Oedipus at Colonus

by Sophocles

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Student Question

What is the theme of this passage from Oedipus at Colonus?

"Son of Kronos, Lord Poseidon, this our proudest is from thee / The strong horses, the young horses, the dominion of the sea. / First on Attic roads thy bridle tamed the steed for evermore; / And well swings at sea, a wonder in the rower's hand, the oar / Bounding after all the hundred Nereid feet that fly before."

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As Oedipus is being cruelly questioned by the Chorus of elders of Colonus, Theseus, the ruler of Athens, interrupts the proceedings. He is well-aware of the tragedy that befell the protagonist, sympathizes with his plight, and offers to provide whatever help he might need. Oedipus is moved and deeply grateful for this compassion and hospitality. He offers to stay in the city until his death, which will make his burial location at Colonus a sacred site and ensure the victory of Athens in any conflict with Thebes. Although Theseus denies any enmity between the cities, he accepts Oedipus' offer.

The Chorus then recites the lines of the quote, a panegyric to the beauty and wonders of their city of Athens and its tutelary deities. This divine presence, which gives life to these plenary splendors, is the theme of these lines.

Son of Kronos, Lord Poseidon, this is our proudest from thee

Poseidon was the preeminent Attic god, well-known as the god of the sea and sailing, but now less known as also the deity of horses and horsemanship. Jane Harrison, a scholar of Greek mythology, has described a fragment of Corinthian pottery on which the god is depicted on horseback, holding a trident in one hand.

The quote's celebration of strength and youth implies that with this magnanimous gesture, Theseus and the city are now in accord on harnessing these resources in defense of their tragic suppliant.

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