Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus (King Oedipus)

     Sophocles might be the best-known classical era Greek poet for modern readers and authors.  Not only did Aristotle use his play, Oedipus Tyrannus (Oedipus the King) to anchor the dramatic portion of the most famous work of literary criticism in the ancient and medieval world, but Freud singled out a specific speech by Jocasta in support of his claim that his theory of the human unconscious was universal and not an artifact of C19 European life.  How might the wide-spread cultural familiarity with the Oedipus plot have shaped later authors' views of Greek ideas of fate, justice, the gods and oracles?  Contrast what you find there with Aeschylus' plays and the same concepts used differently there.

1)  What is the relationship between the two big tests Oedipus  faces in his life?  I.e., how does the answer to the Sphinx's  riddle relate to his solution to the oracle's puzzle?  Why  present life as a problem to be solved?

2)  Compare Oedipus and Teiresias, especially their  circumstances.  How does what they are affect what they know, and  why do you suppose Sophocles depicted them that way?  How do  their situations establish a theme in the play?

3)  What does Teiresias mean by saying "This day will bring your birth and your destruction.How is this statement related to the play's  central dilemma?

4)  What words trigger Oedipus's onrush of memory and why?  What  other ramifications does those words have in this plot and others  we have read so far?

5)  What is the Chorus's attitude toward fear in the "Destiny"  chorus?  How do you react to that?   (Is pride dangerous in and of itself?)  Compare this chorus' use of "Destiny" as an authorizing power with its use in Aeschylus, where even Clytemnestra uses it to attempt to persuade Orestes not to kill her.

6)  Why is Oedipus so afraid of marrying his mother?  What sorts  of taboos does this play explore and dramatize, and what concerns  are responsible for these taboos' existence and interest?

7)  Why does Oedipus blind himself?  Why attack the eyes?  (Also see #8 below.)

8)  How does the poet use the idea of negation as a key to Oedipus's emotional bleakness?  Consider the occasions on which denial returns like a refrain.  What kinds of things is Oedipus trying to erase or put away from himself and why is he targeting them?     

9)  How is Oedipus' character related to Laios'?  How does the  father's primary characteristic replay itself in the son's  downfall?

10)  How should Jocasta be played?  When does she really begin to  know who Oedipus is, and why does she behave the way she does?