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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Oedipus Trilogy by Sophocles-Online Book Summary
Table of Contents | Oedipus the King Message Board | Oedipus at Colonus Message Board | Antigone Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version

OEDIPUS AT COLONUS

Oedipus at Colonus was constructed when the playwright was in his early 90s. The plot is rather loosely connected in a series of individual episodes and individual song lyrics. There is very little character development because Oedipus, although twenty years older now than in Oedipus the King, is basically the same man he always was. He is proud, hot-tempered, rash, impetuous, and quick to anger. There is very little indication that his personality has radically changed in spite of his punishment. Indeed, he appears to have accepted his punishment only because there was no alternative. He continues to insist that he, personally, is innocent of any crime against man or the gods and maintains that the "crimes" he committed were the result of destiny, in whose angry hands he was but a helpless victim.

Oedipus at Colonus revolves around the exiled, blinded Oedipus and his daughter Antigone, who has accompanied her father in his wanderings. While resting near the edge of a sacred grove, Oedipus is discovered by the inhabitants of Colonus. The residents are frightened to discover the identity of their visitor and immediately send for the king, Theseus. Meanwhile, Oedipus' other daughter, Ismene, arrives with the news that Creon, now king of Thebes, is coming to take Oedipus back because the oracles have decreed that the spot on which Oedipus dies is to be forever sacred and holy. When Oedipus refuses to accompany him, Creon seizes Antigone and Ismene as hostages. At this point Theseus enters, stops Creon, and sends soldiers to rescue the daughters.


Oedipus' son, Polyneices, who is marching against Thebes (as he later does in the play Antigone) also arrives at Colonus and asks for his father's blessing in the upcoming battle. Oedipus, however, refuses to bless Polyneices and, instead, curses him to a quick death. A great storm arises, at the height of which Oedipus makes his way, alone, into the sacred grove and disappears. Later, a priest enters from the grove and describes Oedipus' final moments before his death. Theseus declares the spot forever sacred, and takes Antigone and Ismene into his protective custody.

Although the play doesn't completely develop the character of Oedipus in his final days, it does provide a moving tribute to the man who, though basically good, was punished by the gods for sins he committed in ignorance. There is a kind of mystical aura surrounding Oedipus and his children in this play, and Sophocles suggests quite clearly that Oedipus has been purified and cleansed of his sins by suffering and sorrow. There are also several mystical scenes that depict Oedipus gaining heroic stature and nobility by enduring his pain and agony. Further, Sophocles appears to sketch a patriotic portrait of Oedipus as a fallen hero who has finally achieved in his death a stature of noble dimension.

OEDIPUS AT COLONUS

SCENE I

Oedipus, now old and blind, is led into the sacred grove at Colonus by his youngest daughter Antigone. A stranger enters and reveals that the grove is a shrine to the gods, and admission to it is forbidden. Oedipus asks the stranger to bring King Theseus to him, and the stranger departs to consult with the wise elders of Colonus to decide what to do.

CHORAL DIALOGUE

The Chorus enters to express curiosity about the presence of Oedipus in the sacred grove. Oedipus will come out of the grove if the Chorus promises not to harm him. After the Chorus agrees, Oedipus reveals himself and his true identity. The Chorus is frightened of Oedipus and urges him to leave town at once.

OEDIPUS AT COLONUS

SCENE II, CHORAL DIALOGUE, SCENE III

Oedipus begs the Chorus to have pity on him and finally persuades them not to take any action until Theseus arrives. Ismene suddenly rushes in to warn her father that her brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, have quarreled about who should rule Thebes now that Oedipus is exiled. Eteocles drove Polyneices from the city, and now Polyneices is raising an army to conquer Thebes for himself. In addition, the holy oracle at Delphi has prophesied that whatever city houses the burial place of Oedipus will have good fortune. Both of Oedipus' sons and Creon, king of Thebes and Oedipus' brother-in-law, are planning to take him into custody to secure the good fortune for themselves.

Oedipus curses his sons and Creon for their plans and begs the Chorus to protect him. He promises to give his blessing to them when he dies, and they gratefully accept his offer. After Oedipus seals the bargain with an offering made to the gods, the Chorus pleads with Oedipus to retell the horrible story of his life. He does so in great detail, but protests that he is innocent of any crime because the deeds were done in ignorance and without deliberate, evil intent.

At the conclusion of this story Theseus enters and greets Oedipus with respect and dignity. When he learns the plans of Creon and Oedipus' two sons, Theseus promises to protect Oedipus and his daughters. He also pledges that Oedipus may remain at Colonus until his death.

Table of Contents | Oedipus the King Message Board | Oedipus at Colonus Message Board | Antigone Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Oedipus Trilogy by Sophocles-Study Guide
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