Blinded by the Truth
Understanding Sophocles' Oedipus
Long ago Laius, King of Thebes, heard from the Oracle at Delphi that he will die at the hands of his own son. When his wife Jocasta gave birth to a son, he took drastic measures to prevent this prophecy from coming true. Laius and his wife pierced the newborn's feet together and gave him to shepherd, providing instructions for the shepherd to kill the baby. The shepherd took pity on the baby and gave him to another shepherd in nearby Corinth to have. This shepherd gave the baby to a childless couple, the King and Queen of Corinth; they name the baby Oedipus meaning "swollen foot." Years later, Oedipus accidentally learns that he is adopted and seeks answers. He went to the Oracle at Delphi for answers and learns that his fate is to kill his father and marry his mother. Fearing it's validity, he runs away from Corinth to escape his fate.
Meanwhile, a Sphinx has been terrorizing the city of Thebes. Its ruler King Lauis is on his way to find remedy for this sphinx and encounters stranger on the road--Oedipus. In a classic case of road rage, the men fight, Oedipus is victorious and kills the man on the road. (Neither men knew of their identity). Oedipus continues of his journey to get far away from home and his prophecy. He encounters the sphinx who gives him a riddle to solve: what creature walks on four legs, then two, then three? Oedipus answers: mankind, who crawls, then walks, then uses a cane. This answer is correct, and the Sphinx kills itself. The city is happy and they crown Oedipus king (for they recently lost their king) for getting rid of its tormentor. Oedipus takes the throne and marries the queen, Jocasta.
Unbeknownst to him, Oedipus has indeed fulfilled his prophecy, he has killed his father and married his mother.
Interesting Facts about Sophocles
- born c. 496 bc, Colonus, near Athens [Greece]—died 406, Athens
- Sophocles was a very attractive man. As a young boy he performed in a play, naked, with shiny skin.
- He was the most-awarded writer in the dramatic competitions of ancient Athens.
- He wrote 123 plays, but only 7 survived.
- He had two sons, by two marriages - both became tragedians, but one of them, Iophon, brought a lawsuit against him, in his 90s, saying he was doddered and should hand over his estate to his son. Sophocles read “Oedipus at Colonus” as his defense!
- Sophocles was wealthy from birth, highly educated, noted for his grace and charm, on easy terms with the leading families and was a personal friend of prominent statesmen.
He was very religious and he transformed his home in worship place for the healing god Asclepius, while a temple was being built.
When a gold crown was stolen from the Acropolis, it is said Heracles appeared to Sophocles, in a dream and told him where the object had been taken.
It is said he died while reading aloud Antigone.