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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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LINES 1556 - 1578: THE FOURTH STASIMON

Summary

This stasimon is a very brief, consisting only of a single strophe and anti-strophe. It is appropriately on the Themes of death and the supernatural. In the strophe, the chorus hails Aidoneus and Persephone, the king and queen of the underworld. They pray to the gods of souls that Oedipus may pass safely to the fields of the dead in the nether world. He has suffered enough sorrow without cause in his lifetime and deserves righteous treatment from a just god who will uplift him after his death.

They then address the Infernal Goddess of earth and the nether kingdom and also Cerebrus, the monstrous three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hell. The chorus hopes that when Oedipus, the stranger, "comes to the nether fields of the dead", Cerebrus should be far away. They finally invoke Hades ("born of Earth, the begotten of the Deep") and call on him to grant Oedipus eternal sleep and perpetual rest.

Notes

Appropriate to the grand finale of Oedipus' death scene, this stasimon strikes a profoundly somber note of grief and mourning. It is the shortest of the four stasima in the play and is focused on Oedipus' impending death, which occurs offstage (following the convention of the Greek stage which avoided showing death scenes on stage). It covers a rather significant and long action (i.e., the death of Oedipus). The prayers of the chorus and their references to the gods of death and the nether world give this stasimon a deeply religious, almost mystical, tone, as its central theme is the mystery of death.


Annotations:

1. Aidoneus: This is the precise Greek word for Hades. The god of the underworld was Haides/Aidoneus, which literally means "the unseen". Here Sophocles uses the more pristine name for Hades whom he also poetically describes as "the King of the Shadows of Night", the ghosts of the dead.

2. Stygian Home: Stygian is the adjective for the word Styx, one of the five rivers flowing through Hades. Across this river, the ferryman, Charon, rowed the dead, provided they had received due rites of burial. Styx was also called Acheron.

3. Queens of the realms of the Earth: This is a reference to Persephone, the Queen of Hades, and to her mother Demeter. When Hades abducted Persephone from the earth and took her to the nether world, Demeter lay a scourge of barrenness on the earth. Persephone was restored to her mother for six months of the year at Eleusis, where Demeter instituted the Eleusinian mystic rites. This myth is an allegory of the cycle of birth and growth, decay and regeneration, as seen in the burial of seeds from which plants grow.

4. Cerebrus: He is a monstrous dog with three heads guarding the entrance to the underworld. He was feared by all whom entered Hades and prevented any of the dead from going out again.

5. Born of Earth, the begotten of the Deep/Tartarus: Some critics take this as a reference to Hades. But Hades is born of Cronus (Time) and Rhea (goddess of Earth's fertility). Other scholars read it as a reference to Tartarus, an elemental deity son of Aither (the deep ocean of the sky) and Gaia (or Earth-mother). Tartarus was also a place of punishment for wicked souls entering Hades, especially those who, like Oedipus, had committed some outrage against the gods during their lives. Hence, the chorus prays that Oedipus escape the tortures of Tartarus in Hades.

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