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In the last scene of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, we encounter an Oedipus who has discovered the truth about himself, namely that he killed his father and married his mother. His mother has hanged herself and Oedipus has blinded himself with pins from her gown.
Oedipus’ emergence from the palace at Thebes for this final scene is visually striking. Greek actors wore masks and so a blinded Oedipus would have to wear a different mask than he did for the first three-quarters of the play. Whereas earlier in the play Oedipus taunted Teiresias with his blindness, now Oedipus has become blind like Teiresias; but in his blindness Oedipus now sees his true identity. Ironically, Oedipus also wants to be sent to a place where “you will never gaze on me again” (line 1412; Ian Johnston’s translation).
Even in his wretched state, Oedipus still tries to control the situation by dictating to Creon, who will now rule over Thebes, what he wants to happen, but Creon is cautious and wants to find out “what the god says” he should do (1439). Still, Oedipus does take this opportunity to express his desires about the burial of his mother and what should happen to his two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices.
Oedipus does get to have a final encounter with his two young daughters, Antigone and Ismene. He worries about what the future will hold for children of such a father as he is. He begs Creon to take pity on them. Oedipus knows he must leave Thebes, but does not want Creon to take his girls from him. Creon’s last words to Oedipus indicate that to the very end, Oedipus wants to maintain control of the situation:
Don’t try to be in charge of everything.
Your life has lost the power you once had.
(lines 1525-26; Ian Johnston’s translation)
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