Last Reviewed on March 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 911
Immediately, Jocasta condemns both men for this public quarrel and commands Oedipus to return to the palace, while Creon, too, is advised to go back to his home. However, Creon appeals to his sister, citing the punishment that he has been threatened with. Oedipus accuses him again of treason, which Creon refutes. Jocasta begs Oedipus to believe her brother—for her sake and for the people—and the Chorus join her supplication, beseeching Oedipus to see reason and reminding him of Creon’s close family connection.
Rejecting this, Oedipus suggests that the assembly must want to see him either dead or banished if they persist in supporting Creon. The Chorus deny this and swear by the gods that their only agenda is to prevent Oedipus from bringing further misery to a land already submerged in suffering. Relenting, Oedipus agrees to release Creon for the sake of his people, whose desperation touches his heart. Before exiting, Creon suggests to Oedipus that his unyielding temper is likely to be his downfall, but Oedipus furiously expels him from the palace.
The Chorus now turn to Jocasta, asking her to help her husband, who is consumed by emotion. Jocasta asks what has happened but, when pressed for details regarding the cause of this dispute, the Chorus beg her to stop. Withdrawing to allow the king and queen to speak privately, they once more pledge their loyalty to Oedipus and ask him to save the land from ruin.
Jocasta asks Oedipus what is troubling him and why he is so full of rage, upon which Oedipus asserts that Creon is plotting against him. When Jocasta questions him further, Oedipus reveals that Creon believes him to be the murderer of Laius. However, Jocasta appears to be confident that this could not be true and tells Oedipus she has proof that he couldn’t have been the murderer. The story goes that once, an oracle came to Laius and told him that he would be struck down by the hand of his own son, but this prophecy never came to pass. Their newborn baby was left on a mountain to perish, and Laius himself ultimately died at the hands of a group of strangers, years later, at a crossroads. Based on this, Jocasta advises him to disregard the words of prophets.
Oedipus seems distracted, however, and urges Jocasta to reveal the exact location at which the murder of Laius took place, which she names as Phocis. It is then revealed that Oedipus arrived in Thebes and was crowned king immediately after the murder of Laius was reported. This information has a terrible effect on Oedipus, who appeals to the heavens before asking Jocasta to describe what Laius looked like. When he hears that Laius was beginning to turn grey and of a similar build to himself, Oedipus becomes convinced that the oracle has in fact spoken the truth. After further interrogation, Oedipus asks the queen to bring forth the servant whom she dismissed from the palace after Laius’s murder—the only survivor to have witnessed the attack.
Upon agreeing to this course of action, Jocasta insists upon knowing what is disturbing her husband, and Oedipus no longer resists. First, he reminds us that his father was Polybus, king of Corinth, and his mother a Dorian named Merope. Oedipus then goes on to describe how once, at a banquet, a drunkard shouted out that he was not his father’s son, and although his parents denied it, his curiosity was not satisfied. Secretly, he went to visit the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, who turned him away with the terrifying prophecy that he would sleep with his mother and kill his own father. Desperate to evade this fate, we learn that Oedipus immediately left Corinth and, in his flight, came to the very crossroads at which Laius met his death. Oedipus claims that he was attacked by a group of strangers there and nearly run off the road by their wagon, but he overcame them and killed all but one.
Lamenting his fate, Oedipus claims that he was born to be tormented and questions why this has happened to him. He claims that he would rather die than live with such a stain on his reputation. The Leader of the Chorus reminds him that they have not yet heard from the servant who survived the attack, and this brings some small comfort. Oedipus acknowledges that, in the account Jocasta told of the attack, Laius was killed by several thieves; therefore, if the old servant’s story matches this account, then Oedipus cannot be the murderer, as he acted alone. Assuring him that this will be the case, Jocasta enters the palace with Oedipus to await the arrival of this important witness.
The Chorus now appeal to the gods of fortune on Mount Olympus to guide them. They warn of the great downfall that awaits proud rulers and claim that no mortal can escape the wrath of the gods. Together, they claim that they will never again give reverence to the gods if this prophecy fails to materialize. The gods themselves and their oracles must bear the burden of this truth and will be brought down if it is false.
We now see Jocasta enter with a branch wound in wool to visit the temple of the gods. She reports that Oedipus is inconsolable and places her branch on the altar, begging Apollo to rid them of this curse.
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