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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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Minor Themes

This play is filled with Themes and motifs. Most importantly, it is concerned with how men and women contend with the turbulent and ephemeral qualities of life and the spiritual attitudes to life and death. However, these are not the sole subjects Sophocles tackles in Oedipus At Colonus. There is also the allied theme of the process of aging and the utter isolation felt by a dying human. Oedipus is the wandering beggar, the social outcast from Thebes who has lost all temporal power as king and is now on the verge of losing all physical strength and vitality.

At the start of the play, Oedipus attempts to be reintegrated into human society and treated with decency. These purposes are temporarily thwarted by the chorus of elders from Colonus. But Antigone's earnest pleas to them and the gracious hospitality of Theseus finally bring Oedipus acceptance in his newfound place of refuge. Thus, an important motif in the play is the successful reintegration of the social outcast and political exile into the community of benevolent and compassionate humans.

Oedipus is reinstated in Colonus through the love, sympathy, trust, and tolerance of Athens, found in its king and people. The chorus, Theseus, Antigone, and Ismene all help in Oedipus' social and psychological rehabilitation. Finally, Oedipus has to be reinstated in the favor of the gods who have scorned him all his life and plagued him with disasters. Now, in Colonus he finally finds peace and harmony in the idyllic setting of the grove. Through his communion with nature and the bonds of human sympathy he develops at Colonus, Oedipus reaches out for the ultimate act of self-realization, his spiritual reintegration. By rejecting the temptation to be dragged back into the controversial power struggles and conflicting self-interests of Theban politics, Oedipus finally achieves his aim in life -- divine redemption through the mysterious and mystical experience of death.


The power of love, given by Antigone, the chorus, and Theseus, transforms the life of Oedipus from suffering and tragedy to joy and triumphant self-realization. Linked closely to this theme is the juxtaposition of the two different characters of Oedipus in Thebes and Oedipus in Athens. In fact, the two city-states are effectively contrasted through their differing approaches to life and individuals; Thebes is belligerent, self-centered, overbearing, and power-crazed while Athens is prudent, refined, selfless, and dignified, as well as merciful in its exercise of state authority.

This play was written when Sophocles was ninety and about to die, so it reflects, to some degree, the dramatist's own concerns with the after-life and eternity. More than just the author's self- identification with Oedipus, there is the contemporary element of the Athens-Sparta conflict that dragged on for over three decades. He seems disillusioned by the possible collapse of Athens' time- honored ideals of liberty and tolerance and its renowned humanism and egalitarian outlook. Hence, in his final play, Sophocles chooses to recall the glorious rule of Theseus, the founder-king of Athens. His enlightened attitude, both as a private and public figure, influenced his people to be as noble, just, and compassionate as their leader.

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