The Story of Oedipus by Sophocles

Oedipus Tyrannus – Sophocles

The play, Oedipus the king, was based on an old legend about Oedipus. The play was first written in 429 BC, or at least, that was when it was first performed. It contained many differences to the legend, however these were often subtle and were to make the play more interesting to watch; i.e. adding tension and greater tragedy in areas, and to make it have the ability to be performed.

The underlying story before the play starts is that Laius and Jocasta have a baby who is supposedly going to grow up and kill his father and marry his mother. On the way to kill the new baby son, Laius was killed and Oedipus was left to be brought up without his real mother and father.

This is a rough outline of the play by Sophocles.

The city of Thebes had been plagued. Oedipus had visited the oracle of Apollo to ask of the cause of the infection. The answer that was given was “they are polluted by the presence of Laius’ murderer.” Oedipus determines to find the murderer and punish him. At first, he believes in a conspiracy. He asks the prophet Teiresias who it was, and is told that the murderer is him, however Oedipus refuses to listen, as there are reports that a group killed Laius, not one man.

Oedipus then accuses Creon of being part of the conspiracy.  Jocasta tries to calm the two men. She then tells Oedipus that one of the men at the scene had survived, so Oedipus summoned the witness. Jocasta then prays to Apollo to stop her troubles. Soon, a messenger arrives and tells Oedipus he will become king of Corinth, however Oedipus refuses to return because his mother, Merope, was still alive. The messenger then tells him that Merope was not his real mother.

It turns out, the messenger was the man who rescued Oedipus from the mountains when he was a child. When Jocasta hears this, she realises the truth. The bodyguard who was the witness also added to the story. He tells of how he spared the life of the baby he had been told to kill and gave him to a shepherd.

The Story Of Oedipus By Sophocles

Oedipus finally learnt the truth and runs to the palace to look for him mother, who is his wife. He finds her hanging from a beam and uses her brooches to blind himself in his self-loathing.


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