Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Oedipus (EH-deh-puhs), the son of Jocasta and Laius, sovereigns of Thebes. A ruthless, smug, conceited, headstrong, and ambitious young man, he was found on the mountain when still an infant, taken to Polybus and Merope, sovereigns of Corinth, and adopted by them. To escape the dire prediction of the oracle of Delphi, he leaves home and sets out to kill the Sphynx so that he can marry Queen Jocasta and become king of Thebes. Although he was given the answer to the riddle by the Sphynx, he believes himself to be a hero in defeating her and revels in his illusory triumph. After seventeen years of false happiness, the infernal machine crushes its victim by unfolding the dreadful truth. The old man whom he had killed on his way to the Sphynx was his real father, and the woman whom he married was his real mother. Frantic with despair, he blinds himself with Jocasta’s pin. The Oedipus of this play is very different from Sophocles’ character. He is devoid of any heroic qualities. He is deliberately blind, ignores all the signs that should warn him of his imminent downfall, and lies to himself and to others. Far from being a hero, he is a derisory puppet manipulated by fate.


Jocasta (joh-KAS-tuh), the queen of Thebes, Laius’ widow and Oedipus’ mother. An eccentric, vain, sensual, capricious, and lonely woman with a strong foreign accent, she shows an irresistible physical attraction to young men. Thus predisposed to incest, she is unable to hear the desperate warnings of her husband’s ghost or to interpret the many signs that warn of her impending fate. When she finally learns the truth, she hangs herself with her scarf. Only then does the down-to-earth,...

(The entire section is 728 words.)