The skene represents the temple of Zeus Agoraios in Marathon, an outlying region of Attica. At an altar before the temple are Iolaus and the young sons of Heracles.


I have long ago come to this conclusion: the just man is to his neighbors by nature <a great help in adversity though he himself suffers calamity,> while the man whose heart runs untrammeled toward gain is of no use to his city and hard to deal with [5] but to himself the best of friends. This wisdom I know not at second hand but by experience. For out of a sense of honor and because I reverenced the tie of blood, I more than any other shared with Heracles in his many labors while he was in our midst, though I could have lived at peace in Argos. And now, since he dwells in heaven, [10] I keep safe beneath my wings these children of his, though I myself need someone to save me. When their father departed from the earth, first Eurystheus determined to kill us. But we escaped from him, and though we lost our city, [15] we saved our lives. Yet we wandered in exile having been banished from one city to another. For in addition to the other troubles Eurystheus plagued us with, he thought it right to commit this outrage against us: he would send heralds wherever on earth he learned we were trying to settle [20] and demand our surrender and keep us out of that land, alleging that the city of Argos was no slight thing to make a friend or foe of and that he himself enjoyed high prosperity. And these men, seeing that my power was weak and that these children were small and had lost their father, [25] honored the mightier side and kept us from the land. With these children who are exiled I too am in exile, and I companion their wretchedness with my own. I shrink from abandoning them for fear someone might say, ‘Look, when the children do not have a father, [30] Iolaus does not protect them, though he is their kinsman!’ Since we have been banished from all the rest of Greece, we have come to Marathon and the land that borders it and are sitting at the altars of the gods supplicating for help. For it is said that Theseus' two sons [35] dwell in the plain of this land, which they received by the drawing of lots among the descendants of Pandion.1 Those two are kin to these boys. This is the reason we have come this journey to the borders of glorious Athens. Our flight is generaled by a pair of grey-heads, [40] with me giving anxious thought for these boys while Alcmene guards the daughters of her son within the temple, clasping them in her embrace. For shame prevents us from putting young girls before the crowd and standing them at the altar. [45] Hyllus and those of his brothers who are older are seeking where on earth we might establish a stronghold if we are thrust against our will from this land.

1 In this play Athens is governed, even in heroic times, on democratic lines: choosing officials by lot from a pre-determined list of those eligible was a feature of fifth-century Athenian polity.

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    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Oedipus at Colonus, 261
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