What does the quote below from Sophocles' Oedipus Rex mean, and who does it relate to?Chorus: You saw him swept away. so, being mortal, look on that last day and count no man blessed in his life...

What does the quote below from Sophocles' Oedipus Rex mean, and who does it relate to?

Chorus: You saw him swept away. so, being mortal, look on that last day and count no man blessed in his life life until he's crossed life's bounds unstruck by ruin still. (p.81)

Also translated as:

How deep the sea of dire misfortune that has taken him!
Therefore, it is necessary to call no man blessed
as we await the final day, until he has reached
the limit of life and suffered nothing grievous. (1556-59)

 

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

This passage refers to Oedipus, but it can also be interpreted as philosophically referring to all of mankind. When the chorus says what can be translated as, "You saw him swept away," or, "How deep the sea of dire misfortune that has taken him!," the chorus is clearly referring to Oedipus (1556). Oedipus has been "swept away" by his misfortunes, or the terrible things that he has been through and that have been revealed to him. He is no longer the man he once was but is now instead racked with pain and full of shame over the sins he has unknowingly committed against both his mother and father.

However, the chorus continues to make a generalization about mankind. The chorus warns that no one should think that a man is "blessed," or fortunate until that man's life is over. The reference to the end of a person's life can be seen in the line, "Until he's crossed life's bounds," which can also be translated as, "Until he has reached the limit of life" (1558-59). The chorus further argues that once a man has reached the end of his life and is still happy, content, and blessed and has not known any suffering, then someone can consider that person to be "blessed." This idea is seen in the phrase "unstruck by ruin still," which can also be translated with the phrase "suffering nothing grievous" (1559). In short, the chorus is arguing that no one can be considered happy and fortunate until that person has passed through life without experiencing any suffering. While this statement is meant to apply to all of mankind in general, it especially applies to Oedipus because the chorus saw him as a lucky, virtuous man. He was lucky to have been made their king, and he was lucky to have had such a happy marriage, but now all of Oedipus's happiness has been proven to be a farce.

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