prof. dr. fernando de toro sophocles oedipus rex english 1310

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Prof. Dr. Fernando de Toro Sophocles Oedipus Rex English 1310

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Page 1: Prof. Dr. Fernando de Toro Sophocles Oedipus Rex English 1310

Prof. Dr. Fernando de ToroProf. Dr. Fernando de Toro

Sophocles

Oedipus Rex

English 1310

Page 2: Prof. Dr. Fernando de Toro Sophocles Oedipus Rex English 1310

Sophocles 495-406 BC

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The Legend and events preceding the play

Much of the myth of Oedipus takes place before the opening scene of the play.

The main character of the tragedy is Oedipus son of King Laius of Thebes and Queen Jocasta.

After Laius learned from an oracle that "he was doomed/To perish by the hand of his own son," Jocasta ordered a messenger to leave him for dead "In Cithaeron's wooded glens";

Sophocles: Oedipus Rex

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Instead, the baby was given to a shepherd and raised in the court of King Polybus of Corinth.

As a young man in Corinth, Oedipus heard a rumour that he was not the biological son of Polybus and Merope.

When Oedipus asked them, they denied it.

Oedipus remained suspicious and decided to ask the Delphic Oracle who his real parents were.

Sophocles: Oedipus Rex

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The Oracle seemed to ignore this question, but instead told him that he was destined to "Mate with [his] own mother, and shed/ With [his] own hands the blood of [his] own sire."

Oedipus left Corinth under the belief that Polybus and Merope, Polybus' wife, were his true parents.

On the road to Thebes, he met Laius and they argued over which wagon had the right-of-way.

Oedipus' pride led him to kill Laius, ignorant of the fact that he was his biological father, fulfilling part of the oracle's prophecy.

Sophocles: Oedipus Rex

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Oedipus then went on to solve the Spninx’s riddle: "What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?"

To this Oedipus answered "Man," Distraught that her riddle had been answered correctly, the Sphinx threw herself off the side of the wall.

His reward for freeing the kingdom of Thebes from the Sphinx's curse was kingship and the hand of the queen, Jocasta, who was also his biological mother.

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Thus, the prophecy was fulfilled.

The Play

The play begins years after Oedipus is given the throne of Thebes.

The chorus of Thebans cries out to Oedipus for salvation from the plague sent by the gods in response to Laius' murder.

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Throughout the play, Oedipus searches for Laius' murderer and promises to exile the man responsible for it, ignorant of the fact that he is the murderer.

The blind prophet, Tiresias, is called to aid Oedipus in his search; however, after warning Oedipus not to follow through with the investigation, Oedipus accuses him of being the murderer, even though Tiresias is blind and aged.

Oedipus also accuses Tiresias of conspiring with Creon, Jocasta's brother, to overthrow him.

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Oedipus then calls for one of Laius' former servants, the only surviving witness of the murder, who fled the city when Oedipus became king to avoid being the one to reveal the truth.

Soon a messenger from Corinth also arrives to inform Oedipus of the death of Polybus, whom Oedipus still believes is his real father.

At this point the messenger informs him that he was in fact adopted and his real parentage is unknown.

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In the subsequent discussions between Oedipus, Jocasta, the servant, and the messenger, Jocasta guesses the truth and runs away.

Oedipus is stubborn; however, a second messenger arrives and reveals that Jocasta has hanged herself and Oedipus, upon discovering her body, blinds himself with the golden brooches on her dress.

The play ends with Oedipus entrusting his children to Creon and declaring his intent to leave in exile.

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Creon, however, convinces Oedipus that they should consult the Delphic Oracle on what to do next.

Creon leads Oedipus back into the palace. The chorus then admonishes the audience to count no man happy until he has died.

Oedipus is sent to exile. His daughter Antigona

will leave with him.

Exile for a Greek was the worst punishment he could receive; the normally preferred death.

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Oracles, fate and free will in Oedipus the King

English translations don't always make this clear, but the oracle is implicitly conditional:

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If Laius has a son, that son will kill him. Laius, therefore, is in no way a victim of fate. He knowingly fathers a child and suffers the predicted consequences.

Hearing this prophecy prompts Oedipus to recall one he received from the Delphic Oracle shortly before he left Corinth:

And so I went in secret off to Delphi.

Apollo sent me back without an answer, so I didn’t learn what I had come to find.

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But when he spoke he uttered monstrous things, strange terrors and horrific miseries, it was my fate to defile my mother’s bed, to bring forth to men a human family that people could not bear to look upon, to murder the father who engendered me.

Given our modern concept of fate and fatalism, readers of the play have a tendency to deem Oedipus a mere puppet controlled by larger forces.

This is inaccurate. While it is a mythological truism that oracles exist to be fulfilled, oracles merely predict the future.

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Sophocles' departure from mythic tradition

In the Archaic period, two cities in particular were the focus of Greek epic poetry: Troy and Thebes.

The events surrounding Thebes recounted the misfortunes that befell Thebes - particularly the House of Laius.

In 467 BC Sophocles' fellow tragedian Aeschylus won the first prize at the City Dionysia with a trilogy about the House of Laius, comprising Laius, Oedipus and (the only surviving play) Seen against Thebes.

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Aeschylus presumably treated Oedipus' story as one link in a chain of calamities that befell Laius, his son and his grandsons.

Sophocles did not share Aeschylus' predilection for writing connected trilogies.

His play by necessity, then, treats the Oedipus myth with a much narrower focus than its epic and tragedic predecessors.

Though Laius' story obviously plays a part in the tragedy, the travails of Oedipus become much more self-contained.

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No longer part of an entire House's inexorable slide toward ruin, Sophocles' Oedipus the King is instead the tragedy of a single man who tries to outwit the Delphic Oracle and fails.

Did Oedipus really do it?

In Oedipus' version of events at the crossroads, he killed a man and all his attendants; there were no survivors.

According to Jocasta, however, one of the attendants survived the attack on Laius, and he indicated multiple killers were involved.

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On the face of it, Oedipus and Jocasta cannot be describing the same event.

Oedipus summons this witness to clarify the matter. In the meantime, a messenger arrives announcing the death of Polybus and in doing so, reveals that Polybus and Merope were not Oedipus' birth parents.

Long ago the messenger had been a shepherd, and was given the infant Oedipus by another shepherd.

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He turned the baby over to Polybus and Merope, who raised Oedipus as their own.

Just then the witness arrives, and the Corinthian messenger identifies him as the shepherd who had handed Oedipus over to him years ago.

The witness confirms the messenger's story.

What the witness does not do is answer the question he was originally summoned for: was Laius killed by one killer, or many?

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This question is entirely forgotten. Based on what the messenger and the witness have said, Oedipus and (presumably) Jocasta conclude that he is the son of Laius and Jocasta, and that he has committed both patricide and incest.

Yet Oedipus' account of the events at the crossroads and the witness' account (as recalled by Jocasta) cannot both be true.

So, it seem that Jocasta and Oedipus assumed their culpability without being guilty!

Sophocles: Oedipus Rex

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Then, we could argue that there was not irremediable fate but rather a series of miss interpretations and assumptions.

The Oracle like the messenger does not clarify any questions and thus they leave the answers to be interpreted, and it is this interpretation that leads to disaster.

Oracle is the place where supposedly truth is to be found; the Oracle does not make mistakes since is the voice of Apollo himself.

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However, the play makes a point: pride leads to confront the Gods and this is normally fateful.

And this is what the Chorus recounts at the end (168), and it is also the lesson to be learned by the people.

One could argue that most of Greek plays of this period had a social function of containment of the people; a form of saying: “control your pride and anger because if you don’t punishment will follow”.

Oedipus was not wise and this led him to his torment.

Sophocles: Oedipus Rex