Study Guide

Oedipus Rex

by Sophocles

Oedipus Rex Themes


Oedipus Rex is the story of a king of Thebes upon whom a hereditary curse is placed and who therefore has to suffer the tragic consequences of fate. During a time of plague, fires, and other forms of decimation, Oedipus decides to take action to restore life and prosperity to his kingdom, only to discover through this quest that his identity is not what he thought. He learns that he has killed his father, married his mother, and had children with her; his wife-mother Jocasta kills herself, and Oedipus blinds himself and goes into exile; his uncle Creon becomes King of Thebes.

Knowledge and Ignorance
Oedipus's desire to gain knowledge that will help to rid Thebes of its pollution is evident from the beginning of the play. When the priest comes to him to ask for help, Oedipus has already begun the process of searching for solutions; he has sent Creon to Delphi to learn from Apollo what measures should be taken. When Creon enters, Oedipus begins questioning him intensely, declares a search for Laius's murderer, and asks for Teiresias's assistance as well as that of others; when a member of the chorus offers information Oedipus says, "tell me. I am interested in all reports." His strong belief that the search for the truth will lead to a successful cleansing of Thebes is juxtaposed with the reluctance on the part of other characters to deliver their knowledge. Most fear retribution, since their knowledge points to Oedipus as the source of Thebes's troubles. This belief should also be understood in the context of Oedipus's ignorance and final, tragic discovery of his identity; by demanding that others tell him all they know he is forced to confront the hideous facts of his patricide and incest.

Choices and Consequences

(The entire section is 725 words.)