Lines 338–706 Summary

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Last Updated on March 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 812

Tiresias enters led by a boy, and Oedipus addresses him, quoting Apollo’s instruction to bring the murderer of Laius to justice. He asks for a genuine response and demands that nothing should be hidden; however, Tiresias is reluctant to deliver the truth and begs Oedipus to send him home. Outraged, Oedipus interrogates Tiresias and threatens him until he is forced to reveal the truth: that Oedipus himself is the murderer. Oedipus rages against this prophecy, but Tiresias is adamant that his family are living in sin and that it is Oedipus who has brought this downfall upon himself. Furious, Oedipus turns upon Creon and accuses him of bringing a fraudster to discredit him in order to gain power for himself. He reminds them that Tiresias did nothing to release the city from the curse of the Sphinx and that it was he, Oedipus, who saved them by solving its riddle.

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The Leader of the Chorus attempts to calm this heated debate, but Tiresias interrupts, claiming that he serves Apollo and deeming Oedipus blind to the corruption within his own home. He asks Oedipus whether he really knows who his parents are, claiming that the truth will shake the very foundations of his family. When Oedipus angrily states that the prophet is deranged, Tiresias retorts that Oedipus’s own parents never questioned his sanity. Intrigued as to how Tiresias knew his parents, Oedipus questions him further on this, but his temper rises when the prophet responds cryptically. Just as Oedipus turns his back on Tiresias, he delivers a final proclamation that Laius’s murderer is among them and that this person will soon find himself blind and destitute upon discovering that he is both father and brother to his own children.

After Tiresias is led off stage, the focus shifts back to the Chorus, who wonder who the guilty murderer must be. Faced with the wrath of the gods and the Furies, they advise whoever has committed this crime to run like the wind before he is struck down. The Chorus describe the murderer’s tormented state of mind, like that of a hunted animal, concluding that this person cannot escape the prophecy, nor outrun his miserable fate. Speaking as one, they question what could bring bloodshed between the house of Laius and Oedipus, whom they still assume to be the son of Polybus. We are told that Oedipus’s reputation is unblemished and that his brilliance was demonstrated when he defeated the Sphinx. Therefore, despite the prophecy of the all-knowing gods, the Chorus concludes that—without evidence—they will never move to discredit their king.

Creon now enters the scene and addresses the assembly to defend himself from Oedipus’s charge of treason. He claims that he feels compelled to speak out against such a damning accusation and blemish to his reputation. Addressing the Leader of the Chorus, Creon questions Oedipus’s state of mind when he branded him a traitor, but the Leader is reticent, stating that he never questions those in authority. Upon this, Oedipus himself enters and scolds Creon for having the indiscretion to show his face at court when, he believes, he is openly plotting to overthrow him. Oedipus mocks Creon’s attempt to dethrone him, claiming that he would need an army behind him to bring down a king.

Unwilling to submit to this, however, Creon is adamant that he will speak the truth. Oedipus rails against him, still furious that he encouraged him to hear the prophecy, but Creon maintains a careful interrogation of Oedipus by first questioning his memory of Laius’s murder and then casting doubt over Oedipus’s marriage to his sister, Jocasta. Creon points out that, although he is next in line to the throne, his place within the royal household is ideal, and he has no desire to suffer the burden of holding the crown. We see Creon clearly state that he is no traitor and that, if he is discovered to be lying in this matter, he is willing to face execution. He advises Oedipus to go to Delphi himself to verify the message with the oracle and chides his impulsive rejection of a friend and kinsman. Only time, he states, will bring the truth to light.

At this point, Oedipus is beside himself with rage and claims he must act quickly to protect himself when his enemy plots against him. Creon attempts to defend himself, but Oedipus heatedly asserts that he wants his brother-in-law dead and that he alone can rule. When Creon reminds him that the city of Thebes is his city, too, and that unjust leadership cannot be tolerated, Oedipus appeals in outrage to the assembly. The debate between the two men has descended into an undignified squabble and is brought to a halt by the Leader of the Chorus, who notes the arrival of Jocasta.

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