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TitleOedipus Rex Notes
TagsSophocles Oedipus Theatre Entertainment (General)
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they have so much faith in him. Thus, he acts more prideful in order to make himself feel
adequate in resolving the situation, and his pride is only exacerbated as the situation becomes
worse. This passage also reveals how deeply Oedipus feels about his subjects, which makes his
sacrifice to save them all the more wrenching.
Jocasta: 45-50; caring, smart, sensitive; appears young because of a magic broach; Jocasta acts
motherly towards Oedipus, trying to resolve the conflicts he has with others and encouraging
him to make more moderate choices, she is respected by the prominent figures in the community;
she is Oedipus’ wife and mother.
Jocasta: Have you no sense? Poor misguided men, such shouting—why this public outburst? Aren’t you
ashamed, with the land so sick, to stir up private quarrels? Into the palace now. And Creon, you go home.
Why make such a furor over nothing?

This quote shows the powerful effect that Jocasta has over Oedipus and Creon. She acts as a
mother and ultimate moral authority over both them, and is a strong voice for moderation.
Creon: 30, moderate, logical, fair; Creon has a forceful personality and strong convictions, but is
more willing to compromise and think things out than Oedipus is. He strives to do things
correctly, completely, logically, and fairly.
Creon: I haven’t come to mock you, Oedipus, or to criticize your former failings. You there, have you lost
all respect for human feelings? At least revere the Sun, the holy fire that keeps us all alive. Never expose
a thing of guilt and holy dread so great it appalls the earth, the rain from heaven, the light of day! Get
him into the halls—quickly as you can. Piety demands no less. Kindred alone should she a kinsman’s
shame. This is obscene.

In this scene, Creon behaves coolly and rationally. He shows Oedipus respect and sensitivity,
though there is clearly a distance between them that didn’t exist previously. In this scene Creon
reveals how different he is from Oedipus, he thinks things out carefully and asks the advice of
others, and is free from the weight of shame that Oedipus carries. However, the two men are
united by having shared a great horrific revelation.

Setting: Ancient Greece, Thebes; currently experiencing a plague. It is Oedipus’ desire to save
the city that ultimately leads to his discovering the truth of his parentage. The city’s struggles
mirror Oedipus’ destruction and create a dismal atmosphere at the play’s opening.

Diction: The diction is formal. Fagles carefully chooses his use of italics to emphasize a truth
that the audience is supposed to see but the characters do not, or to reinforce the verbal tone of
one of the characters speaking. The recurring words related to sailing, farming, hunting,
calculations, and medicine also enforce the characterization of Oedipus and his relation to central
theme of the play. Doctorial and mathematical images are abundant. There are allusions to
figures in ancient Greek mythology, and the choral odes tend to be written in a more flowery
manner, whereas the dialogue tends to be plainer and truer to life. Oedipus speaks in a more
forceful, and arrogant, manner than the rest of the characters, and Jocasta speaks kindly.
Tiresias: What rock of Cithaeron won’t scream back in echo? The day you learn the truth about your
marriage, the wedding-march that sang you into your halls, the lusty voyage home to the fatal harbor!
And a crowd of other horrors you’d never dream will level you with yourself and all your children.

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The words that Tiresias uses in this scene are designed to instill in Oedipus the greatest sense of
fear and uncertainty possible. He taunts Oedipus with what he does not know, and every word is
threatening. His reference to the “fatal harbor” reinforces the motif as Oedipus as a sailor, and
the circular nature of his life.
Oedipus: I count myself the son of Chance, the great goddess, giver of all good things—I’ll never see
myself disgraced. She is my mother! And the moons have marked me out, my blood-brothers, one moon
on the wane, the next moon great with power.

This quote contrasts chance and destiny. Oedipus seems to believe in both, connecting himself
closely to the powers of chance, but also claiming that his destiny is marked by the passage of
astrological features. His reference to himself as the “son” of chance is also ironic, considering
that at this point he does not know who is mother is.
Oedipus: Oh but this I know: no sickness can destroy me, nothing can. I would never have been saved
from death—I have been saved from something great and terrible, something strange. Well let my destiny
come and take me on its way!

The sickness that Oedipus mentions is parallel to the sickness that Thebes suffers. He also has
only a vague grasp on the magnitude of his sins, and still believes in the power of destiny.

Syntax: The sentence structure on the whole is direct, though there are exceptions. Many
discussions, especially at the most pivotal moments, are in the form of riddles, reflecting the
uncertainty inherent in Oedipus’ struggle, and mocking his supreme riddle-solving ability.
Sentences tend to be complete, except in moments of greatest emotional intensity, which is likely
done to tense the audience. They also are shorter and quipped when characters are arguing or
distressed. Flow and rhythm and created by the translation, and the sentences flow nicely during
calmer periods in the story, but pick up intensity and fragment during the most dramatic scenes.
The abrupt nature of the syntax makes the audience feel uneasy and adds intensity and drama.
Creon: Just one thing, hear me out in this.
Oedipus: Just one thing, don’t tell me you’re not the enemy, the traitor.
Creon: Look, if you think crude, mindless stubbornness such a gift, you’ve lost your sense of balance.
Oedipus: If you think you can abuse a kinsman, then escape the penalty, you’re insane.

This passage makes heavy use of parallel structure, which, because it is Oedipus who repeats
Creon, makes him appear childish and incapable of progress, and thereby exposes his insecurity.
It adds tension to the scene by showing the extent of Oedipus’ anxiety.

Concrete Detail/ Imagery: There are many references to the ocean, farming, and hunting.
Oedipus is also compared to doctors and mathematicians. Vulgar images are used to jar and
shock the audience, especially regarding Oedipus’ relationship to his mother. The Chorus’
language is often the most elaborate, and uses the most imagery of death and destruction.
1. Chorus: Thebes is dying, look, her children stripped of pity…generations strewn on the ground
unburied, unwept, the dead spreading death and the young wives and gray-haired mothers with them
cling to the altars, trailing in from all over the city—Thebes, city of death, one long cortege and the
suffering rises wails for mercy rise and wild hymn of the Healer blazes out clashing with our sobs our
cries of mourning.

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2. Oedipus: Dark, horror of darkness my darkness, drowning, swirling around me crashing wave on
wave—unspeakable, irresistible headwind, fatal harbor! Oh again, the misery, all at once, over and over
the stabbing daggers, stab of memory raking me inside.

Symbolism: At the end of the play, Oedipus removes his eyes, spiritually separating him from
the grief that he has caused himself and others. He was blind to the truth of his existence before,
but once he understands it he must be blind to everything else.

Figurative Language: There are references to the ocean, tides, and harbors, emphasizing the
circular nature of Oedipus’ fate and the futility of trying to escape what destiny has ordained for
him. Oedipus is compared to a sailor, farmer, and hunter, showing that he has conquered the sea,
land, and animals, though failed to defeat the gods or even understand himself. The comparisons
created between Oedipus and the enlightened ideals of the times show anxiety regarding modern
technology and the underlying fear that humans are not as powerful and all-knowing as they
believe their discoveries make them. The chorus uses apostrophes during their odes. The city of
Thebes is personified by the chorus. Apostrophes are used in the choral odes. These features add
emotional intensity to the chorus’ speeches, and make them appear as a complex assortment of
characters who are invested in Oedipus’ actions.

Ironic Devices: The story of Oedipus was well-known to ancient Greek audiences, so they knew
what the shocking revelation would be. It is Oedipus’ own persistence and dedication to
discovering the truth that ultimately leads to his downfall. It can also be speculated that if
Oedipus had not gone to such great lengths to avoid the Oracle’s prophecy, it might indeed have
never come to pass. Oedipus also uses irony himself when he speaks to others sarcastically, often
when he feels threatened or upset, which further reflects the childishness of his temperament.

Tone: Tension mounts as Oedipus comes close to realizing the truth. This sense of frustration is
aggravated by the fact that the audience already knows how the play will end. The end of the
play is very dismal. The chorus projects a feeling of hopelessness as they beg Oedipus for
assistance at the beginning of the play; their tone becomes more pleading as Oedipus begins to
act more rashly. The sense of hopelessness, uncertainty, and despair returns at the end.

Theme: There is a struggle between the gods and man, between destiny and free will. It seems
that we are in control of our lives, but this is not the case, for our lives are set out in advance by
the gods. Thus, the question is raised of whether or not the things we do and decisions we make
have a difference. You cannot avoid your fate, and you may suffer not for something you did, but
for crimes committed by people from past generations. The harder you try to run from your
density, the more painful it will be when it catches up to you. Progress is not possible. Another
theme that influences many of Oedipus’ actions is the importance of personal responsibility.
Despite the difficulties that Oedipus faces, and the arguments that they were not his fault, he
carries the blame on himself so that the curse will end with him. This implies that free will does

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