Front Page Titles (by Subject) ACT I. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. VIII The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Mérope, Olympia, The Orphan of China, Brutus) and Part II (Mahomet, Amelia, Oedipus, Mariamne, Socrates).
ACT I. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. VIII The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Mérope, Olympia, The Orphan of China, Brutus) and Part II (Mahomet, Amelia, Oedipus, Mariamne, Socrates). 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. VIII The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Mérope, Olympia, The Orphan of China, Brutus) and Part II (Mahomet, Amelia, Oedipus, Mariamne, Socrates).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
- Is it my friend, my Philoctetes? Whence
- And wherefore comest thou to distempered Thebes
- In search of death, to brave the wrath of heaven?
- For, know, the gods on this devoted land
- Wreak their full vengeance: mortals dare not tread
- The guilty soil, to death and horror long
- Consigned, and from the living world cut off:
- Away, begone!
- It suits a wretch like me:
- Leave me, my friend, to my unhappy fate;
- And only tell me, if the wrath divine
- Hath, in its rapid progress, spared the queen.
- Jocaste lives; but round her throne still spreads
- The dire contagion; every fatal moment
- Deprives her of some faithful subject: death
- Steals closer by degrees, and seems to threat
- Her sacred life. But heaven, we trust, will soon
- Withdraw its vengeful arm: such scenes of blood
- Will sure appease its rage.
- What horrid crime
- Could bring down so severe a punishment?
- Some four years since.
- Ha! Laius dead! indeed!
- What sweet seducing hope awakes my soul?
- Jocaste! will the gods at length be kind?
- May Philoctetes still be thine? But say,
- Dimas, how fell the king?
- ’Tis four years since
- For the last time towards Bœotia, led
- By fate, you came; scarce had you bent your way
- To Asia, e’er the unhappy Laius fell
- By some base hand.
- Assassinated, sayest thou?
- This was the cause, the source of all our ills,
- The ruin of this wretched country: shocked
- At the sad stroke, we wept the general loss,
- When lo! the minister of wrath divine,
- (Fatal to innocence, and favoring long
- Unpunished guilt) a dreadful monster came,
- (O Philoctetes, would thou hadst been here!)
- And ravaged all our borders, horrid form!
- Made for destruction by avenging heaven,
- With human voice, an eagle, woman, lion,
- Unnatural mixture! rage with cunning joined
- United to destroy us: naught remained
- To save but this alone; in phrase obscure
- The monster had proposed to affrighted Thebes
- A strange enigma, which who could unfold
- Should save his country; if he failed, must die.
- Reluctant we obeyed the hard decree.
- Instant the general voice aloud proclaimed
- The kingdom his reward, who, by the gods
- Inspired, should first unveil the mystery.
- The aged and the wise, by hope misled,
- With fruitless science braved the monster’s rage;
- Vain knowledge all! all tried and trying fell,
- Till Œdipus, the heir to Corinth’s throne,
- Endowed with wisdom far above his years,
- Fearless, and led by fortune, came, beheld,
- Unfolded all, and took the great reward;
- Lives still, and reigns o’er Thebes; but reigns, alas!
- O’er dying subjects, and a desert land.
- Vainly we hoped to see the wayward fates
- Chained to his throne, and yielding to the hand
- Of Œdipus, our great deliverer.
- A little time the gods propitious smiled,
- And blessed us with a gleam of transient peace;
- But barrenness and famine soon destroyed
- Our airy hopes: ills heaped on ills succeed,
- A dreadful plague unpeoples half the realms
- Of sickly Thebes, snatching the poor remains
- Just escaped from famine and the grave: high heaven
- Hath thus ordained, and such our hapless fate.
- But say, illustrious hero, whom the gods
- Have long approved, say, wherefore hast thou left
- The paths of glory, and the smiles of fortune,
- To seek the regions of affliction here?
- I come to join my sorrows and my tears,
- For know the world with me hath lost its best
- And noblest friend: ne’er shall these eyes behold
- The offspring of the gods, like them unconquered,
- Earth’s best support, the guardian deity
- Of innocence oppressed: I mourn a friend,
- The world a father.
- These hands performed the melancholy office,
- Laid on his funeral pile the first of men;
- The all-conquering arrows, those dear dreadful gifts
- The son of Jove bequeathed me, have I brought,
- With his cold ashes, here, where I will raise
- A tomb and altars to my valued friend.
- O! had he lived! had but indulgent heaven,
- In pity to mankind, prolonged his days,
- Far from Jocaste I had still remained;
- And, though I might have cherished still my vain
- And hopeless passion, had not wandered here,
- Or left Alcides for a woman’s love.
- Oft have I pitied thy unhappy flame,
- Caught in thy earliest youth, increasing still
- And growing with thy growth: Jocaste, forced
- By a hard father to a hateful bed,
- Unwillingly partook the throne of Laius.
- Alas! what tears those fatal nuptials cost,
- What sorrows have they brought on wretched Thebes!
- How have I oft admired thy noble soul,
- Worthy of empire! conqueror o’er thyself:
- There first the hero shone, repressed his passion,
- And the first tyrant he subdued was love.
- There we must fly to conquer; I confess it:
- Long time I strove, I felt my weakness long;
- At length resolved to shun the fatal place,
- I took a last farewell of my Jocaste.
- The world then trembled at Alcides’ name,
- And on his valor did suspend their fate;
- I joined the god-like man, partook his toils,
- Marched by his side, and twined his laurel wreath
- Round my own brows: then my enlightened soul
- Against the passions armed, and rose superior.
- A great man’s friendship is the gift of heaven.
- In him I read my duty and my fate;
- I bound myself to virtue and to him:
- My valor strengthened, and my heart improved,
- Not hardened, I became like my Alcides.
- What had I been without him! a king’s son,
- A common prince, the slave of every passion,
- Which Hercules hath taught me to subdue.
- Now then unmoved thou canst behold Jocaste,
- And her new husband.
- Ha! another husband!
- Saidst thou, another?
- Œdipus hath joined
- To hers his future fate
- He is too happy;
- But he is worthy: he who saved a kingdom
- Alone can merit her, and heaven is just.
- He comes, and with him his assembled people;
- Lo! the high-priest attends: this way they bend,
- To deprecate the wrath of angry heaven.
- It melts my soul; I weep for their misfortunes.
- O Hercules, from thy eternal seat
- Look down on thy afflicted country! hear
- Thy fellow citizens! O hear thy friend,
- Who joins his prayers, and be their guardian god!
high priest, chorus.
first person of the chorus.
- Ye blasting powers, who waste this wretched empire,
- And breathe contagion, death, and horrors round us,
- O quicken your slow wrath, be kind at last,
- And urge our lingering fate.
second person of the chorus.
- Strike, strike, ye gods,
- Your victims are prepared; ye mountains, fall!
- Crush us, ye heavens! O death, deliver us,
- And we shall thank you for the boon.
- No more:
- Cease your loud plaints, the wretch’s poor resource;
- Yield to the power supreme, who means to try
- His people by affliction; with a word
- He can destroy, and with a word can save:
- He knows that death is here; the cries of Thebes
- Have reached his throne. Behold! the king approaches,
- And heaven by me declares its will divine;
- The fates will soon to Œdipus unveil
- Their mysteries all, and happier days succeed.
œdipus, jocaste, high priest, ægina, dimas, araspes, chorus.
- O ye, who to this hallowed temple bring
- The mournful offering of your tears: O what,
- What shall I say to my afflicted people?
- Would I could turn the wrath of angry heaven
- Against myself, and quench the deadly flame?
- But O! in universal ills like these,
- Kings are but men, and only can partake
- The common danger. Say, thou minister
- Of the just gods, say, do they still refuse
- To hear the voice of misery; still relentless
- Will they behold us perish, are they deaf
- And silent still?
- King, people, listen all:
- This night did I behold the flame of heaven
- Descending on our altars; to my eyes
- The ghastly shade of Laius then appeared,
- Indignant frowned upon me, and thus spoke
- In fearful accents, terrible to hear:
- “The death of Laius is still unrevenged,
- The murderer lives in Thebes, and doth infect
- The wholesome air with his malignant breath;
- He must be known, he must be punished,
- And on his fate depends the people’s safety.”
- Justly ye suffer, Thebans, for this crime;
- Laius was once your loved and honored king,
- And your neglect hath from his manes drawn
- This vengeance on you. Such is oft the fate
- Of the best sovereigns; whilst they live, respect
- Waits on their laws, their justice is admired,
- And they like gods are served, like gods adored;
- But after death they sink into oblivion.
- No longer then your flattering incense burns:
- The servile mind of wretched man still bends
- To interest; and when virtue is departed,
- ’Tis soon forgotten: therefore doth the blood
- Of murdered Laius now cry out against you,
- And sues for vengeance to offended heaven.
- To sprinkle on his tomb the murderer’s blood
- Will better far than slaughtered hecatombs
- Appease his spirit: be it all our care
- To seek the guilty wretch. Can none remember
- Aught touching this sad deed? Amidst your signs
- And wonders, could no footsteps e’er be traced
- Of this unpunished crime? They always told me
- It was a Theban, who against his prince
- Uplifted his rebellious hand. For me [To Jocaste.
- Who from thy hands received the crown, two years
- After the death of Laius did I mount
- The throne of Thebes, and never since that hour
- Would I recall the subject of thy tears,
- But in respectful silence waited still;
- Still have thy dangers busied all my soul,
- Nor left me time to think on aught but thee.
- When fate, which had reserved me for thy arms,
- Deprived me of my late unhappy lord,
- Who, journeying o’er his kingdom’s frontiers, fell
- By base assassins, Phorbas then alone
- Attended him, his loved and valued friend;
- To whom the king, relying on his wisdom,
- Entrusted half his power: he brought to Thebes
- The mangled corpse: himself half dead with wounds,
- And bathed in blood, fell at Jocaste’s feet;
- “Villains unknown,” he cried, “have slain the king;
- These eyes beheld it: I was dying too,
- But heaven hath restored me to prolong
- A wretched life.” He said no more. My soul
- Distracted saw the melancholy truth
- Was still concealed; and therefore heaven perhaps
- Concealed the murderer too; perhaps accomplished
- Its own eternal will, and made us guilty,
- That it might punish. Soon the sphinx appeared,
- And laid our country waste: then hapless Thebes,
- Attentive to her safety, could not think
- On Laius’ fate, whilst trembling for her own.
- Where is that faithful Phorbas? lives he still?
- Alas! his zeal and service ill repaid,
- Too powerful to be loved, the jealous state
- His secret foe, nobles and people joined
- To punish him for past felicity.
- The multitude accused him, even demanded
- Of me his death: sore pressed on every side,
- I knew not how to pardon or condemn,
- But to a neighboring castle I conveyed him,
- And hid the guiltless victim from their rage.
- There four long winters hath the poor old man,
- To future favorites a sad example,
- Without a murmur or complaint remained,
- And hopes from innocence alone release.
- It is enough, Jocaste. Fly, begone,
- [To his servants.
- Open the prison, bring him hither straight,
- We will examine him before you all;
- Laius and Thebes shall be avenged together:
- Yes, we will hear and judge, will sound the depth
- Of this strange mystery. Ye gods of Thebes,
- Who hear our prayers, and know the murderer, now
- Reveal, and punish; and thou, Sun, withhold
- From his dark eyes thy blessed light! proscribed,
- Abandoned, let him wander o’er the earth
- A wretched miscreant, by his sons abhorred,
- And to his mother horrible! deprived
- Of burial, let his body be the prey
- Of hungry vultures!
- In these execrations
- We all unite.
- Gods! let the guilty suffer,
- And they alone! or if the high decrees
- Of your eternal justice leave to me
- His punishment, at least indulgent grant,
- Where you command, the power to obey;
- If you pursue the guilty, O complete
- The glorious work, and make the victim known!
- [To the people.
- Return, my people, to the temple; there
- Once more entreat the gods: perhaps your prayers
- May from their heavenly mansions draw them down
- To dwell among us: if they loved the king,
- They will avenge his death, and kind to him
- Who errs unknowing, will direct this arm
- For justice raised, and teach me where to strike.
The End of the First Act.