Essential Passages by Character: Oedipus
Essential Passage 1: Lines 410-418
So tell me, when are you the wise seer? (410)
How is it that, when the singing hound was here,
you never said how the citizens might be freed?
Even though the riddle could not be solved by
the first man who met it, but required prophecy.
But you did not come forth with this, knowing some clue (415)
from birds or gods; instead I came along,
the idiot Oedipus! I stopped her,
working from intellect, not learning from birds.
As the plague ravages the city of Thebes, Oedipus asks the prophet Tiresias to identify the cause of the plague. Tiresias has very reluctantly placed the blame on Oedipus himself. In anger, Oedipus rages against Tiresias for this accusation. Oedipus even accuses Creon, his brother-in-law and co-ruler, of plotting to remove Oedipus from the throne and thus retain the crown for himself. Boasting, Oedipus recalls how he saved the city of Thebes by solving the riddle of the Sphinx (the singing hound) that had held Thebes captive in the absence of its previous ruler, Laius. It was not by the prophecies of old, nor the priests’ reading of omens in the flights of birds, nor not even by the gods that Thebes was saved. Instead, it was by Oedipus using his own intellectual strength to rid the city of the threat of the Sphinx.
Essential Passage 2: Lines 648-660
What do you want? To cast me from this land?
Hardly—I want you to die, not flee.
You are the form of jealousy. (650)
You speak neither to concede nor to persuade?
For I see well that you do not understand.
I understand my own affairs well enough.
You must know mine equally well.
Not when they are false! (655)
Do you understand nothing?
Yet, there must be rule.
Not if ruled badly!
O city, city!
The city is mine, too, not yours alone! (660)
Creon vehemently denies Oedipus’s charge of treason. At this point in the work, Creon holds the role of adviser, though he is one of the three named rulers of Thebes (along with Oedipus and Jocasta). Why would he want to be saddled with the pressures and burdens of ruling alone, he asks. His life is...
(The entire section is 1154 words.)
Essential Passages by Theme: Fate
Essential Passage 1: Lines 1004-1010
Why should a person fear when the ways of fortune
are supreme, when there is no clear foresight? (1005)
It’s best to live at random, however one can.
Do not worry you will wed your mother,
for many mortals already have lain with
their mothers in dreams. Rather, the one for whom
these things are nothing bears life easiest. (1010)
Oedipus, having lived in fear of the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother, has avoided his boyhood home of Corinth and the people he believes to be his parents: Polybus and Merope. A messenger arrives with both bad and good news. The bad news is that Polybus has died after a short illness. The good news is that the people of Corinth want Oedipus to be their king. Despite the grief at his father’s death, he is overjoyed that the prophecy has proved false. Jocasta states that it is chance, not fate, that rules human lives. No one can see ahead, so all prophecies are false. It is best to live for today rather than in obedience to the oracles of some priest or prophet.
Essential Passage 2: Lines 1376-1388
Let him die who took off the fierce fetters,
feeding off my feet, and rescued and saved
me from my death, no good deed for me!
For if I had died then,
I would not have brought (1380)
so much pain to my friends or me!
It is my wish, too, that it have been thus.
I’d not then be my father’s slayer,
nor called the groom of her whence I was born.
Abandoned by the gods, child of sacrilege, (1385)
sharing the source of those I myself sired.
Were some evil greater still than evil,
this, too, would be Oedipus’ lot.
Jocasta has committed suicide, hanging herself above her marriage bed. In horror at what he has unwittingly done, Oedipus takes the pins from Jocasta’s gown and gouges out his eyes. Led out to the people, he stands before them, blinded and destined for exile. Begging to be sent away from Thebes, he curses the shepherd who took off the pins that bound his ankles together as a baby, destined to die. Saving his life was not mercy. It condemned those he loved,...
(The entire section is 1060 words.)