What are the functions of the Chorus and the Choragos in Oedipus Rex?  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Chorus of Theban Elders in Oedipus Rex are on stage at all times on a lower level from the principal actors. Since there is no curtain in Greek theatre, their choral odes and dances serve to separate one scene from another. this chorus also serves as commentators upon the action, interpreters of situations, and reinforcers of emotion. At times, the Choragos, or leader of the Chorus, speaks as a character himself.

  • As Reinforcers of Emotion

When the Chorus first appears, they entreat the gods to " Be swfit to bring us rest" (160). 
In Antistrophe 2, Choragos urges Oedipus to remain strong, "But now stand fast at the helm!" (654)

  • As a Character

In Scene I, Choragos speaks to Oedipus and tells him of "A lord clairvoyant to the lord Apollo" who can aid the king in learning the cause of the plague.  This man is the blind seer Teiresias, "the holy prophet/In whom alone of all men, truth was born" (285-286)

When Oedipus displays anger, Choragos tells the king that they have no need of this emotion. Then, in Scene 2, Choragos confers with Kreon, telling him he is unable to judge the character of great men such as Oedipus, yet he cautions, "Judgments too quickly formed are dangerous" (584).

Then, in Strophe I, Choragos urges Oedipus to listen to his queen, Jokaste. In Scene 3, when Jocaste leaves and is "gone/In such a passion of sorrow" (1018), Choragos asks Oedipus what is wrong, fearing the silence that may bring something dreadful.

In Ode IV, Choragos beholds the blinded Oedipus and looks upon "a sight so full of fear" (1249). He asks Oedipus how he was blinded, and he agrees that horror was everywhere for the king.

  • Interpreters of Situations

In Ode I, the Chorus states that the killer of Laios will feel fate coming down upon him and flight will do him no good.

In Ode II, in the Antistrophes, the Chorus describes Oedipus as a "tyrant" and "child of Pride" whose pride and hubris "tempt and outrage God's holy law" and brings fate upon him because their "masters" have lost their respect for the gods.

Choragos speaks for all as he interprets what has happened, calling upon the men of Thebes to looks upon Oedipus, the king who solved the riddle of the Sphinx, but now is ruined:

Let every man in mankind's frailty
Consider his last day; and let none
Presume on his good fortune until he find
Life, at his death, a memory without pain. (1472-1475)

This is the moral lesson of the tragedy of Oedipus Rex.

  • Commentators upon the Action

In Ode I, the Chorus remarks that never until now has anyone spoken against Oedipus the King:

And never until now has any man brought word
Of Laios's dark death staining Oedipus the King (474-475).

And, the Chorus does not believe that Oedipus is guilty:

I saw him, when the carrion woman [Sphinx] faced him of old,
Prove his heroic mind. These evil words are lies (483-484).

In Ode IV, the Chorus notes the change in Oedipus and remarks that his greatness is behind him; it is a great fall, too, as "No prince won such grace of power" (1149) and his fortunes are, indeed, changed.

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