Oedipus at Colonus

by Sophocles

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Oedipus

Oedipus (EHD-ih-puhs), the former king of Thebes, now a wanderer, blind and in rags, because he had been fated unwittingly to murder his father and marry his mother. After the suicide of his wife and mother, Jocasta, Oedipus, who had blinded himself in the moment of anguish that came with his full realization of who he was and what he had done, had lived for a time quietly in Thebes until his banishment by the regent Creon, his brother-in-law, with the acquiescence of his sons, Polynices and Eteocles. During his years of wandering, he has endured hardship and pain, but from them he has gained spiritual authority and strength; he is aware that his special suffering has conferred on him a special grace and that, although he is an object of pollution while alive, his dead body will confer divine benefits on the land in which it lies. He is still intelligent, courageous, and irascible, but to these characteristics has been added a new dimension of strength and knowledge. Through the horrible afflictions that the gods have visited on him, he has become as nearly godlike as a man can be.

Antigone

Antigone (an-TIHG-uh-nee), Oedipus’ elder daughter, her father’s guide since childhood. Although passionately devoted to him, she also is capable of love for Polynices, her brother, who wronged both her father and her. After the death of Oedipus, she returns to Thebes to try to mend the breach between Polynices and Eteocles, her other brother.

Ismene

Ismene (ihs-MEE-nee), Oedipus’ younger daughter. Searching for her father and sister, she overtakes them at Colonus. She brings Oedipus word that the Oracle of Delphi has predicted that in the struggle between his sons for the mastery of Thebes the victory will go to Eteocles if the body of Oedipus rests in Theban soil, but to Polynices if the blind, aged exile is buried in Attica. More pious than Antigone, Ismene shares her sister’s courage and devotion.

Creon

Creon (KREE-on), Oedipus’ brother-in-law and regent of Thebes during the minority of the sons of Oedipus. Because the presence of Oedipus will ensure victory for the Theban forces over the army of Polynices, Creon attempts to persuade Oedipus to return to his native city. Failing, he tries to take Antigone and Ismene by force but is thwarted by Theseus. Creon is articulate and clever, but these virtues are subordinate to his own self-interest.

Theseus

Theseus (THEE-see-uhs), the king of Athens and protector of Oedipus, for whom he feels a deep sympathy and by whom he is convinced that Athens will prosper in a future war against Thebes if Oedipus’ body is buried in Athenian soil. He is a man of high integrity, religious yet practical, and honorable yet outspoken.

Polynices

Polynices (pol-eh-NI-seez), the elder son of Oedipus (although playwrights Aeschylus and Euripides make him the younger). Exiled after conflict with Eteocles, his brother, he has raised an army in Argos to regain his former place in Thebes. Like Creon, he wants Oedipus for the divine sanction the deposed king will give to his cause. He recognizes and admits his guilt for the wrongs he has done his father, but his penitence comes too late. Oedipus, in cursing him, predicts that he and Eteocles will fall by each other’s hand. He is sympathetically presented, but it is clear that he is acting not out of a desire to be reconciled with Oedipus but out of a desire to recapture the throne of Thebes.

A Chorus of elders of Colonus

A Chorus of elders of Colonus, whose songs contain some of the best of Sophocles’ poetry, including the famous ode in praise of Colonus and Attica.

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