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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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Lines 321-509

In the second section of Episode I, the focus is on the news about the civil war raging presently in Thebes between Polyneices and Eteocles.

The section opens with Ismene embracing her father Oedipus and weeping over his sad fate. In response to his query about his sons, she replies, "It is a dark hour with them, just now."

Oedipus then launches into a long tirade against his sons. He berates them for their lack of spirit and compares them to Egyptian men who "sit within walls and weave" while their wives go out to work for the family. In contrast, he praises his two daughters for their tender concern for him. He is grateful to them for their attempts to relieve his miseries. He compliments Antigone for her solicitous caring for him from her early maidenhood. She has given up the comforts of their palace at Thebes to become his guide. As for Ismene, Oedipus thanks her for bringing him all the news from Thebes. She has even now brought him news of dire consequence without being detected by the suspicious Theban rulers.


Ismene reveals that her news concerns not only the enmity between his two ill-fated sons but also the future of Thebes. In an effort to regain the throne, Polynieces has gone to seek help from his father- in-law, Adrastus, king of Argos and aims to attack and defeat the Thebans or exalt their glory to the high heavens if the Thebans should defeat him.

Besides the news of the civil strife, Ismene reveals what the Delphic oracle has recently prophesied that the future of Thebes is in Oedipus' hands. Because of this, the Thebans plan to capture and keep him just outside their borders since they cannot bury him due to his crime of patricide. They believe that by giving Oedipus an auspicious burial, they will be saved from disaster. In fact, Ismene expects Creon to arrive shortly to take Oedipus back. Surprised at the sudden reversal of his fortune, Oedipus remarks that it is poor consolation for him "to fall when young, and rise up when old". Ismene reminds him that it is ironic how the same gods who uplift him now had once destroyed him in Thebes.

Oedipus utters a frightful curse upon his two sons who hold the kingship dearer than their own father. Because they had not come to his defense when he was sent into exile and disgrace, he dooms them both to defeat in their present strife for the throne. He claims that on his fall from power, he first desired to be stoned to death for his gross misdeeds as King of Thebes, but no one stood up to do so. Later, as he became reconciled to his sad fate, the citizens of Thebes drove him away, and his sons stood by silently as he was made an outcast and a beggar forever.

He thanks his daughters once more and turns to the chorus, asking for their help in standing up to Creon or any other powerful Theban who may come to take him back. The chorus fully sympathizes with him and his daughters. They are willing to protect him now as he may prove to be a "mighty savior" of their land.

The chorus advises Oedipus to perform some rites of purgation in order to placate the deities on whose sacred grove he has trespassed. He must take holy water with clean hands from a perennial spring. Then he must garland the three bowls of water kept there with freshly shorn wool from a yearling ewe, filling the last bowl with water and honey, but no wine. He must pour these libations on to the sacred ground in three streams as he faces east. Finally, he must pray quietly for forgiveness from the gods after strewing "thrice nine sprays of olive-boughs" on this spot. Since this ritual cleansing could also be performed on Oedipus' behalf by someone else, Ismene volunteers to fulfill this act of atonement for her father while Antigone stays back to watch over the old man.

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