Sophocles

Oedipus at Colonus

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Oedipus at Colonus Summary

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“Oedipus at Colonus” is one of the three Theban plays written by Ancient Greek playwright Sophocles. It was performed at the festival of Dionysus in 401 BC, and was one of the last plays written by Sophocles before his death. It was the last of the three plays to be written, but falls in chronological order between Oedipus Rex and Antigone. It tells the story of the end of the life of Oedipus, and the final segments of the prophecy of Apollo around which the story is centered.

The play begins in the village of Colonus. Oedipus and his daughter Antigone, having been banished by their kingdom after the discovery of Oedipus’s horrible fate – that he murdered his father and married his mother – have been wandering the kingdoms of Greece. They sit on a stone to rest, and almost immediately a villager approaches them and asks them to leave the area. The villager says that the stone is sacred to the Furies. Upon hearing this, Oedipus remembers the final words of Apollo’s prophecy – that Oedipus will die once he reaches the land sacred to the Furies, and that his final resting place will bless the land where he is buried.

Villagers, in the form of a chorus of old men from Colonus, approach Oedipus and ask his name. Oedipus reveals his identity, and the men are at first appalled. They ask him to leave the town, fearing he will bring a curse down upon them. But Oedipus reveals the final verse of the prophecy, and asks to speak to Theseus, the king of Athens. The villagers are amazed by the news and agree to wait with him until the king arrives.

Soon after, Oedipus’s daughter Ismene arrives. She brings news that Eteocles has seized the throne of Thebes, and that Polynices is planning to overthrow him again. Creon has made a plan to capture Oedipus and return him to the border of Thebes, because he has heard about the blessing his father’s grave will bring in the conflict between Thebes and Athens. Oedipus is disgusted by the behavior of his sons, and blesses his daughters for their devotion. He decides to stay at Colonus and be buried here, because the people have been kind to him. Oedipus asks for protection from the people of Colonus, and Oedipus is made a citizen of Athens by Theseus, after Oedipus explains that his burial site with allow Athens to win in a future battle against Thebes. Meanwhile, Ismene agrees to do a ritual for the people of Colonus to appease the Furies, who are upset by the men encroaching on their holy land.

Creon then arrives, and begins to manipulate Oedipus and the others, trying to make himself seem as if he has changed his ways in order to get Oedipus back to Thebes. Oedipus sees through his son’s tricks, and curses him, demanding he return to his native land, the kingdom that threw him out. Creon has captured Ismene, and insists that Oedipus and his daughters return home. Finally, Theseus steps in and banishes Creon in the name of justice, and the principles of Athens. After Creon leaves, Oedipus meets with another son, Polynices, who banished him from Thebes. Oedipus does not want to speak to Polynices, but is convinced by Antigone to listen to him. Polynices asks for his father’s forgiveness, but Oedipus prophecies that Polynices will die by his own brother’s hand. Antigone begs Polynices not to battle against Eteocles, but he insists and departs.

A thunderstorm interrupts the family once more, and Oedipus sees it as a sign of his coming death. He gathers his daughters and Theseus, and they walk into the storm. Oedipus allows his daughters to pour libations and say goodbye to him, before he sends them away – only Theseus can see the sight of his grave, as it is a precious blessing. Theseus returns and reports that Oedipus died in a flash of blinding light. The daughters Ismene and Antigone mourn Oedipus, and Antigone even asks to be buried beside her father, rather than live without him. Theseus reminds Antigone and Ismene that the site must remain a secret, for the safety of the people of Athens. Antigone understands, and asks to be returned to Thebes in order to stop the war her brothers are battling over the throne.

Sophocles was an Ancient Greek playwright, and one of three tragedians whose works have survived. Sophocles was said to have written more than 120 plays, but only seven have survived in their full form. Sophocles was one of the most well-liked dramatists in the dramatic contests of Athens – of the thirty competitions he competed in, he won twenty-four years in a row, and was never given a ranking lower than second place. Sophocles’ surviving plays include “Antigone,” “Oedipus Rex,” “Oedipus at Colonus,” “Ajax,” “Women of Trachis,” “Electra,” and “Philoctetes.”