Saturday, September 27, 2014

Oedipus Prologue
A play based on Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex”
© Eso A. B., 2014

The spectacle takes place before the castle of Thebes. The ‘castle’ may be in an ancient or modern setting that may project in the background. In the foreground, to the right of the stage is an iron kettle standing on three long legs. It serves as the altar piece. Smoke rises from the kettle. A young boy on a high ladder feeds the kettle with new tufts of fur whenever the smoke of burning fur diminishes. On the ground level a priest murmurs prayers. To the left of stage stands Queen Ismene and a young man. The queen is old and frail. She is facing a group of citizens (the Chorus and audience) of Thebes.

Chorus (hold its hands palms up in a gesture of receiving):
Dearest Queen, 

Queen Ismene, 
we wait to hear the story.
Tell us—what plagues us?
As the summer solstice nears,
we have come to the wood

of Thebes
to hear you tell
why we ought hope that
our ancient hairdresser,
the Sun will still rise 
and still find tree tops
to scissor and trim?

Queen Ismene:
Thebans, the story speaks of itself.

Hear! Hear! it tells

how for fear to sacrifice a finger
the twins of Cadmus,
each wishing to be the true heir,
fought over the finger
of their father
thrown at their feet.

Had not great Cadmus
cut off their right arm.
Thebes would not 
have been built.
Our future would not be.
Truth be told:
Thebes was built
by left armed men.
It is the reason,
we ought know no war.

Yet this is not so.
Our men abandon their foreskins,
yet fear to sacrifice a finger
to prove manhood.

The reason is troubling:
We listen more to opinions
of priests from abroad
than to advice of our own.

The story is troubling.
It brings tears to my eyes

and should to yours.

If formerly we slew only trees,
today we slay trees and men.

Brutal truths strike us in the face
as desert sand
brought by fierce winds.

On the landscape of time,
where dusty Thebes now stands,
in spring time,

once long ago
after a long winter
a fern unfurled.
Its birth moved us all to sing.
The Sun rose 
to jubilations
near and far.

Alas! the fern ceased unfurling.
Sap was cut off from it.
Queen Ismene, tell us what happened?

We're told that Thebes used to be
edged by a sacred wood
filled with elk.
Where is the wood now?
Where have the elk gone?

Queen Ismene (points to the young man next to her):
Here stands Prince Gion,
the son of Antigone and Haemon.

Tomorrow Gion begins 

as guardian of Thebes
and what is left of our wood 
and such elk 
as still live there.
Look, in his hand, 
a bloodstained kerchief.
Its sight alone heals us.
An sacred axe of obsidian 

has claimed his pinky.
Prince Gion, be a fearless healer.
May our nightmares cease.

Queen Ismene:
The story never ends, Geon.
Ever remember 
how your grandmother
Queen Iocasta loved 
and treasoned
one and the same time.

The story of Thebes tells
of her love and treachery
to husband and son.
May it never be repeated.

I know the mysteries
for I spent the night 
with the King
in the dark of the temple’s
most sacred room,
where the known becomes unknown
for never being told.

Our story stands witness
to the hum of the bees in the lindens
and wild apple trees
that stand in our yards 
and bind our hearts.
I was not born yet
when the tale began.
Nanny, Iananna, told me 

what happened.

Through your mothers and fathers,
dear Thebans,
you know the story as well.
We all have heard it.
Through sacred ritual we renew it.

The story is sealed within 
every Thebans' heart and bones.
You all have seen 

the Sphinx of the sacred wood,
stem and root suffer insult
when brought to the Midsummer fire 
and burnt—
with its roots burrowing fire 
through and into
the ghost of air.

Yet what joy it brings!
our thumos redeems us!

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