Oedipus the King Study Guide

Oedipus the King By Sophocles

A priest calls upon Oedipus, king of Thebes, to help with a plague. Creon, his half-brother, who has been sent to ask the oracle at Delphi, returns at that moment and says at the plague is present because the former king (Laius)'s murder was never caught. Oedipus vows to find the murderer and curses him for the plague.

Tiresias the blind prophet tells Oedipus to abandon his search, and Oedipus accuses him of being complicit. Outraged, the prophet tells Oedipus that he is the murderer, and also that when the murderer is discovered, it will be found that he is brother and father to his own children and son and husband to his own mother.

Oedipus' wife Jocasta tells him he should take no notice of prophets, and tells him of a prophecy regarding her previous husband, King Laius, which never came true: that he would be killed by his own son. Everyone knows that he was killed by bandits at a crossroads on the way to Delphi. Oedipus is suddenly worried, and asks Jocasta what Laius looked like, and sends for the one surviving witness.

Jocasta is confused, and Oedipus explains: many years ago, a man accused Oedipus of not being his father's son. Bothered by the comment, Oedipus went to the oracle at Delphi to ask about it, and was told he would one day murder his father and have sex with his mother. He left town that day, and upon reaching the same crossroads Jocasta mentioned, a carriage tried to drive him off the road, and Oedipus argued with and killed the travelers.

A man arrives from Corinth with the news that Oedipus' father has died, making Oedipus happy because now he cannot fulfill the oracle's prophecy by killing his own father. He admits to fearing that one day he may still commit incest with his mother, and the messenger, to assure him, tells him that the Queen of Corinth was not in fact his real mother. The messenger tells of a child given him by a shepherd, whom he in turn gave to Merope and her husband Polybus to adopt. He tells him that the shepherd gave the lineage of the baby as "of the house of Laius".

It emerges that the baby was given away because of the prophecy that Laius would be killed by his own son, and that the baby is in fact Oedipus, who has in fact killed his own father (Laius) and had sex with his own mother (Jocasta) who has borne his daughter/sisters (Antigone and Ismene).

Jocasta hangs herself in horror, and Oedipus uses the pins that held her dress together to stab himself in the eyes, blinding himself. Creon is to take the throne, and will look after Antigone and Ismene. "No man should be considered fortunate until he is dead."

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Why is Oedipus so clueless to see the truth that he killed his father and slept with his mother? Is it his self pride or shame?

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Why is Oedipus so clueless to see the truth that he killed his father and slept with his mother? Is it his self pride or shame?

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