Monday, 20 May 2013

Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus

Keeping with the Greek theme, I finished two plays by Sophocles last night. What a perfect theme for how I was feeling. I had no idea the plays would affect me so much. A couple of tears were shed shortly after finishing. Oedipus' lamenting guilt was so powerful in Oedipus Rex, I couldn't help but feel moved. He feels most passionately for those related to him, even more than he feels for himself. His immediate empathy was so powerful. I felt inspired to be more like him in his feelings towards those close to him.

Concerning his culpability, which feels like the central theme of both the plays, Oedipus is morally innocent. He avoids Corinth, even though he longs to see Polybius and Merope, because of the prediction of the Oracle (he will kill his father, etc.). It's the irony and the strange fate that make the play the interesting thing that it is. His intentions are always good -- though sometimes falsely suspicious, such as his accusations towards Creon. He leaves willingly when convicted, ending the city's famine and condemning himself to a life of wandering.

Oedipus at Corinth begins near the end of his life as a wanderer. Sophocles writes this sequel in a similar stage of life, he was ninety years old. Blind, and led in his wandering by his poor daughter Antigone, Oedipus stumbles into a garden at Colonus. His stumbling into a kind and beautiful place, after years of misery, is something of a symbol for the whole play: the Oracle places a value on his final resting place, and consequently Oedipus enjoys a momentary restoration of some small amount of respect. I have to disagree with Sophocles' choice of last words for this play. He places too much emphasis on divinity of fate, instead of the randomness of fate that characterises Oedipus Rex.

Oedipus the King:                                                         Oedipus at Colonus:
O you who are mortal, look upon life's end,                 Now cease,
and on your own.                                                           and lift no more your wailing cry,
Count no man happy until without disaster                  for the events
he pass the last boundary of his life.                             which now have been fulfilled
                                                                                      there lives divine authority.

It's useful to compare the final lines, however, because I think it gives us the most clear example of what it was Sophocles needed to add to the Oedipus character to make him complete. The king is exonerated of his guilt and allowed to forget his life of shame, if momentarily, while the fates shine on him. It's this circularity which defines Oedipus' character. He curses his sons for their heartlessness towards him, which reminded me once again of his empathetic reaction to conviction in Thebes. Oedipus' only comfort in his time of death is that his body is more useful to the world than his life. He goes off to die with no witness except the king of Athens. He is swallowed up by the Earth, leaving no mourner but his daughters.

No comments:

Post a Comment