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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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Notes

One notices that Polyneices has antagonized Oedipus from the start and that he will not be easily persuaded by his son's appeals. Perhaps it is because Polyneices' tone of voice is not that of a subdued suppliant who seeks blessings but the belligerent tone of a man who seeks power through warfare. Unlike Oedipus, he has not renounced temporal power and, hence, his move to win Oedipus' sympathy is fruitless. Both men are going to their doom, but each faces death in very different ways. Oedipus' appeal to Theseus is fruitful, and his journey to Colonus is blessed with success; but Polyneices' appeal to Oedipus evokes no response, and his journey here is both fruitless and fatally doomed to failure. Oedipus has reached his goal by making the proper appeal to Theseus; Polyneices makes the wrong approach to Oedipus and, therefore, faces defeat.

This part of Episode IV brings the character of Polyneices into sharp focus. He is seen as being a total hypocrite as he enters weeping for his own fate and that of his father and sisters. He is certainly not as crafty and machinating as Creon, but his sympathy for his father and even his repentance for his earlier misdeeds towards the aged Oedipus does not seem genuine. After all, he has ulterior motives for his visit. It is possible that if it were not for the impending battle and the strange prophecy, he may never have come to see his father at all.

At the close of this encounter, Polyneices tries to cajole and coax his father into going back to Thebes with him with no absolute guarantee of success, except the prophecy and the untried strength of his mixed band of warriors. He does not mind risking his father's life in battle so that he may gain the throne. He never realizes that all his father wants is to be left alone and to die in peace at Colonus. Thus, he appears as a very egotistical and hotheaded youth bent on only pursuing his own personal ends and hardly concerned with the wishes and fate of others.


This is very obvious in his plan to suppress the truth of his father's fatal curse on him to the Argive men who support him. He is not only disingenuous, but a weak and self-centered leader. He prefers to doom his allies along with himself rather than admit that he is wrong and his cause may fail. By refusing to withdraw, Polyneices shows that he too is proud, willful, and stubborn, like most members of Oedipus' family. Whether his cause is just or not, he now risks failure, but will not reconsider his foolhardy decision to challenge Creon, his brother, and the whole of Thebes. His right to wreak vengeance on his brother must submit to the necessity of honoring Thebes and its laws. By stirring up a rebellion against his motherland, Polyneices is depicted as a traitor to his country. Another major point to note is how Oedipus' cannot bring himself to forgive Polyneices and Eteocles for betraying him. Perhaps his rancor towards his sons is morally justified and, hence, he feels he is right in laying his terrible curses upon them. While he blesses his daughters for the love and care they shower on him in his tragic downfall, his sons deserve the wrath of his moralistic judgment brought down on them. Ironically, this is his paternal legacy to his recalcitrant sons -- defeat, disaster, and death.

Besides, as one who has renounced earthly power and seen how corrupt it can be, Oedipus believes his sons are now falling into the trap of materialistic power struggles which will bring neither them nor Thebes any gain. He is sick of the diabolical scheming of politicians and the warmonger's love of violence and destruction. Because this play was written in the context of a drawn out war of attrition between Sparta and Athens and their respective allies, it makes sense that Oedipus vents his rage at the hawks who merchandise and propagate warfare as the sole means of solving disputes between trigger-happy countries or individuals.

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