Oedipus at Colonus

by Sophocles

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Oedipus at Colonus

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Oedipus and Antigone, his daughter, have wandered far since his banishment. Finally they come to an olive grove in Colonus, over which Theseus, King of Athens, rules. The grove at which they have stopped is one which the Furies hold sacred. Most men fear it, but Oedipus feels comfortable there.

The patriarchs of Colonus, learning that the stranger in their midst is Oedipus, whose horrible story they know, try to drive him away. He is able to calm them, implying that he has special powers and will bring good to the land that provides him refuge.

Ismene, Oedipus’ other daughter, comes to Colonus with news that her two brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, have struggled for power in Thebes and that Polynices, the loser, has been banished.

Meanwhile, King Theseus, sympathetic to Oedipus, offers him protection. The Delphic Oracle foresees that Thebes will suffer greatly if Oedipus is not returned and buried there. Creon, Thebes’ villainous king, comes to Colonus and seeks to return Oedipus by force. Theseus prevents this.

Creon abducts Antigone and Ismene, his nieces, but Theseus has them rescued. Oedipus remains in Colonus and dies there, blessing the land. Antigone and Ismene return to Thebes, attempting to prevent conflict between their brothers.

This was Sophocles’ last play, written when he was almost 90 years old and first performed after his death. Like OEDIPUS TYRANNUS (429 B.C.) and ANTIGONE (441 B.C.), it examines the prevalent Greek theme of hubris (pride).


Kirkwood, Gordon MacDonald. A Study of Sophoclean Drama. 1958. Reprint. New York: Johnson Reprint, 1967. An examination and analysis of the methods and structures of dramatic composition used by Sophocles. Compares his plays to consider the characters, irony, illustrative forms, and use of diction and oracles in each. Excellent coverage of Oedipus at Colonus.

Scodel, Ruth. Sophocles. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Includes a synopsis and discussion of the plot of Oedipus at Colonus, as well as an analysis of Oedipus and the characters that oppose him. Also provides information on Sophocles’ other plays and a chronology of his life, a bibliography, and an index.

Seale, David. Vision and Stagecraft in Sophocles. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1982. Distinguishes Sophocles from other playwrights of his time and demonstrates his influence on later ones. An excellent study for nonspecialists, students, and classicists. Considers the theatrical technicalities in all of Sophocles’ plays and contains an extended section on Oedipus at Colonus.

Segal, Charles. Tragedy and Civilization: An Interpretation of Sophocles. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981. Discusses Sophocles’ seven plays, including Oedipus at Colonus, which is compared to the other works. Also provides background on the figure of Oedipus.

Woodard, Thomas, ed. Sophocles: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. A fine collection of essays, including writings by Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Virginia Woolf. Describes Oedipus at Colonus as a play from Sophocles’ later years and draws connections between it and his other plays.

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Critical Evaluation