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OEDIPUS THE KING
The second choral ode explores some of the moral questions raised by Iocaste in the preceding scene. The Chorus debates the nature of the prophecy and the role that oracles play in interpreting the will of the gods. As the Chorus chants, its tone is solemn, expectant, and quietly reverent. There are frequent images that suggest "holy law," "sacred wood," and "holy things."
In the first strophe the Chorus pleads with the gods to provide some moral direction. It prays for strength to help maintain the "laws of the pure universe." It is puzzled by the "ways of right," and needs guidance in unraveling the mysterious oracles and prophecies.
After the Chorus addresses the gods, it turns its attention to Oedipus. First it criticizes him as a tyrant. Then it scolds him for his pride. Finally it criticizes his recklessness. The Chorus is obviously displeased with the actions of the king, and yet it prays that the gods will protect him, because he is the "wrestler for the State." You realize that Oedipus may have human faults, but his failures will have greater impact because he is the king.
A second strophe continues the moral argument, stressing that the "holy laws" of the gods must be preserved above all. The Chorus openly condemns haughtiness and the "high hand" of all those who abuse the power they wield. The Chorus predicts-ominously-that anyone who questions the gods will be "caught up in a net of pain." (Remember Oedipus' lament about "the net" the gods were weaving for him?)
The Chorus then solemnly turns to address the audience, saying that some will lose faith in the oracles and prophecy, but the faithful will stand steadfast in their religious beliefs. Finally the Chorus predicts that those who deny the oracles and prophecy are ignorant of the ultimate truth of the gods.
The second choral ode raises several important issues. First, the Chorus tells the audience that if the holy oracles and prophecy are proved wrong, then the gods themselves may be suspect (this would be an earth-shaking concept for the Greeks). Second, the Chorus tells the audience that anyone who questions the holy oracles and prophecy should be doubted as well. Third, the Chorus tells the audience that men are blind to the truth of oracles and prophecy because they no longer have faith in the gods.
Remember that when the Chorus speaks directly to the audience it is addressing all Athenians, forcing those who may be guilty of these same sins to take heed of Oedipus' imminent downfall. Even though Oedipus is not present on stage at this time, the Chorus is indirectly speaking about him. Its warnings and prayers are part of Sophocles' moral message to the citizens of Athens; dramatically, the Chorus also heightens the suspense by hinting at what is to follow in the play. Even when you know the legend you may be on the edge of your seat, waiting to see what new chunk of dreadful knowledge will be thrown at Oedipus.
As the ideal spectator, the Chorus defines public opinion of Oedipus; it is beginning to express doubts about Oedipus' innocence. Perhaps the people don't support Oedipus anymore, and are preparing to abandon him to his own fate. On the other hand, the Chorus speaks frequently about oracles, prophecy, and the gods; perhaps it is acknowledging that Oedipus is caught up in a web of cruel destiny from which he cannot escape. He did not know Laios was his father, and killed him only by accident. He had no idea Iocaste was his mother. Have you ever been accused of doing something, or hurting someone's feelings, when you had no control over what you were doing? That's Oedipus' problem, only on a much more intense level. Now you will see how the gods-and his mortal countrymen-judge him for it.Table of Contents | Oedipus the King Message Board | Oedipus at Colonus Message Board | Antigone Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version