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Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles, trans. by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald

oedipusThis is the second play in a trilogy; see the first, Oedipus Rex, here.

At the opening of Oedipus at Colonus, 20 years have passed, during which Oedipus has wandered in exile with his daughter Antigone as faithful companion and caregiver. He initially hoped for a sentence of death from Creon, but was given banishment instead. He arrives near Athens hoping for asylum, as his second daughter Ismene appears with news. Thebes is experiencing conflict: the two sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polyneices, are fighting for the kingship. An oracle has instructed that Oedipus can help; but he refuses, even when Polyneices shows up to ask for his father’s blessing. Oedipus resents that his sons heartlessly allowed him to be turned out of the city. Although he wanted death in the beginning, he has since decided that his crimes were unknowing – he killed his father in a fair fight, not knowing who the man was, and defending his life; and he married his mother not knowing his relationship to her, only knowing that she was a queen whose favor he had won. And he resents the life he’s earned by his innocent crimes. At Colonus, he meets Theseus, king of Athens, who defends Oedipus and his daughters against the treachery of Creon. Following another oracle that says Oedipus will bring peace and glory to the city that offers him refuge, Theseus welcomes Oedipus to die there at Colonus.

This middle play (the only one that I had not read before) was in some ways the quietest of the three, and apparently the least known. It was followed, in my edition, by a commentary that Oedipus Rex lacked. This commentary described the principles of translation ascribed to by Fitzgerald, and gave some background information on Greek theatre and tips for presenting this in the modern era. I found it useful. I was probably least moved by Oedipus Colonus; but it did portray the loving relationship between Antigone and her father (brother) that helps establish her love of family, which we will see so strongly in Antigone. She is growing as a character; she did not speak in Oedipus Rex, and in this play she is a speaking character but still subordinate to her father’s needs. She is kidnapped, apparently helpless to defend herself, but her strength is increasing as her father’s life ends.


Rating: 5 holy places.

2 Responses

  1. […] This is the third play in a trilogy. Please see my write-ups of the first two: Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus. […]

  2. […] Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles (pagesofjulia.com) […]

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