Oedipus at Colonus Line 1712-2022
Theseus asks if the sudden thunder is why the Chorus is calling him into the grove at Colonus. Oedipus replies to his words, stating that it is time for him to die, and he will reward Theseus and the city of Athens for its kindness. He explains, "Yes; I will direct you, son of Aegeus,/in what shall be a treasure for this city./Old age shall not decay it. Immediately/I will show the way without a hand to guide me/to the place where I must die./And you, describe this to no man, ever,/neither where it is hidden nor in what region,/that doing so may make you a defense/beyond the worth of many shield, or many neighbors' help" Line 1732-1740. Theseus' task is to keep the location of Oedipus' grave a secret and his city will always be protected from enemies. This is the reason why Polyneices and Creon both tried to convince Oedipus to return to Thebes, in order that their city would be protected by Oedipus. Yet he has sent a curse upon Thebes for the ill treatment he received there, exactly the opposite of how Athens aided him when Theseus protected Oedipus from Creon.
Continuing, Oedipus feels rushed away to walk away now to die in the forest. Reminding Theseus to always remain wise and to reveal his secret grave location only to his successor -- whoever the next ruler of Athens shall be. Continuing, Oedipus says "Let us go from this place -- a pressing summons/from the gods forces me -- and delay no more./My children, follow me -- so. In a strange way/I have become your guide; you were once mine./Come on, but touch me not.../This way, this way, like this! For this way Hermes,/the Conductor, leads me, and the goddess of the dead" Line 1758-1766. Feeling the presence of the gods, Oedipus walks off to die in the forest. His daughters Antigone, Ismene, his son Polyneices, and the Athenian king Theseus follow. The Chorus prays to the goddesses of the underworld and to Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the underworld, to treat Oedipus well when he dies and his spirit enters the underworld. The Chorus of Athenian elders has become very respectful of Oedipus, in spite of the fear that they experienced after first meeting him. In return for their respect, Athens will be rewarded with good fortune in the future.
A Messenger appears and explains his version of events that have just occurred as Oedipus died. The Chorus grows excited, and the man describes how Oedipus led the group of people with him, sat on the ground at a certain spot, and told his daughters to bring him water and drink offerings for the gods from a nearby stream, for "He was himself the guide to all of us./When he came to the steep road, rooted in earth/by brazen steps, he stood in one of the many branching paths.../Then he sat down and loosed his filthy robes.../[then] Zeus/of the Underworld thundered. [The daughters] fell to their father's knees/and cried, unceasingly, beating their breasts" Line 1810-1829. Old, blind Oedipus had once been led around by his daughters, yet now he behaves as if he can see once again, nor do his daughter's tears or those of his own son accomplish anything. Oedipus says good-bye to his children and he is called by a voice from the heavens as "It was the god who called them, over and over,/You, Oedipus, Oedipus, why are you hesitating/to go our way? You have been too slow, too long" Line 1846-1848. Old Oedipus asks Theseus to guard his children and to never betray them, and he sends his children away, telling them to never ask where his grave will be. The children leave the scene, and Oedipus is left alone with Theseus. This Athenian king is soon left alone after Oedipus is swallowed up by the earth. That is the end of the Messenger's story.
Stunned, the Chorus sees the two daughters and the others returning to the grove at Colonus where they are standing. Polyneices is gone, for he has returned to Thebes. Antigone explains that what she witnessed was very horrible, as her father suddenly disappeared; she is very sad and wonders how she can continue to live now that he is gone. Ismene tries to comfort her sister, but Antigone becomes very emotional, "And he died in a foreign land,/but one he yearned for. He has his bed/below in the shadowy grass/forever./He has left behind him a mourning sorrow --/these eyes of mine with their tears/bewail you.../Yes, you chose in a foreign land/to die. I find it a lonely death" Line 1941-1951. Antigone feels badly for her father because he has not died in his home city of Thebes. Suddenly, she tells Ismene that they must go back to find Oedipus' grave. Ismene warns her sister that it is unlawful, but Antigone says she cannot live any longer, and she tells Ismene to kill her in the spot where Oedipus died. Ismene becomes upset because she will be lonely if Antigone dies, and the Chorus comforts both children, saying that they are safe and there is no need to worry, for Theseus has promised to protect them now.
Theseus himself arrives again and reminds Antigone that it is forbidden to seek Oedipus' grave, for "He/has forbidden approach to the place,/nor may any voice invoke/the sacred tomb where he lies./he said, if I truly did this,/I should have forever a land unharmed./These pledges the God heard from me/and Oath, Zeus' servant, all seeing" Line 2003-2010. Theseus says that he has sworn a sacred oath to the gods that he will not reveal the secret of where Oedipus is buried. Reminded of this, Antigone is content and decides to return to Thebes with her sister, asking for Theseus' permission and help, "If this was, then, the mind of Him,/the dead, I must be content./Send us, then, to our ancient Thebes/that perhaps we may prevent/the murder that comes to our brothers" Line 2011-2015. Antigone remembers that Oedipus cast a curse upon his sons Polyneices and the younger Eteocles, and she hopes to save them from killing each other. Theseus agrees to allow the two daughters to return to Thebes, and the Chorus urges everyone to stop feeling unhappy because Oedipus' long life of suffering has ended at last. He has been released from the pain of living, for it was in those final few moments before death that Oedipus showed more strength than he had shown in many years. Oedipus went towards death eagerly, knowing that his long, sightless life would finally end there, on the road to Colonus.