Front Page Titles (by Subject) ACT II. - 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 II. - 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).
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jocaste, ægina, araspes, chorus.
- Believe me, ’tis too true, my royal mistress,
- Your dying people, with one common voice,
- Accuse the hapless Philoctetes: fate
- Hath sent him back to save this wretched kingdom.
- What do I hear, ye powers?
- Yes, it must be he:
- To whom can we impute it but to him?
- When last at Thebes, he seemed to meditate
- A deed like this; for much he hated Laius:
- From Œdipus his traitorous purpose scarce
- Could he conceal; for soon unwary youth
- Betrays itself: soon through the thin disguise
- Of ill dissembled loyalty, we saw
- The rancor of his heart. I know not what
- Provoked him, but too warm and open, ever
- The slave of passion, he would kindle oft
- At the king’s name, and often pour forth threats
- Of vengeance: for some time he left the kingdom,
- But fate soon brought the restless wanderer back;
- And at that fatal time, which heaven distinguished
- By the detested shocking parricide,
- He was at Thebes: e’er since that dreadful hour,
- Suspicion justly falls on Philoctetes:
- But the high name which he had gained in war,
- His boasted title of earth’s great avenger,
- And his heroic deeds, have stopped the tongue
- Of clamor, and suspended yet the stroke
- Of our resentment. Now the time is come
- When Thebes shall think no more of vain respect;
- His glory and his conquests plead no more;
- The hearts of an oppressed people groan;
- The gods require his blood, and must be heard.
- O queen! have pity on a wretched people,
- Who love and honor thee, revere the gods,
- And follow their example; yield up to us
- Their victim, and present our vows to heaven;
- For heaven will hear them, if they come from thee.
- O! if my life can mitigate its wrath,
- I give it freely; take the sacrifice;
- Accept my blood; but O! demand no more.
- Thebans, be gone.
- Alas! I envy those whom death has freed
- From all their cares: but what remains for me,
- What pain and torment to a virtuous heart!
- ’Tis terrible indeed: the clamorous people,
- Warmed with false zeal, will cry aloud for vengeance,
- And soon demand their victim. I forbear
- To accuse him; but if he at last should prove
- The murderer of thy unhappy lord,
- How it must shock thy soul!
- Such guilt and baseness never dwelt in him.
- O my Ægina! since our bonds of love
- Were disunited, naught has pierced my heart
- Like this suspicion: this alone was wanting
- To make Jocaste most completely wretched:
- But I’ll not bear to hear him thus accused;
- I loved him, and he must be innocent.
- Nay, think not that my heart
- Still nourishes a guilty passion for him;
- I conquered that long since; yet, dear Ægina,
- Howe’er the soul may act which virtue guides,
- Its secret motions, nature’s children, still
- Must force their way: they will not be subdued,
- But in the folds and windings of the heart,
- Lurk still, and rush upon us; hid in fires
- We thought extinguished, from their ashes rise:
- In the hard conflict, rigid virtue may
- Resist the passions, but can ne’er destroy them.
- How just, and yet how noble is thy grief!
- Such sentiments!—
- Jocaste is most wretched;
- Thou knowest my miseries, and thou knowest my heart,
- Ægina: twice hath Hymen lit his torch
- For me, and twice hath changed my slavery,
- For such it was; the only man I loved,
- Torn from my arms. Forgive me, ye just gods,
- The sad remembrance of a conquered passion.
- Ægina, thou wert witness of our loves,
- Those ties, alas! dissolved as soon as made:
- Then Œdipus, my sovereign, sought and gained me,
- Spite of myself. I took the diadem,
- Begirt with sorrows. To forget the past
- Became my duty then; and I obeyed.
- Thou knowest I stifled every tender thought
- Of my first love, disguised an aching heart,
- Drank up my tears, and even from myself
- Strove to conceal my griefs.
- How could you venture
- The dangerous trial of a second marriage?
- Will you forgive me? shall I speak?
- The king, the conqueror subdued thee:
- You gave your hand as a reward to him
- Who saved your country.
- Was he
- Happier than Laius? Was your Philoctetes
- Forgotten then, or did they share your heart?
- Thebes, by a cruel monster then laid waste,
- Had promised its deliverer my hand;
- The conqueror of the sphinx was worthy of me.
- I felt some tenderness
- For Œdipus; but O! ’twas far from love:
- ’Twas not, Ægina, that tumultuous passion,
- The impetuous offspring of my ravished senses,
- Not the fierce flame that burned for Philoctetes;
- Who, by his fatal charms, subdued my reason,
- And poured love’s sweetest poison o’er my heart:
- Friendship sincere was all I could bestow
- On Œdipus, for much I prized his virtue;
- And pleased, beheld him mount the throne of Thebes
- Which he had saved; but, whilst I followed him,
- Even at the altar, my affrighted soul,
- Wherefore I knew not, was most strangely moved,
- And I retired with horror to his arms.
- To this a dreadful omen did succeed:
- Methought, Ægina, in the dead of night,
- I saw the gulf of hell yawn wide before me;
- When lo! the spirit of my murdered lord,
- Bloody and pale, with threatening aspect stood,
- And pointed to my son; that son, Ægina,
- Which I to Laius bore, and to the gods
- Offered, a cruel pious sacrifice.
- They beckoned me to follow them, and seemed
- To drag me with them to the horrid gloom
- Of Tartarus: my troubled soul long kept
- The sad idea, and must keep it ever.
- Now Philoctetes doubles every woe.
- I heard a noise that way, and, see he comes.
- ’Tis he; I tremble: but I will avoid him.
- Do not avoid me, do not fly, Jocaste.
- From Philoctetes; turn, and look upon me:
- O speak to me, nor fear my jealous tears
- Should interrupt the new-born happiness
- Of thy late nuptials: think not that I came
- To cast reproaches on thee, or with sighs
- To win thy lost affection; vulgar arts,
- Unworthy of us both! the heart, Jocaste,
- That burned for thee, and if I may recall
- Thy plighted faith, was once not hateful to thee,
- Has learned, from thy example, not to feel
- Weakness like that.
- I must approve thy conduct,
- And ’tis but fit I vindicate my own:
- I loved thee, Philoctetes; but my fate
- Tore me from thee, and gave me to another.
- Thou knowest what woes the horrid sphinx, by heaven
- Appointed to afflict us, brought on Thebes:
- Too well thou knowest that Œdipus—
- Is thine;
- I know it, and is worthy of the blessing:
- Young as he was, his wisdom saved thy country;
- His virtues, his fair deeds, and what still more
- Exalted him, Jocaste’s love, have ranked
- Thy Œdipus among the first of men.
- Wherefore did cruel fortune, still resolved
- To punish Philoctetes, drive me hence,
- To seek vain trophies in a distant land?
- O! if the conqueror of the sphinx was doomed
- To conquer thee, why was not I at Thebes?
- I’d not have labored in the fruitless search
- Of idle mysteries, wrapped in words of darkness;
- This arm, to conquest long beneath thy smiles
- Accustomed, should have drawn the vengeful sword,
- And laid the howling monster at thy feet.
- But O! a happier arm has wrested from me
- That noblest triumph, and deserved Jocaste.
- Alas! thou knowest not yet what ills await thee.
- Thee and Alcides I have lost already:
- Is there aught more to fear?
- Thou dwellest at Thebes;
- The detestation of avenging gods;
- The baneful pestilence stalks forth amongst us;
- The blood of Laius cries aloud, and heaven
- Pursues us still: the murderer must bleed;
- He has been sought for; some have dared to say
- That he is found, and call him Philoctetes.
- Astonishment! the base suspicion shocks
- My soul, and bids my tongue be silent ever
- On the opprobrious theme: accused of murder!
- Murdering thy husband! thou canst never believe it.
- O! never! ’twere injurious to thy honor
- To combat such imposture, or refute
- The vile aspersion; no, thou knowest my heart,
- Thou hadst my love, and couldst not do a deed
- Unworthy of it. Let them perish all,
- These worthless Thebans, who deserve their fate
- For thus suspecting thee: but, hence! begone!
- Our vows are fruitless: heaven reserves for thee
- Superior blessings. Thou wert born to serve
- The gods, whose wisdom would not bury here
- Virtues like thine, or suffer love to rule
- A heart designed for universal sway,
- And courage fit to save and bless mankind.
- Ill would it suit the follower of Alcides
- To lose his moments in the fond concerns,
- The little cares of love. Thy hours are due
- To the unhappy and the injured: they
- Will all thy time and all thy virtue claim.
- Already tyrants throng on every side;
- Alcides dead, new monsters rise; go, thou,
- And give the world another Hercules.
- Œdipus comes; permit me to retire;
- Not that I fear the weakness of my heart,
- But as Jocaste loved thee once, and he
- Is now my husband, I should blush before you.
œdipus, philoctetes, araspes.
- Sayst thou, Araspes, is he here, the prince,
- The noble Philoctetes?
- Yes; ’tis he;
- Led by blind fortune to this hapless clime,
- Where angry heaven hath made me suffer wrongs
- I am not used to bear. I know the crimes
- Laid to my charge; but think not that I mean
- To justify myself: too well I know thee
- To think that Œdipus would ever stoop
- To such low mean suspicions: no! thy fame
- Is mixed with mine; in the same steps of honor
- We trod together. Theseus, Hercules,
- And Philoctetes, pointed out to thee
- The paths of glory; do not then disgrace
- Their names, and taint thy own, by calumny,
- But keep their bright examples still before thee.
- All that I wish is but to save my country,
- And if I can be useful to mankind,
- This is the ambition I would satisfy,
- And this the lesson which those heroes taught,
- Whom thou hast followed, and whom I admire.
- I meant not to accuse thee: had I chose
- The people’s victim, it had been myself.
- I think it but the duty of a king
- To perish for his country: ’tis an honor
- Too great for common men. Then had I saved
- Once more my Thebans, yielded up my life,
- And sheltered thine: but ’twas not in my power.
- The blood of guilt must flow, thou standest accused.
- Defend thyself: if thou art innocent,
- None shall rejoice so much as Œdipus;
- Nor as a criminal shall then receive thee,
- But as my noble friend, as Philoctetes.
- I thought myself, indeed, above suspicion:
- From many a base assassin has this arm,
- While Jove’s dread thunder slept, relieved mankind
- Whom we chastise, we seldom imitate.
- I do not think thou wouldst disgrace thy name,
- And thy fair martial deeds, by such a crime.
- If Laius fell by thee, he fell with honor,
- I doubt it not, for I must do thee justice.
- If I had slain him, I had only gained
- One added triumph. Kings, indeed, are gods
- To their own subjects, but to Hercules,
- Or me, they were no more than common men.
- I have avenged the wrongs of mighty princes;
- And, therefore, little, thou mayest think, should fear
- To attack the bravest.
- Heroes, like thyself,
- Are equal even to kings, I know they are:
- But still remember, prince, whoe’er slew Laius,
- His head must answer for the woes of Thebes;
- And thou—
- I slew him not; let that suffice.
- If I had done the deed, I would have owned,
- Nay boasted of it. Hear me, Œdipus,
- Though vulgar souls, by vulgar methods, deign
- To vindicate their injured honor; kings
- And heroes, when they speak, expect, no doubt,
- To be believed: perhaps thou dost suspect
- I murdered Laius. It becomes not thee,
- Of all men, to accuse me: to thy hand
- Devolved his sceptre and his queen. Who reaped
- The fruits of Laius’s death, but Œdipus?
- Who took the spoils? Who filled his throne? Not I.
- That object never tempted Philoctetes:
- Alcides never would accept a crown:
- We knew no master, and desired no subjects:
- I have made kings, but never wished to be one.
- But ’tis beneath me to refute the falsehood,
- For innocence is lessened by defence.
- Thy pride offends me, whilst thy virtue charms.
- If thou art guiltless, thou hast naught to fear
- From justice and the laws; thy innocence
- Will shine with double splendor: dwell with us,
- And wait the event.
- My honor is concerned,
- And therefore I shall stay; nor hence depart
- Till I have ample vengeance for the wrongs
- Thy base suspicions cast on Philoctetes.
- Araspes, I can never think him guilty:
- A heart like his, intrepid, brave, and fearless,
- Could never stoop to mean disguise; nor thoughts
- So noble e’er inspire the timid breast
- Of falsehood: no! such baseness is far from him:
- I even blushed to accuse him, and condemned
- My own injustice: hard and cruel fate
- Of royalty! alas! kings cannot read
- The hearts of men, and oft on innocence,
- Spite of ourselves unjust, inflict the pains
- Due to the guilty. How this Phorbas lingers!
- In him alone are all my hopes: the gods
- Refuse to hear or answer to our vows;
- Their silence shows how much they are offended.
- Rely then on thyself: the gods, whose aid
- This priest hath promised, do not always dwell
- Within their temples; tripods, caves, and cells,
- The brazen mouths that pour forth oracles,
- Which men had framed, by men may be inspired;
- We must not rest our faith on priests alone;
- Even in the sanctuary traitors oft
- May lurk unseen, exert their pious arts
- To enslave mankind, and bid the destinies
- Speak or be silent just as they command them.
- Search then, and find the truth, examine all;
- Phorbas, and Philoctetes, and Jocaste.
- Trust to yourself; let our own eyes determine;
- Be they our tripods, oracles, and gods.
- Within the temple, thinkest thou, perfidy
- Like this can dwell: but if just heaven at last
- Should fix our fate, and Œdipus be called
- To execute its will, he will receive
- The precious trust, the safety of his country,
- Nor act unworthy of it. To the gods
- Once more I go, and with incessant prayer
- Will try to soothe their anger: thou, meantime,
- If thou wouldst wish to serve me, hasten onward
- The lingering Phorbas; in our hapless state,
- I must enquire the truth of gods and men.
The End of the Second Act.