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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



In celebration of Theseus' pledge to protect Oedipus and his daughters, the Chorus chants a lyrical song praising the beauty of the sacred grove at Colonus and of the Athenian countryside.


Creon enters the grove to persuade Oedipus to return to Thebes. He tries to convince Oedipus that he is concerned only with his well-being and happiness, and that the people of Thebes are in need of their former king's wisdom and leadership.

Oedipus reacts quickly telling Creon that he is a hypocrite and a traitor. Oedipus goes on to tell Creon that he knows about the oracles' prophecy, and that he suspects Creon would keep him prisoner on the outskirts of Thebes until he died, and then bury him in the city in order to secure the good fortune promised by the prophecy.

Knowing that persuasion is impossible, Creon has his men seize Antigone. He tells Oedipus that Ismene has already been taken prisoner, and that both daughters will be taken back to Thebes as hostages until Oedipus returns there himself. The Chorus tries to prevent this seizure but is too weak and too old to stop Creon's men. Suddenly, Theseus and his followers appear and rescue Oedipus. Theseus sends his party ahead to rescue Antigone and Ismene, telling Creon that he himself will be held prisoner until the daughters are safely returned to their father.

Creon protests that he is a king and can't be treated this way. Theseus, a king himself, dismisses these arguments and marches off to secure the rescue of Antigone and Ismene. The Chorus consoles Oedipus, who again pronounces his innocence and ignorance of crimes committed against the gods.


The Chorus surrounds Oedipus and sings a song of victory, praying to the gods to support Theseus in his battle with Creon for the rescue of Antigone and Ismene.


Theseus and his followers return happily with Antigone and Ismene, rescued after a bitter struggle with Creon and his band of warriors. Oedipus welcomes his daughters and embraces Theseus, who is now being honored by the Chorus. Suddenly a stranger appears and claims to be a relative of Oedipus. It is Polyneices, who has come to seek Oedipus' blessing before attacking Thebes. Oedipus refuses to speak to Polyneices at first, saying "his voice is hateful to me."


Following a tense argument between Oedipus and Polyneices, the Chorus sings a sad song about the suffering and misery that signals old age.


Polyneices finally enters the grove and laments the misery he has caused his father and sisters by not helping them during their long exile from Thebes. He tells his father that he was robbed of the throne by his younger brother, Eteocles. Polyneices now plans to revenge himself by securing an army and attacking Thebes, and he wishes to have Oedipus' blessing because the oracles have predicted that whoever wins the favor of Oedipus will be victorious in the battle.

Oedipus rejects Polyneices' request and predicts that his oldest son will never be victorious in the battle. He further prophesies that both of his sons will be overcome with grief and die on the battlefield. He orders Polyneices to leave Colonus.

Before he leaves, Polyneices begs Antigone to give him a proper burial if he is killed in the battle for Thebes. Antigone promises to honor Polyneices' request, and brother and sister embrace for the last time.

A foreboding crash of thunder interrupts the scene, and Oedipus asks the Chorus to send for Theseus at once. The thunder grows louder as Oedipus suddenly becomes frightened. Antigone sees the concerned look on her father's face and asks what is wrong. Oedipus confesses that his life will soon end and that the thunder is a sign the gods are summoning him to his death.

When Theseus enters, Oedipus calls him aside and warns him to keep secret what he's about to hear. Oedipus leads Theseus to the place where he will die and reveals the "holy mystery" that will benefit Athens after his death. Antigone and Ismene accompany their father part of the way to the sacred shrine in the grove and then halt as Oedipus enters to die.


The Chorus sings a prayerful ode to the gods, asking them to let Oedipus die in peace and to enjoy a happy journey to the afterworld.


Within moments, a messenger enters to announce that Oedipus is dead. The messenger says that Oedipus led Theseus and his daughters deep into the grove and said his farewell to them. He asked Theseus to care for his daughters after his death and then sent them away from him. Only Theseus accompanied Oedipus from that point on.

The messenger continues that as the two men walked along, Oedipus suddenly disappeared. Theseus was left alone, observing in wonder and awe the death of Oedipus. The messenger comforts the Chorus by saying that Oedipus obviously died without pain or agony. As the messenger concludes his story, Antigone and Ismene enter in mourning. They are frightened about what the future might hold for them now that their father is dead, but Theseus tells them that he will protect them always. Antigone asks to see her father's grave, but Theseus says the sacred location can't be revealed because Oedipus wished no one to disturb the quiet of his resting place. Antigone then decides to return with Ismene to Thebes, hoping to prevent the predicted deaths of her brothers on the battlefield. The Chorus concludes the play by saying, "Now let the weeping cease."


In Oedipus at Colonus Sophocles reaches the zenith of his career, depicting with merciless clarity the decline and death of a great classical figure. The play recounts the original legend and puts to rest the troubled chronicle of Oedipus' children. There is much to recommend the play as an example of three-dimensional characterization and a tribute to the enduring and redeeming power of suffering. Oedipus achieves grandeur and dignity in this final play that deals with his life, and you are given a poignant sketch of a once-proud man who achieves wisdom in old age and peace in death.

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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Oedipus Trilogy by Sophocles-Study Guide

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