The Oedipus Trilogy of Sophocles
Oedipus was the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta. Before he was born, his parents consulted the Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle prophesied that Oedipus would murder his father and marry his mother. In an attempt to prevent this prophecy's fulfillment, Laius ordered Oedipus's feet to be bound together, and pierced with a stake. Afterwards, the baby was given to a herdsman who was told to kill him. Unable to go though with his orders, he instead gave the child to a second herdsman who took the infant, Oedipus, to the king of Corinth, Polybus. Polybus adopted Oedipus as his son. Oedipus was raised as the crown prince of Corinth. Many years later Oedipus was told that Polybus was not his real father. Seeking the truth, he sought counsel from an Oracle and thus started the greatest tragedy ever written. (From feedbooks.com)
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Oedipus the King
Spoiler Alert! This brief section before the play summarizes the entire story. It is helpful to have a general sense of what happens, but if you want to be surprised, skip it!
Thebes was a city-state in ancient Greece. At the start of the play, Oedipus is the King of Thebes. (This annotation contains an image)
Who is Oedipus talking to?
In Greek myth, Cadmus was a prince who founded the city of Thebes. In this illustration, painted on a vase, Cadmus is fighting a dragon. (This annotation contains an image)
According to the Priest, if Oedipus does not do what he asks, how will he be considered in history?
Oedipus saved the town of Thebes from the riddle of the Sphinx. Watch this cute animated video to learn about the riddle that the Sphinx poses. (This annotation contains a video)
When Oedipus refers to his "ship of State," he does not literally mean that he is on a boat. Watch this video for an overview of literal and figurative language: (This annotation contains a video)
The shrine at Delphi was a sacred place where oracles were able to speak with the gods, like Apollo. Pictured below are the remains of the Delphic shrine, which modern-day visitors to Delphi can see! (This annotation contains an image)
Creon characterizes the troubles in Thebes as a(n) ___________.
The god (Apollo) says that the person who seeks the truth will find it; the person who does nothing is "blind" (figuratively). Pay attention to the recurring motif of sight/blindness; you will see this again throughout the play. Watch this video for a brief overview of motif: (This annotation contains a video)
According to Creon, how was Laius killed?
Pictured below is an artist's interpretation of "The Slaying of Laius." It shows how King Laius was attacked and killed. (This annotation contains an image)
Watch this brief video for an introduction to Greek Theatre. In particular, pay attention to the discussion of the chorus (starting around 5 minutes 30 seconds). The chorus is a unique feature of Greek theatre, and it is important to understand its function in the play. (This annotation contains a video)
The chorus calls on _____ to assist the city of Thebes and end its suffering.
The strophe and antistrophe were interludes between the parts of the play where the actors were performing the scenes. The chorus would chant or sing the strophe and antistrophe as they moved across the stage. This part can be confusing when you are reading the play; imagine it as a sort of musical intermission, when the chorus is singing to review the events from the previous scene and set the tone for the upcoming scene.
Whom does Oedipus threaten to banish?
When the Chorus speaks here, they are functioning as a group of characters in the play. When they interact with Oedipus, they play the role of a group of wise city elders in Thebes. (This annotation contains an image)
Teiresias is a blind prophet who delivers messages from the gods to mortals. Pictured below is when Oedipus meets with Teiresias. (This annotation contains an image)
Teiresias is a seer (prophet) who is physically blind but able to understand the truth better than most men. This is an example of irony. Watch this video for a brief introduction to irony: (This annotation contains a video)
This is another time in the play that the idea of sight and blindness is mentioned; this is an example of ________.
Which of the following best characterizes Oedipus' tone in these lines?
What does Teiresias accuse Oedipus of doing?
In this sentence, what is the connotation of the word blind?
Here, Oedipus is beginning to reveal more of his character. Watch this video for an overview of how characters develop throughout a story. (This annotation contains a video)
Teiresias tells Oedipus, "None of mortals shall be striken worse than thou." This is an example of foreshadowing. Watch this video for an overview of foreshadowing. Continue to pay attention to times in the play when we have a hint of what is to come. (This annotation contains a video)
Teiresias is referring to how Oedipus solved the Sphinx's riddle in order to save the city of Thebes, which Oedipus interprets as a taunt.
Which of the following literary devices is employed in this line?Tested and tried in the light of us all, like gold assayed?
Which word best describes the Chorus' position in the conflict between Oedipus and Creon?
When Oedipus speaks of the seer, he is referring to ____.
Why does Creon claim that he does not want to be king?
Why does Oedipus want to have Creon killed?
What is Jocasta's primary motivation in these lines?
In other words, if the Chorus wants Oedipus to drop his accusation against Creon, _______________.
According to the Chorus, who is at fault for the conflict?
One of the themes that is emerging is the idea of characters attempting to avoid their fates by taking action. Watch this brief video for an overview of theme: (This annotation contains a video)
What is most likely Oedipus' facial expression?
Which of the following devices is used in Jocasta's account of the servant?
When Oedipus claims that, if he is indeed the killer of Laius, there is "no mortal more god-abhorred," he is using hyperbole. Watch this brief video for an overview of hyperbole. (This annotation contains a video)
Why does Oedipus say that he is innocent if the herdsman reports that Laius was slain by "robbers"?
In this sentence, "weird" is a noun meaning a person's destiny.
Jocasta uses a simile that compares _____ to _____.
The messenger is from Corinth, where Oedipus was raised by Polybus. Corinth was a city-state situated on the isthmus (in blue, connecting the larger mainland and Peloponnesus on the map). (This annotation contains an image)
When Oedipus mentions "birds that scream i' the air," he is referring to a form of divination practiced in ancient Greece. Seers (like Teiresias) would use bird signs and sounds to gain information about the gods' fates for mortals.
What is the "heaven-sent oracle of dread import" that Oedipus refers to here?
What is ironic about this exchange between the Messenger and Oedipus?
The name "Oedipus" means "swollen foot" in Greek. Oedipus was thus named because his feet were swollen from the pins that bound his feet when he was an infant.
In other words, the Chorus believes that the shepherd who gave baby Oedipus to the Messenger is the same shepherd that took Laius' and Jocasta's infant son. Jocasta has already sent for the shepherd so that Oedipus could question him.
To what does Oedipus attribute Jocasta's unwillingness to find the truth of his birth?
What does the Messenger confirm?
Which of the following best characterizes the herdsman's attitude in this conversation?
Why are the herdsman and Oedipus on the "perilous edge" of speech and hearing?
To what does the Chorus attribute Oedipus' guilty acts?
How was Jocasta's womb a "double harvest"?
Which of the following best describes the tone of Oedipus' speech?
Whom does Oedipus blame for his miserable fate?
Oedipus says that he blinded himself so that he did not have to "see" certain sights. Which of the following does he NOT give as one of those sights he wants to avoid?
What does Oedipus request for the rest of his life?
Why does Creon believe that they should consult Apollo again?
Why does Oedipus weep when he thinks of his daughters' future?
To what does Creon attribute Oedipus' fall?