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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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Notes

This solemn scene of Oedipus' departure from life has all the dignity and grandeur of a deeply moving religious service. It is significant that this is the first and only time he moves alone. The audience, used to seeing Oedipus move only with Antigone's help all through the play, will now watch with bated breath as the old man moves with certainty and noble grace towards his place of death. It is as if Sophocles wishes to say that humans must go to their death alone and unaided.

Earlier, when Oedipus had been separated from Antigone by Creon, he seemed utterly helpless and unable to move. Now, despite his blindness, he leads, and the girls, as well as Theseus, mutely follow him. His steps here will be slow and dignified, unlike the stumbling, groping moves of the typical blind beggar. His imminent redemption in death makes Oedipus acquire a degree of nobility and grace that he has lost since his fall at Thebes.

At the end of this long speech, he utters touching words of farewell to the light (both literally the sun's light and symbolically the light of life): "O Light - my Darkness - once thou wast mine to see/And now never shall my limbs/Feel thee again". As he moves downstage and steps into the orchestra pit, Oedipus must turn back once more to his followers and lift his hands in the universally symbolic gesture of blessing the Athenians and their city.

This scene is a great moment in all Greek tragedy, for Oedipus is the author-surrogate (i.e., Sophocles himself) bidding farewell to the world of Athenian theater and the greater theater of the world and life itself.


Annotations:

1. Hades: He is the Greek god of the underworld. He was the son of Cronus and Rhea and was also called Pluto ("the Rich"). Though grim and terrible, he was a just god (unlike the concept of Satan in Christianity, who is often projected as humankind's worst enemy).

2. Nether Queen: This is a reference to Persephone, daughter of Zeus and the corn goddess, Demeter. She was abducted by Hades from the upper world and made his Queen in the world of the dead.

3. Hermes - He is the son of Zeus and Moia (daughter of Atlas). He was god of sleep and dreams, and in Greek myth also acted as a messenger of the gods. As the divine herald, he also conducted the souls of the dead to Hades. He is represented with wings on his feet, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and carrying a staff on which two serpents are inter-twined. The Romans called him "Mercury".

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