READ: Sophocles and Oedipus Rex

2 Oedipus the King

Oedipus the King, is often referred to as Oedipus Rex. This is arguably the most famous play written by Sophocles. If you read only one Greek tragedy, this would more than likely be it. In terms of importance, it has been called equivalent to Hamlet.

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The basic plot of Oedipus is this: a terrible plague has descended on the city of Thebes, the citizens turn to King Oedipus to help them. King Oedipus is a much revered King. He had saved the city once before from disaster by solving the riddle of the Sphinx. In return for this service, he was awarded the throne, as well as the hand of the widowed Queen, Jocasta.

Creon' who is Jocasta's brother, gets the oracle of Apollo, which states that the city of Thebes can be saved from the terrible plague on one condition. The murderer of Laius, Jocasta's dead husband, and former King, must be found and punished. Creon tells King Oedipus that Laius was killed by a bandit on his way to the city of Delphi, as was reported by the only eyewitness to the crime. Oedipus thinks that the bandit was hired by Theban conspirators and asks the seer, Tiresias for more information. Tiresias knows who really killed Laius, and avoids Oedipus' questions, so Oedipus thinks that Tiresias is in collusion with the murderer. Oedipus accuses Tiresias of protecting the murderer.

Tiresias, angry at being accused, tells Oedipus that he himself is the murderer. But Oedipus doesn't listen to him, he even accuses Creon of being involved. At this point, Jocasta defends her brother. Oedipus tells Jocasta that Tiresias has accused him of the murder, and Jocasta says that it can't be true. There was a former prophesy or oracle, which said that Laius would be killed, "where three roads meet" by his and Jocasta's son.

Laius made sure that this oracle would never come true by having his only newborn son thrown out on a mountain and left to die, so Jocasta says that you can't believe in oracles.
However, Oedipus gets unnerved at the mention of "three roads meet." He questions Jocasta severely about the EXACT location, the time of the murder, and the appearance of Laius. He finally realizes that indeed, it was he, Oedipus, that WAS the murderer.

Then he explains that he himself has sought Apollos oracle, since he was accused of not knowing his parentage, and the oracle stated that he was "destined to kill his father, and have children by his mother." However, there is one eyewitness to the murder that Oedipus thinks he has committed, if he can find him, than he can find out if he is really guilty.

Jocasta says once again, that you can't believe in oracles. HUGE oops - it's really not a good idea to deny Apollo.

Sophocles, Oedipus the King, (429 B.C.).