Oedipus Rex

Setting (time, place, influence)

The entire play takes place in front of and inside the palace in the ancient Greek city of Thebes, and was first performed at around 430 B.C. It is also uncertain of the actual time in which the play takes place since this classical Greek tragedy was also based on a commonly known legend at the time. The setting is ironic because Oedipus essentially creates his downfall in the same place in which he was conceived and where the original sin took place. ZI


Though both ancient and modern audiences are familiar with the story of Oedipus, it is important to remember that his birth, journey, and future all are revealed to the characters of this play as the story progresses.

The story opens with Oedipus, King of Thebes, having to answer to a group of citizens regarding the ongoing plague, dying crops, and stillborn babies. Having solved the riddle of the Sphinx on the road to Thebes, he is heralded as a savior of the city, and he tells a priest that he has already sent Kreon, the brother of his wife, Iokaste, to the oracle of Apollo to find answers. Kreon returns saying that the reason for the plague is that the old king’s murderer is still in Thebes and to end the plague he/she must be punished. After swearing to kill or exile this murderer, Oedipus summons Tiresias, the blind soothsayer, who tells him after much arguing that he, Oedipus is the murderer he seeks. In turn, Oedipus accuses both Kreon and Tiresias of conspiracy against him, and tells of how he plans to get rid of Kreon.

Iokaste and the Chorus object, and Iokaste discredits the prophet by telling him that she once received a prophecy that her son would murder his father, Laius, and marry her, and that never happened. She left her baby with his ankles tied on a mountainside… However Iokaste’s description of the three-road-junction where Laius was killed worries Oedipus because that is where he killed a traveler on his way to Thebes. Oedipus also left Corinth because he was told he would kill his pa and murder his ma. Unwilling to believe the substantial evidence, Oedipus is told by a messenger and a shepherd that Polybus and Merope of Corinth were not his real parents and that he was rescued from the mountain and given to Laius and Iokaste as a baby, respectively. Then Iokaste goes inside and hangs herself, and Oedipus gouges his eyes out. Worried about his kids being associated with him, he implores Kreon to banish him from Thebes. Blind and grief-stricken he is exiled, and the Chorus comments on it all. (Win)




Oedipus is the King of Thebes, the tragic hero who falls from the pedestal as a benevolent and respected king to the depths of despair as the disgraced and horrified victim of incest.
Initially, Oedipus is portrayed as the paragon of a monarch, a rare leader who is able to maintain power and the respect of his people yet remain solicitous towards their well-being. At the onset of the play, the citizens of Thebes implore Oedipus to use his powers, presumably granted from the deities themselves to end suffering of the Thebian citizens and restore health and prosperity to the city. In his ascension to power, Oedipus helped Thebes by vanquishing the sphinx when he correctly answered her riddle, so the citizens expectations for Oedipus are extremely high.
Oedipus continues to act the part of the powerful yet responsible ruler when Kreon informs him of the oracle's proclamation and Oedipus vows to track down the killer and have him exiled or executed.
As the play progresses, Oedipus incrementally loses his original luster of regal perfection and control over himself and the people of Thebes. As Oedipus investigates the murder of Laios, different character traits are revealed as the dramatic irony builds. When Teiresias accuses him of murdering Laios, Oedipus' paranoia becomes clear as he accuses Kreon of treason. Clearly, Oedipus fears Kreon as a potential and dangerous rival to the throne, which Oedipus must counter. He also acts decisively as he desires Kreon's execution. It also demonstrates a recurring trait in Oedipus of painful ignorance as he constantly remains blind to the possibility that the prophecy applies to him. However, Oedipus' methodical pursuit for the truth reflects his perseverance and dedication to justice and order.
Finally Oedipus' reaction to the horrific news that he had children by his mother demonstrates his principled character. Clearly, his unfortunate destiny was not due to an error in his character or actions, but rather the cruel trick of fate . However, Oedipus blames nobody but himself. Following his mother/lover's suicide, Oedipus gashes his eyes out and condemns himself to painful and excruciating exile. His failure to blame external sources testifies to the strength of Oedipus' character and conviction. (W. Almquist)

Due to Oedipus' admirable character it is difficult to pinpoint his "tragic flaw" or "tragic act". Throughout the play Oedipus consistently shows compassion and responsibility, but he also acts in pride, anger, and impulsivity. He displays compassion when he cries for his people's suffering and responsibility when he announces he will find the murderer in order to save and protect the people of Thebes. His decision to find the murderer could also be viewed as a tragic act because it is a quest he takes on in ignorance. Through his search for the murderer Oedipus' impulsive tendencies are revealed as well as his quickness to anger when he accuses Kreon and Teiresias of treason and demands the death of Kreon. His selfishness is revealed when he insists on finding out who his parents are rather than listen to those who advise him not, ultimately leading him to his downfall. But when the truth is finally revealed to Oedipus he maintains his ethics by gauging his eyes out and living out the punishments he established for the murderer in the beginning of the play. (Ashley W)

Oedipus, inexorably subject to the Gods' whims, proves a dynamic character by the play's conclusion in his ultimate enlightenment. Blinded by his ignorance, he is inadvertently driven to his demise by his avoidance of fate and his discovery of the truth. Prior to the play's beginning, Oedipus, in an attempt to prevent the prophecy's actualization, flees Corinth "to a land where [he] should never see the evil sung by the oracle" (Sophocles, 1252). Contrastingly, at the play's close (while talking with Kreon), he acknowledges, "I have been preserved for some unthinkable fate. But let that be" (Sophocles, 1272). Here Oedipus is accepting the notion of fate and submitting himself to the power of the gods while, coupled with his evident suffering, he has achieved his long-desired truth. Additionally, he successfully lifts the plague through his exile, restoring peace to Thebes, which had been an initial priority of Oed's. Through Oedipus' change in character, for both good and bad, Sophocles depicts the ramifications of human tendency (ie. the tendency to be prideful, rash, impulsive and, perhaps, to defy fate). In his reverse descent from hero to zero, the once noble King of Thebes falls victim to his human tendencies in a demonstration of mankind's inadequacy in competing against the omnipotent gods (no matter how "powerful" they are amongst other mortals). (rlovejoy)


Originally the wife of Laios. They had a son who was prophesied to marry his mother and kill his father so they sent a shepherd out with the child. He was supposed to leave it to die on the mountainside but instead saved his life by giving him to another shepherd from Corinth. Iokaste and Laios were attempting to defy the prophecy and will of the gods by leaving their own son to die. However, despite this attempt, she became the wife of her own son Oedipus after Oedipus killed Laios (who is broccoli wielding a cleaver in the video below?). When Oedipus tells her the prophecy he recieved when he was younger she told him that she refused to believe prophecies because she proved one to be false (i.e. the one about her son). She encourages Oedipus to ignore them as well. She also figured out Oedipus's origins before he did and begged him to drop the search. He believed it was because she would be embarrassed if he wasnt from a noble family but, in reality, she had discovered Oedipus was her own son. In the end she proved to be a coward, killing herself and abandoning her children to live in shame. Her suicide was selfish and proved her character to be greatly flawed beyond her desperate attempts to outrun fate (ECL)

Alternatively, Iokaste’s encouragement of her son/husband to abandon his pursuit of the truth about his origins can be looked upon as the ultimate act of love, which in her case is two fold, the love of a mother and the lover of a wife. Iokaste dismissed herself from the presence of Oedipus before he discovers the truth about his life and thus her suicide could be considered an act of protection because aside from the shepherd she is the only one who knows the truth, and without her in his life he could continue to rule the country in ignorance. Thus she is sacrificing for the protection of her family and her country. (Molly)


Teiresias is the blind seer, a holly prophet brought to aid Oedipus in the search of the murderer of Laios. However, knowing the reality that Oedipus is in fact not only the killer of Laios, but also the son of Iokaste, whom Oedipus married, Teiresias refuses to speak the truth. Upon Oedipus’s demand for the truth, Teiresias first calls Oedipus ignorant and eventually tells him “you are the murderer whom you seek” (1. 347.1241). Oedipus, angered by Teiresias’s accusations, charges him for plotting against him, which displays Oedipus’s impulsivity and short temper. However, mocked by Oedipus for being blind, Teiresias states that Oedipus is blind to his own life because he does not know who his parents are, implying his ignorance to what he has done to his parents. Furthermore, before leaving, Teiresias entail Oedipus’s mistake in marrying his mother by saying “to children with whom he lives now he will be brother and father…to her who bore him, son and husband” (1. 442-444.1244). Teiresias is also the interesting archetype of a blind seer, who is of a level of higher knowledge than the protagonist, but whose words are discarded by the ignorant protagonist. (Tai)

Additionally, Sophocles’ inclusion of Teiresias in the play forces readers to consider pre-conceived notions of morality. Traditionally, conveying the truth is seen as a moral obligation, however, Teiresias proclaims “how dreadful knowledge of the truth can be when there’s no help in the truth” (303-304). Here he expresses to Oedipus that truth can be just as binding as lies. (AGT)


Kreon is the brother of Iokaste, and is the most threatening figure in the play to Oedipus. Early in the play, Kreon returns to Thebes after visiting the oracle at Delphi and reveals that the murderer of Laius is in the city and that only through his death or exile will Thebes be free of the plague. This is the first example of dramatic irony in the play, and leads to Oedipus' decree that the murderer must be found. Oedipus accuses Kreon of telling Tieresias to make a false prophecy in the hopes of destroying Oedipus. Kreon is angry when he learns of the accusation and goes to defend himself, where he tries to reason with Oedipus unsuccessfully. After Oedipus learns that he has in fact fulfilled the prophecy, Kreon becomes the authority in Thebes and agrees to exile Oedipus in order to stop the plague. Kreon thus goes from the accused brother-in-law of the king to the leader of Thebes and is able to carry out a somewhat condescending but "merciful" exile of Oedipus. (RLucas)

Kreon is "threatening" to Oedipus because Oedipus sees Kreon as someone who
would want to take over his position as King of Thebes. Kreon explains to
Oedipus that he does not want to be King of Thebes because he already has the
popularity and perks of being king, but does not have to deal with the politics.
This reiterates that Oedipus is generally well liked in Thebes because no one is
looking to put him out of power. It also demonstrates Oedipus's insecurities
about losing his position as king.

When Oedipus is found guilty of his original prophecy he charges Kreon to
take care of each of his loved ones. He asked to protect his daughters from the
sin/curse of their father, for Iokaste to have a proper burial, and for himself
to be exiled. (MMcG)

Also, Kreon’s assumption of the crown in Thebes serves to further illustrate Oedipus’s fall as a tragic hero rather than a simple monster. His presence at the end of the play reminds the reader of Oedipus’s earlier nobility, pride, and sincere care for his citizens, instead of the latter’s horrible actions. Also, Kreon’s cutting attitude towards Oedipus and his eagerness to replace the former king prove his earlier denials of ambition to be entirely false. (Luke)


Father of Oedipus, Laius was the King of Thebes prior to the his death. Married to Iokaste, Laius and she conceived Oedipus only for the oracle to predict that Oedipus would grow up to be the murder of his father and sleeper wither of his mother. Upon this horrid prediction, the couple sentenced their son to a cruel death by lonely mountaintop. Ironically, Oedipus survives and years later murders his father, Laius, at the intersection of three roads, solves the riddle of the sphinx, and is crowned King of Thebes and marries Laius' wife, Iokaste, also known as Oedipus' mother. Yum! (BMITT)


Sophocles’ chorus provides commentary between the scenes of the play in the form of odes and other interjections, the first of which is called the Parados. Spoken more poetically than the play’s dialogue, the songs of the chorus often offer narration and opinions about the onstage action. In the case of Oedipus Rex, the chorus represents a council of Theban Elders that onstage characters are addressing both at the beginning of the prologue and during several scenes throughout the work. During a traditional production of a Greek play, the chorus would accompany their performance with flute music as well as dancing. Dance movements between parts of the Chorus’ performance area are denoted by the strophes and antistrophes. When the chorus addresses onstage characters, their words are spoken by their leader, the Choragos. Many of the Chorus’ speeches in Oedipus Rex consist of prayers, warnings to the characters, and riddling summaries of the action that takes place during the scenes. They, as in the final stanza’s of the poem, are often the ones to make the most profound statements about theme and meaning. (CBerk)

Antigone and Ismene

Antigone and Ismene are Oedipus and Iokaste’s daughters, meaning they are oedipus’s daughters as well as his sisters. The two girls are the results of the prophecy coming true (Oedipus sleeping with his mother). They do play large roles in the play, only briefly appearing at the end. Oedipus shows he cares for them by asking Kreon to take care of them because he knows the hardships they will have because of his actions; Oedipus tells them at the end to “live where you can, be as happy as you can.” Antigone and Ismene play larger roles in other plays such as “Antigone.”

Also, while Oedipus believes that his sons will be able to take care of themselves, he worries about the future of his daughters. They have always been under his care, but he will no longer be able to watch over them once he exiles himself. Because of the stain that he has placed on his family, Oedipus foresees that they will be shunned from the social functions of the community and that no man will want to marry them. For this reason, he implores Kreon to “Take pity on [his daughters]” and care for them once he is gone. (HW)

Themes/Meanings of the Work

Throughout the play, Sophocles emphasizes the omnipotence of the Gods as well as their control over the world in which humans live. By incorporating the prophecies of the Gods in to all aspects of Oedipus's life,- his childhood, as he runs away from Corinth, and as he searches for the murderer of Laius- their influence in Greek society is reiterated time and time again. As Oedipus attempts to run from these prophecies of killing his father and marrying his mother, he actually runs straight into fulfilling them. This brings up the question of fate versus free will and how much control the Gods actually have over the human world; additionally, despite Oedipus running from these prophecies, they continue to play a large role in all aspects of his life, showing the supposed power of the Gods in Greek society. (CarolineKelly)

Reoccurring themes in Sophocles's play, Oedipus Rex, are those of free will versus fate. After Oedipus’s birth parents, Laois and Iokaste, and Oedipus himself go to lengths to avoid the prophecy his fate still remains ultimately unavoidable. Throughout the play, one questions whether Oedipus’s downfall was the fault of his own free will or the fate set in stone by the omnipotent Gods. Oedipus left his parents of Corinth whom he believed to be his birth parents to avoid the prophecy from becoming true by his own free will. Oedipus killed King Laois whom he believed to be a commoner by his own free will. Oedipus fathered his mother's children by his own free will. But the whole time Oedipus was blind to the fact that his own free will had lead him to his fate. While one argument may be that the Gods crafted Oedipus’s fate, another may be that Oedipus with the knowledge of the prophecy inadvertently guided himself to his own fate. (Elyse)

Throughout the play the revelation of truths which were previously concealed bring about confusion, pain, and destruction for those who had been left in the dark, such as Oedipus and his family. Upon understanding the reality of their situation, both Oedipus and Iokaste enter into a terminal state of depression from which they escape with physical harm to themselves. The truth led them to such drastic measures, therefore the question arises whether or not they would have been better off without ever discovering the error of their ways, living ignorantly yet blissfully. Though the truth brings about Oedipus’s demise, the argument can be made that his downfall was not a complete loss, as he ultimately gained knowledge from recognizing the truth of his situation. (ElizC)


Sophocles depicts the tragic hero, Oedipus, as he forges, hopelessly ignorant, into the conflict between man and fate. The God Apollo, whose image is venerated, generosity celebrated, and whose wrath is feared in Greek mythology, imposes an inexorable fate upon Oedipus. Once the oracle proclaims, “Oedipus would kill his father and beget children by his mother,” Oedipus’s fate is set in stone, no longer subject to change by the Gods (1230). The newly pronounced King of Thebes does not combat fate by searching to defy those forces beyond him, but wages this battle between his conscious wishes and subconscious drives. When he declares, “How could I not be glad to know my birth?” we question whether Oedipus does in fact suspect the tragic truth and why, if this is the case, he searches for it nevertheless (3. 1029. 1261). Oedipus’s downfall cannot be wholly pinned upon the Gods without regard for the persistence for the truth that drives the king to seek out the knowledge that all willfully conceal from him. It is not sure whether he wholeheartedly wants to know the truth of his fate or if he subconsciously fears and shuns it, but he consciously presses for more information. Oedipus’s desire to search for the murderer is considered noble when he uses it for the benefit of Thebes to stop the plague, but his obsession with detail and truth ultimately spurs his downfall.
Oedipus meets his fate, initially outlined by the Gods, by his own doings. He gains knowledge in the end but, ironically, does not end up better off. The king’s tragedy is looked upon with pity for his excessive search for truth, a virtue in moderation, and compassion for his impotence against the Gods’ powers. Fear-inspired awe for the Gods is instilled within the audience as well as a warning not to interfere with Gods’ plans by practicing any virtue excessively. (C.Chiaroni)

A constant symbol throughout Sophocles’ tragic play is the title itself, Oedipus Rex. Throughout the play, Oedipus confronts his internal struggle in dealing with his fate, which was predetermined by the Gods upon his birth. When Iokaste and Laius learned of their son’s horrid future of killing his father and sleeping with his mother, they bound Oedipus’s feet and left him for dead. Therefore, the name Oedipus (Greek translation: swollen foot) appropriately symbolizes his inescapable fate from the onset of his being. While there is clear controversy of fate versus free will, Oedipus’s name points to an inevitable demise. Additionally, the latter part of the play’s title resonates throughout the story as a once beloved king falls from grace. As Oedipus slowly unwinds his fate and learns of the prophecy, we see Oedipus transform from a brilliant savior of the people, to a mere exile. Therefore, the title accurately supports the Oedipus as a tragic hero in that he began his emotional journey in the highest position of nobility a mortal could hold. (TMott)

One constant motif blindness. It used both literally and figuratively. Through out the play Oedipus is blind to the horrible truth about his life. At the end of the play Oedipus literally blinds himself by stabbing his eyes with a sword. This is ironic because when he is able to see the truth he takes his own sight in effort to repent for what he has discovered. Oedipus's figurative blindness characterizes him as a tragic hero. He abandons his home town, he believes for the greater good, yet because he has been kept in the dark on who his parents truly are, his act brings him to his downfall, stabbing out his own eyes.
The blind seer is a common motif in literature and is used in Oedipus Rex through the character Teiresias, a blind prophet. Teiresias says to Oedipus in Scene 1, "both your eyes, are blind: / You can not see the wretchedness of you life" (399-400). This contrasts Oedipus's figurative blindness to his own actual inability to see. He knows the full truth and sees the wretchedness that is Oedipus's life, yet can not literally see. Again, Sophocles using irony. (SarahB)

Significance of Opening Scene

In the prologue Sophocles introduces his audience to both the dire circumstances that have cursed Thebes and to the nature of Oedipus, his protagonist and tragic hero. Immediately we are struck by the benevolence and selflessness of Oedipus. He strives to terminate the plague that has devastated Thebes for the wellbeing of his subjects and will stop at nothing to ensure their fruitfulness. When Kreon, brother of Iokaste, arrives, Sophocles fills his script with irony. Oedipus is described as the man “surest in mortal ways and wisest in the ways of God,” (37-38.1232) and he declares that he will “take any action the god orders” (80.1233) in order to restore prosperity to Thebes; yet, the audience already knows one of his tragic flaws is tampering with the will of the autonomous gods. Oedipus learns that in order to avenge Thebes, he must follow Apollo’s demand to take revenge upon Laios’ murderer, which is a task he, also ironically, zealously accepts as a mystery that he must solve. Because Oedipus is portrayed as such a respectable and good-intentioned king, his harsh downfall in the ensuing scenes, which the audience already expects, becomes much harder to tolerate, primarily because his downfall is not deserved and far exceeds any crime he could have committed. (Gaustin)

In addition to the lovely analysis above, we must point out that the prologue demonstrates Oedipus’s nobility, perhaps the most important quality in a tragic hero. Oedipus is considered noble both because of his kingly stature and the responsibility that accompanies the position, and also his determination to alleviate the suffering of his subjects. In addition, the opening scene foreshadows one of the key factors in Oedipus’s downfall, his resolute obsession with determining the truth. Oedipus takes the responsibility of avenging the death of the previous king very personally, promising to stop at nothing before he discovers the identity of the murderer. Here, this quality is painted in a positive light because it is the only god-given solution to banishing the plague from his kingdom. In subsequent scenes the craze for the truth comes back to haunt him as several individuals, such as the messenger and Iokaste, try to bar him from learning his true origins. (Aashna)

Significance of Closing Scene

In the last scene, the messenger enters and relays the events of Iokaste’s suicide and Oedipus’s resulting blindness (overcome with grief from his monstrous fate, he had stabbed his eyes with gold pins from his late wife’s robes…pretty image). Oedipus then enters and mourns his many losses by the hand of his fate in a fit of rage. He notes, though, that he alone has blinded himself. Oedipus asks Kreon to protect his daughters and give Iokaste a proper burial. Even though Kreon agrees to these things, he refuses to touch Oedipus’s hand and tells him that his power is now nonexistent, and he exiles his brother-in-law/nephew. This scene reassures the audience/reader that Oedipus, one of the wisest and cleverest of men, has fallen into the lowest of lows of misery. Oedipus blinding himself refers back to the blind prophet and suggests that Oedipus was “blind” before, and only now, in his literal absence of sight, can he truly see. Although he agrees to take care of Oedipus’s daughters, Kreon’s lack of sympathy for Oedipus also foreshadows his actions in the next play Oedipus at Colonus. (KWatts)

The closing of the play is certainly a harrowing scene: Oedipus, with his self-inflicted blindness, has nothing but the memory of his beloved (in all the wrong ways) Iokaste hanging from a noose imprinted on his mind’s eye (an eye that nothing but death can gouge out), the inevitability of his wretched fate, and smug Kreon smirking half-generously at the now powerless king. But what is more haunting is the message that Sophocles whispers through the song of the chorus. At the end of the play, there is only the chorus’ assertion that no man should be counted as lucky until he has died, that justice and injustice comes to anyone and everyone, regardless of what is deserved. At the end of the play, Sophocles is reminding us that the universe does not play by the same simplistic rules of human justice, that the gods are not righteous nor are they wise. A man’s destiny is his attempt to fight it, the splendid promise of his free will is his doom, and the finality of all of his actions, many seemingly trifling and harmless, is what keeps him teetering on the thin cusp of destruction until the day he is dead. The end of the play leaves the audience with a scene both physically bleak and morally destitute. Perhaps Sophocles is telling us that we are all Oedipus to an extent, or at least we all could be—especially if we don’t deserve it. (pbowman)

Fun Stuff

go hawks!

Here is the link to the real life father-daughter couple (and their daughter/granddaughter/sister): http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/stories/peteroverton/441583/forbidden-love

Here, Brian, is the official definition:
ravish |ˈravi sh |
verb [ trans. ]
1 archaic seize and carry off (someone) by force.
• dated (of a man) force (a woman or girl) to have sexual intercourse against her will; rape.
2 (often be ravished) poetic/literary fill (someone) with intense delight; enrapture : ravished by a sunny afternoon, she had agreed without even thinking.
ravisher noun
ravishment noun
ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French raviss-, lengthened stem of ravir, from an alteration of Latin rapere ‘seize.’
I am a little concerned about how the two definitions connect, but I am more concerned about what "she" agreed to after being ravished by a sunny afternoon. -alabrie