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Notes on Oedipus the King

Greek Tragedy

Notes on Oedipus the King


The Sophoclean View harmonious purpose, cosmic order guiding universe that cant be comprehended by mortals man has set boundaries; universe will react to man just as man must submit to universe man has free will--within limitations of circumstances--and is responsible for them happiness comes through reverence & humility

Notes on Oedipus the King


Content of Greek Tragedies stories taken from mythology & heroic legends not much suspense, but playwrights had freedom to change myths audience listened for personal motives, outside forces, dramatists reinterpretation, explanation of myths focus on meaning of life, moral dignity, emotional significance violence off-stage (in contrast to closet dramas of Romans)

Notes on Oedipus the King


Oedipus & Family: The Mythological Background second in popularity after Trojan Wars 2 generations before expedition to Troy, Laius & Jocasta, king & queen of Thebes, warned by oracle of Apollo at Delphi that newborn son destined to kill father & marry mother

Notes on Oedipus the King


Apollo god of prophecy and patron of philosophy and the arts, whose famous temple and prophetic shrine were there Delphic oracle gave its messages in such ambiguous ways that it could seldom be proven wrong (role of Fates) became, next to Zeus, the god most revered by the Greeks and the god who best embodied the Greek spirit

Notes on Oedipus the King


Laius pierced babys feet w/iron pin, gave to shepherd to abandon shepherd secretly gave infant to herdsman from Corinth herdsman took baby to master, King of Corinth (Polybus) & wife, Merope named boy Oedipus (Swollen-Foot) & raised him grown Oedipus visited Delphic oracle; hears same prophecy; leaves came upon travelers (King Laius on way to Delphi for help w/Sphinx)

Notes on Oedipus the King


The Sphinx In the story of Oedipus the sphinx became a winged monster with the body of a lion and the head of a woman. riddled & ate travelers on road to Thebes

Notes on Oedipus the King


Laius & Oedipus fight over right-of-way; Oedipus slays Laius & servants, unaware of their names continues to Thebes & meets Sphinx answered riddle; she dies Oedipus hero to people of Thebes & made new king after they learned Laius had been killed by gang of bandits marries Jocasta, has four kids

Notes on Oedipus the King


Creon, Jocastas brother, persuades Oedipus to await Oracles instruction before exile, which happens years later Oedipus wanders Greece with faithful daughter, Antigone rejected by all granted sanctuary by king of Athens Creon wants Oedipus back because prophecy promises good fortune to city possessing grave of Oedipus Oedipus dies at Colonus

Notes on Oedipus the King


character* (tragic hero) psychological motivation not important (compared to modern day) must arouse pity & fear in audience ideal protagonist highly renowned & prosperous not pre-eminently virtuous & just (e.g., hubris)

Notes on Oedipus the King


consistent & true to life misfortune brought on by error of judgment/frailty harmartia heros frailty, not personal quality called tragic flaw: hero takes step that initiates events of his downfall downfall result of role of destiny/chance

Notes on Oedipus the King


Which interpretation? gods are just; Oedipus is at fault foreknowledge not foreordaining gods are at fault; Oedipus is innocent Oedipus is puppet; harmartia is mistake, not moral fault tragedy of destiny

Notes on Oedipus the King


neither gods nor Oedipus is at fault Oedipus is admirable, but not perfect pities suffering kingdom; desire for truth he intended to do right gods cant be judged by human standards of justice; are mysterious but not evil

Notes on Oedipus the King


Themes What is mans relation to god(s)? What is a successful man? Does fate control us or do we control our own destinies? What are the benefits/drawbacks of being a leader? How important is knowledge/knowing the truth?