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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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THEMES

Major Theme

Every Sophoclean play centers on a towering protagonist who is the proud bearer of a specific tragic destiny. The protagonist learns to accept his fate with stoicism and strength; but Sophocles deviates from the conventional belief that humans are fated to suffer through no fault of their own. He gives Oedipus his own peculiar weaknesses -- his overbearing anger and pride -- which are the real causes of his downfall.

In Oedipus At Colonus, Oedipus is not only the cursed victim of the old prophecy that doomed the House of Labdacus, but is also the one who receives the divine oracle that he will "bring salvation to the Thebans". Thematically, the play deals with the impending death of a great, though not necessarily good, man, who has faced all the vicissitudes of life and must now face the final challenge that life has to offer; death. In this respect, Oedipus wins the audience's deep admiration for the stoicism and dignity of his dying moments.

The death of Oedipus At Colonus forms the core event of the play. Linked closely to this are the Themes of man's attitude to death and the gods. Oedipus' ultimate union with the afterlife is cloaked in mystery and acquires deeply spiritual and mystical implications. In handling this theme, Sophocles' attitude towards the gods and religious matters seem ambiguous at certain points in the play. For example, whether Ismene performs the rituals of purgation and propitiation on behalf of Oedipus as prescribed by the chorus is never revealed. Also, Theseus is interrupted while offering sacrifices to Poseidon.


Oedipus, the blind old man, wanders into the spot reserved for the gods to seek refuge from the world of ordinary men and their constant strife. He is chased out of the grove by the citizens, even though eventually he will regain his salvation there. Ultimately, Oedipus, the ordinary mortal with all his imperfections, becomes an integral part of the sacred grove. He was denied extended grandeur during his lifetime, but becomes one with the sacred grove's mystery and mystical aura in the end.

In this profoundly spiritual tale of Oedipus' search for his prophesied redemption through death at Colonus, Sophocles deals with no particular religious creed or belief. He is more concerned with the general spirituality of every human, at any time or place, who faces the conflicts of life and the inevitability of death. How to die with dignity, after the stresses of a life, is the central theme of Oedipus At Colonus.

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