Oedipus Rex (by Sophocles) Revisited

On Sunday afternoon, I joined my husband’s alumni organization for a seminar on the classical Greek drama Oedipus Rex. I hadn’t thought about Oedipus since high school.

(Reminder – Oedipus was cast aside by his father the King of Thebes because a prophet said he would kill his father and marry his mother. Rescued by a sheperd, he was adopted and raised in an adjacent city-state. Unknowingly, he fulfilled the prophecy. See Wikipedia or Sparknotes for a better summary.)

The usual pattern for these seminars is to have a tutor (teacher) who asks a starting question and keeps the discussion “on track”, whatever that means. Our small group (seven participants) had no leader, but in less than five minutes we had a good starting question. Which was Oedipus’s greater sin, murder or incest? We seemed to spend more time and effort discussing the murder. Oedipus had, after all, killed a man, and had not troubled to find out that person’s identity.

The action of the play (Oedipus’ efforts to discover who had killed the king who preceded him on the throne of Thebes) is triggered by an oracle, who says Thebes will not thrive until the old king is avenged.

So… we spent lots of time trying to figure out the oracle, as well as Tiresius the soothsayer. The oracle had great power. What does it mean to live under the weight of a prophecy? The old king had so much fear of prophecy that he sent his infant to die on a hillside.

We talked about identity. Oedipus literally didn’t know who he was. He resentfully ignored hints that he was not the legitimate son of the man who raised him.

We talked about modern “oracles” and our experiences with them. How do we explain coincidences and miracles in a modern world without oracles and prophets?

We talked for two hours! What else will I find if I go back to other books I haven’t read since high school?

Please feel free to leave a recommendation.


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