Oedipus at Colonus

by Sophocles

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*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.


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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 Essays