Dr. Fidel Fajardo-Acosta's

World Literature Website













Staged around 425 BC

Language & Form

Tragedy. Ancient Greek original. Also known by its Latin title Oedipus Rex, and its Greek title Oedipus Tyrannos. Recommended English translations by David Grene, Robert Fagles.


Oedipus, king of Thebes, is confronted with the problem of plague in the city. Informed by the oracles that the plague is caused by the unpunished murder of the former king, Laius, Oedipus vows to hunt down the criminal. Slowly and by degrees, Oedipus comes to the realization that he is the murderer of Laius, also his own father, and that he is now married to his own mother, Jocasta. Horrified at the discoveries, Oedipus blinds himself while Jocasta commits suicide.

Main Issues

play about the drama and irony of blindness toward one's own faults

tragic outcomes invisibly related to the "tragic flaw" (see hamartia) in the main character; in the case of Oedipus the flaw is a composite of hubris, pride, arrogance, rashness, impulsive violence

ironic treatment of the popular idea, embodied in the myths behind the play, of the absolute impossibility of avoiding a fixed and pre-determined fate/destiny

the motifs of the crossroads (where the original murder took place), blindness, and riddles hint at the reality of personal responsibility in the tragedy

by means of the family tragedy, the play ultimately seems to allude to the tragedy of the internal struggles among the Greeks (in particular the Peloponnesian Wars)

Study Questions

Consider that many of the events in the traditional story of Oedipus (killing his father, solving the riddle of the Sphinx, marrying his mother, etc.) have already occurred when the play opens. Why? Why does Sophocles concentrate on the life of Oedipus after his becoming king of Thebes?

How would you describe the character of Oedipus? What sort of a person is he? Consider how Oedipus sees himself (as seen for example in the play's opening speech and his later dialogues with Creon and Tiresias). What character traits and dispositions are dominant in his personality?

What is the effect of Oedipus's insistence and promises regarding the hunting down and punishing of the murderer of Laius? What does this suggest concerning his character as well as the meaning of Sophocles's play?

What may be the purpose and significance of the interactions between Oedipus and characters like Tiresias and Creon?

Why does Tiresias hesitate to tell Oedipus the truth of his identity?

What is the significance of Oedipus's slow coming into awareness of that identity?

What is the significance of the physical blindness of the prophet Tiresias? Is blindness an important and repeated symbolic motif in the plain? How can we interpret Oedipus's act of self-blinding? Is his physical blindness symbolically similar to or different from that of Tiresias?

What do you make of the various situations at the end of the play (the suicide of Jocasta, Oedipus's self-blinding and exile, his prediction of a miserable life for his own children)? Why are the outcomes so tragic and extreme? What is the significance of the curse/prophecy which seems to haunt the family of Oedipus?

Is Oedipus an innocent victim of an unjust fate or does he bear some responsibility in the outcome of his life? Is his fate the result of unavoidable necessity or does he contribute to it through his own choices? Could he have changed the fate described in the prophecies? How?


to come

Recommended Reading

to come

© 2001, 2002 by Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, all rights reserved


This page designed and maintained by Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, © 2001