Notes and Questions for Oedipus at Colonus
[Fagles translation; read introduction (255-77)]

Notes: In his introduction, Bernard Knox notes that one of the Greek words "for curse, ara, is also the word for 'prayer'" (264). See lines 469-76. As you read, notice the irony that Oedipus, who was once so despised, is now courted by everyone in Thebes because of the new prophecy of the benefits he can bring a city. (It seems that these benefits are military--see lines 425-31, 701-707.) What do you suppose changed the situation around? (Think about how heroes are extraordinary--or what made a person like Achilles godlike.)
(293, line 194) O strangers = ô xeinoi ["O host-friends"] in Greek.
(375, line 1739) sprung from the Dragon's teeth = "The Thebans believed that they were descended from dragon's teeth, which, sown in the soil by Cadmus, their first king, turned into armored men" (396).

1. Oedipus's attitude towards his guilt or innocence in this play is interesting. He keeps saying that he was ignorant of what he was doing (the theme of knowledge), or he says that he acted in self-defense and thus is "innocent" (317--see also pp. 292, 299-300, 344-45) in the eyes of the law. Yet if Oedipus is as innocent as he claims, how can he think he is so impure that he dare not even touch Theseus (352)? Can he be both guilty and innocent at the same time?

2. In what ways is this play similar to and different from the Eumenides? Do you think that Sophocles also believes that suffering leads people to wisdom?

3. Why has Oedipus left Thebes?

4. Do you think that Oedipus blames the gods for his fate more than he does in Oedipus the King? (See Oedipus the King, pp. 241-42.) If even Oedipus will not blame the gods for such a terrible fate, then what do you think Sophocles is saying about the gods and how they treat humans? Why do they cause pain and suffering for humans? (This last question may not have any easy answer. One commentator says that "Oedipus imposes himself on the gods; it is not forgiveness, for there was no sin. [Oedipus at Colonus] is Sophocles' answer to the tragedy of life. He cannot justify God to man, but he can justify man to man" [Kitto 420]. What do you think of this comment?)

5. Do you agree with the Chorus that "Not to be born is best / when all is reckoned in" (358)? How do you account for this viewpoint? Do you think Sophocles agrees? Why or why not? For one view, read Knox's introduction, p. 273.

6. In what senses is Oedipus a hero? (See pp. 300, 319.) Notice how Oedipus moves from despised beggar to a figure of towering anger to a hero who leads Theseus, even though he is blind. Compare / contrast the ways in which the beggars Odysseus and Oedipus become leaders and even (in the case of Oedipus) a revered hero. After he dies, Oedipus becomes a hero-daimon whose "presence in the soil [is] feared by some and thanked by others" (Knox 265). (See also Knox's introduction, pp. 256-58.)

7. What do you think of Oedipus' "departure" at the end of the play? Think of some possible meanings for this strange ending. (See Knox's introduction, pp. 275-77.)

8. Sophocles wrote Oedipus at Colonus when he was quite old, just as Athens was about to suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. Colonus (a suburb or part of Athens) was also Sophocles's hometown. How do these facts change your view of certain scenes?

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