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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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Notes

In this Stasimon, or choric song, Sophocles pays a fine tribute to his own birthplace, Colonus. This is the chorus he is known to have recited before an Athenian court of law when his son Iophon filed a law-suit charging Sophocles with senility and incompetence in dealing with the family estate. The excellence of this ode (and the manner in which Sophocles wrote and sang it at age 90) triumphantly proved he was saner than his years.

This chorus is not only about Colonus but also about the gods who are worshipped, including Dionysus, the Muses, Pallas Athena, and Aphrodite. This scene restates the theme of divinity/spirituality associated with the sacred grove in which Oedipus seeks refuge. There is some resemblance here between Sophocles' odes to Colonus and its groves of nightingales and later English Romantic poems such as Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale". The difference is that while Romantic poets often reveled in the beauty of Nature for its own sake, the Greeks regarded Nature as an integral part of the Divine rather than of the aesthetic. In addition, one notes how Sophocles suggests that both young boys and old men can be disruptive of the serenity and beauty of Nature with their callous and often violent behavior.

While the second Strophe is dedicated to Athena and her olive plants, the attendant anti-strophe is dominated by Poseidon and his horses. These two gods and their correlative natural images are juxtaposed to contrast the opposing Themes of peace and tranquillity versus turbulence and violence; these draw attention to Oedipus' previous tumultuous life as king and his present desire for peaceful death.


Annotations:

1. Dionysus: He is the son of Zeus and his beloved Semele. He was venerated in Athens (and all Greece) as a god of fertility and also of wine. He lessens the care of humans by inspiring them to music and poetry. In his youth he was persecuted, for Zeus' wife, Hera, was jealous of this love child of Zeus and Semele. As a result, he was given to the nymphs of Mount Nysa for rearing, where he derived his name and introduced the cultivation of the vine.

2. Narcissus: He is the beautiful son of the river god Cephissus and also a nymph. He repulsed the love of Echo and for his self- centeredness, Aphrodite punished him by making him infatuated with his own image in a pool. He pined away at his own image in the water and was turned into a flower that bears his name.

3. Cephissus: The chief river flowing by the plains of Athens and rising in Mount Parnes/

Parnassus, a few miles north of Delphi.

4. Muses: They are the daughters of Mnemosyne, a Titaness personifying memory. They were the nine goddesses of literature and the arts. The original seats of their worship were near Mount Helicon in Boetia and also at Pamassus, whose twin peaks are sacred to Apollo and Dionysus.

5. Queen Aphrodite: The Greek Goddess of Love (called Venus in Rome), she supposedly sprang from the sea-foam that gathered about Uranus, the father of the Titans, when his son, Cronus, mutilated him.

6. Isle of Pelops: This is a reference to all of Greece or to an obscure Isle off the Dorian district of Greece whose precise location is now unknown.

7. Moirain/Morian Zeus: This is the 4th century B.C. poetic appellation for one of the many manifestations of Zeus, the supreme god of the Greeks, who was the god of light, the sky, and fine weather. "Moirai" is the Greek word for Fate; therefore, in this form, Zeus is also one who controls Fate. In Homer, "Moirai" is the goddess of Fate who apportioned each individual's Fate, even though there were times when Zeus could overthrow Fate, if he so desired.

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