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Background Info (see below)
A brief biography of Sophocles with the historical and literary context of Oedipus at Colonus.
The entire plot of Oedipus at Colonus on one page.
Detailed Summary & Analysis
Detailed summary with side-by-side analysis of every section of Oedipus at Colonus.
Explanations of Oedipus at Colonus's major themes, with color-coordinated theme tracking.
Analysis of Oedipus at Colonus's major symbols.
Oedipus at Colonus's most important quotes, sortable by character, theme, section, or all three.
Description and analysis of all of Oedipus at Colonus's important characters.
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Brief Biography of Sophocles
Considered one of the three greatest playwrights of classical Greek theater, Sophocles was a friend of Pericles and Herodotus, and a respected citizen who held political and military offices in fifth-century B.C.E. Athens. He won fame by defeating the playwright Aeschylus for a prize in tragic drama at Athens in 468 B.C.E. Only seven of his complete plays have survived to reach the modern era, but he wrote more than 100 and won first prize in 24 contests. Best known are his three Theban plays, Antigone, Oedipus Rex, and Oedipus at Colonus. Sophocles's other complete surviving works are Ajax, Electra, Philoctetes, and Trachinian Women. He is credited with changing Greek drama by adding a third actor, reducing the role of the chorus, and paying greater attention to character development.
Historical Context of Oedipus at Colonus
Sophocles completed Oedipus at Colonus and passed away in 405–406 B.C.E., just before the utter defeat of Athens by Sparta at the end of the Pelopponesian War. The defeat led to the replacement of Athenian democracy by a harsh, Spartan-controlled dictatorship known as the Thirty Tyrants. When Oedipus at Colonus was first performed, four years later, at the festival of Dionysus in 401 B.C.E., the Athenian audience may have watched the play's celebration of the glory of Athens through misty eyes. Theseus, in the play, is the mythical founder and reformer of the Athenian state, and Oedipus, through his death, offers the city protection. The audience would have been painfully aware that Athens's golden period had just ended.
Other Books Related to Oedipus at Colonus
Of Sophocles's surviving dramatic works, Antigone, Oedipus Rex, and Oedipus at Colonus treat different episodes of the same legend, using many of the same characters. Sophocles's writing career overlapped with that of Aeschylus and Euripedes, the other great tragic playwrights of fifth-century Athens. Among Aeschylus's best-known tragedies are Seven Against Thebes, Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides. Euripedes's most influential works include Medea, Electra, and The Bacchae.
Key Facts about Oedipus at Colonus
Full Title: Oedipus at Colonus
When Written: 405–406 B.C.
Where Written: Athens, Greece
Literary Period: Classical
Genre: Tragic drama
Setting: The sacred grove of the Furies at Colonus, outside of Athens
Climax: The death of Oedipus
Extra Credit for Oedipus at Colonus
Sophocles's Home Town: Sophocles was born at Colonus, and lived his life in Athens during the city-state's golden years. In Oedipus at Colonus, his final play, he has adapted the Oedipus legend to intersect with Athens' origins and provide a mythical foundation for Athens' glory. Sadly, Athens fell from power just a few years after Sophocles's death.