Major Works Data Sheet

Title: Oedipus
Author: Sophocles
Date of Publication: around 430 B.C
Genre: Dramatic tragedy (play)
Historical background:
GREEK THEATER WAS VERY DIFFERENT from what we
call theater today. It was, first of all, part of a religious
festival. To attend a performance of one of these
plays was an act of worship, not entertainment or
intellectual pastime. But it is difficult for us to even
begin to understand this aspect of the Greek theater,
because the religion in question was very different
from modern religions. The god celebrated by the
performances of these plays was Dionysus, a deity
who lived in the wild and was known for his
subversive revelry. The worship of Dionysus was

Page 1
Biographical information about the author:

Greek theater still needs to be read.000 spectators at once. for the unique art of Greek theater began to fade and eventually died. singing. They dazzled viewers with their special effects. . a war that would end the glorious century during which Sophocles lived. Far from being a tortured artist working at the fringes of society. Toward the end of his life. Since then. dramatic irony. Athens became entangled in a war with other city-states jealous of its prosperity and power. This political fall also marked an artistic fall. little resembles modern images of God.Major Works Data Sheet associated with an ecstasy that bordered on madness. Nonetheless. Sophocles wrote prolifically. fall from grace. we still try to read it. but we must not forget that. A second way in which Greek theater was different from modern theater is in its cultural centrality: every citizen attended these plays. judges would vote to decide which playwright’s play was the best. the season of Dionysus). because it is so alien to us. and dancing. but not long enough to witness the downfall of his Athens. Sophocles was among the most popular and well-respected men of his day. whose cult was that of drunkenness and sexuality. It is thought that he won the first prize at the Athenian festival eighteen times. Sophocles was involved with the political and military affairs of Athenian democracy. At the end of each year’s festivals. Sophocles lived a long life. He is believed to have authored 123 plays. He did stints as a city treasurer and as a naval officer. Like most good Athenians. only seven of which have survived. Pericles. Greek plays were put on at annual festivals (at the beginning of spring. we have had nothing like it. as well as with their beautiful language. Dionysus. hero with a tragic flaw. reading these plays calls not only for analysis. often for as many as 15. catharsis. but also for imagination. At the same time. and we often misunderstand it by thinking of it in terms of the categories and assumptions of our own arts. and throughout his life he was a close friend of the foremost statesman of the day. Page 2 Characteristics of the Genre: See ‘Patterns of Tragedy’ such as illumination. Sophocles was king. In these competitions.

its ankles pinned together. Oedipus fled his home. and charges Teiresias with insanity. and the son of his own wife. Oedipus. asking who gave him the baby. asks how Teiresias knew his parents. Oedipus naturally refuses to believe Tiresias’s accusation. Oedipus’s wife.Major Works Data Sheet Page 3 Plot summary: A plague has stricken Thebes. She runs back into the palace. begs her husband not to seek more information. He accuses Creon and Teiresias of conspiring against his life. Only one of his fellow travelers escaped alive. Then. convinced that Polybus’s death from natural causes has disproved the prophecy that Oedipus would murder his father. These taunts provoke Teiresias into revealing that Oedipus himself is the murderer. The messenger took the baby to the royal family of Corinth. Oedipus. and the messenger answers that he was a servant of Laius. The shepherd then enters. saying that the murderer of Laius will turn out to be both father and brother to his own children. Oedipus interrogates him. But Teiresias answers enigmatically. is dead. Oedipus curses and insults the old man. are not Oedipus’s biological parents. He therefore traveled to the oracle of Delphi. when he was the prince of Corinth. enters and asks why the men shout at one another. The citizens gather outside the palace of their king. because Polybus and his wife. lamenting his ability to see the truth when the truth brings nothing but pain. going so far as to accuse him of the murder. and Jocasta replies that all prophecies are false. however. the blind prophet. and rejoices with her. This skirmish occurred at the very crossroads where Laius was killed. Teiresias responds cryptically. He now feels much more inclined to agree with the queen in deeming prophecies worthless and viewing chance as the principle governing the world. Oedipus questions Creon about the murder of Laius. who was killed by thieves on his way to consult an oracle. That baby was Oedipus. the murderer is within the city. At Jocasta’s summons. on the journey that would take him to Thebes. asking him to take action. he still fears the other half—the half that claimed he would sleep with his mother. a shepherd. a Sphinx held the city captive and refused to leave until someone answered her riddle. she notes that the Delphic oracle once told Laius he would be murdered by his son. Merope. Oedipus explains to Jocasta that the prophet has charged him with Laius’s murder. He tells Jocasta that. Oedipus sends for the man who survived the attack. stunned. a messenger approaches Jocasta and tells her that he has come from Corinth to inform Oedipus that his father. and they raised him as their own. Oedipus asks who the other shepherd was. Oedipus threatens Creon with death or exile for conspiring with the prophet. Teiresias defends his skills as a prophet. before leaving the stage. At first he refuses to tell Oedipus what he knows. He asks why Teiresias did nothing when Thebes suffered under a plague once before. Her description of Laius’s murder. and asks him what he knows about the murder. and Laius was murdered by a band of thieves. but Jocasta. when in fact his son was cast out of Thebes as a baby. sounds familiar to Oedipus. Jocasta rejoices. Jocasta tells him that Laius was killed at a three-way crossroads. After Teiresias leaves. to the oracle at Delphi to learn how to help the city. long ago. just before Oedipus arrived in Thebes. tells his wife that he may be the one who murdered Laius. Jocasta (also the widow of King Laius). he was tending his sheep when another shepherd approached him carrying a baby. Oedipus promises to solve the mystery of Laius’s death. is caught and expelled. knows firsthand that Oedipus came to Corinth as an orphan. that Oedipus was confronted and harassed by a group of travelers. It was then. But while Oedipus finds great comfort in the fact that one-half of the prophecy has been disproved. in the hope that he will not be identified as the murderer. whom he killed in self-defense. former king of Thebes. beginning to suspect the truth. As proof. a shepherd by profession. At this mention of his parents. At that time. The shepherd refuses to disclose anything. The messenger remarks that Oedipus need not worry. Oedipus. Oedipus brags that he alone was able to solve the puzzle. and he asks further questions. Oedipus sends for Teiresias. Polybus. One day long ago. The messenger. and that Corinth has asked Oedipus to come and rule there in his place. Creon returns with a message from the oracle: the plague will end when the murderer of Laius. Oedipus comes outside. Oedipus replies that he already sent his brother-in-law. who grew up in the distant city of Corinth. who did not answer him but did tell him he would murder his father and sleep with his mother. hears the news. Outside the palace. he overheard someone mention at a banquet that he was not really the son of the king and queen. vowing to curse and drive out the murderer. Teiresias puts forth one last riddle. Oedipus asks that this shepherd be brought forth to testify. Creon. Hearing this. noting that Oedipus’s parents found him trustworthy. never to return. and Oedipus .

Jocasta (p. 43) It reveals Oedipus’ heroic side in that he is on a quest for the truth regardless of the consequences for him. This heroism allows him. from the Pythian House of Gold. we must make you speak. 35) It foreshadows that Teiresias’ secret indicates some tragedy for Oedipus. “…learn to yield. The gracious voice of heaven is heard. though. but the reality is suffering still-births.” – Teiresias (p. 57) This reveals Oedipus’ pursuit of the truth. who does not know. to learn from his error (illumination). which shows her despair. reality because the ironic tone suggests that with gold comes high quality. 55) It reveals Jocasta knows the truth about Oedipus’ sinful relationship with her. regret and horror. “O lost and damned! This is my last and only word to you for ever! . fear of what shall be told. as the audience does. “If you won’t speak willingly. City of Light. but it also shows his hubris. With fear my heart is riven. “I refuse to utter the heavy secrets of my soul and yours. bad crops due to a ‘vile thing’.” – Chorus (p.” – Oedipus (p. 30) Significance This represents the motif of illusion vs.Major Works Data Sheet Describe the author’s style: Page 4 An example that demonstrates the style: Memorable Quotations Quote “In Thebes. it is another example of his heroism. that he is living in a sinful union with Jocasta and that he has killed his father. .” – Chorus (p. The quotation also reveals the peoples’ concern that their king was ‘unclean’.

Oedipus becomes king of Thebes before the action of Oedipus the King begins. Oedipus’s brother-in-law. Teiresias tells Oedipus that he is the murderer he hunts. the blind soothsayer of Thebes. The literal blindness of the soothsayer points to the metaphorical blindness of those who refuse to believe the truth about themselves when they hear it spoken. when he has the opportunity to grasp power at the end of that play. she attempts to make peace between Oedipus and Creon. the supernatural being that had held the city captive. Creon seems quite eager. In Oedipus the King. Early in Oedipus the King. Queen of Thebes. both Oedipus and Creon claim to trust Teiresias deeply. Oedipus’s wife and mother. pleading with Oedipus not to banish Creon. His name’s literal meaning (“swollen foot”) is the clue to his identity —he was taken from the house of Laius as a baby and left in the mountains with his feet bound together. Yet Oedipus is stubbornly blind to the truth about himself. Teiresias tells Creon that Creon himself is bringing disaster upon Thebes. and Oedipus does not believe him. his biological mother. and Creon’s sister. Jocasta solves the riddle of Oedipus’s identity before Oedipus does. appears in both Oedipus the King and Antigone. and she expresses her love for her son and husband in her desire to protect him from this knowledge. he killed his biological father. Creon Oedipus’s brother-in-law Teiresias Soothsayer. Yet. In him more than anyone else we see the gradual rise and fall of one man’s power.Major Works Data Sheet Page 5 Characters Name Oedipus Role in the story Tragic hero Jocasta Wife/Mother of Oedipus. On his way to Thebes. She is comforting to her husband and calmly tries to urge him to reject Tiresias’s terrifying prophecies as false. Teiresias. Jocasta appears only in the final scenes of Oedipus the King. In her first words. In Antigone. Yet. Creon appears more than any other character in the three plays combined. and proceeded to marry Jocasta. and Creon does not believe him. Creon claims to have no desire for kingship. not knowing who he was. Significance The protagonist of Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus. Voice of the gods. He is renowned for his intelligence and his ability to solve riddles—he saved the city of Thebes and was made its king by solving the riddle of the Sphinx. Adjectives .

Major Works Data Sheet Page 6 Setting Significance of Opening Scene Symbols Significance of the Closing/Ending “Then learn that mortal man must always look to his ending. 68) This suggests people should live life so they have no regrets at the end of their lives. the three-way crossroads Truth can give one peace of mind or it can disturb one’s peace of mind depending upon the truth that is revealed – if it. and none can be called happy until that day when he carries his happiness down to the grave in peace. If it just causes more pain. heals or helps people it can give peace of mind. . then it is best left unsaid. Significance of the Ending Oedipus’s swollen foot.” – Chorus (p. in the end.

.Major Works Data Sheet Page 7 Old AP Questions Possible Themes The pursuit of truth is a worthy quest because of the peace of mind it can supply. once it has been discovered. the ability to renew and heal is often greater than its ability to destroy.