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Oedipus has found a dependable ally in Theseus, whom he addresses here as "dearest friend". His plight is pitiable as his sole supports, Antigone and Ismene, are cruelly torn away from him. Note how he is able to recognize Theseus only by his voice amid the chorus' loud protests against Creon's attempt to abduct Oedipus and his girls. His hearing is sharp, though he is old and blind. In the absence of Antigone, he has to rely only on himself and on his newfound friends in Colonus.
Theseus refers to the chorus' shouting as a "panic fear." Pan, the Greek god of shepherds and their flocks, was reputed to be the cause of sudden and groundless fear, especially that felt by travelers in remote and desolate places. This irrational fear induced by Pan was often referred to as "panic fear". Theseus has to leave his devotions to Poseidon incomplete due to this sudden interruption by the alarm and confusion raised by the chorus. The Greeks did not like to leave their religious rituals incomplete as it could incur the wrath, or at least the displeasure, of the gods. Yet Theseus hurriedly leaves his sacrificial rituals to Poseidon halfway through to rush to Oedipus' aid. This shows his great concern and affection for Oedipus. He prefers to risk the ire of the gods in order to help a fellow human in distress. This reveals King Theseus as a great humanitarian, Sophocles' tribute to Athens' founder.
Theseus' words and actions here reflect the maturity and wisdom of Sophocles' own contemporary, the great Athenian statesman, Pericles. Like Theseus, Pericles too was a man of powerful character -- sober, reserved and incorruptible. Sophoclean audiences watching Theseus in this play (when performed, circa 401 B.C.) would immediately recall their ideal leader who, unfortunately, died in the great plague of 429 B.C. In fact, Athens is known to have had two "golden ages" -- one under its founder, Theseus, and the other during the age of Pericles. Both these leaders sought to make Athens an ideal democracy in which there would be a perfect balance between the interests of the state and of individual citizens.
In his long speech, Theseus underscores the care and concern that Athens displays to all its citizens, even to those weaker outsiders, like Oedipus, Antigone and Ismene, who seek its shelter. He sends his men rushing out to save the two girls in order to relieve the misery of Oedipus, who is already tragically overburdened with grief. He cannot tolerate such impudent defiance of Athenian law as Creon's action entails. So his actions here vindicate Athens' well-deserved reputation for its open-door policies and its protection of any strangers seeking refuge in its fair domain.
Fortunately, for the hapless Oedipus, both Theseus and the elderly citizens of Colonus decide now to give him their full patronage and protection. Their generosity is in dire contrast to the unscrupulous machinations of cruel and domineering men like Creon. Sophocles effectively depicts, in the difference between Theseus and Creon as statesmen, the distinction between Athens, known for its fairness and justice, and its rather intolerant enemy, the belligerent city- state of Sparta. In Creon lingers a coldness of spirit and ruthless detachment. Theseus is a man willing to give someone a second chance and not base his judgment solely on another's past actions, whereas Creon is determined to defile Oedipus in an attempt to secure the loyalty of Theseus.