In lines 1268-1276 of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, how does Oedipus come to the conclusion that he must have been born a slave? In lines 1646-1649, what is corrupt in Corinth, in the palace Oedipus...

In lines 1268-1276 of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, how does Oedipus come to the conclusion that he must have been born a slave? In lines 1646-1649, what is corrupt in Corinth, in the palace Oedipus was raised in?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is a tragedy, and Oedipus the king is the protagonist who falls from a high place at least partly by his own doing. At the point in the play when lines 1268-1276 are spoken, everything is beginning to unravel for Oedipus. His city is in trouble and he has done everything he knows to do in order to save the people of Thebes, but it is not enough.

Creon has told him what the gods said, and to his credit Oedipus does take him seriously and does want to find the murderer of Laius. Unfortunately for him, the information he gathers begins to paint a picture of guilt and destruction for Oedipus the king.

These lines come in the middle of a question-and-answer session with the messenger/shepherd who talks about getting Oedipus as a baby from another shepherd, a servant to Laius. Jocasta begins to realize the horrifying truth about her husband/son and wants to stop Oedipus from asking any more questions or talking to any other witnesses. Jocasta finally has to get firm with Oedipus and is visibly agitated when she says: 

In the name of the gods, no! If you have                                
      some concern for your own life, then stop!
      Do not keep investigating this.                                                 
      I will suffer—that will be enough.

Oedipus has just heard that he was passed around by a couple of shepherds but has not made the connection to Laius as his father. He thought he was the prince of Corinth, and now he has learned he was some kind of orphaned child. When he hears his wife say that she does not want to hear anything more, he makes the logical assumption that she is trying to spare both of them from having to face the reality that he is not of noble birth. (She is trying to spare him something, of course, but it is not from this.) He says:

Be brave. Even if I should turn out to be
      born from a shameful mother, whose family
      for three generations have been slaves,
      you will still have your noble lineage.

Ironically, Oedipus tries to reassure her that no matter what his heritage is, she will still retain her "noble lineage" and her reputation will not be damaged by being married to a commoner. 

By lines 1646-1649, all the awful truths have been revealed. Jocasta was so horrified that she committed suicide; Oedipus was so horrified that he gouged his eyes out with the pin (brooch) from Jocasta's robe. Now he is expressing his great shame to the people of Thebes and wishes he had died on the mountain (Cithaeron) so he would not have had to face this shame and horror. Then he speaks these lines:

Ah Polybus,
      and Corinth, the place men called my home,
      my father’s ancient house, you raised me well—
      so fine to look at, so corrupt inside!

Oedipus affirms that Polybus and Corinth looked like fine, upstanding things but were, in reality, corrupt. The corruption took the form of lies and deceit. Clearly the people of Corinth knew that Oedipus was not the birth son of Polybus and Merope, and they all kept that information from him, just as his adoptive parents did. Oedipus believes that the people and the rulers of Corinth perpetrated a lie and a hoax on him, and this corruption resulted in horrific and even deadly consequences. 




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