top of page
  • Writer's pictureSnappy notes


Updated: Oct 27, 2020

After twenty years of happy life a deadly pestilence was sent on Thebes. [A ‘blight on the fields, and a blight on the women to whom no children are born].The Priest of Zeus at the head of a crowd of children and old men implored Oedipus to save Thebes from the pestilence brought on them by Ares. Oedipus’ brother-in-law, Creon, sent by him to the Pyth-ian Temple of Apollo, returned and announced that Phoebus commanded them to drive out a pollution caused by the un-avenged murder of Laius. The chorus prays to Phoebus, Athene, Artemis, Zeus and Dionysus to help them to fight Ares.

Oedipus calling himself a stranger (xenos) to the story and stranger to the deed, invokes, in the name of Apollo, cursing on the killer of Laius, and outlaws him. He sends for Teiresias, the blind prophet, who refuses to speak for the reason that it will be better for both of us to bear our several destinies to the end’. Teiresias refuses to reveal the murderer, saying “all of you here know nothing... Did you not understand before or would you provoke me into speaking?’

Finally, Teiresias reveals the truth (‘I say that with those you love best you live in foulest shame unknowingly... It is not fate that I should be your ruin, Apollo is enough; it is his care to work this out’). Oedipus rejects his accusations, saying that Teiresias was unable by prophecy from birds nor otherwise from any god to glean a word of knowledge to solve the riddle of the Sphinx, but I came, Oedipus, who knew nothing...and solved it by my wit alone’. He accuses Creon and Teiresias of treason. The latter responds that he is no slave of Oedipus, but of Loxias’ (Apollo), calls Oedipus ‘blind’ and predicts his blindness, exile, and utter humiliation. He says that Oedipus ‘in name is a stranger among Theb-ans, but soon will be shown to be one of them and shall be proved father and brother to his children and to his mother a son and husband both, a fellow sower in the bed of his father whom he murdered.’

Jocasta reveals that a previous oracle had said to Laius that he would be killed by his son, but as he was killed by ‘a foreign highway robber’, it seems that the oracles of Apollo do not come true, for ‘god's service perishes’. A messenger from Corinth announces that old Polybus has died and that Oedipus will be chosen as their king. He also reveals that Oedipus had been adopted by Polybus and Meropa, and that he himself was the shepherd who took him from the hands of a shepherd from Thebes who had been commanded to leave the child with pierced ankles and fettered feet on Cithaeron's slopes.

Oedipus sends for that Theban shepherd who confirms the fact, from which follows that Oedipus is guilty of parricide and incest. Jocasta hangs herself in her bedroom. Oedipus blinds himself. When the chorus reproaches him for this, he says: It was Apollo, friends, Apollo that brought my sorrows to completion. But the hand that struck was mine’. When Oedipus beseeches Creon to expel him from Thebes to save the city, he replies that the Delphic oracle ought to be consulted. After some time he is, finally, exiled, and starts his twenty year long period as a wandering beggar, accompanied by his daughter Antigone. His sons do not object to his exile for they desire to rule the city themselves, though Creon has remained its regent. Oedipus’ son Polineices is driven out of Thebes by his younger brother Eteocles. Polineices marries the daughter of Adrastus, King of Argos, and begins to collect a great host against Thebes.

The Thebans receive a new oracle that their welfare depends on Oedipus, in life and death. Oedipus arrives with Antigone at a spot near Athens sacred to Eumenides (Goddesses of Vengeance and justice) and recognizes in it his last shelter that Phoebus of Delphi had promised to him. He utters his prayer to the Eumenides: Hear, sweet children of primeval darkness! Hear me, Athens, pity this poor wraith of Oedipus!He asks the local citizens to grant him a sanctuary on the sacred grounds, saying: I have come to you sacred and pious, and bringing benefit to you. He asks them to bring to him their King Theseus. Oedipus daughter, Ismene, comes from Thebes with tidings about the strife between his sons, and about the new oracle. Now Oedipus is fully aware of his power and of the significance of the place of his burial. He knows that the Thebans would desire to have him while he is still alive but not on their soil, for his father’s blood being on him would forbid it, but if his burial were unholy that would be a curse to them; so that on his death they might secure the guardianship of his grave.

The chorus advises Oedipus to make an expiatory ritual to the Eumenides whose grounds he violated and explains in detail how to perform it. Ismene goes to the grove to perform it instead of her father. Theseus comes from Athens. Oedipus beseeches the king to protect him in Attica and to allow him to be buried near the grove of the Eumenides when he is dead, for which he pledges in the name of Zeus and Phoebus. Theseus publicly adopts Oedipus as his citizen, and leaves the grove to perform a sacrifice at the neighbouring altar of Poseidon.

Creon with his guards appears. Unknown to Oedipus he had taken Ismene as a hostage, and now tries to persuade Oedipus to return with him to Thebes. He calls Oedipus ‘a stranger everywhere, never at rest.’ Oedipus puts a curse on Thebes, and refers to Phoebus and Zeus who communicated to him the knowledge of the future of Thebes. When Creon's guards take Antigone away from him Oedipus utters his curse to Creon: To thee and thy line may the Sun-God grant such life in old age as I have had!Theseus interrupts his sacrifice to Poseidon, comes to the grove, frees both maidens, and sends Creon and his men back to Thebes. When the army of Polineices and his Argive (citizens of Argos) allies gather before the walls and towers of Thebes, it becomes to know that victory will be with the side for which Oedipus declares. Polineices comes to Attica and prays at the altar of Poseidon together with Theseus, but as a stranger, not yet revealing his name.

The chorus recites the Ode of Death (Not to be born surpasses thought and speech. The second best is to have seen the light and then go back quickly whence we came... And the worst lot is to outlive the joys of life...). Antigone recognizes Polineices in the approaching stranger. He implores Oedipus, in the name of Poseidon, to take his side. But Oedipus places his curse on both sons (You shall die by your brother's hand and... he will die by yours...). Doomed by his father and his Erynies (i.e. Eumenides), Polineices implores his sisters to give him funeral rites when he is dead, and goes forth to the siege of Thebes. The chorus: ‘….new ills have newly come from the sightless stranger...the heavy ills, unless, perchance, fate (moira) finds its goal!’ A terrific peal of thunder is heard. Oedipus implores the chorus to send for Theseus. Thunder and lightning again, chorus urges Theseus who ‘makes pure offering at the altar of Poseidon’, to hurry and receive a blessing from ‘this stranger’ (Oedipus).

Oedipus promises Theseus to disclose the future of Athens, which Theseus must hand down to his son, and he in his turn to his heir, and so forever Athens shall be safe. Oedipus asks Theseus to follow him to his hidden sacred tomb (hierostumbos), to which the guide (pompos), Hermes and the goddess of the dead will lead him. The chorus prays to the Unseen Goddess and the Lord of nocturnal spirits, Aidonius, that they may let the stranger pass quietly to the fields of the dead, because he is so weary of his great sufferings.

When his daughters help him to bathe, dress, and make libations for the dead, the earth groans, and a call comes from the god: Oedipus, Oedipus! Why are we waiting?’ He dismisses his daughters, remains with Theseus for a short time, and ceases to be seen so that ‘in what manner he perished no one mortal man could tell but Theseus’. Antigone says that something invisible and strange caught him up-or down into a space unseen’, and adds that he lived his life as he wished, and it is he himself who chose to die among strangers in a strange land.


Mythological Deliberations Lectures on the Phenomenology of religion by Piatgorsky, I.

33 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page