the thunderbolt follow its whims, to wait
motionless and not to interfere in the slightest.
Suddenly, OEDIPUS is seen on the balcony, stranded
and aghast. He leans on the wall with one hand.
You have killed her for me.
What do you mean, killed?
OEDIPUS . You have killed her for me... That’s where she is,
hanging... hanging by her scarf... She is dead... gentlemen, she
is dead... It’s all over... all over.
CREON . Dead? I’m coming...
TIRESIAS . Stay here... the priest orders you to. It’s inhuman, I
know; but the circle is closing; we must keep silent and please
stay here...
CREON . You wouldn’t stop a brother from...
I would! Let the story be. Keep out of it.
OEDIPUS (at the door). You have killed her for me... she was
romantic... weak... ill... you forced me to say I was a
murderer... Whom did I murder, gentlemen, I ask you?...
through clumsiness, mere clumsiness... just an old man on the
road... a stranger.
TIRESIAS . Oedipus: through mere clumsiness you have
murdered Jocasta’s husband, King Laius.
OEDIPUS . Mean wretches!... I can see it now! You are carrying
on your plot!... it was even worse than I thought... You have
made my poor Jocasta believe that I was the murderer of
Laius... that I killed the king to set her free and so that I could
marry her.
TIRESIAS . Oedipus, you have murdered Jocasta’s husband,
King Laius. I have known it for a long time, and you are telling
lies. I haven’t said a word about it either to you or to her or to
Creon or to any one else. This is how you reward me for my
OEDIPUS . Laius!... So that’s it... I am the son of Laius and of
the linen-maid. The son of Jocasta’s foster-sister and Laius.
TIRESIAS (to CREON ). If you want to act, now’s the time.
Quickly. There are limits even to harshness.
CREON . Oedipus, through you, my sister is dead. I only kept
silent to save the life of Jocasta. I think it is useless to prolong
unnecessarily the false mystery and the unravelling of a sordid
drama whose intrigue I have finally succeeded in discovering.
OEDIPUS . Intrigue?
CREON . The most secret of secrets are betrayed one day or
another to the determined seeker. The honest man, sworn to
silence, talks to his wife, who talks to an intimate friend, and
so on. (In to the wings) Come in, shepherd.
An old SHEPHERD comes in, trembling.
Who is this man?
CREON . The man who carried you bleeding and bound on to the
mountain-side according to your mother’s orders. Let him
SHEPHERD . To speak means death to me. Princes, why haven’t
I died before so as not to live through this minute?
OEDIPUS . Whose son am I, old man? Strike, strike quickly!
OEDIPUS . I am near to the sound of something that should not
be heard.
SHEPHERD . And I... to the saying of something that should not
be said.
CREON . You must say it. I wish you to.
SHEPHERD . You are the son of Jocasta, your wife, and of Laius,
killed by you where the three roads cross. Incest and parricide,
may the gods forgive you!
OEDIPUS . I have killed whom I should not. I have married
whom I should not. I have perpetuated what I should not. All is
He goes out.CREON drives out the SHEPHERD .
Who was the linen-maid and foster-sister he
was talking about?
TIRESIAS . Women cannot hold their tongues. Jocasta must have
made out that her crime had been committed by a servant to
see what effect it had on Oedipus.
He holds his arm and listens with bent bead.
Uncle! Tiresias! Come up, quickly! Hurry, it’s
horrible! I heard shrieks inside; mother dear doesn’t move any
more, she has fallen like a log, and father dear is writhing over
her body and stabbing at his eyes with her big golden brooch.
There’s blood everywhere. I’m frightened! I’m too frightened,
come up... come up, quickly...
She goes in.
This time nothing shall prevent me...
TIRESIAS . Yes, I shall. I tell you, Creon, the finishing touches
are being put to a masterpiece of horror. Not a word, not a
gesture. It would be unkind for us to cast over it so much as a
shadow of ourselves.
CREON . Sheer madness!
TIRESIAS . Sheer wisdom... You must admit...
CREON . Impossible. As for the rest, power falls once more into
my hands.
He frees himself, and at the very moment when be
bounds forward, the door opens. OEDIPUS appears,
blind. ANTIGONE is clinging to his clothes.
Forbidding murmur. The little ANTIGONE , with hair
dishevelled, appears on the balcony.
I shall go mad! Why, but why has he done that? Better
have killed himself.
TIRESIAS . His pride does not let him down. He wanted to be the
happiest of men, now he wants to be the most unhappy.
OEDIPUS . Let them drive me out, let them finish me off, stone
me, strike down the foul beast!
ANTIGONE . Father!
TIRESIAS . Antigone! My soothsaying staff! Offer it to him
from me. It will bring him some luck.
45kisses the hand of TIRESIAS and carries
the staff to OEDIPUS .
Tiresias offers you his staff.
OEDIPUS . Is he there?... I accept it, Tiresias... I accept it... Do
you remember, eighteen years ago, I saw in your eyes that I
should become blind and I couldn’t understand it? I see it all
clearly now, Tiresias, but I am in pain... I suffer... The journey
will be hard.
CREON We must nor let him cross the town, it would be an
awful scandal.
TIRESIAS (in a low voice). In a town of plague? And besides,
you know, they saw the king Oedipus wished to be; they won’t
see the king he is now.
CREON . Do you mean he will be invisible because he is blind?
TIRESIAS . Almost.
CREON . Well, I can tell you I have had enough of your riddles
and symbols. My head is firmly fixed on my shoulders and my
feet planted firmly on the ground. I shall give orders.
TIRESIAS . Your police may be well organized, Creon; but
where this man goes they will not have the slightest power.
CREON . I...
TIRESIAS seizes his arm and puts his hand over his
mouth. JOCASTA appears in the doorway. JOCASTA ,
dead, white, beautiful, with closed eyes. Her long scarf
is wound round her neck.
Jocasta! You, dear! You alive!
JOCASTA . No, Oedipus. I am dead. You can see me because
you are blind; the others cannot see me.
OEDIPUS . Tiresias is blind...
Perhaps he can see me faintly... but he loves me, he
won’t say anything...
OEDIPUS . Wife, do not touch me!...
JOCASTA . Your wife is dead, hanged, Oedipus. I am your
mother. It’s your mother who is coming to help you... How
would you even get down these steps alone, my poor child?
OEDIPUS . Mother!
JOCASTA . Yes, my child, my little boy... Things which appear
abominable to human beings, if only you knew, from the place
where I live, if only you knew how unimportant they are!
OEDIPUS . I am still on this earth.
JOCASTA . Only just...
CREON . He is talking with phantoms, he’s delirious. I shall not
allow that little girl...
TIRESIAS . They are in good care.
CREON . Antigone! Antigone! I am calling you...
ANTIGONE . I don’t want to stay with my uncle! I don’t want to,
I don’t want to stay in the house. Dear father, dear father, don’t
leave me! I will show you the way, I will lead you...
CREON . Thankless creature.
OEDIPUS . Impossible, Antigone. You must be a good girl... I
cannot take you with me.
ANTIGONE. Yes, you can!
OEDIPUS . Are you going to desert your sister Ismene?
ANTIGONE . She must stay with Eteocles and Polynices. Take
me away, please! Please! Don’t leave me alone! Don’t leave
me with uncle! Don’t leave me at home!
JOCASTA . The child is so pleased with herself. She imagines
she is your guide. Let her think she is. Take her. Leave
everything to me.
OEDIPUS . Oh!...
He puts his hand to his head.
46Are you suffering, dear?
OEDIPUS . Yes, in the head, the neck, the arms... It’s fearful.
JOCASTA . I’ll give you a dressing at the fountain.
OEDIPUS (breaking down). Mother...
JOCASTA . Who would have believed it? That wicked old scarf
and that terrible brooch! Didn’t I say so time and again?
CREON . It’s utterly impossible. I shall not allow a madman to
go out free with Antigone. It is my duty to...
TIRESIAS . Duty! They no longer belong to you; they no longer
come under your authority.
CREON . And pray whom should they belong to?
TIRESIAS . To the people, poets and unspoiled souls.
JOCASTA . Forward! Grip my dress firmly... don’t be afraid.
They start off.
Come along, father dear... let’s go...
OEDIPUS . Where do the steps begin?
JOCAST A and ANTIGONE . There is the whole of the platform
They disappear. JOCASTA and ANTIGONE speak in
perfect unison.
and ANTIGONE . Careful... count the steps... One, two,
three, four, five...
CREON . And even supposing they leave the town, who will
look after them, who will admit them?
CREON . You mean rather dishonour, shame...
TIRESIAS . Who knows?

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