Click this quilt piece to go to Litonline's home page.VCCS Litonline Introduction to Literature
English 112 (English Composition II)
Click on the sphinx to read the play.

Oedipus the Wreck

Objective for this Page: To summarize the prologue, to consider the chorus’ role, and to analyze Oedipus’s personality.

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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 ThebesClick to Nick Pontikis's site on Oedipus and Greek myth. 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).

Who Are the Chorus?

Click to ideas about the chorus.Are the chorus right about the gods and Oedipus? Does the chorus (townspeople) get anything exactly right in the whole play? If they are not spokespersons for the playwright, what kind of portrayal of human beings are they?

See ideas about the chorus from the Oedipus Forum archive by clicking on the picture.  In particular, see these comments by students about lines 22-57:

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.

Is Oedipus Selfless or Self-Centered?

Click to ideas on the personality of Oedipus.Look for indications of Oedipus' selflessness and self-centeredness in his words, such as in lines 58-59 vs. 61-64. To what extent is Oedipus acting as a savior, for the benefit of his people, in this play, and to what extent is he acting on his own behalf? Consider his reasons for fleeing Corinth and Delphi, his accusations against Creon, his reasons for wanting to talk to the survivor of the attack on Laius and other actions he has taken in his life.

Click to ideas on the personality of Oedipus by clicking on the picture.

The Punishment Fits the Crime? Note the details of the plague in the Priest's description of it (lines 22-57), which uses some powerful poetic imagery. State these lines in plain English; then, once you see what he's saying, tell your reaction to these lines. Do you feel disgusted by them, intrigued or curious, horrified, amused--what? and why?

Send a reply to this question at the Oedipus Forum.

(Click here for a hint on re-opening a word processor.)

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 to see Brigid's explanation of how the riddle of the sphinx parallels the life of Oedipus.

Click here for "Oedipus Makes Me a Wreck," about the challenge of reading this ancient play and making sense out of it.

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logotest.gif (2025 bytes) This site was developed by Professor Eric Hibbison of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia, under a Courseware Grant from the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) in Fall, 1997, and renovated under a VCCS Commonwealth Course grant in 2003 with the addition of the archive for the 1997-2003 forum on Oedipus the King.  If you have comments or suggestions about this site, email them to Prof. Hibbison at jsrlogo.gif (7866 bytes)