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SYMBOLISM / IMAGERY
Several images appear frequently in the plays to call attention to the development of the story. For example, fire and water-associated with the birth of the god Dionysus-are used to suggest the "raging passion" and "cooling reason" that divide Oedipus' personality. When he acts in haste or with anger, for example, Oedipus speaks in images that suggest fire. When he pauses to consider his actions or reflect on his decisions, Oedipus speaks in images that suggest water.
Also pay attention to Sophocles' use of the image "ship of state." When this image appears, Sophocles is comparing Oedipus as ruler to the captain of a ship. We use this same image today when referring to the president as head of state. The image suggests that a ruler is in command of a vessel, and that it is his responsibility to navigate the ship, or state, to safe ports. When the captain is unreliable or irresponsible, the ship of state will flounder, and may even sink.
Sophocles also frequently uses images of blindness and sight. The image of blindness plays a major role in expressing the spiritual theme of the plays. Parallels are drawn between being physically blind and spiritually blind, especially in comparing Oedipus and Teiresias. For example, Teiresias is physically blind but can "see" the awful truth of Oedipus' birth and the oracle's prophecy. Oedipus, even though he has physical sight, is spiritually blind to the truth about his murder of Laios and marriage to Iocaste. When the truth is finally revealed to him, Oedipus physically blinds himself, but is finally able to "see" the spiritual truth of the gods. In Oedipus at Colonus Sophocles explores the image of blindness in more detail. He shows you the blinded Oedipus living his life in exile and acquiring wisdom and self-knowledge.
LANGUAGE AND AUTHOR'S STYLE
The Greek playwrights wrote in poetry to give dignity and beauty to their dramatic creations. Unfortunately you are working with a translation of the original Greek language. Many versions-some in poetry and some in prose-of the Oedipus story now exist. You may, for example, be reading the Peter Arnott translation, which is a poetic version of the original story. Or you may be reading Paul Roche's translation, which is a line-by-line transposition of Roche's words for Sophocles' original words.
You may even be reading the William Butler Yeats translation, which omits 90 of the last 226 lines of the play, credits some of Oedipus' dialogue to other characters in the play, and places certain speeches by Iocaste 100 lines from their original position in Sophocles' script!
Obviously you can anticipate some differences of opinion and interpretation, of a play or a character whenever you are reading a translation. Although each translator captures the basic episodes of the play, there may be individual scenes or lines of dialogue in one edition that don't agree at all with other translations. More likely than not, this difference in translations will provoke a great deal of discussion, and may even result in interesting and perceptive interpretations of the play.
This guide uses translations of Oedipus the King and Antigone by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald, two leading theater scholars and historians. The translation of Oedipus at Colonus is by Robert Fitzgerald alone. These were chosen because their simple prose dialogue is clear, direct, and dramatic. They also re-create what theater scholars believe is the flavor of the historical style and form in Greek tragedy. Fitts and Fitzgerald don't indulge in the high-sounding language, archaic words, pretentious dialogue, or literary obscurities that are found in other English-language versions of the plays. For your first reading of a famous Greek tragedy, these modern prose translations are a good choice.Table of Contents | Oedipus the King Message Board | Oedipus at Colonus Message Board | Antigone Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version