Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Oedipus (EHD-ih-puhs), the king of Thebes. A foundling, he had been reared by Polybus and Merope, king and queen of Corinth. In that city, he had enjoyed a place of honor until a drunken Corinthian at a banquet accused him of being a bastard. To settle the matter, he went to the oracle at Pytho, who revealed that he was destined to lie with his mother and murder his father. To avoid this curse, he fled Corinth. During his travels, he was thrust out of the road by an old man in a carriage. Angered, Oedipus returned the old man’s blow and killed him. Later, he overcame the Sphinx by answering a riddle that the monster put to all whom it encountered, killing those who could not solve it. As a reward, Oedipus was made king of Thebes and given the hand of Queen Jocasta, whose former husband, King Laius, was believed killed in an encounter with highway robbers. When the action of the play begins, Oedipus has ruled well for many years, but a plague of unknown origin has recently fallen on the city. His subjects appeal to him as one especially favored by the gods to help them, but Oedipus is powerless to do so. He is essentially a good man, courageous, intelligent, and responsible, but he is also short-tempered, tragically weak in judgment, and proud of his position and past achievements, for which he gives the gods little credit. As the action progresses and the question of his responsibility for the plague is...
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