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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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Notes

The entry of the chorus introduces a new element in the play. Although they are elderly citizens, they are firm and purposeful as they seek to evict Oedipus from the grove. They are afraid that the wrath of the Goddesses may fall on them unless Oedipus moves away from the sacred ground he has violated. The chorus appears antagonistic, if not openly hostile, to the intruders. They act as any citizens of a city-state would during a period of unrest; they are fearful and distrustful of strangers. They barrage Oedipus with a series of questions about whom he is and why he refuses to leave this sacred ground. After discovering his identity, they are repelled; but after hearing Antigone's touching plea both for herself and her aged father, they decide to help rather than hinder him.

The chorus provides a brief but effective description of this hallowed grove. It is a silent glade with grassy coverts where a pool of water blends its stream with the flow of honeyed offerings from devotees of the gods. Apart from their choral speeches/chants, the chorus also lends dramatic touches to the scene by their strident movements as they search for Oedipus in the grove. The choreography here is broken and irregular as befits the purpose of their action. Even their words are disjointed, and there is no regular pattern of strophe and anti-strophe in this Parados. The usual Choric song always has such poetic divisions. In this scene, Antigone's helpful advice and loyalty to Oedipus is revealed. She knows that as defenseless strangers, they must conform to local customs and yield to the dictates of the citizens, 8yet her finest moment in this scene occurs when Antigone moves towards the chorus and pleads for her father's safety. In her plea, Sophocles emphasizes the theme of a common bond of humanity shared by both the people of Colonus and strangers. Her appeal for mercy is based on basic human values and has the desired effect both on the reader and the chorus.

Above all, the scene highlights the desperate plight of Oedipus who has fallen from public favor and his former glory. Sophocles underscores the theme of Oedipus as a pariah. He no longer has any materialistic desires and seeks only a place to die in peace, yet he is a scourge to everyone he meets. His perpetual wandering as a homeless exile reflects man's unending strife. Because of Antigone's speech, the reader sympathizes with the toil-worn old man whom the chorus treats like a social leper, fearing he will bring doom to their city.


A final point to note is the amazing diversity of phrases that Sophocles uses to describe Oedipus' outcast state. He is referred to as "vagrant...grey-beard," "tired vagabond", "dreadful to see and dreadful to hear", "trespasser.... led by another's eyesight", "a man of woes", "a stranger on strange soil", "toil-worn wanderer" and "miserable/hapless Oedipus". Throughout the scene, Sophocles reiterates and skillfully blends together the Themes of time and age, sight and blindness, hate and love, reverence and religion, alienation from society and inclusion within it.

Annotations:

1. Zeus/Jove: the youngest son of Gonus, whom he defeated to become the supreme god. He is called the "bright" god of the sky and weather and is associated with most aspects of human life. In Roman myth, he is known as Jupiter/Jove.

2. Laius and the race of Labdacus: Laius is the grandson of Cadmus, founder of Thebes, through his son Polydorus. (See literary history for the complete story of the curse upon Laius and his family.)

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