Oedipus

Summery 1

  • Oedipus is born to Laius and Jocasta (the king and queen of Thebes)
  • They are given a terrible prophecy prior to his birth that he will kill his father and marry his mother so they ask a sheep herder on mount Cithaeron to tie the boy’s feet and leave him to die there.
  • Little do they know, he hands the child to another farmer (of Corinth) who presents the boy to King and Queen of Corinth, Polybus and Merope.
  • Oedipus grows up surrounded by rumours that he is not the son of Polybus and Merope.
  • He consults the Oracle who gives him the prophecy that he will marry his mother and kill his father.
  • Upon hearing this, Oedipus runs away. On his journey, at a crossroads (metaphorically and physically) he kills a band of men who drove him off the road (some road rage)
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Summery 2

  • Un-known to Oedipus, he has just fulfilled the first half of the prophecy.
  • Oedipus arrives in the plague-ridden Thebes and solves the riddle of the sphinx: “what crawls on 4, walks on 2, then 3. The answer is man. Upon solving the riddle, Oedipus is crowned king of Thebes and Jocasta is presented to him as a gift.
  • Years past and this is where ‘Oedipus Rex’ begins.
  • Thebes has once again been cursed with a plague and Oedipus is still king.
  • The old and young (chorus) gather to plead with Oedipus to help them overcome the plague.
  • Oedipus informs them he has already sent Creon to Delphi to consult an Oracle.
  • When Creon returns, Oedipus chooses to speak with him in front of the people and Creon tell his that the plague will disappear when the killer of Laius is removed from Thebes.
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Summery 3

  • Oedipus first tries pleading with the murderer saying he will be exiled.
  • When this fails, he tries pleading with the people saying if they know, they should come forward and receive a life-long guest friendship (Xenia) with Oedipus.
  • When this fails, he makes and edict to the people that no one may allow him in their house, aid him in anyway etc…
  • Oedipus makes a vow to the people that he will find the killer and swears on his own life and his family in the process.
  • He calls upon Tiresias, the blind seer, but he refuses to answer “How terrible – to see the truth when the truth is only pain to him who sees! I knew it well, but I put it from my mind, else I never would have come” “I will never reveal my dreadful secrets”.
  • Oedipus is angered by the somewhat cryptic responses and firstly pleads with Tiresias. When he refuses, Oedipus and Tiresias argue. Oedipus is told that he is the murderer “I say you are the murderer you hunt”.
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Summery 4

  • He then accuses Tiresias and Creon of conspiring against him (somewhat out of the blue) Tiresias makes his last prophecy that Oedipus will be blind soon and the truth will come out.
  • Oedipus confronts Creon and Jocasta breaks up the fight (displaying her motherly and wife role). She tells him that not all prophecies come true and gives him the example of Polybus, he was supposed to be killed by his son but was killed by ‘a group of thieves’ at the crossroad leaving one survivor.
  • Oedipus see’s (symbolic) similarities with Jocasta’s story and his encounter at the crossroads and starts to suspect that he may have killed Laius. He calls for the survivor to come forward.
  • A messenger then arrives who tells Jocasta, then Oedipus that Polybus has died. Oedipus is somewhat happy at this discovery but then the Messenger says that Oedipus was not the legitimate son of Polybus and Merope.
  • Upon questioning him, the messenger reveals that he gave baby-Oedipus to the King and Queen of Corinth
  • By this point, Jocasta has worked out the truth and disappears into the palace.
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Summery 5

  • By this point, Jocasta has worked out the truth and disappears into the palace.
  • The first shepherd finally arrives and after some arm-twisting (literally) the shepard reveals that the baby was the son of Laius and Jocasta.
  • Oedipus takes a sword (it is debated what he would do) but he goes to find Jocasta who is found hanging in her chamber. Upon finding her, he takes her brooches and blinds himself (obscena – off stage, as convention dictates, no violence on stage)
  • Oedipus see’s Antigone and Ismene for the last time (till Colonus) and leaves Thebes blind.
  • N.B. When Oedipus can see, he is blind to the truth, when he is blind, he can see the truth.
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FATE

The most important theme (arguably) in Oedipus Rex. The whole plot can be explained by fate

I.E. removing any blame from Oedipus onto fate. He has no choice in the matter of what is happening and is powerless to stop it just as the gods are (Zeus and Sarpedon).

“What will come will come, even if I shroud it in silence” – Tiresias.

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SIGHT / EYES

Sophocles uses sight/eyes in both a metaphorical sense and a literal sense. As stated earlier, when Oedipus can see, he is blind to the truth, when he is blind, he sees the truth.

“Nothing I could see could bring me joy” “I, with my eyes, how could I look my father in the eyes”

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TRUTH AND HANDS

 The search for both the truth of Oedipus’ birth and who killed Laius bring great tragedy when they come to pass. Also, Oedipus’ search for truth - it can be argued – is what causes the tragedy.

 Hands, are used in many Greek tragedies and are used to represent many different things such as; submission, family, power etc…

“Come to these hands of mine, your brother’s hands, your own father’s hands” – Oedipus.

 

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BLOODLINES/FAMILY

It  is very important within Oedipus as the most important relationships have two roles and meanings.

“No wife, his mother, where can he find the mother earth that cropped two crops at once, himself and all his children” – Chorus.

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OEDIPUS/JOCASTA/CREON

OEDIPUS AND JOCASTA – The key relationship in ‘Oedipus Rex’. They are married yet Oedipus is Jocasta’s son. Her motherly role is portrayed a few times throughout E.G. breaking up the argument between Creon and Oedipus, Trying to stop Oedipus discovering the truth (through getting him to ignore the prophecy). This can also be seen as the matrimonial relationship however, it depends on the reader’s perspective.

OEDIPUS AND CREON – Not as important as other relationships because Creon’s character is replaceable (he is mainly the informant of the prophecy). What is interesting is looking at his character in relation to Creon in Antigone and contrasting them

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FATHER/MOTHER

FATHER AND SON – Has a huge impact on Oedipus rex as Oedipus is essentially searching for the killer of Laius but also focuses on finding out who Oedipus’ father is “Wait… who is my father?” – Oedipus.

 MOTHER – CHILDREN – Mostly notable between Jocasta and Oedipus. Their dual relationship isn’t really addressed throughout (dramatic irony) and Oedipus’ relationship with Merope is never discussed either (contextually makes sense as father was more important). This relationship does however impact his sense of identity greatly.

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ANALYSIS

 From the beginning till the end, Oedipus can be seen to be controlled by his fate. Whilst he does definitely demonstrate hubris (which is possibly his hamartia) by promising to solve the problem through cursing himself and his family “I’ll bring it all to light myself”. Through doing this, Oedipus makes himself more and more paranoid I.E. accusing Creon etc… Jocasta, when trying to console Oedipus acts as both a mother and a wife and the themes of sight vs blindness are rife throughout. Moreover, we see the themes of fate and morality become more prominent nearer the end of the play. This foreshadows his eventual destruction only adding to the pain we feel for Oedipus and his plight to save his people. Essentially, Oedipus is really (arguably) the only tragic hero who has exclusive empathy from the reader. He has done very little, if anything, wrong and his only flaw (hamartia) is caring for his people too much. Other emphasis on themes of blindness and sight are also very widespread in the play suggesting Sophocles wanted to emphasise the point that even the wisest of men can be blind.

 

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