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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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Notes

Creon's arrival in this scene is unexpected. Instead, it is assumed that Ismene will return and report on whether she has completed the rituals of atonement at the sacred grove for her father's salvation. (The audience does not learn if this sacred task was accomplished before her arrest by Creon). There is an element of dramatic surprise in bringing Creon directly on the scene to negotiate Oedipus' return on behalf of Eteocles and the Thebans. Polyneices will arrive separately in a later scene to seek his father's help for himself and his supporters.

Twice in his speech, Creon praises Athens and shows respect for its citizens. He calls it a city of great power, well deserving and worthy of salvation. These rich tributes to Greece's first city, coming from the mouth of its potential enemy, make the praise ring true. By defending Oedipus and his daughters, the Athenians prove they are worthy of such high regard. Creon also betrays a high notion of himself as he claims that he has condescended to come personally to Colonus in order to fetch Oedipus home. He presents himself falsely as a humble emissary of Thebes.

As the brother of Jocasta, Oedipus' mother, Creon is a bit older than Oedipus. In his two other Theban plays, Oedipus the King and Antigone, Sophocles depicts Creon as a figure of temporal authority. He is a clever, scheming man, even unscrupulous and rather sleazy in his behavior. In a way, he serves as a foil to Oedipus. He represents mundane power as opposed to Oedipus' emergent spiritual power. But he is also a kind of latter day image/reflection of the earlier Oedipus at Thebes.


At first, Creon is smooth, cunning and hypocritical in his dealings with Oedipus and the chorus; as the scene progresses, his perverse motives become more and more apparent as when he seizes Ismene and Antigone and threatens to take Oedipus home by force. He seems easily provoked to violence, for when the chorus intervene to protect Oedipus, Creon goes so far as to physically assault Oedipus. He exposes himself, finally, as a petty tyrant who is not averse to using violent means to secure unjust and unjustifiable ends. But when Theseus enters later in the scene, Creon is intimidated by the forceful dignity of the Athenian king and once more puts on the guise of the smooth-tongued diplomat.

In this first part of Episode II, Oedipus is seen in a favorable light. He appears clearly as the victim, not the aggressor, and even if his notorious temper gets the better of him, it is not without just cause. Oedipus is able to see through Creon's devious schemes right from the start and correctly gauges his ulterior motives. It is Creon's provocation that moves Oedipus to anger over how the Theban King blew hot and cold in the matter of his exile and recall. Oedipus gains sympathy for not being allowed to leave Thebes when he wanted to and then being chased away from it when he reconciled himself to staying there. Now Oedipus is being almost forcibly dragged back. This is, perhaps, one way of presenting Oedipus as a victim of the vagaries of Fate.

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