What problem is afflicting Thebes in Oedipus Rex?  

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e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Oedipus is approached by a group of people led by a priest at the opening of the play. They ask Oedipus for his help in healing the city and solving its grave problems, telling him about what is going on in Thebes.

Thebes has been beset with...famine, fires, and plague...widespread suffering and death among their families and animals, and their crops have all been destroyed.

The troubles in Thebes are seen to be a sign of something spiritual or supernatural afoot in the city. Oedipus is a natural choice to approach for help because he has helped the city before and has become its king. (Earlier in his relationship with Thebes, Oedipus solved the riddle of the Sphinx then married Jocasta, becoming king.)

Oedipus agrees that the troubles are very serious and something must be done. The source of the trouble must be rooted out. He, of course, does not realize that his own transgressions are the cause of the trouble in Thebes. Oedipus himself is the root of the trouble. 

His search for the cause of the woes in Thebes are necessarily ironic then as he searches for himself, calling far and wide for experts and for advice, seeking the truth about Thebes which ends up being the truth about himself. 

True to his oath, Oedipus leaves the city when he finally finds out that he is the source of the problems in Thebes.


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