Sophocles’Oedipus the King
October 5 , 2012
I. Sophocles’World (496-406)
II. Narrative Structure: parricide and incest
III. The ancient Theban myth of the son who unknowingly kills his father and marries his
IV. The riddle and the slaying of the Sphinx
V. Oedipus’pollution and complex
VI. Psychoanalytic theory: interpretation based on the work ofAustrian doctor Sigmund
VII. Chief motifs:
- Fate (moira) as a personification of character-structure
- The prophets
- Exposure of a child to avoid the prophecy’s fulfillment
- Shepherd rescues abandoned child
- Mother-son incest
Because the narrative can be a little confusing, it may be worthwhile to tell the story in
chronological order, just to get it all straight.
Stage One: Laius and Jocasta, the king and queen of Thebes, are told by the oracle at Delphi that
their child will kill his father and marry his mother.
Stage Two: They decide to kill the child by exposing it, that is, by leaving it outside to die. The
exposure of children was actually practice in the ancient world, so this element of the story is not
fantastic in terms of the history and culture of the time.
Stage Three: The herdsman to whom they delegate this task does not follow orders, but gives the
child to another herdman, from another city. The child is raised by the king and queen of
Corinth, and he thinks that they are his real parents. Stage Four: This child is told by the oracle at Delphi that he will kill his father and marry his
mother. He thinks that the oracle means the king and queen of Corinth, since he thinks that these
are his real parents. He is horrified and he leaves Corinth.
Stage Five: On his journey, at the meeting of three roads, he comes across an arrogant man in a
chariot, who will not let him by. The man hits him, so he kills the man.
Stage Six: He comes to Thebes, which is being harassed by the Sphinx. He solves the riddle of
the Sphinx and in return is made king; he marries the wife of the former king, and they have
1. Prologues: 1-150
The people, speaking through a priest, ask Oedipus’help in relieving that plague which is
afflicting the city. Oedipus has already taken steps to help, including sending Creon to
Delphi to ask Apollo’s advice. Creon returns and reports thatApollo has commanded that
the Thebans expel a pollution from their land: the murderer of the former King, Laius.
Oedipus pledges to find the murderer and expel him.
2. Parodos: 151-215
The chorus calls onApollo, Athena, andArtemis to help, and describes the horrors of the
3. First Episode: 216-461
Oedipus proclaims measures to find the murderer, and calls down curses on him and
whoever tries to hide him. The chorus advises Oedipus to consult with the seer Tiresias.
Tiresias is unwilling to identify the murderer, and Oedipus, angered, accuses him of
having helped in the murder of Laius. Tiresias then accuses Oedipus of being the