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Revealing the truth of fate through sophocles in the play oedipus rex

Oedipus the King The exact date at which Oedipus the King premiered is unknown, but it's a good guess it was soon after 430 BCE in the wake of a terrible plague which first struck the Athenians that year. Over the course of the next half decade, this epidemic claimed a quarter to a third of the population of Athens, including the great statesman Pericles whose death was, without doubt, one of the most devastating consequences of the Peloponnesian War in its early days.

The play appears in many ways to reflect that tragic turn of events, especially at the outset of the drama. Because a devastating disease wasn't traditionally part of this legend—Sophocles is the first author known to include a plague in the Oedipus myth—it's likely the ancient audience at the premiere was at first confused by this grim procession.

Appropriately for this tale, Sophocles is presenting his viewers with a riddle, one he's content to leave unanswered for the moment. Instead, they are a secondary, non-speaking chorus which includes at least a few children 1, 18, 58, 142, 147.

Since one aspect of the plague is that women are barren, it's appropriate that children should be part of this embassy of mourners coming to beseech Oedipus' help. There can be little doubt that confusing the audience by putting in front of them this sad, silent parade is exactly what Sophocles means to do.

From a dramatic perspective it's, in fact, a very good idea. Unlike the modern theatre in which the house lights come down informing the audience that the play is about to begin, Greek theatre took place outdoors in a huge arena.

What happens to Oedipus's children at the end of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles?

The only way playwrights had of showing their viewers that the drama was underway was to start the action. They couldn't, therefore, put crucial information in the first lines, because the audience would still be settling down and might miss it. One way around this problem was to open the play with a silent spectacle of some sort which let the audience know the drama was about to begin.

  • If this were a movie, the camera would focus not on the characters who are speaking Oedipus and the messenger but Jocasta who says nothing and at the same time is the only person in the scene who knows what's really going on;
  • It's not nitpicking to note such things, certainly not in a work as heralded as this is;
  • The myth of how he became blind is quite a story;
  • The fight rages on;
  • He thinks he brings Oedipus good news, but later in the scene when he reveals that Oedipus never was Polybus' real son but instead an adopted child, he accidently brings to light a crucial element in Oedipus' unfolding tragedy.

Notes Begin reading Sophocles' Oedipus the King, with one eye on the notes below. Line Numbers in Sophocles 1-150 Oedipus in his first speech asks the very question the audience would like to have answered: When a character calls himself, as Oedipus does, a person "whom all men call the Great" 8 and is later called "Greatest in all men's eyes" 40it's a safe bet in a Greek tragedy that he'll be humbled somehow.

Oedipus' hubris, evidenced through his overt glorification, is a good sign his high esteem will eventually lead to his ruin. Ismenus 22 is the name of the river which runs through Boeotia the area around Thebes. It now becomes clearer what Sophocles is up to. There's a plague on the land of Thebes, almost certainly a dramatic reflection of the terrible disease which had recently struck Athens.

The sight of suppliants begging their gods and rulers for help must surely have been a painfully vivid memory for the Athenians. One reason, then, that Sophocles has added the plague to the Oedipus legend is, no doubt, because of the currency it held for his audience.

How he intends to integrate the epidemic into the legend is, however, still unclear at this moment in the play. The Sphinx is first mentioned here 36.

  1. Comedy and Character in Oedipus the King One important element in the genius of this play is Sophocles' use of comic elements.
  2. In Oedipus, for example, the messenger who came to cheer Oedipus and relieve him of his fear about his mother did the very opposite by revealing to him who he was. Therefore, the oracle is still wrong, and she will never again "look to the right hand or the left.
  3. The ends of these three lines mean, respectively.
  4. Both are ways of saying "know where" in Greek. The Pytho claims he'll one day marry his mother and kill his father 791-3.
  5. All of this goes to show that Sophocles' version of this myth wasn't the only one in its day and it shouldn't blind us to other possible interpretations of this myth. Building from a traditionally negative figure—from what we can gather, it certainly sounds like Oedipus was a rather unsavory character in earlier Greek literature—Sophocles has attempted to reform the incestuous monster by making him unaware of his crimes, thus bestowing on him the innocence that accompanies ignorance.

This mythical and mysterious beast, a winged half-lion half-woman, was born of Echidna, a half-nymph half-snake demoness which mated with Typhoeus, a Titan that sported a hundred burning snake-heads Hesiod, Theogony 820-1022.

From their monstrous union came Orthus, merely a two-headed dog—it must have been somewhat of a disappointment to its chthonic parents—and the Sphinx, in turn, was born from the union of Echidna and Orthus, that is, mother and son. Ironically, then, Oedipus who will himself mate with his own mother kills another product of a maternal incest, the Sphinx.

Thus, Thebes is rescued from one incestuous beast only to be plagued with another. By the mere mention of the Sphinx in the first scene of the play, Sophocles clues his Greek audience into the specific situation of the drama. That is, Oedipus has already solved the riddle, been made king, and married Jocasta.

It's a good guess, too, they've already had children. Because of the respectful treatment he receives from the Priest, the viewers may also gather that he has a reputation for intelligence and authority.

This shows how Sophocles can compress much information into a few, very simple-sounding phrases. The priest says, ". This is just one of many instances of irony found in this play.

Because the audience knows that Oedipus will fall—and fall hard! Oedipus will, in fact, save the city but only by having his reign remembered as one in which the Thebans "fell to ruin" when their king was banished for murder and incest. Elsewhere in this scene, Oedipus' words are also ironical: Note that from the start Oedipus insists on conducting his business in the open: By insisting on free and open speech, his terrible secret will be made known to all.

They can't have been on stage in the first scene or they wouldn't ask, "What is the sweet spoken word of God from the shrine of Pytho i. They would have heard the message Creon delivered from Delphi in that scene. Also, Oedipus summarizes what happened there for them in his next speech 216-275which he wouldn't have to do if they'd been present on stage.

It's also possible that Oedipus remains on stage during the parodos. The opening line of his speech after this song, "For what you ask me. In the parodos the chorus hymns many gods and begs for help against the plague. Note the relative simplicity of this song to Aeschylus' longer odes and complex imagery. The beauty of Sophoclean choruses is based largely on their directness of emotion and phrasing. The "Lycean King" mentioned in the last verse 204 is Apollo, and the "God with the turban of gold" 209 is Dionysus.

The irony is only intensified when one realizes that Oedipus is hailed as the great solver of the Sphinx' riddle. He outwitted that monster by figuring out that the answer to its question was himself "Man"but now that he faces a second riddle—"Who revealing the truth of fate through sophocles in the play oedipus rex the murderer of Laius?

In all honesty, the irony gets a little heavy-handed at times in this play. Oedipus' curse on the murderer of Laius 246-8 is so fraught with double meaning that it verges on the comical—more than once I've seen audiences laugh at this scene—and to make matters even worse, Sophocles has Oedipus say: Onto this, Oedipus adds, "I fight in Laius' defense as for my father" 264-5.

The great modern playwright George Bernard Shaw once called the Sophoclean irony "a stupidity too dense to be credible as such. He's the descendant of the Spartoi, the native inhabitants of Thebes. Like many wizards, magicians and witch-doctors in literature—Merlin and Gandalf, for example—Teiresias lives for many generations and appears in a wide range of Greek myths.

The myth of how he became blind is quite a story. As a young man he came upon two snakes mating and killed the female. Immediately the gods in anger transformed him into a woman. Several years later, "She-resias" came upon the same situation, two snakes mating, and killed the male, making her a man again. When asked whether men or women experience more pleasure in sex, Teiresias said women have nine or ten times more fun.

This infuriated Hera—it's hard to believe she ever found any pleasure in love—and so she blinded Teiresias for his presumption.

  • With that, it's worth exploring the possibility he's tried to do as much with Oedipus the King;
  • If this were a movie, the camera would focus not on the characters who are speaking Oedipus and the messenger but Jocasta who says nothing and at the same time is the only person in the scene who knows what's really going on;
  • He breaks up the careful ordering of the stichomythia, making Oedipus and the herdsman share a portion of each line;
  • This is, of course, another Sophoclean irony;
  • At the end of the scene 454 Teiresias predicts that Oedipus will end up blind—an interesting threat to hear from a person lacking sight—drawing a contrast even more interesting;
  • Oedipus blows up and accuses Teiresias of hiding the truth in order to protect himself 348-9:

In Sophocles' play, Teiresias knows that Oedipus is the murderer of Laius, the very man he seeks. But he's disinclined to tell him the truth because the king is quite hot-headed and may punish him. He tries at first to dissuade Oedipus from pursuing this investigation, but that only infuriates the king and precipitates the very sort of quarrel Teiresias is trying to avoid.

Sophocles adds a nice touch at 326-7. Oedipus has to tell Teiresias that everyone is kneeling before him, since, of course, the blind prophet cannot see it for himself. The Teiresias-Oedipus scene is a beautifully constructed agon. Oedipus gets mad at Teiresias and demands to be told the truth, demonstrating how quick to anger Oedipus is by nature—here's a brief glimpse of the man who killed Laius on the road—but Teiresias refuses.

Oedipus blows up and accuses Teiresias of hiding the truth in order to protect himself 348-9: At least, that's the way Oedipus reads it, and presumably the chorus also.

So, even when directly confronted with the facts, Oedipus, the great riddle-solver, doesn't see the answer staring him in the face, a craftily engineered scene.

The fight rages on. Teiresias repeats his charges 362 and goes on to add incest to the roster 366-7. These seem to Oedipus like empty insults meant only to inflame him. He responds with one of the most memorable lines in all of Greek tragedy 371: Blind in ears and mind and eyes are you.

The barrage of t's make it seem like Oedipus is stuttering with rage. Teiresias' words at 408 imply that Oedipus is a tyrannos "tyrant". This is, of course, another Sophoclean irony. The Greek word is a technical term referring to a foreign intruder who usurps a throne.

  • Lori Steinbach Certified Educator Oedipus and Jocasta have four children, two boys and two girls; Oedipus's children are also his half-siblings;
  • The irony is only intensified when one realizes that Oedipus is hailed as the great solver of the Sphinx' riddle;
  • They couldn't, therefore, put crucial information in the first lines, because the audience would still be settling down and might miss it.

In one way, Oedipus is, in fact, a "tyrant"—he came from outside Thebes and took the throne—but, as we and Teiresias know, Oedipus is not really a foreigner. He was born in Thebes and is a native, even if he doesn't know it. By having Teiresias call Oedipus this particular name at the beginning of his longest speech, Sophocles reminds his audience that Oedipus, who is both native and foreigner to his revealing the truth of fate through sophocles in the play oedipus rex, both son and husband to Jocasta, both father and brother to his children, blurs definitions and renders the most basic of words and relationships meaningless.

This time the irony is subtle and powerful. At the end of the scene 454 Teiresias predicts that Oedipus will end up blind—an interesting threat to hear from a person lacking sight—drawing a contrast even more interesting. Before the audience stands a man who can't use his eyes but can see the truth Teiresias. This person warns that both blindness and understanding will soon come upon a man who has vision but who can't see the truth Oedipus.

It appears in full force again in another of Sophocles' plays, Antigone. In this drama, Oedipus accuses Creon of complicity with Teiresias, both of them working together to make the public believe Oedipus deserves blame for inciting the plague. Always in Sophocles, the character condemning religion proves in the end to be wrong. Note the irony when Oedipus says: The criminal is, of course, a kinsman of Oedipus, the closest kin a man can have, himself.

In answering Oedipus' charges, Creon uses a type of argument popular in Athenian law courts, the "argument from likelihood. We would say that Creon has no motive to hurt Oedipus. Of course, he neglects to mention that he would inherit the throne of Thebes if Oedipus were forced out, as in fact he does at the end of the play.

That is, Oedipus' interaction with his wife resembles a mother-son relationship—which, of course, it is. But Sophocles has saved his best irony for later in the Oedipus-Jocasta scene.