Oedipus Rex Summary



(lines 1 - 168)

Oedipus exits the royal palace of Thebes and greets a procession of priests, who are with the impoverished and sorrowful citizens of Thebes. There has been a plague, and the citizens carry branches wrapped in wool which are offered to the gods as gifts. Oedipus questions the priest why they are gathered at the palace. The priest replies that the city is dying and asked Oedipus to save Thebes. Oedpius replies that he has sent his brother in law, Creon to the Oracle at Delphi to find out answers.

Creon arrives and Oedipus questions what the oracle has said. Creon asks if Oedipus wants to here it in private, but Oedipus insists that all the citizens should hear.

Creon tells what he has learned from the god Apollo, through the oracle. The murder of Laius has not been avenged, and the murderer is in Thebes. The murderer must leave Thebes in exile for the plague to end. 

The murder of Laius is explained. Oedipus is outraged and is determined to fix it himself, for fear he too may be at risk. 

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(lines 168-243)

The chorus enters. They call upon the gods Apollo, Athena and Artemis to save Thebes and cure it of its plague.

The chorus bemoans the state of Thebes and invokes Dionysus for help, as his mother was Theban (Semele, Bacchae)

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Episode 1

(lines 245-525)

Oedipus enters and addresses the chorus. He explains what has happened, and announces for the murderer to comes forward. He even offers a reward or punishment if they either come forward or do not come forward. He laments about the state of Thebes due to the plague (miasma). The chorepheus answers him, and suggests that they should speak to the blind prophet, Tiresias. Oedipus has already sent word for the prophet.

Tiresias enters, but does not give Oedipus any answer for the plague. He knows it will not make Oedipus happy to say it. However, Oedipus answers with anger, stating that Tiresias must not care for Thebes at all, he lacks respect for the prophet (borderline hubris). Tiresias finally admits that it is Oedipus who is the cause of the plague, Oedipus doesn't react kindly to this.

Oedipus stars to turn on Creon, believing it to be fake and work of Creon - a rival to the throne as a way to get the throne. Oedipus brags about his skills with the sphinx and the chorepheus tells them both to calm down. 

Before Tiresias leaves and after Oedipus enters the palace, he reveals the full truth. That (Oedipus) has slept with his mother and killed his father.

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Ode 1

(lines 527 - 572`0

The chorus enter, lamenting about the words of the gods. They question why it has been ignored, and know that it will end in more death, but are hopeful that the murderer will be found. 

They call upon augery and sight, and hope that a blood feud between the house of Laius and Polybus (the king of Corinth and believed father of Oedipus). They are weighing up 2 sides and bringing in legal terms. They do not reject the gods but the man's interpretation.

They wonder if the prophet is wrong, the words of the gods can only be interpreted but the interpretation can be wrong sometimes. They trust their king but it tests the people's faith in the gods and the state (forces the to choose between belief and reason).

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Episode 2

(lines 573-953)

Creon enters the stage. He speaks to the people that Oedipus is calling him a traitor. The chorephaes tries to mediate this situation by claiming that Oedipus didn't mean it. Oedipus enters the stage and turns on Creon. He questions why he is here, repeating that he is committing treason and plotting regicide. He finishes his little speech by saying that Creon has no support. 

The stichomythia includes them talking about Laius' rule and whether Laius trusted Tiresias or not. He asked whether or not they investigated the murder (no evidence found). Creon turns now to the idea of family and ruling with Jocasta and himself to Oedipus. Oedipus returns to the idea of treachery.

Creon's agon speaks about what he has (or what he doesn't), why he wouldn't want to be king, that Oedipus is difficult to talk to so the people turn to him instead. He then tells Oedipus to go to the oracle himself and ask about the murder of Laius. The chorephaes starts to mediate the situation, or attempts to.

Eventually Jocasta enters the stage, and allows Oedipus to ask about Laius' murder. Jocasta admits that the person who escaped is around, Oedipus sends for him.

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Ode 2

(lines 954-996)

After Oedipus' soliloquy about his family and the prophecy he himself had gained from Delphi, and his journey into Thebes (where he met a man and ran him off the road). Oedipus seems to be close to a realisation, but needs the extra little bits there. The Chorus enter on stage. 

They speak about fate, the gods and destiny and the control of gods. They start to speak of hubris and pride and that ambition has to be in line with the morals of society. This excessive pride will lead to a tragic fall.

A city does well if the king holds the unwritten moral laws and is in favour of the gods, or favours the gods. BUT this play has shown things that should be held obskene(off stage).

They relate this to Agamemnon, who captured a prophet, and was torn down by the gods for this pride. 

They finish their ode by questioning why the people don't believe the prophecy, as it is the words of the gods and all one must do is listen. The chorus have realised the nature of what has happened, and know how wrong Jocasta and Oedipus are.

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Episode 3

(lines 997-1194)

Jocasta enters onstage. She is praying to the gods (especially Apollo) despite the fake that she does not believe in prophecy. A messenger enters after her speech. He asks for the palace of Oedipus, and the chorus lead him to it, and tells him that Jocasta is there. 

The messenger has been sent from Cortinth with the new that Polybus is dead. Oedipus is called from within the palace. The messenger repeats the news that Polybus is dead. Oedipus is confused, for his prophecy clearly stated that he would kill his father and marry his mother (clearly that has not happened). 

The messenger reveals that Polybus was not Oedipus' true father and neither was Merope his true mother. Oedipus is confused and slightly angry at this insinuation. However, the Messenger was the one who took Oedipus from the hills and delivered him to Polybus and Merope.

Jocasta seems to realise what has happened, and has her anagnorisis. She tries to stop Oedipus from learning the truth, but he is determined. She runs off stage.

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Ode 3

(lines 1195-1214)

The chorus enter stage, and despite the acts that will happen in the next episode, the tone is happy and joyous for this staismon. 

They wonder who Oedipus' true birthparents are, and beg Apollo to let them (and everyone else) know. 

They begin to guess Oedipus' parentage, because they believe it could be a god. As all gods are known to have left their children on the mountains, so surely it must be someone who high status. 

This stasimon reiterates that the king and the people on stage do not know the truth, yet.

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Episode 4

(lines 1215-1310)

Oedipus is onstage, he sees a shepherd enter stage slowly, reluctant to meet the king. Oedipus questions the upbringing of the shepherd (a slave born and raised in the palace) and asks whether he knows the messenger from Corinth. The messenger, believing himself to be helpful, jobs the memory of the Shepherd.

The Messenger tells him that Oedipus was the baby, he had been given (Shepherd is not happy by this). Oedipus starts to get angry that the Shepherd is not willingly talking and orders guards to torture the answers from him, if he cannot. 

The Shepherd finally admits that the child was the son of Laius and Jocasta, and the baby was sent to the hills to die. Oedipus can't believe it, this is the last clue that he needed to put all the pieces together.

Oedipus' anagnorisis. He realises that Tiresias was indeed correct, he was the one who caused the plague on Thebes without realising.

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Ode 4

(lines 1311-1350)

The chorus' final ode before the Exodus. 

They speak of the unpredictability of life and how it can be controlled by the gods. That happiness is not always lasting and can be taking away.

They speak of the 3 sins that Oedipus has committed, that despite everything that he has accomplished, it has been overridden by these sins. 

They lament Oedipus' fate, and his action to their previous king. For the people had looked upon Oedipus like a father figure. They express the pain the city and its people would feel, for the city is suffering due to Oedipus' sins and disgrace.

This is potentially pathos provoking, for he did not know what he was doing or who he was.

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(lines 1351-1685)

A messenger from the palace enters stage and speaks to the chorus. It is revealed that Jocasta is dead, having killed herself due to the news of Oedipus being her son and her husband. It is then revealed that Oedipus, upon seeing her hanging, took her down. Then he took her golden broaches and used the pins to blind himself. 

Oedipus then comes on stage (with a different mask). He is still devestated by Jocasta's death and his part in causing the plague. He announces what has happened and why he did not kill himself. He wonders what he will be allowed to do now.

Creon enters, and tries to have Oedipus hidden from the public. Oedipus refuses such act and asks for exile. He speaks about his four children, telling Creon to look after his daughters as his sons are men, he also begs to 'see' them once again. 

Antigone and Ismene enter and they hug. Creon is done with the sorrow and orders Oedipus inside the palace. Oedipus again refuses, wanting exile. Creon agrees, but Oedipus is not allowed the children. Oedipus has lost everything.

The Chrorus reiterate this. And lament his downfall with mourning as Oedipus was once great.

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