Study Guide

Oedipus Tyrannus

by Sophocles

Oedipus Tyrannus Characters

Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

Oedipus

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 raised, he becomes obsessed with finding out who he is, regardless of repeated warnings that knowledge of his identity will bring disaster on himself and on those whom he loves.

Jocasta

Jocasta (joh-KAS-tuh), the wife of Oedipus and mother of his sons, Eteocles and Polynices, and his daughters, Antigone and Ismene. She, too, has a sense of the responsibilities of her position and is deeply concerned with the welfare of...

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Oedipus Tyrannus Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Kirkwood, Gordon MacDonald. A Study of Sophoclean Drama. 1958. Reprint. New York: Johnson Reprint, 1967. Examines and analyzes the structures Sophocles uses and his methods of dramatic composition. Compares his plays in considering the characters, irony, illustrative forms, and the use of diction and oracles in each. Excellent coverage of Oedipus Tyrannus.

Scodel, Ruth. Sophocles. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Provides synopses of the seven Sophoclean plays. Considers works that may have influenced Sophocles. Considers the works’ structure and the use of mythological gods and oracles. Includes a chronology of Sophocles, a bibliography, and an index.

Segal, Charles. Oedipus Tyrannus: Tragic Heroism and the Limits of Knowledge. New York: Twayne, 1993. Provides an extensive chronology of the life of Sophocles and gives historical and cultural background, as well as a discussion of the design and structure, for Oedipus Tyrannus. Refers to influences on the play and its author and discusses interpretation of the Oedipus myth.

Segal, Charles. Tragedy and Civilization: An Interpretation of Sophocles. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981. Discusses the seven plays of Sophocles, including Oedipus Tyrannus. Extensive interpretation on the identity of Oedipus, including the implications inherent in his name. Breaks down the plot and discusses it with regard to Greek language and English translation.

Woodard, Thomas, ed. Sophocles: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. A fine collection of essays, including writings by Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Virginia Woolf. Contains a thought-provoking section on the character of Oedipus.