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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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LINES 1249 -1555: EPISODE IV

Summary

This final episode of the play is a long one, stretching over more than 300 lines. For convenience of analyzing and understanding it better, it is divided it into three parts: (1) the long scene with Polyneices and Oedipus (Lines 1249-1446); (2) the intervening "kommos" featuring the chorus, Antigone, and Oedipus (Lines 1447-1499); and (3) Oedipus' farewell to the world (Lines1500- 1555).

Lines 1249 -1446

Antigone informs Oedipus of Polyneices' arrival without any attendants. He enters weeping for his own sorrows and those of his father -- a blind exile clad in foul rags with wild, unkempt hair that flutters in the breeze. He confesses he is the vilest of men for failing in his care and duty to his miserable father. He begs Zeus and his consort, Hera, goddess of justice, to take pity on Oedipus' sad plight and not increase his woes. Ironically, Polyneices' presence will soon aggravate the misery of Oedipus and provoke his anger.

Significantly, the father turns away from his son, and his prolonged silence indicates his mute scorn for Polyneices. He next appeals to his sisters to make their father break his implacable silence. Antigone advises him to reveal why he has come. Perhaps his words will move Oedipus to joy and tenderness or even to anger, depending on Polyneices' motives. He decides to be frank and tells them how he was exiled from his homeland by his younger brother, Eteocles, who has grabbed the throne of Oedipus and refuses to vacate it. He remarks that this is part of the curse laid on their family -- the house of Labdacus.

During his exile, Polyneices wed the daughter of the king of Argos and appealed to his father-in-law, Adrastus, to provide him with a host of lances, the best in Argos. Together they plan to attack Thebes and restore Polyneices to the throne. He begs his father to make amends and bless his mission. He then reveals that the oracles have foretold that victory in the forthcoming battle will be to whichever side Oedipus joins. Hence, he earnestly requests his father to relent and bless his cause by rousing Oedipus' resentment of his younger son. He attempts to reveal them as both being exiles and reduced to begging. He promises to restore Oedipus in his home at Thebes when he ousts Eteocles and rules the land himself.

After hearing these words, Oedipus breaks his silence, saying that only because Theseus has sent Polyneices to him will he now answer his son. He reminds Polyneices of his lack of interference when Oedipus had been exiled and ridicules the false sentiments that Polyneices now exudes. He calls his daughters "true men" for the loyal services they render to him. As for his sons, he declaims them as aliens, warning them that their civil strife is doomed to failure.


He places his terrible curse on his sons for their failure to revere their father and do their filial duty. He swears that Polyneices will never conquer his brother or his homeland and never again return to Argos. He calls upon the divine spirits of Colonus (the Furies) and on Ares, the god of war, to consign his sons to the dreaded darkness of Tartaras in hell. This is the terrible legacy Oedipus leaves to his sons.

Polyneices is stunned by this awesome paternal curse. He feels he can never reveal to his loyal Argive supporters the outcome of this meeting with his father. He sadly concedes he must go back in silence to meet his doom. Before he leaves, he pleads with his two sisters that if he should die at Thebes (as, indeed, he does later) they should bury him there with due funeral rites. If they perform this task for him, they will only add to the honor they already have in serving their father. Antigone tries to entreat Polyneices not to proceed to Thebes and destroy himself, as well as others. She begs him to turn back to Argos. But Polyneices is not inclined to hear his sister's words of wisdom. He will not swallow his pride and return unless he has humbled Eteocles who, as the younger brother, mocks at his elder. Antigone fears his stubbornness will only make Oedipus' fatal prophecies come true. Then he bids farewell to his sisters, predicting they will never see him alive again, for he bears with him the fatal curse of both Oedipus and the vengeful Furies.

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