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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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LINES 1579 - 1779: THE EXODUS

Summary

In exactly two hundred lines of the Exodus, Sophocles rounds off the play. This closing sequence opens with a long speech by a messenger describing the mysterious events surrounding Oedipus' death. In the last hundred lines or so, there is a final "kommos" between the chorus, Antigone, Ismene, and Theseus. Here, the chorus comments on the death of Oedipus and then forbids the girls from visiting their father's tomb.

First, the Messenger enters with the sad news that "Oedipus is no more". At the chorus' request, he gives them as much of the detail of the death as he knows. He tells how Oedipus sat down and took off his soiled garments at "the threshold of that charm/whose root is the Brazen stairs below". He rested at the midpoint between the rock basin, a pear tree, and the monument erected to commemorate the covenant signed by Theseus and Peirithous. Then his daughters fetched water from a fountain so that he could wash as well as make a libation or drink offering to the gods. They washed him and dressed him in clean robes, as is the custom among Greeks for the dead or dying.

Once more, terrifying peals of thunder exploded in the air, and the daughters fell at their father's feet, wailing and beating their chests in fear or grief. Oedipus embraced and spoke to them one last time. He told them his death was near at hand and they would soon be relieved of their heavy burden of tending him, which they performed with love and devotion. A sudden stillness seized the air, and a loud, hair-raising voice called out: "Thou Oedipus, why are we tarrying?"


Oedipus understood this was the voice of god calling him to his death. He turned to his beloved friend, Theseus, and entrusted the care of his daughters to the Athenian King. Theseus swore to honor this commitment to Oedipus. Then feeling for his children with his blind, groping hands, he spoke for the last time to them. He advised them to bear the sorrow of his passing with nobility and courage. Taking only Theseus with him, he went to the secret place of his death. After they left him, the girls and the messenger looked back to see Oedipus one last time, but he was nowhere to be seen.

Only Theseus was visible, standing alone, screening his eyes as if from some dreadful sight. Then he saluted both the earth and the heavens in an act of prayer and obeisance. Theseus alone was witness to Oedipus' death which was not accompanied by any fiery thunderbolt or stormy winds from the sea. Some messenger from the world above or the underworld conveyed him to the after-life in love and without pain. The messenger concludes his account by saying that Oedipus' death was "wonderful", as it was not with any sickness or suffering.

The concluding "kommos" of the play occurs after the messenger completes his account of Oedipus' death to the chorus. It features Antigone, Ismene, the chorus, and Theseus. The two unhappy sisters enter, bemoaning the loss of their father. Antigone informs the chorus of his death. Antigone wonders how they will live, wandering some distant lands or on the billowy waves of the sea. Ismene too grieves for Oedipus and wishes that Hades would allow her to join her father in death. The chorus offer their sympathies to the women and advise them not to be totally overwhelmed by grief as Heaven's doom must be borne stoically.

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