ANTIGONE. This land is sacred, as I would guess—teeming
With sweet bay, olive, and grapevine. Within,
Nightingales are singing sweetly. (16-18)
that the field she and her father have come to is sacred, ruled by supernatural
powers. Her clues are the edible plants that grow there as well as the
nightingales that live inside. The land appears to be life supporting, so she
thinks that gods must be protecting it.
STRANGER. Before you inquire further, go out of this place
where you are
Sitting! For you occupy hallowed ground on which it is not
permitted to treat! (36-37)
The stranger must
protect the sacred field, but he recognizes that Oedipus and Antigone must be
outsiders. He warns them that it’s dangerous for them to be in the field
because it’s “hallowed” or holy. It’s kind of like our tradition of not walking
over graves, out of respect for the departed.
STRANGER. It is not to be touched or inhabited. For the
Goddesses possess it, Daughters of the Earth and Darkness.
So now the stranger
gets a little bit more specific, and it’s not that comforting. The sacred field
isn’t just a hallowed grove; it’s ruled by some deities with terrifying names:
the Fearsome Goddesses, Daughters of the Earth and Darkness. No, the stranger’s
not talking about the latest death metal girl group—he's talking about the
Furies, who are in charge of making sure crime doesn’t pay.
OEDIPUS. May They receive the suppliant graciously,
So that I would no longer depart from the prayerful seat of
this land! (44-45)
It might be hard to
tell what’s going on here due to Oedipus’ lofty language. The suppliant is
someone who asks for something or prays. In this case, that’s Oedipus. So he’s
asking the Furies to please treat him kindly, so that he doesn’t ever have to
leave their sacred grove. We wonder what they’ll say.
STRANGER. You will know whatever I know if you listen.
All the land here is sacred. Solemn Poseidon
Possesses it. In it also dwells the god who brought fire,
The Titan Prometheus. (53-56)
Wait, we thought that
the Furies were in charge of the land. Apparently it’s so sacred that several gods are in charge of it. So far,
the roster includes the Furies, Poseidon, who’s Theseus’ favorite god, and also
Prometheus, who is known for being very smart and keeping people alive. All
very powerful gods.
OEDIPUS. When He pronounced those many evils to me,
He also said that, after a long time, this should be a
That I would come to a final country, where I should find
A seat of the solemn gods and a refuge for strangers.
The “He” Oedipus is
talking about here is Phoebus, aka Apollo. He told Oedipus that he was going to
have to suffer for all the evils he committed. Um…yeah, that definitely
happened. But there's a silver lining—he also said that after his suffering
Oedipus would finally get to die in a peaceful, sacred place. That’s why he’s
so happy to be here.
CHORUS. Know, child of Oedipus, that we do pity you—
And equally this one—for your misfortune.
But we tremble before what the gods may do! We would lack
To speak beyond what we have just said. (254-57)
The gods are, as you
can see, pretty vengeful in Oedipus’ world. The Chorus is pretty smart to be
afraid of them. That’s why they are trying to get Oedipus to exit swiftly, to
avoid the revenge of the Furies. And given that the supernatural is super-real
in Oedipus, we can’t blame them.
CHORUS. Offer now a purification to these deities, to Whom
You first came and Whose ground you trod on.
OEDIPUS. In what way? Oh strangers, instruct me.
CHORUS. First, bring a sacred drink offering from the
Spring, touching it with hands that are pious. (466-70)
The Chorus is willing
to let Oedipus stay in the sacred grove if he’s willing to jump through some
sacred hoops. Usually human beings can find a way to interact with the
supernatural, and in this case it’s through an offering. If Oedipus will give
the Furies an offering, they might not kill him for trespassing on their land.
OEDIPUS. I come to give this miserable body of mine
As a gift to you, not a serious thing to behold, but
The gains from it are superior to any beautiful form.
Oedipus, at the end
of his sad, cursed, miserable life, is offering up his body as a good-luck
charm to Athens. It’s as though by dying in this sacred space, he could be
converted from a flawed, decaying human being into a supernatural, sacred
being. And it works. Pretty cool, huh?
THESEUS. Then, he has come as a suppliant of the deities,
Pays no small tribute to this land and to me.
These things inspire my reverence, and I will never cast out
Of this man, but, on the contrary, I will settle him in my
Oedipus is willing to
bend to the will of the gods in charge of the sacred grove. Because he is
respectful of the religious beliefs of Athens, Theseus is willing to play ball
with him. It’s often true that human beings are much more tolerant of strangers
when they try to fit in, especially when it comes to avoiding divine wrath.