Last Updated on July 12, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 441
Oedipus as Myth: Oedipus’s story predates Sophocles’s play. It was part of the oral tradition of Greek mythology, and its first reference in writing is in the Homeric epics. In book 11 of The Odyssey, Odysseus visits the underworld where he meets Jocasta (Epicaste, in some translations). Though the essence of the myth is the same in Homer as in Sophocles, there are two key differences. Homer describes the revelation of Oedipus’s identity as coming directly from the gods, not from either an oracle or his own reasoning. Further, in Homer, Oedipus continues to rule Thebes after Jocasta’s death, albeit unhappily; in Sophocles’s play, he goes into exile.
Apollo: One of the eminent gods in the Greek pantheon, Apollo is associated with light, knowledge, reason, and the arts. His symbols are the lyre, the bow and arrow, and the laurel wreath. Artemis (Diana) is his twin, and his parents are Leto and Zeus (Jupiter). Importantly, Apollo is the god worshiped at Delphi and is considered responsible for the oracle there. Myth has it that Hera sends a python to pursue Leto in Delphi as punishment for her liaison with Zeus (Jupiter in the Roman). Apollo slays the python in the temple, resulting in Apollo’s worship in Delphi.
Tiresias: Tiresias figures prominently in Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and The Odyssey. He is a prophet of Apollo from Thebes and consistently depicted as blind. Tiresias is also reputed to have experienced life as both a man and woman, having been transformed into a woman after having struck mating snakes.
The Sphinx: A prevalent image in Egyptian and Greek art, the Sphinx is a creature with the body of a lion, the head of a woman, and the wings of an eagle. The earliest image of a sphinx is the Great Sphinx of Giza, constructed around 2500 BCE. The Sphinx in Oedipus Rex is the best known in Greek mythology and was purported to be omniscient. Her presence outside the walls of Thebes terrorized the town, and Oedipus was granted kingship after he successfully guessed her riddle and drove her to her death.
Structure of the Text
Choral Odes: The locution of the play is punctuated by choral odes, extended dialogue in which the chorus, a group of ten to sixteen actors on the stage, interacts with the characters, each other, or the audience directly. The chorus takes on myriad functions in the text and is more dynamic in the work of Sophocles than in other dramatists. In Oedipus Rex, they provide thematic exposition, plot development, and function to engage Oedipus in psychological reflection.
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