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OEDIPUS THE KING
Choral songs (stasima) were an important part of traditional Greek tragedy. They were used as interludes or transitions between scenes. The Chorus may have chanted, recited, or spoken the choral songs in a rhythmic pattern as it moved around the stage in a semicircular pattern. The first choral song has two strophes and two antistrophes. The Chorus is uncertain, and hesitates to support either Oedipus or Teiresias in the argument that concluded the previous scene. The Chorus is consoled, however, by recalling that the murderer is even now being pursued by Oedipus, and predicts that the Furies will also track down the desolate villain responsible for Laios' death. There's no way the murderer will escape punishment.
The Greeks believed that the Furies would pursue those who committed crimes or offenses against man and nature. The Furies were supposed to exact blood for blood, when no human avenger is left alive. They were particularly concerned with injuries done by one member of a family to another. Sophocles' mention of them here foreshadows what will happen to Oedipus in Oedipus at Colonus. In that play the Furies torment Oedipus, reminding him of his fate and refusing to let him forget his past actions. In this sense they resemble a "conscience" that never allows anyone to forget the horrible deeds he has committed.
In a second strophe and antistrophe the Chorus continues to express confusion. After weighing the evidence, however, the Chorus declares its faith in Oedipus. The main reason for trusting him rather than Teiresias is personal past experience: Oedipus solved the riddle of the Sphinx. The Chorus concludes that Oedipus, the city's savior, can't be doubted until he is proved wrong. Distinct memories resurface:
I saw him, when the carrion woman faced him of old,
The final choral ode is important to the development of the story because the Chorus supports Oedipus' side of the argument with Teiresias. Later, when Oedipus is discovered to be the murderer of Laios, the Chorus admits its error in supporting him. Like any citizen committee responsible for evaluating evidence and making a decision, the Chorus can make a mistake. But it can also recognize that mistake and reverse its opinion. Watch now as the tide of opinion turns gradually away from Oedipus and toward the truth of Teiresias' prophecy.
As a dramatic device, the first choral ode helps to suggest the passing of time from one scene to another. Remember that traditional classical plays had to describe events that took place within a twenty-four-hour period. The choral ode, therefore, signals to the audience that a certain number of hours have elapsed between the scenes. This choral ode also allows the Chorus to point out to the audience things to watch for in the events to come. Sophocles used this opportunity to heighten the tension and suspense of the play.Table of Contents | Oedipus the King Message Board | Oedipus at Colonus Message Board | Antigone Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version