What lesson do the final lines of Sophocles' Oedipus the King contain and does Oedipus's life exemplify that lesson? Lines: Consider his last day and let none Presume on his good fortune until he find Life, at his death, a memory without pain. 1. Explain the lines in your terms; Explain the lesson that they teach the audience; Explain how these lines relate to Oedipus's life.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The last lines are a lesson and a warning about fate, spoken by the chorus. In modern American terms, they might be paraphrased as "It isn't over til it's over," a sentiment that says a football game isn't won or lost until the last second on the clock has run down. Another and better way of understanding the lesson of these lines is a famous Taoist story: A man finds a wild horse in his stable. How lucky you are, his neighbors exclaim. The horse runs away. How unlucky you are! the neighbors cry. Then the horse returns, bringing the man a whole herd. How lucky you are, his neighbors exclaim. His son tries to ride one the horses and is thrown and injured. How unlucky you are! the neighbors cry. Then the army comes to draft young men for the war, and the son is too injured to be drafted. How lucky you are, his neighbors exclaim. The point is, and the lesson the story teaches the audience, is that it is proud and presumptuous to proclaim that we are lucky or cursed until, as we die, we can assess the totality of our lives. In terms of Oedipus, he has great hubris or pride as the play opens. It never occurs to him that he could be responsible for the plague. By the play's end, the reality of his life revealed, he has been made humble and, though blind, has gained insight. He will no longer presume to know how his life will end and knows his fate is up to the gods.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As Sophocles' Oedipus the King reaches its conclusion, the old men of Thebes who comprise the play's chorus offer some final observations. The last three lines of the play are a common sentiment in ancient Greek thought and basically state that until a person has passed away, we cannot assess whether a person lived a fortunate or unfortunate life. This, I would say, is the lesson these lines impart to the audience.

As for Oedipus himself, although things look very bleak for him now, those who knew the full story of Oedipus would recall that his life ends on a more positive note. In Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, which was staged about 25 years after Oedipus the King, we learn that Oedipus simply vanishes from the earth. We also learn that his death was a peaceful one: "The man passed away without lamentation or sickness or suffering, and beyond all mortal men he was wondrous" (F. Storr translation).

So, while the final three lines provide general advice for all mortals, they may offer some hope with respect to Oedipus, whose life seems to have ended in a happier way than one would expect from the conclusion of Sophocles' Oedipus the King.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial