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Encyclopedia > Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King

Antigone Leads Oedipus out of Thebes by Charles Francois Jalabert
Written by Sophocles
Chorus Theban Elders
Characters Oedipus
Priest of Apollo
Messenger from Corinth
Herdsman of Laius
Setting Before the Palace of Oedipus in Thebes
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Greek Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Oedipus the King

Oedipus the King (Greek Oἰδίπoυς τύραννoς, ([Oedipus Tyrannus] ) or "Oedipus the Tyrant"), also known as Oedipus Rex, is a Greek tragedy, written by Sophocles and first performed ca. 429 BC.[1] The play was the second of Sophocles' three Theban plays to be produced, but comes first in the internal chronology of the plays, followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone. Over the centuries it has come to be regarded by many as the Greek tragedy par excellence.[2] Image File history File links Download high resolution version (1500x1141, 465 KB) Summary Charles Francois Jalabeat Antigone leads Oedipus out of Thebes Musée des Beaux Arts, Marseilles Licensing The two-dimensional work of art depicted in this image is in the public domain in the United States and in... This article is about the Greek tragedian. ... Two important places in antiquity were called Thebes: Thebes, Greece – Thebes of the Seven Gates; one-time capital of Boeotia. ... For other uses, see Oedipus (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Apollo (disambiguation). ... There are two kings in Greek mythology named Creon, or Kreeon (ruler), and one historical person. ... Everes redirects here. ... For other uses, see Jocasta (disambiguation). ... Laius abducting Chrysippus, who is reaching out to Pelops, his father (detail). ... Image File history File links Wikisource-logo. ... The original Wikisource logo. ... For other uses, see Tragedy (disambiguation). ... This article is about the Greek tragedian. ... Centuries: 6th century BC - 5th century BC - 4th century BC Decades: 470s BC 460s BC 450s BC 440s BC 430s BC - 420s BC - 410s BC 400s BC 390s BC 380s BC 370s BC Years: 434 BC 433 BC 432 BC 431 BC 430 BC - 429 BC - 428 BC 427 BC... The so-called three Theban plays, written by Greek dramatist Sophocles in the 5th century BC, follow the tragic downfall of the mythical king Oedipus of Thebes and his descendants. ... Oedipus at Colonus (also Oedipus Coloneus, and in Greek Οἰδίπους ἐπὶ Κολωνῷ) is one of the three Theban plays of the Athenian tragedian Sophocles. ... Antigone (play) redirects here. ...



See also: Oedipus

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 learns from an oracle that "he is doomed/To perish by the hand of his own son," he binds his infant son's feet together tightly with a pin and delivers him to a servant with orders to kill the child. Instead, the baby is found and rescued by a shepherd, who names him Oedipus (which actually means "swollen foot"). Intending to raise the baby himself, but not having the means to do so, the shepherd gives the baby Oedipus to a fellow shepherd from a distant land, who spends the summers sharing pastureland with his flocks. The second shepherd carries the baby with him to Corinth, where Oedipus is taken in and raised in the court of the childless King Polybus of Corinth as if he were the King's own son. As a young man in Corinth, Oedipus hears a rumor that he is not the biological son of Polybus and his wife Merope. When Oedipus asks them, they deny it. Oedipus remains suspicious and decides to ask the Delphic Oracle who his real parents are. The Oracle seems to ignore this question, but instead tells him that he is destined to "Mate with [his] own mother, and shed/ With [his] own hands the blood of [his] own sire." Oedipus leaves Corinth under the belief that Polybus and Merope are his true parents. On the road to Thebes, he meets Laius and they argue over which wagon had the right-of-way. Oedipus' pride leads him to kill Laius, ignorant of the fact that he is his biological father, fulfilling part of the oracle's prophecy. Oedipus then goes on to solve the Sphinx'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 has been answered correctly, the Sphinx throws herself off the side of the wall. His reward for freeing the kingdom of Thebes from the Sphinx's curse is kingship and the hand of the queen, Jocasta, who is also his biological mother. Thus, the prophecy is fulfilled. For other uses, see Oedipus (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Tragedy (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Oedipus (disambiguation). ... Laius abducting Chrysippus, who is reaching out to Pelops, his father (detail). ... Thebes (Demotic Greek: Θήβα — Thíva; Katharevousa: — Thêbai or Thívai) is a city in Greece, situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain. ... For other uses, see Jocasta (disambiguation). ... Shepherd in FăgăraÅŸ Mountains, Romania. ... Polybus was a famous physician. ... Temple of Apollo at Corinth Corinth, or Korinth (Κόρινθος) is a Greek city, on the Isthmus of Corinth, the original isthmus, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece. ... The word Sibyl comes (via Latin) from the ancient Greek word sibylla, meaning prophetess. ... Thebes (Demotic Greek: Θήβα — Thíva; Katharevousa: — Thêbai or Thívai) is a city in Greece, situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain. ... For other uses, see Sphinx (disambiguation). ... A riddle is a statement or question having a double or veiled meaning, put forth as a puzzle to be solved. ... Look up Curse in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... A Queen Dowager or Dowager Queen is a title or status generally held by the widow of a deceased king. ...

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. Oedipus searches for Laius' murderer and promises to exile the man responsible for it, unaware that this is he himself. The blind prophet, Tiresias, is called to aid Oedipus in his search; however, after Tiresias' warning against following through with the investigation, Oedipus accuses him of being the murderer, even though Tiresias is blind and aged. In response to that, Tiresias tells Oedipus that he is looking for himself, causing Oedipus to become enraged in disbelief. Oedipus also accuses Tiresias of conspiring with Creon, Jocasta's brother, to overthrow him. The Greek chorus (choros) is believed to have grown out of the Greek dithyrambs and tragikon drama in tragic plays of the ancient Greek theatre. ... Thebes (Θῆβαι Thívai) is a city in Greece, situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain. ... In epidemiology, an epidemic (from [[Latin language] epi- upon + demos people) is a disease that appears as new cases in a given human population, during a given period, at a rate that substantially exceeds what is expected, based on recent experience (the number of new cases in the population during... Everes redirects here. ... There are two kings in Greek mythology named Creon, or Kreeon (ruler), and one historical person. ...

Oedipus then calls for one of Laius' former servants, the only surviving witness of the murder, who fled the city when Oedipus became king in order 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. 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. 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.[3] Fibulae are ancient brooches. ...

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 the Trojan War were chronicled in the so-called Epic Cycle. Myths about Thebes were similarly treated in the so-called Theban Cycle, now lost. Combined the epics in this cycle apparently recounted the misfortunes that befell Thebes -- particularly the House of Laius.[1] 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) Seven against Thebes. Aeschylus presumably treated Oedipus' story as one link in a chain of calamities that befell Laius, his son and his grandsons.[2] For other meanings of epic, see Epic. ... For other uses of Troy or Ilion, see Troy (disambiguation) and Ilion (disambiguation). ... Thebes (Demotic Greek: Θήβα — Thíva; Katharevousa: — Thêbai or Thívai) is a city in Greece, situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain. ... The fall of Troy, by Johann Georg Trautmann (1713–1769). ... The Epic Cycle (Greek: Επικός Κύκλος) was a collection of Ancient Greek epic poems that related the story of the Trojan War, which includes the Kypria, the Aithiopis, the Little Iliad, the Iliou persis (The Sack of Troy), the Nostoi (Returns), and the Telegony. ... The Theban Cycle is a collection of four lost epics of ancient Greek literature which related the mythical history of the Boiotian city of Thebes. ... This article is about the ancient Greek playwright. ... This page may meet Wikipedias criteria for speedy deletion. ... Wikisource has original text related to this article: Επτά επί Θήβας The Seven Against Thebes is a mythic narrative that finds its classic statement in the play by Aeschylus (467 BCE) concerning the battle between the Seven led by Polynices and the army of Thebes headed by Eteocles and his supporters, traditional Theban...

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 tragic predecessors. Though Laius' story obviously plays a part in the tragedy, the travails of Oedipus become much more self-contained. 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 defiant Delphic Oracle and fails.[citation needed]

Themes and motifs


Fate is a theme often occurring in Greek plays. From the beginning of the play Oedipus is destined to "kill his father and mate with his mother." Oedipus runs away from Corinth and meets his biological father Laius, only to kill him, not knowing that Laius was his father. He then proceeds to Thebes where a sphinx is terrorizing the city. He solves the riddle and marries his mother, unwittingly.

Oracles, fate and free will

Two oracles dominate the plot of Oedipus the King. At lines 711-14, Jocasta relates the prophecy that was told to Laius before the birth of Oedipus. Laius was only told of the patricide and not of the incest: Laius abducting Chrysippus, who is reaching out to Pelops, his father (detail). ... Patricide is (i) the act of killing ones father, or (ii) a person who kills his or her father. ...

An oracle once came to Laius (I will not say
'twas from the Delphic god himself, but from His ministers)
declaring he was doomed To perish by the hand of his own son,
A child that should be born to him by me.

The oracle is implicitly conditional: 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 (787-93):

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.
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. Neither they nor Fate dictate the future. In his landmark article, “On Misunderstanding the Oedipus Rex,”[4] E.R. Dodds draws a comparison with Jesus’ prophecy at the Last Supper that Peter would deny him three times that night. Jesus knows that Peter will do this – but he in no way forces him to do this. So it is with Oedipus. Look up fate, Fates in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... It has been suggested that Theological fatalism be merged into this article or section. ...

The oracle delivered to Oedipus is often called a “self-fulfilling prophecy” in that the prophecy itself sets in motion events that conclude with the oracle’s own fulfillment.[5] But this is not to say that Oedipus is a victim of fate with no free will. The oracle inspires a series of specific choices freely made by Oedipus that lead to killing his father and marrying his mother. Oedipus chooses not to return to Corinth after hearing the oracle; he chooses to head toward Thebes; he chooses to kill Laius, who later turned out to be his father; he chooses to marry, and he further chooses Jocasta specifically as his bride; in response to the plague at Thebes, Oedipus chooses to send Creon to the Oracle for advice, and then chooses to follow that advice, initiating the investigation into Laius' murder. None of these choices were predetermined.

Another characteristic of oracles in myth is that they are almost always misunderstood by those that hear them. Hence, Oedipus’ misunderstanding the significance of the Delphic Oracle. Oedipus visits Delphi to find out who his real parents are. He assumes that the Oracle refuses to answer that question, and instead offers an unrelated prophecy forecasting patricide and incest. Oedipus’ assumption is incorrect -- the Oracle does answer his question. Stated less elliptically, the answer to his question is, “Polybus and Merope are not your parents. You will one day kill a man, and he will turn out to be your true father; you will one day marry, and the woman you choose will be your real mother.”[citation needed]

State control

The exploration of this theme in Oedipus the King is paralleled by the examination of the conflict between the individual and the state in Antigone. The dilemma Oedipus faces here is quite similar to that of the tyrannical Creon: each man has, as king, made a decision that his subjects question or disobey. Each king also misconstrues both his own role as a sovereign and the role of the rebel. When informed by the blind prophet Teiresias that religious forces are against him, each king claims that the priest has been bought off. However, it is here that their similarities end: while Creon, seeing the havoc he has wreaked, tries to fix his mistakes, Oedipus listens to no one. [6] Antigone (play) redirects here. ... In Greek mythology, Tiresias was a blind prophet, the son of the shepherd Everes and the nymph Chariclo. ...

Sight and blindness

Literal and metaphorical references to eyesight appear throughout Oedipus the King. Clear vision serves as a metaphor for insight and knowledge, yet the clear-eyed Oedipus is blind to the truth about his origins and inadvertent crimes. The prophet Teiresias, on the other hand, though literally blind, “sees” the truth and relays what is revealed to him. Only after he has physically blinded himself so as not to look upon his children – the fruit of his accidental sin – does Oedipus gain a limited prophetic ability, as seen in Oedipus at Colonus.[original research?] In Greek mythology, Tiresias was a blind prophet, the son of the shepherd Everes and the nymph Chariclo. ... Oedipus at Colonus (also Oedipus Coloneus, and in Greek Οἰδίπους ἐπὶ Κολωνῷ) is one of the three Theban plays of the Athenian tragedian Sophocles. ...

Was Oedipus Guilty?

Frederick Ahl[7] has notably revived Voltaire's observation[8] that in Sophocles' telling of the myth, the evidence appears to exonerate Oedipus of patricide and incest. 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. 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. 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. For other uses, see Voltaire (disambiguation). ...

What the witness does not do is answer the question he was originally summoned for: was Laius killed by one killer, or many? 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. This unresolved discrepancy, Ahl argues, suggests that Oedipus is guilty of neither patricide nor incest: the power of the drama lies in his haste to convict himself on insufficient evidence. Mary Whitlock Blundell has called Ahl's interpretation "a breathtaking perversity."[9]

See also

For other uses, see Oedipus (disambiguation). ... Other musical works on the same subject include Oedipus Rex by Tom Lehrer, and Oedipus Tex by P. D. Q. Bach. ... Oedipus Tex is an Western-themed oratorio by P. D. Q. Bach that follows the adventures of Oedipus Tex (you may have heard of my brother Rex) in Thebes Gulch. ... The Oedipus complex in Freudian psychoanalysis refers to a stage of psychosexual development in childhood where children of both sexes regard their father as an adversary and competitor for the exclusive love of their mother. ...


  1. ^ Though we know that Sophocles won second prize with the group of plays that included Oedipus the King, its date of production is uncertain. The prominence of the Theban plague at the play's opening suggests to many scholars a reference to the plague that devastated Athens in 430 BC, and hence a production date shortly thereafter. See (e.g.) Bernard Knox, "The Date of the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles," The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 77, No. 2 (1956), 133-147.
  2. ^ It is widely argued that Aristotle in his Poetics identifies Oedipus the King as the best Greek tragedy. See, e.g., Elizabeth Belfiore, Tragic Pleasures: Aristotle on Plot and Emotion (Princeton, 1992) 176. Yet although Aristotle praises many aspects of the play, he nonetheless also expresses a preference (1454a) for tragedies in which a timely recognition prevents violence and a plot arc that moves from misfortune to good fortune (such as Euripides' Iphigeneia at Tauris); Oedipus the King conversely features a belated recognition of mistaken violence, and a plot that moves from good fortune to misfortune. See Christopher S. Morrissey, "Oedipus the Cliché: Aristotle on Tragic Form and Content," Anthropoetics 9, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2003).
  3. ^ The Greek historian Herodotus (in his Histories, Book 1.32) attributes this maxim to the 6th-century Athenian statesman Solon.
  4. ^ Greece & Rome, 2nd Ser., Vol. 13, No. 1 (Apr., 1966), pp. 37-49
  5. ^ Strictly speaking, this is inaccurate. Oedipus himself set these events in motion when he decided to investigate his parentage against the advice of Polybus and Merope.
  6. ^ Sophocles. Sophocles I: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. 2nd ed. Grene, David and Lattimore, Richard, eds. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1991.[clarify]
  7. ^ Sophocles' Oedipus: Evidence and Self-Contradiction (Ithaca, 1992); see also Rix, R.W. "Was Oedipus Framed?" Orbis Litterarum 54.2 (1999), 134–145.
  8. ^ In his "Third Letter on Oedipus."
  9. ^ Review of Ahl 1992 in The Classical Journal, Vol. 87.3 (Feb.-Mar., 1992), pp. 299-301.

Look up pestilence in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... A statue of Euripides. ... 112 Iphigenia is an asteroid. ... Herodotus of Halicarnassus (Greek: Hēródotos Halikarnāsseús) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC (c. ... The Histories of Herodotus by Herodotus is considered the first work of history in Western literature. ... For other uses, see Athens (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Solon (disambiguation). ...


Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Oedipus the King
  • Thomas Francklin, 1759 - verse
  • Edward H. Plumptre, 1865 - verse: full text
  • Richard C. Jebb, 1904 - prose: full text
  • Francis Storr, 1912 - verse: full text
  • William Butler Yeats, 1928 - mixed prose and verse
  • David Grene, 1942 (revised ed. 1991) - verse
  • E.F. Watling, 1947
  • Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald, 1949 - verse
  • Theodore Howard Banks, 1956 - verse
  • Albert Cook, 1957 - verse
  • Paul Roche, 1958 - verse
  • Bernard Knox, 1959 - prose
  • H. D. F. Kitto, 1962 - verse
  • Stephen Berg and Diskin Clay - verse
  • Robert Bagg, 1982 (revised ed. 2004) - verse
  • Robert Fagles, 1984 - verse
  • Nick Bartel, 1999 - verse: abridged text
  • George Theodoridis, 2005 - prose: full text
  • Luci Berkowitz and Theodore F. Brunner, 1970 - prose
  • Ian Johnston, 2004 - verse: full text.

Image File history File links Wikisource-logo. ... The original Wikisource logo. ... Edward Hayes Plumptre (August 6, 1821 – February 1, 1891), English divine and scholar, was born in London. ... Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb (August 27, 1841 - December 9, 1905) was a British classical scholar and politician. ... Yeats redirects here. ... For other persons named Robert Fitzgerald, see Robert Fitzgerald (disambiguation). ... Humphrey Davy Findley Kitto (6 February 1897-21 January 1982) was a British classical scholar. ... Robert Fagles is a Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton University. ...

Additional references

  • Brunner, M. "King Oedipus Retried" Rosenberger & Krausz, London, 2000
  • Foster, C. Thomas. "How to Read Literature Like a Professor" HarperCollins, New York, 2003

External links

This article is about the Greek tragedian. ... Ajax is a play by Sophocles. ... Antigone (play) redirects here. ... The Trachiniae (or The Women of Trachis) is a play by Sophocles, notable mainly for the unsympathetic portrayal of Heracles. ... Electra or Elektra is a Greek tragic play by Sophocles. ... The Philoctetes is a play by Sophocles written about 410 BC. Its subject is Philoctetes, the friend of Herakles, who was also a participant in the Trojan War. ... Oedipus at Colonus (also Oedipus Coloneus, and in Greek Οἰδίπους ἐπὶ Κολωνῷ) is one of the three Theban plays of the Athenian tragedian Sophocles. ... Image File history File links Download high resolution version (654x1385, 85 KB) From http://runeberg. ...

  Results from FactBites:
Oedipus the King - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (797 words)
Oedipus the King (also known as Oedipus Rex and Oedipus Tyrannos, Oι̉δίπoυς τύραννoς in Greek) is a Greek tragedy, written by Sophocles in 428 BCE.
Oedipus went on to solve the Sphinx's riddle, "What uses four legs in the morning, two in the day, and three at night?"--the answer is Man--and his reward for this is the kingdom of Thebes, and the hand of Jocasta; again, neither recognizes the other.
Oedipus is mentioned once in the Iliad of Homer: "Mecisteus went once to Thebes after the fall of Oedipus, to attend his funeral, and he beat all the people of Cadmus." (Book 23, ln 756).
Oedipus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1189 words)
Oedipus was the mythical king of Thebes, son of Laius and Jocasta, who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother.
In Sophocles' play, Oedipus the King, Oedipus has four children with Jocasta, though this may have been a plot device he employed, as incest was not part of the original myth.
It is also claimed by some that either Oedipus was the inspiration for tales of Odin or Odin was inspiration for the tales of Oedipus; also said was that a mystery cult existed that both were members of, although these theories provoke skepticism.
  More results at FactBites »



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