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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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Notes

In this play, Sophocles follows a precedent set up by his younger contemporary, Euripides, who shocked Athenian audiences by presenting beggars in rags on the stage. Sophocles begins this play with a blind, old man who is "wandering Oedipus." Even though the image of a blind and wandering beggar, led by his daughter, is hardly a fitting protagonist for Greek tragedy, it does evoke pity for him as well as awe at his terrible fall.

In this opening scene, there is an introduction to the dominant Themes of the play: perceptiveness despite being blind (as Oedipus is now) contrasted to a vision that lacks perception (as he was in Oedipus Tyrannus), time as a teacher, and life as a journey or learning process. All three Themes are skillfully interwoven into the prologue.

In the very first dialogue, Oedipus speaks of his simple needs and how he is content with little or nothing, unlike the needs of his past royal status. He is a homeless wanderer with no possessions, except a dutiful and loyal daughter. He seeks only a place of rest in which he can die in peace. Oedipus' experience can be seen as symbolic of Everyman's journey through life's turmoil. With the passage of time and the experience of age, wisdom has come. He has learned the virtues of patience and humility from his long years of suffering and exile. Misfortune has been his best teacher and the vicissitudes of life have brought him a long way in the journey from ignorance and self-indulgence to knowledge and self-denial.

The theme of holiness or reverence is seen in Oedipus' closing prayer to the Furies. He knows he must placate them and not invoke their spite. Nor must he deny what has been prophesied by the Oracle at Delphi, but instead submit to his destiny and the rest of what life has to hold. He supplicates himself to the Eumenides or "kindly Goddesses".


Antigone explains the setting in her brief but exquisite description of the groves blooming with typical Grecian plants and filled with the sweet notes of the nightingales. Sophocles is obviously praising the beauty of Colonus, the native village of his youth, for its idyllic charms and rustic grace. It is the perfect place to provide Oedipus the peace and quiet needed during the final moments of his unfortunate life.

Antigone proves to be a loyal and loving daughter to her father in his misfortune. She guides and guards him carefully from the dangers of the journey. She serves as his eyes, and even as his voice. Despite the gift of sight, she seems less perceptive than her blind father. He advises her at the end of the scene, that they should hide in the grove to observe how the citizens may speak about them. He knows now that prudence is the only safeguard of their course.

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