Oedipus king (in Greek Oι̉δίπoυς τύραννoς , Oidipous Tyrannos , in Latin Oedipus Rex ) is a Greek tragedy of Sophocles , of unknown date. Some indications say that it could be written in the years after 430 a. C. Although the tetralogy of which he was a part (from which the other works have been lost) only achieved the second place in the dramatic agon , many consider Oedipus Rex the masterpiece of Sophocles . Among them, Aristotle , who analyzes it in the Poetics . The work presents Oedipus at his most splendid moment, as king of Thebes and husband of Jocasta.
Structure of the Play
Oedipus Rex is a dramatic work in a single act, because the whole work takes place in a unit of time. The work is a tragedy (Roby et al. 1962). As such, it presents eminent persons of high social status, uses a solemn and elevated language and concludes with the sacrifice of several characters (in this case, two: Jocasta and Oedipus), who pay with death (Jocasta) or blindness and the exile (Oedipus) his actions. It consists of a prologue, followed by eight episodes (written in iambic trimeters), among which are interspersed the solo interventions of the choir (párodos, cuatro estasimos) and the lyrical dialogue of the choir with the other characters (Roby et al. 1962). The parts of the choir (including the lyrical dialogue with the other characters) were sung; the rest was recited. In the recitation, in addition to iambic trimeters, there are also some passages in anapetos and catalactic trocaic tetrameter (Roby et al. 1962).
Basic Premises of the Tragedy
Queen Yocasta, after hearing the full story of the messenger, has already understood all the deep mystery and fled after trying in vain for Oedipus to stop his investigation.
Finally the witness of the crime arrives (Knox and Bloom, 2006). Oedipus and the messenger interrogate him and at first he refuses to give answers, but before Oedipus’ threats he reveals that the child he had been given to leave him in Mount Citeron was the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta and that they had delivered to die, preventing a dismal oracle was fulfilled. However, he had delivered it to the messenger out of pity (Knox and Bloom, 2006). Oedipus realizes that Jocasta and Laius were his true parents and that all the predictions of the oracles have been fulfilled. From this revelation a messenger of the house tells all the details of Queen Yocasta’s suicide and the subsequent blindness of Oedipus (Knox and Bloom, 2006). Oedipus appears with bloody eyes and asks to be banished.
He says that he has preferred to be blinded because he can not afford to see, after his crimes, his parents in hell, the children he has fathered, or the people of Thebes (Sophocles et al. 1949). Creon, who assumes power, asks the Thebans to take pity on Oedipus and make him enter the palace. He then says that he will consult the oracle again to find out what he has to do with Oedipus (Knox and Bloom, 2006). He says he has no mercy on him, asks to be banished and tells Creonte to take care of his two daughters, an act that is finally consummated (Sophocles et al. 1949). The last verses of the corypheus are a kind of conclusion or moral in which it is expressed that even those who seem happy and powerful are at all times exposed to suffering misfortunes (Sophocles et al. 1949). Upon hearing Oedipus’ fears, the messenger explains these past events with the intention that Oedipus calms down. However, the king of Thebes wishes to know more about his origin and discovers that the same pastor who witnessed the crime of Laius had delivered Oedipus, when he was a baby, to the messenger (Knox and Bloom, 2006).
Plague in Thebes
Oedipus , king of Thebes , addresses a crowd led by a priest , who has gathered before the king to ask for a remedy to the plague that ravages the city of Thebes. To know the causes of this misfortune, Oedipus himself has sent his brother-in-law Creon to consult the oracle of Delphi (Knox and Bloom, 2006) . His answer is that the plague is because he has not avenged the death of Layo , the previous king: his blood shed threatens to kill all the inhabitants of the city until the murderer is executed or exiled (Knox and Bloom, 2006).
Theme of Tragedy
One of the key thing that the narrative of the story is talking about seems to the tragedy (Sophocles et al. 1949). Most of the times, what is happening is that the characters are receiving bad omens about certain things and when they act to make sure that they are able to avoid the misfortune, they end up instead fulfilling the prophecy that was said earlier (Knox and Bloom, 2006). As a matter of fact, one can see the parallel with some of the other Greek tragedies due to the fact that the prophecy seems to play an important part in the whole process. For example if one talks about the story of the Sophocles, then it can be seen that the character of Oedipus which is his son is eventually going to kill him and the precondition that is given is that how the murder is going to be taking place (Sophocles et al. 1949). Years later, Oracle tells Oedipus about the fact that his father is going to be killed by him (Knox and Bloom, 2006).
Taboo in Family Relationships
Another major theme that one gets to see witness a lot during the course of the story is that how the formation of the family relationship is carried out. It is seen that how Oedipus is willing to kill any person under the circumstances that is willing to give his life (Vernant et al. 1978). There are themes related to the incest as well, even the sexual relationship is being implied with the other. The key thing though is that Oedipus is performing these facts but does not have the knowledge that these acts are morally not right (Knox and Bloom, 2006). The argument that is said by Freud during the narrative of this play is that how the process of sexual awakening that happen during the childhood. Later on, assumption has been made by Freud that how these primitive human inheritances are the product of the work that is being done by him earlier on (Knox and Bloom, 2006). The rejection of the incest and the parricide was one of the thing that lead Oedipus to attack himself and going blind during the course of the whole process (Knox and Bloom, 2006).
To save the city begins to investigate the death of the previous king: Layo. Little by little, the truth is discovered: Oedipus is the killer he seeks. Layo was his father. And his wife: Yocasta, is at the same time, his mother (Vernant et al. 1978). Yocasta commits suicide and Oedipus, after blinding himself, asks his brother-in-law Creon to let him go to exile and stay with his two daughters, since his two sons are men and they will know how to act (Knox and Bloom, 2006).
Knox, Bernard, and Sophocles Bloom. “Introduction to Oedipus the King.” Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations(2006): 71.
Roby, Robert C., and Barry Ulanov, eds. Introduction to drama. McGraw-Hill, 1962.
Sophocles, Dudley Fitts, and Robert Fitzgerald. Oedipus rex: An English Version. Harcourt, Brace, 1949.
Vernant, Jean-Pierre, and Page DuBois. “Ambiguity and reversal: on the enigmatic structure of Oedipus Rex.” New Literary History 9.3 (1978): 475-501.