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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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This scene of reunion between Oedipus and his daughters strikes a rare note of joy in a play that is essentially tragic. Greek dramatists did not often mix such contrasting elements as the happy and the sad or the comic and the tragic in one play. Yet momentarily, Sophocles shifts the mood of the play from warfare and deep sorrow (over the loss of the girls) to that of rejoicing. While Oedipus luxuriates in his emotions at this moment of joy, it is evident that such simple pleasures are not long-lasting in life's daily course. Trouble is brewing just around the corner, as is evident when Theseus mentions the arrival of Polyneices and his desire to meet Oedipus.

This happy scene, however, does serve to relieve the mental tension and emotional tautness of the preceding scene with its violence and turmoil surrounding the abduction of Oedipus' daughters and Theseus' attempts to rescue them. Besides, this brief shining moment serves to highlight the fact that in life's busy and complex course, such happy, joyful events do exist, but are rare.

Even in this moment of rejoicing, Sophocles is careful to strike a note of balance and restraint. While Oedipus gropes the empty air about him to reach out for his daughters, the audience is deeply moved by the pathetic sight of the blind old man trying desperately to reach out for some solace from his two loyal daughters. He can touch them only when they move closer. Sophocles cleverly prevents Oedipus from touching Theseus (although he wishes strongly to do so) as Oedipus is afraid of polluting the Athenian king. This is, indeed, a moment of deep pathos wherein Oedipus (even as he rejoices in his love for his daughters) must restrain himself from expressing his love for Theseus and abide by the laws that govern the land.


The first part of this scene (1096-1149) restates the theme of reunion and affection, both for Oedipus' daughters and for his kind friend. It shows how the wandering outcast is re-integrated into society, although not fully rehabilitated. Sophocles also subtly blends the theme of death into the theme of love, for even as Oedipus embraces his girls, he says that after such joy he is ready to die: "Now I could even die/Not all unhappy, these being by my side." Death, for Oedipus, is the final blessing he is yet to receive.

Despite the interlude of joy and love, the play returns quickly to the Themes of anger, violence, and revenge with Theseus' report of Polyneices' arrival at Colonus. When Ismene first mentions the news of her brothers' civil strife in Episode I at about line 375, Oedipus vented at his two sons in a long speech (lines 461-509), praying that the gods do not quench their fated strife. He still refuses to show any forbearance when dealing with Polyneices, revealing his wrath and inability to forgive the grievances committed against him.

The nobility of Theseus and his maturity as a statesman is highlighted when he asks Oedipus for advice in the matter of Polyneices. This shows his high regard for his aged guest, who is not only a deposed king in exile but a murderer as well. Yet this is an issue between son and father, and Theseus makes it clear that Oedipus has sovereignty over whether or not to reject his son's offer. Antigone also reveals herself in a favorable light, reproving her father gently by appealing to his sense of generosity and forgiveness and asking him not to be vindictive toward those who have wronged him. Oedipus finally consents to see his son, thus showing a new side of his cleansed self. He seems to have approached a stage of wisdom, learning from his own life that harboring revenge can only result in pain or solitude. While this scene provides a temporary resolution to Oedipus' problems in the first half, a new complication arises with the projected arrival of Polyneices.

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