Three Theban Plays: Oedipus at Colonus, by Sophocles

My Copy: 9781593082352 (image from

The one play of the three published just before Sophocles died, Oedipus at Colonus gives plenty of insight into the firm convictions of ancient greeks in their belief of the gods and proper rites, as well as the cleverness of Oedipus hinted at in passing in the other plays.

Oedipus at Colonus begins with a blinded, aged Oedipus accompanied by Antigone and then Ismene, his daughters. They rest in a place near a city and find that it’s Colonus, once the people (the chorus) let him know. They say he cannot remain there because the place is sacred, but he insists on it, says that he’s dying anyway and that it would benefit Colonus itself if he were to remain there. It turns out that Apollo and the gods aren’t done with Oedipus quite yet: Oedipus has found that wherever his body lies, near whatever city it lies, that city will enjoy prosperity and victory as long as they do not disturb his final resting place.

Apparently, others have heard of this same prophecy, including Creon, who tries to entice and then threaten him back to Thebes, and Polynices, Oedipus’ eldest son. Polynices comes because the younger son, Eteocles, seized the throne from Polynices and banished him. Polynices married into Argos’ royal family and is marching against Thebes.

Oedipus, angry that he’s been forced to rely on his daughters while his sons did nothing to help him or support him, curses them both to die at each other’s hands. This is why Creon has come, on behalf of Eteocles in a sense, hoping Oedipus will come to be on the Theban side of this conflict.

This story goes back and forth a bit, but I liked the revelation of wit that is in Oedipus at last. And we see the incredible devotion and passion that are in Antigone, which sets the stage wonderfully for her own play after this one.

I wondered what was supposed to happen (though I suspected some deus ex machina would come into play) with these characters, and either way, it was going to be different. This one was a lot more explanatory and spiritual than Oedipus the King. It probably could have been a bit shorter, but for the most part it worked. I guess the length was to make the arrival of secondary characters “reasonable” in the scheme of things.

I think it had some interesting moments, but I’m not completely sure if I liked it. May need more chances to read.

Antigone to come next Tuesday.

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