A monologue from the play by Euripides

  • NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from The Plays of Euripides in English, vol. ii. Trans. Shelley Dean Milman. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1922.
  • JOCASTA: Believe me, O Eteocles my son,
    Old age is not by wretchedness alone
    Attended: more discreetly than rash youth
    Experience speaks. Why dost thou woo ambition,
    That most malignant goddess? O forbear!
    For she's a foe to justice, and hath entered
    Full many a mansion, many a prosperous city,
    Nor left them till in ruin she involves
    All those who harbour her: yet this is she
    On whom thou doat'st. 'Twere better, O my son,
    To cultivate equality, who joins
    Friends, cities, heroes, in one steadfast league
    For by the laws of nature, through the world
    Equality was 'stablished: but the wealthy
    Finds in the poorer man a consant foe;
    Hence bitter enmity derives its source.
    Equality, among the human race,
    Measures, and weights, and numbers hath ordained:
    Both the dark orb of night and radiant sun
    Their annual circuits equally perform;
    Each, free from envy, to the other yields
    Alternately; thus day and night afford
    Their services to man. Yet wilt not thou
    Be satisfied to keep an equal portion
    Of these domains, and to thy brother give
    His due. Where then is justice? Such respect
    As sober reason disapproves, why pay'st thou
    To empire, to oppression crowned with triumph?
    To be a public spectacle thou deem'st
    Were honourable. 'Tis but empty pride.
    When thou hast much already, why submit
    To toils unnumbered? What's superfluous wealth
    But a mere name? Sufficient to the wise
    Is competence: for man possesses naught
    Which he can call his own. Though for a time
    What bounty the indulgent gods bestow
    We manage, they resume it at their will:
    Unstable riches vanish in a day.
    Should I to thee th' alternative propose
    Either to reign, or save thy native land,
    Couldst thou reply that thou hadst rather reign?
    But if he conquer, and the Argive spears
    O'erpower the squadrons who from Cadmus spring,
    Thou wilt behold Thebes taken, wilt behold
    Our captive virgins ravished by the foe:
    That empire which thou seek'st will prove the bane
    Of thy loved country; yet thou still persist'st
    In mischievous ambition's wild career.
    Thus far to thee. And now to you I speak,
    O Polynices; favours most unwise
    Are those Adrastus hath on you bestowed,
    And with misjudging fury are you come
    To spread dire havoc o'er your native land.
    If you (which may the righteous gods avert!)
    This city take, how will you rear the trophies
    Of such a battle? How, when you have laid
    Your country waste, th' initiatory rites
    Perform, and slay the victims? On the banks
    Of Inachus displayed, with what inscription
    Adorn the spoils--"From blazing Thebes these shields
    Hath Polynices won, and to the gods
    Devoted"? Never, O my son, through Greece
    May you obtain such glory. But if you
    Are vanquished and Eteocles prevail,
    To Argos, leaving the ensanguined field
    Strewn with unnumbered corses of the slain,
    How can you flee for succour? 'Twill be said
    By some malignant tongue: "A curst alliance
    Is this which, O Adrastus, thou hast formed:
    We to the nuptials of one virgin owe
    Our ruin." You are hastening, O my son,
    Into a twofold mischief: losing all
    That you attempt, and causing your brave friends
    To perish. O my sons, this wild excess
    Of rage, with joint occurrence, lay aside.
    By equal folly when two chiefs inspired
    To battle rush, dire mischief must ensue.