Creon's opening oration
Men, after much tossing of our ship of state,
the gods have safely set things right again.
Of all the citizens I’ve summoned you,
because I know how well you showed respect
for the eternal power of the throne,
first with Laius and again with Oedipus,
once he restored our city. When he died,
you stood by his children, firm in loyalty.
Now his sons have perished in a single day,
killing each other with their own two hands,
a double slaughter, stained with brother’s blood.
And so I have the throne, all royal power,
for I’m the one most closely linked by blood
to those who have been killed.
to really know a man, to know his soul,
his mind and will, before one witnesses
his skill in governing and making laws.
For me, a man who rules the entire state
and does not take the best advice there is,
but through fear keeps his mouth forever shut,
such a man is the very worst of men—
and always will be. And a man who thinks
more highly of a friend than of his country,
well, he means nothing to me. Let Zeus know,
the god who always watches everything,
I would not stay silent if I saw disaster
moving here against the citizens,
a threat to their security. For anyone
who acts against the state, its enemy,
I’d never make my friend. For I know well
our country is a ship which keeps us safe,
and only when it sails its proper course
do we make friends.
These are the principles
I’ll use in order to protect our state.
That’s why I’ve announced to all citizens
my orders for the sons of Oedipus—
Eteocles, who perished in the fight
to save our city, the best and bravest
of our spearmen, will have his burial,
with all those purifying rituals
which accompany the noblest corpses,
as they move below. As for his brother—
that Polyneices, who returned from exile,
eager to wipe out in all-consuming fire
his ancestral city and its native gods,
keen to seize upon his family’s blood
and lead men into slavery—for him,
the proclamation in the state declares
he’ll have no burial mound, no funeral rites,
and no lament. He’ll be left unburied,
his body there for birds and dogs to eat,
a clear reminder of his shameful fate.
That’s my decision. For I’ll never act
to respect an evil man with honours
in preference to a man who’s acted well.
Anyone who’s well disposed towards our state,
alive or dead, that man I will respect.
Sophocles (495 BC - 406 BC)
trans. Ian Johnston