Oedipus the Wreck
Objective for this Page: To summarize the prologue, to consider the chorus’ role, and to analyze Oedipus’s personality.
Summary of Oedipus the King
Part-by-Part Notes, Questions, Hints
Characters: Sophocles used three main actors to play the main roles. "Mutes" were extras (actors) with no spoken lines.
Prologue: The people of Thebes turn to Oedipus to save them. (Lines 1-168)
As the play opens, Oedipus has been king of the Greek city-state of Thebes for over 10 years, ruling with his queen Jocasta. They have two older boys and two little girls. Oedipus got to be king by saving the city from a sphinx--a creature with the head of a woman, the body of a lion, and the wings of an eagle--that had devoured anyone who tried to leave the city or enter it (except for Laius--was he lucky or did the gods intervene to give Oedipus a chance to seal his fate years before). Since Oedipus solved the riddle of the sphinx when no one else had, the townspeople (the "chorus") figured that the gods spoke to Oedipus (maybe they did).
Currently, a plague has descended on Thebes. As it says in this section, people are dying faster they can be buried by the survivors--so are cattle and crops. In short, the plague attacks the birth processes of all that live in & around Thebes, an appropriate symbol of the gods' wrath over the perversion of birth that is incest. Theban elders have turned to Oedipus to save their city once again--and he will, but at a very high personal cost. Oedipus' first words echo, without his realizing it yet, the incest and patricide themes.
Oedipus, knowing there was a plague, has already sent his brother-in-law, Creon, to Apollo's (the god of enlightenment and the sun) oracle at Delphi to ask the gods what to do. Creon advises that he talk to Oedipus privately before making the answer public, but Oedipus says no. The gods want the Thebans to find the murderer of their former king, Lauis, and either kill him or exile him. Oedipus immediately pledges to do so, even if the investigation leads to his own house.
So, unknowingly, Oedipus is hunting himself, the murderer of Laius.
Click here for "Oedipus Makes Me a Wreck," about the challenge of reading this ancient play and making sense out of it.
The URL for this page is: http://vccslitonline.cc.va.us/OedipustheWreck/Prologue.htm