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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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Lines 887 - 1043

The second part of Episode II is dominated by a three-way debate among Creon, Oedipus, and Theseus. When the chorus raises an alarm about the impending capture of Oedipus, Theseus hurries to the scene interrupting his sacrifice to Poseidon, the sea-god. Recognizing his voice, Oedipus pleads for help for the two girls whom Creon has abducted. At once, Theseus orders his attendants to gather all available help and make haste to the crossroads outside Colonus so as to prevent Creon's guards from escaping to Thebes with the girls. It will be a great disgrace for them and dishonor to their guest, Oedipus, if the girls are taken away forcibly.

Then he turns to Creon and rebukes him for this lawless trespass. Theseus prevents him from leaving Colonus until the girls are safely returned. He labels Creon's misdeed as a triple disgrace: first, to Theseus and the Athenians; second, to the Thebans; and third, to Creon's own race/family lineage. He reminds Creon that Athens observes justice and sanctions nothing outside the law. Yet Creon has dishonored the lawful powers of Athens by taking captives as he pleases and attempting to snatch the coveted person of Oedipus as if he were a trophy won in a war.

If Theseus were to set foot on Theban soil, he asserts he would never wrest anyone by force from there or plunder anything without due license from the king of Thebes. He reminds Creon that a guest must know how to conduct himself in the land of his host. Creon has brought shame to the fair name of Thebes through his precipitate actions that do not befit a man of his age, intelligence, and status. Even the chorus adds a note of agreement to Theseus' words.


Creon is subdued by this harsh indictment of his behavior. He tries to justify his recent misdemeanor as an action prompted by the will of the Theban people. He has no intention of challenging the manhood of the Athenians or the sagacity of their king. He argues that Theseus and his subjects, in his opinion, would never shelter a man like Oedipus, guilty of parricide and incest. In their wisdom, they would not protect a polluted man -- or so he thought, which is why attempted to take Oedipus back home. He goes on to say that Oedipus is the one to blame for raining terrible curses upon him and his family.

Oedipus now enters the argument and asks whether Creon's taunt defiles "my grey hairs or thine own". He reiterates that the charges of bloodshed, incest, and fatal tragedy now laid against him by Creon were acts springing from Heaven's dictates and not his own free will. As he disclaims personal responsibility for his previous misdeeds, Oedipus uses the same arguments he used with the chorus earlier in Episode I. He did not know who his father was; therefore, when he killed Laius for attacking him at the crossroads, he was only acting in self-defense. Oedipus' marriage to his own mother was the unfortunate reward he unwittingly claimed when he solved the riddle of the sphinx and became the ruler of Thebes. He exonerates his mother, for she too was unaware of the incestuous relationship she was entering into when she married him.

Oedipus severely castigates Creon for reviling him and making him relive his former shame by dragging it out in public before the citizens of Colonus. He reminds Creon that he too would do the same thing if he met a stranger on the highway who was about to kill him. He calls upon Laius, if he were alive, to bear witness to the truth of what he now says. He charges Creon with flattering Theseus and his orderly state, but insulting them by attempting to abduct one who has placed himself under their patronage and that of their gods. He ends with an appeal to the deities of Colonus to help him to get back his girls safely and for him to stay here in peace.

Theseus ends the debate at this point by reminding the Colonians that while they are talking, the wrongdoers are about to escape. Hence, he orders Creon to lead the way in their search for the abducted girls. He now aims to capture Creon as this is the only way to obtain the release of Oedipus' daughters. He strongly suspects that Creon's audacious act must have the support of other Thebans with equally vile designs on Athens. There is hint of trouble brewing between Thebes and Athens, as the scene ends with Oedipus calling on Heaven to reward Theseus for his nobility and loyal care.

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