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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Oedipus Trilogy by Sophocles-Online Book Summary
Table of Contents | Oedipus the King Message Board | Oedipus at Colonus Message Board | Antigone Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version

OEDIPUS THE KING

EXODUS (continued)

Before Creon grants Oedipus his wish to be exiled, he asks that Oedipus abide by the will of the gods. Oedipus agrees, but asks for three promises in return. First, Oedipus begs Creon to give Iocaste a proper funeral. Second, Oedipus pleads to be exiled to the wild hills of Cithaeron, where his father and mother had left him to die as an infant, thus completing the circle of his life. Third, Oedipus asks Creon to take a solemn oath to care for Oedipus' and Iocaste's small daughters, Antigone and Ismene.

As Creon pauses to consider these requests, the Chorus, moved to tears, begins to pray for Oedipus' children. You can imagine the audience also crying and reaching out to comfort Oedipus in his misery.

Next Sophocles brings on Oedipus' children. This not only increases your sympathy for Oedipus, it also provides a link to the next two plays in this trilogy, where Oedipus' children-especially Antigone-play a greater role.

Whatever you think Creon was planning to decide for Oedipus, public sympathy would be swerved totally to the blinded hero's side, as Antigone and Ismene are led to the center of the stage. The girls don't speak any dialogue, but Oedipus hears them weeping. He clutches his daughters to him, greeting them with the ironic news that he is their "brother." He tells them that when they were born he had no sight, no knowledge that Iocaste was also his mother. But he isn't making excuses for himself. Recalling the agony of his horrible crimes, Oedipus weeps aloud as he imagines his daughters' cursed future. He again begs Creon to be the father of his daughters. Creon takes pity on them and agrees to act as their guardian; he and Oedipus shake hands to seal this solemn pledge. Thankful for this act of kindness, Oedipus immediately offers a prayer for his daughters' happiness.


Creon agrees to send Oedipus away from Thebes at once, hoping time can ease his pain. There is a final, happy reconciliation as Oedipus and his daughters go their separate ways into the palace. As the blinded king exits, ready for his life in exile, he appears to have lost everything. Yet even while you pity him, you can still see that he's a hero. He has faced his tragic punishment with incredible courage; he never held back, but plunged boldly after truth and made no excuses for himself. He has examined the depths of his soul and judged himself honestly. He has put his public duty ahead of his own desires. As he leaves the stage, he is stripped of everything but his own integrity and inner strength. But because he has proven his greatness, you come away admiring him more than ever and trying to learn from his example.

NOTE:

Before hearing the Chorus' final judgment, let's pause and consider Creon's role in the resolution of the play. At first glance you might have expected Creon to be bitter or angry when he returned to Thebes as the new king. After all, Oedipus earlier humiliated and disgraced him in front of the citizens of Thebes and wrongly accused him of conspiring with Teiresias. The fact that Creon now treats Oedipus with sympathy and kindness should suggest that he is an honest and forgiving man. Surely with these noble characteristics he will prove to be an excellent ruler.

Some readers suggest that Sophocles paints a sympathetic portrait of Creon here to suggest that the transfer of power will be smooth and efficient. The political order survives, even when a leader is disgraced. Unlike some modern political elections where a victorious candidate pledges to undo his former rival's policies, Creon seems filled with compassion and understanding for his defeated rival. But this is no guarantee that Creon will be a better king. In fact, to some readers he seems less heroic than Oedipus-the good old days of Oedipus' glory are gone forever. Other readers suggest that Creon's nobility introduces a note of hope at the conclusion of the play. They hold the opinion that Creon represents the dawning of a new age of reason and conciliation in the political climate of Thebes. Creon's ability to understand and forgive Oedipus signals that his rule of Thebes will be characterized by fair play, compassion, and compromise.

The final segment of the Exodus summarizes the plot of the story and presents the moral lesson. The Chorus reminds the audience that Oedipus was once a powerful king envied by his followers. Now, however, ruin has swept over him. The Chorus tells the audience to take heed of the example of Oedipus' pride and arrogance in questioning the will of the gods:

Let every man in mankind's frailty
Consider his last day; and let none
Presume on his good fortune until he find
Life, at his death, a memory without pain.

When they have delivered this final verdict, the Chorus slowly exits in a ritual procession. They circle the holy altar in the center of the stage and then exit left and right in single file. The audience has time to pause and consider the wisdom of what the Chorus has said. Questions of Oedipus' guilt and innocence, power and pride, suffering and sacrifice are still revolving in your mind. The oracles have spoken in this play, and the audience has been shown that prophecy is never to be questioned.

Table of Contents | Oedipus the King Message Board | Oedipus at Colonus Message Board | Antigone Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
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