Tragedy has a characteristic structure in which scenes of dialogue alternate with choral songs. This arrangement allows the chorus to comment in its song in a general way on what has been said and/or done in the preceding scene. Most tragedies begin with an opening scene of expository dialogue or monologue called a prologue.
After the prologue the chorus marches into the orchestra chanting the parodos. Then follows a scene of dialogue called an episode, which in turn is followed by the first stasimon. The alternation of episode and stasimon continues until the last stasimon, after which there is a final scene of dialogue called an exodos 'exit' scene'. The exodos is in general a scene of dialogue, but, as in the case of episodes, sometimes songs are included, especially in the form of a kommos.
Here is the structure of a typical tragedy (some tragedies have one more or one less episode and stasimon):
Prologue Parodos First Episode First Stasimon Second Episode Second Stasimon Third Episode Third Stasimon Fourth Episode Fourth Stasimon Exodos"No fear of god or law of man had a restraining influence. As for the gods, it seemed to be the same thing whether one worshipped them or not, when one saw the good and the bad dying indiscriminately. As for offences against human law, no one expected to live long enough to be brought to trial and punished: instead everyone felt that already a far heavier sentence had been passed on him and was hanging over him, and that before the time for its execution arrived it was only natural to get some pleasure out of life." Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War
Oedipus the King This translation, which has been prepared by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC, is in the public domain and may be used, in whole or in part, without permission and without charge, provided the source is acknowledged—released August 2004. *
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS ON SOPHOCLES’S OEDIPUS REX 1. What are your first impressions of Oedipus as a person and ruler?
2. Oedipus’s kingdom, Thebes, is beset by the plague and agricultural decline—“crises”. What does this presage for the characters during the remainder of the play, do you think?
3. What did Oedipus hope to gain by sending his wife’s brother, Creon, to pray to the oracle at Delphi?
4. What can only be termed “magical thinking” permits Oedipus to connect the murder of Laius, former ruler of Thebes, with the state of the kingdom at the outset of the play. On what religious or moral premise must such a connection be based?
5. As readers or playgoers, we would not question the sincerity of Oedipus’s extended speech if we didn’t already suspect that someone other than a cold-blooded murderer is responsible for the death of Laius and the state of Thebes. What makes us think there is some other reason for these events (even if we already know that Oedipus himself performed the crime)?
6. Why does Tiresius initially refrain from divulging the truth to Oedipus and assembled others?
7. What is Oedipus’s response to Tiresius’s refusal, and then later, to his accusations?
8. Tiresius replies that he is beholden to no one but Apollo—the “higher authority” that the Greeks thought was God. This allows him to speak the painful truth to Oedipus. What caused Tiresius to change his mind and speak the truth, do you think?
9. Now that you have seen Oedipus react directly to adversity, is your opinion of him different? Would you characterize Oedipus as evil, or merely human, in his angry reaction to Tiresius’s speeches?
10. With whom does the “I” of the Chorus identify as it vows to keep an open mind about Oedipus until there is “certain proof” of his guilt?
11. Creon tells Oedipus that he has “lost his sense of balance” and is “sullen in yielding and brutal in rage”. Is Oedipus’s anger measured, or does it seem paranoid, to you?
12. What effect does the Chorus’s repeated vows of faith for his “good helmsmanship” have on your perceptions of Oedipus? Would you feel the same way if there were no Chorus speeches?
13. Why did the lone surviving slave of Laius’s party plead with Jocasta to leave Thebes when he saw Oedipus on the throne, do you think? Does this explain why Oedipus wants him back?
14. Oedipus calls himself an “abomination” for killing his father and marrying his mother. If he was aware of neither, why does he call himself evil? Is a man responsible for the evil of his actions if he is truly unaware that they are evil? Explain Oedipus’s ancient Greek thinking and your own.
15. The death of Polybus raises the question in everyone’s mind but those who know the truth—“Is Oedipus’s biological father Laius or Polybus?” What does it say about Oedipus and his feelings of guilt (or lack) that he clings to the illusion that Polybus was really his biological father?
16. “Many a man before you, in his dreams, has shared his mother’s bed.” Explain the significance of this statement of Jocasta’s in relation to the significance of this play down through the ages.
17. Oedipus’s outrage concerning his mother’s act of sending her baby away to its death belies the fact that the ancients must have done this often; such stories (such as the story of Moses-- Exodus 2: 1-6) are present in the Bible. For extra credit, do research in a library or the Internet on ancient practices of abortion and child-murder and present it in a short talk to the class.
18. “How could the furrows your father plowed bear you?” asks the chorus. Of what literary device is this sentence an example?
19. In a short paragraph, recount the events that lead up to the self-blinding of Oedipus.
20. Does it seem fair for Oedipus to call himself “the worst of men”? Why or why not?
21. What function might such sentiments serve the ancients who watch the play in the audience?
22. What basis is there for Oedipus’s fears that his daughters will not easily find spouses?
23. “Count no man happy till (Oedipus) dies,” says the Chorus to the audience. Why?
Where is Thebes?
Who is Oedipus?
What is Sphinx?
OEDIPUS monologue 1-13
PRIEST solo 14-57
OEDIPUS & PRIEST dialogue 58-86
OEDIPUS & CREON dialogue 87-132
OEDIPUS solo 133-146
PRIEST solo 147-150
ENTRY of the CHORUS of OLD MEN OF THEBES
PRAYER TO ZEUS 151-216
OEDIPUS solo 217-275
OEDIPUS & CHORUS dialogue 276-299
OEDIPUS solo 300-315
TIRESIAS & OEDIPUS dialogue 316-379
OEDIPUS solo 380-404
TIRESIAS solo [freedom of speech] 405-427
TIRESIAS & OEDIPUS dialogue [prophecy] 428-461
CHORUS, the affairs of men are unknowable, except to the gods; confidence in Oedipus, fear for Oedipus. 462-512
CREON & OEDIPUS dialogue (with Chorus) 513-582
CREON solo 583-615
CREON & OEDIPUS dialogue 618-633
CREON, OED, JOCASTA 634-678
OEDIPUS & JOCASTA dialogue [retrospective] 679-770
OEDIPUS solo [recollections] 771-834
OEDIPUS & JOCASTA dialogue 835-863
CHORUS: LAW is from heaven; the pride of a TYRANT; ORACLES. 864-910
JOCASTA & MESSENGER (ex-shepherd from Corinth) 911-949
JOCASTA, OED, MESS. 950-988
OEDIPUS & MESSENGER 989-1051
JOCASTA,OED,CHORUS ('son of Fortune') 1052-1086
CHORUS: HYMN TO PHOEBUS APOLLO (Thebes & Oedipus) 1089-1109
OED, MESSENGER II (the Old Servant) 1110-1185
CHORUS: No mortal man is blessed. Alas for Oedipus. 1186-1223
OLD SERVANT & CHORUS 1224-1306
OEDIPUS & CHORUS (Apollo is responsible!) 1307-1369
OEDIPUS & CREON 1419-1523
APOLLO AT DELPHI: 'Know thyself!' + 'Nothing in excess!'
Socrates of Athens: 'The unexamined life is not worth living.'
Sirrah, what mak'st thou here? Dost thou presume
To approach my doors, thou brazen-faced rogue,
My murderer and the filcher of my crown?
Come, answer this, didst thou detect in me
Some touch of cowardice or witlessness,
That made thee undertake this enterprise?
I seemed forsooth too simple to perceive
The serpent stealing on me in the dark,
Or else too weak to scotch it when I saw.
This thou art witless seeking to possess
Without a following or friends the crown,
A prize that followers and wealth must win.
Attend me. Thou hast spoken, 'tis my turn
To make reply. Then having heard me, judge.
Thou art glib of tongue, but I am slow to learn
Of thee; I know too well thy venomous hate.
First I would argue out this very point.
O argue not that thou art not a rogue.
If thou dost count a virtue stubbornness,
Unschooled by reason, thou art much astray.
If thou dost hold a kinsman may be wronged,
And no pains follow, thou art much to seek.
Therein thou judgest rightly, but this wrong
That thou allegest--tell me what it is.
Didst thou or didst thou not advise that I
Should call the priest?
Yes, and I stand to it.
Tell me how long is it since Laius...
Since Laius...? I follow not thy drift.
By violent hands was spirited away.
In the dim past, a many years agone.
Did the same prophet then pursue his craft?
Yes, skilled as now and in no less repute.
Did he at that time ever glance at me?
Not to my knowledge, not when I was by.
But was no search and inquisition made?
Surely full quest was made, but nothing learnt.
Why failed the seer to tell his story then?
I know not, and not knowing hold my tongue.
This much thou knowest and canst surely tell.
What's mean'st thou? All I know I will declare.
But for thy prompting never had the seer
Ascribed to me the death of Laius.
If so he thou knowest best; but I
Would put thee to the question in my turn.
Question and prove me murderer if thou canst.
Then let me ask thee, didst thou wed my sister?
A fact so plain I cannot well deny.
And as thy consort queen she shares the throne?
I grant her freely all her heart desires.
And with you twain I share the triple rule?
Yea, and it is that proves thee a false friend.
Not so, if thou wouldst reason with thyself,
As I with myself. First, I bid thee think,
Would any mortal choose a troubled reign
Of terrors rather than secure repose,
If the same power were given him? As for me,
I have no natural craving for the name
Of king, preferring to do kingly deeds,
And so thinks every sober-minded man.
Now all my needs are satisfied through thee,
And I have naught to fear; but were I king,
My acts would oft run counter to my will.
How could a title then have charms for me
Above the sweets of boundless influence?
I am not so infatuate as to grasp
The shadow when I hold the substance fast.
Now all men cry me Godspeed! wish me well,
And every suitor seeks to gain my ear,
If he would hope to win a grace from thee.
Why should I leave the better, choose the worse?
That were sheer madness, and I am not mad.
No such ambition ever tempted me,
Nor would I have a share in such intrigue.
And if thou doubt me, first to Delphi go,
There ascertain if my report was true
Of the god's answer; next investigate
If with the seer I plotted or conspired,
And if it prove so, sentence me to death,
Not by thy voice alone, but mine and thine.
But O condemn me not, without appeal,
On bare suspicion. 'Tis not right to adjudge
Bad men at random good, or good men bad.
I would as lief a man should cast away
The thing he counts most precious, his own life,
As spurn a true friend. Thou wilt learn in time
The truth, for time alone reveals the just;
A villain is detected in a day.
To one who walketh warily his words
Commend themselves; swift counsels are not sure.
When with swift strides the stealthy plotter stalks
I must be quick too with my counterplot.
To wait his onset passively, for him
Is sure success, for me assured defeat.
What then's thy will? To banish me the land?
I would not have thee banished, no, but dead,
That men may mark the wages envy reaps.
I see thou wilt not yield, nor credit me.
None but a fool would credit such as thou.
Thou art not wise.
Wise for myself at least.
Why not for me too?
Why for such a knave?
Suppose thou lackest sense.
Yet kings must rule.
Not if they rule ill.
Oh my Thebans, hear him!
Thy Thebans? am not I a Theban too?
Cease, princes; lo there comes, and none too soon,Enter JOCASTA.
Jocasta from the palace. Who so fit
As peacemaker to reconcile your feud?
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