Oedipus at Colonus
Delahoyde & Hughes
OEDIPUS AT COLONUS
Oedipus at Colonus is the second of the Theban plays chronologically but the last to be written, produced in 404 bce, the year after Sophocles’ death. Like Philoctetes, Oedipus “is a man whose value is inextricably coupled with his offensive quality” (Grene 4). The play begins with the long-exiled Oedipus, accompanied by his daughter Antigone, coming to an unfamiliar place under Athenian jurisdiction, a grove sacred to the Eumenides. Colonus, this suburb of Athens, is ruled by Theseus. Oedipus has been told that this is where he will find rest. A Chorus calls him “a stranger in a strange land” (87) and gradually learns his identity.
Ismene, Oedipus’ other daughter, reports of political unrest involving his sons, Polyneices and Eteocles (who in this version of the story exiled Oedipus), and Creon. The oracle has said that the city possessing Oedipus’ bones will not be captured. Oedipus is disgusted. Theseus, however, is respectful of the old man and vows protection, which is soon necessary as Creon, to manipulate Oedipus, kidnaps his daughters. Theseus berates Creon and returns Antigone to Oedipus. Polyneices wants an audience with Oedipus and Antigone thinks there’s no harm in at least hearing what he has to say.
The Chorus laments the misery of old age, and Polyneices appears to be sorry for his disloyalty. Though the older brother, he has been exiled by Eteocles; so he has now raised an army of seven spearmen against Thebes. Oedipus doesn’t buy it. Polyneices is responsible for the shabby vision of his father that now strikes him as lamentable. Oedipus predicts that the brothers will kill each other. Polyneices extracts a promise from Antigone that she’ll provide the proper rites when it comes time for his burial.
Thunder signals the impending death of Oedipus, as he recognizes instinctively. He calls for Theseus and gives him final secret advice. According to a messenger reporting to the Chorus, Oedipus prepared for his death, bid good-bye to his daughters, and magically disappeared in front of Theseus.
Powell, Barry. Classical Myth. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001.
Sophocles. Oedipus at Colonus. Trans. David Grene. Sophocles I. Second edition by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991. 77-157.