Oedipus the King (also known as Oedipus Rex and Oedipus Tyrannos, Oι̉δίπoυς τύραννoς in Greek) is a Greek tragedy, written by Sophocles around 425 BC. The play was the second of Sophocles' three Theban plays to be produced, but comes first in the internal chronology of the plays, followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone.
The subject of the play is Oedipus, son of King Laius of Thebes and Queen Jocasta, also known as Iocaste; a mythical character who was sent to be exposed with his ankles bound and left for dead on a mountainside as an infant in an effort to avoid a prophecy that he would kill his father. However, he was found by a shepherd and raised in the court of King Polybus of Corinth and his wife Merope. Hearing from an oracle that he was destined to kill his father and marry his mother, and believing Polybus and Merope to be his real parents, he left Corinth. Meeting Laius by chance on a road and not recognizing him, Oedipus became involved in a fight with Laius and killed him. Oedipus went on to solve the Sphinx's riddle, "What uses four legs in the morning, two in the day, and three at night?"--the answer is Man--and his reward for this is the kingdom of Thebes, and the hand of Jocasta; again, neither recognizes the other.
The play begins after Thebes has been struck with a plague by the gods in outrage at Oedipus' unintentional wrongdoing. The play shows Oedipus' investigation, in which he curses and promises to exile those responsible for the murder. Although the blind prophet Tiresias explicitly tells Oedipus at the beginning of the play that he is the cause of the plague, Oedipus at first does not understand. Instead he accuses Tiresias of conspiring with Creon, Jocasta's brother, to overthrow him.
Oedipus then calls for a former servant of Laius, the only surviving witness of the murder, who fled the city when Oedipus became king. Soon a messenger from Corinth also arrives to inform Oedipus of the death of Polybus, whom Oedipus still believes is his real father, until the messenger informs him that he was in fact adopted. In the subsequent discussions between Oedipus, Jocasta, the servant, and the messenger, Jocasta discovers the truth and runs off; Oedipus learns the truth more slowly, but later runs off-stage as well. The chorus fills in the unseen details: Jocasta has hanged herself, and Oedipus, upon discovering her body, blinds himself with the brooches (long gold pins with a pointed end) of her dress. The play ends with Oedipus entrusting his children to Creon and going into exile, as he promised at the beginning.
The play depends very heavily on dramatic irony. At one point, Oedipus and Jocasta discuss the oracle, dismissing it as its prophecies have apparently not come to pass. The audience was expected to understand Oedipus' history well before he does.
Some of the story revolves around how the famous prophecy regarding Oedipus's fate changed. While Oedipus is told that he will murder his father and wed his mother (ln 752-57), his parents were only told that their son would murder his father (ln 676-78).
Oedipus is mentioned once in the Iliad of Homer: "Mecisteus went once to Thebes after the fall of Oedipus, to attend his funeral, and he beat all the people of Cadmus." (Book 23, ln 756).
There is also a reference to Oedipus in the Odyssey of Homer; when Odysseus goes down to the underworld he meets Epicaste the mother and wife of Oedipus, and the story of Oedipus is then briefly told (11.271-280).
This play was performed at the Dionysia, the fertility festival of Dionysos.
There is a pun in the original Greek that would have linked Oedipus's name, Swollen Feet (a reference to his childhood injury) and Swollen Head (a reference to Hubris, the sin of excessive pride, or believing ones self to be better or stronger than the gods).
This play could be considered as one of the first surviving detective stories since it involves the investigation of a murder, the gathering of evidence and a surprising, and tragic, twist.
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Oedipus the King