Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Colonus. Ancient Greek city near Athens. In a beautiful grove outside Colonus, Oedipus and his daughter Antigone rest while fleeing from Thebes, from which Oedipus has been banished. Sophocles’ play opens with Antigone describing the grove in detail. She establishes its distance from Athens by observing that the great city’s towers are far off, though visible. The shaded grove is thick with laurel and olive trees, as well as grape vines. This grove might convey a calm to the fugitive Oedipus, but Antigone suspects that the place is sacred to some deity. As it turns out, the grove is dedicated to the Furies, who seek to punish Oedipus for killing his father.

The most famous passage in the play is a portion that Sophocles is said to have read at his trial: a lyrical choral ode in praise of Colonus that appears in the middle of the tragedy. The chorus emphasizes the peaceful nature of the protective grove, the facts that no wind disturbs it, and that it harbors the sweet-singing nightingales. The clear-running spring represents the purity of the place, and the olive trees its dedication to peace. Flowers, particularly narcissus and crocus, also beautify Colonus. The entire description is calculated to convey a sense of wonder and peace, which contributes to Colonus’s role as Oedipus’s final resting place.