- Author: Sophocles
- Title: Oepidus Rex
- Written: between 430 B.C. and 420 B.C.
- Trivia: Ancient Greek and Roman Challenge
- Trivia: 10 Greek plays essential for any education
- Conflict: truth vs ignorance
- Oedipus insists on knowing the truth.
- Jocasta, the priest, Creon, and Tiresias try desperately to hide the truth
- Timeline: 1 day
- Setting: Thebes is the city in which all events take place.
- Structure: the play is a series speeches
- (priest, Oepidus (several) Tiresias, Creon, Jocasta and 2nd messenger)
- mingled with several series of ‘fast paced dialogue between actors.
- Oepidus with Creon – Tiresias (prophet) – Jocasta – messenger shepherd
- The chorus speaks 7 times ….we could see this as indicating the next scene.
- In 4 choric interruptions Oedipus leaves the stage
- …..an we have some ‘breathing space’
- from the intense narrative action!
Basic story line of the myth:
- Oedipus is the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta
- The oracle predicts that Queen Jocasta will have a son who will
- kill his father and then sleep with his mother.
- To prevent this disaster the King and Queen decide to expose the infant
- …and leave him out in the countryside to die.
- The child is found, rescued and raised by King and Queen of Corinth.
- Oedipus returns to his native town, Thebes.
- He outsmarts a an half-human half-animal monster (the Sphinx)
- …who is terrorizing the city.
- The grateful people make Oedipus King of Thebes.
- Oedipus is also given the
- …hand of Jocasta in marriage (….his mother!)
- Oedipus and Jocasta have four children
- The story follows Oedipus quest to learn the truth about his life.
How does Sophocles ‘alter’ basic myth?
- Sophocles adds several details that are important for his play.
- All these details are brought out in the play in
- …bits and pieces in non-chronological order.
- Oedipus slowly pieces together the truth as to what actually happened
- …and who he actually is..
Detail nr 1:
- Jocasta gives infant to trusted slave….a shepherd.
- The Corinthian royal couple raise Oedipus as a prince.
Detail nr 2:
- A guest at a banquet taunts Oedipus
- …that he is not really King Polybus’ son.
- Oedipus decides to ask the Oracle of Delphi.
Detail nr 3:
- On the way to Thebes Oedipus met, quarreled with
- ….and killed an old man at a crossroads.
- Of course….the man is King Laius (…his father).
How does the play open?
- Oedipus is approached by a priest and chorus.
- They want Oedipus to find out why a plague is destroying their city.
- Sophocles does NOT concentrate on the murder of King Laius
- …does NOT concentrate on the incest with Queen Jocasta.
- He emphasizes the process by which Oedipus discovers the truth.
What does Opedius do?
- He sends brother-in-law Creon (Jocasta’s brother)
- …to Delphi to ask why Apollo is punishing the city of Thebes?
- Oedipus wants to know what Thebes can do to compensate
- …for the crime they have committed that has caused this plague?
- Answer: there is some in Thebes who is ritually unclean living in the city.
- In fact this is King Laius’ killer.
What does Oedipus do…now?
- He pronounces a solemn and binding curse against the murderer.
- He commands all to drive this ‘man’ from their homes.
- If with Oedipus’ knowledge he lives at his own hearth…
- …he prays that he himself will feel this curse!
How does the audience react?
- The thing with Greek theater is that
- …all the people who were watching the play
- ….actually knew the plot, and therefore knew the ending.
- After Opedius’ speech the audience gasps at the irony
- …he has cursed himself!
What is the turning point in the play?
- There are many minor turning points.
- This is the first one at the beginning of the play:
- Tiresias, a prophet, is summoned to tell Opedius who the murder is.
- Tiresias is reluctant.
- Because he is a wise man he knows perfectly well that Opedius is the murderer.
- Tiresias resists and this arouses Oedipus’ anger and suspicion.
- Oedipus begins to suspect that Tiresias might have helped plot the murder of Laius.
- Tiresias finally explodes:
- You are the land’s pollution…you are the man you seek!
What is the climax in the play?
- When you read the play you will discover
- …the the situation that makes the Oedipus arrive at the
- inevitable and unavoidable acceptance of the reality.
- 2 witnesses each have a part of the knowledge about Oepdius’ life.
- When the Thebean slave and the Corinthian shepherd come together…
- …the great king suddenly becomes a tragic, miserable character.
- “Count no man happy until he dies…..”
- [That man is happy, till vexed by no grievous ill.]
- Strong point: strong role for women in the theater –> Jocasta
- Strong point: metaphor of blindness
- ...the sighted do not know the truth
- …the blind do know the truth.
- Strong point: full of suspense!
- Sophocles uncovers clues one by one.
- We know who killed Laius (that is written in the myth)
- what the reader is waiting for is the ‘moment’ when
- Oedipus finally realizes who he is!
- We all know this play is…..
- LibriVox Free Audio Oepidus Rex
- I listened to it…..but the
- translation is difficult to follow
- …does not correspond with my text and
- …the chorus is just awful!
- If you really want to enjoy the play reading and listening
- …Audible.com has the best version!
- After the play…there is an interview (35 min) with Nicholas Rudall.
- He is the translator and director of the play.
- It was excellent!
- This play is a classic but
- I did need this diagram to help me before I started reading.