Oedipus at Colonus

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Polynices Character Analysis

Eldest son of Oedipus and brother of Antigone. When he was in power, Polynices helped to drive his father into exile from Thebes. By the time of Oedipus at Colonus, Polynices had been overthrown by his younger brother, Eteocles, and had himself been banished. Polynices then moved to the city of Argos, married there, and now has raised an army to attack Thebes. He comes to Oedipus asking for forgiveness for his previous sins, but also because the oracles have declared that the side that Oedipus favors will win the battle. Oedipus curses Polynices and predicts that his two sons will kill each other in the battle. Creon's refusal to allow Polynices a proper burial is the conflict at the heart of Sophocles's play Antigone.

Polynices Quotes in Oedipus at Colonus

The Oedipus at Colonus quotes below are all either spoken by Polynices or refer to Polynices. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Oedipus at Colonus published in 1984.
Lines 1193-1645 Quotes
Die and be damned!
I spit on you! Out!—
your father cuts you off! Corruption—scum of the earth!—
out!—and pack these curses I call down upon your head:
never to win you mother-country with your spear,
never return to Argos ringed with hills—
Die by your own blood brother's hand—die!—
killing the very man who drove you out!
So I curse your life out!
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker), Polynices
Page Number: 1567-1574
Explanation and Analysis:

Oedipus speaks these lines in reply to Polynices' request that Oedipus favor his army in the war against Eteocles (Oedipus's second son and Polynices' brother), who has ousted Polynices from Thebes and taken the throne.

Polynices has failed to be loyal to his father; in the past, he abandoned Oedipus by exiling him, yet now Polynices is in dire need of his father's help. Polynices has only sought his father out for his own political gains, since having Oedipus's favor is prophesied to guarantee military victory. This political motivation repulses Oedipus, who refuses to grant Polynices' wish. Oedipus's hatred of Polynices does not budge, and he doesn't sympathize with his son's plea for a second. 

Here, we witness a radical severing of the familial bond. The father-son relationship has entirely eroded, as Oedipus curses his son and condemns him to death, instead of forgiving him. Oedipus inflicts a severe form of "tough love" on Polynices, invoking a primeval justice that will teach Polynices to never again commit such a wrong as exiling one's own father (perhaps in an ironic comparison to Oedipus's murder of his own father). But Polynices will never be able to apply this lesson--he is to die in battle with his brother, and his attempt to reclaim Thebes will fail.

Oedipus therefore enacts his newly-evolved sense of justice--that words should match one's actions. The sympathy Polynices requests of Oedipus does not match the brashness with which he formerly exiled Oedipus.


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Goodbye, dear ones.
You'll never look on me again, alive.
Related Characters: Polynices (speaker), Antigone, Ismene
Page Number: 1631-1632
Explanation and Analysis:

Polynices speaks these lines to Antigone and Ismene after he is condemned by Oedipus.

Polynices accepts Oedipus's curse--that he will die in battle at the hands of his brother. He has no doubt that the curse will come true. Here, we see the real power of prophecy--Polynices has total faith in Oedipus's words, and entirely changes how he thinks about the future. From now on, he will not go into battle with any hope of winning. Polynices has begun to directly live towards his death, and his death alone--there is nothing for him to do or hope for, except to regret the way he has treated his father in the past. 

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Polynices Character Timeline in Oedipus at Colonus

The timeline below shows where the character Polynices appears in Oedipus at Colonus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-576
Guilt Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
...of Thebes. The younger son, Eteocles, seized the throne from and exiled the elder son, Polynices. Polynices fled to Argos and now is raising an army to attack Thebes, where Eteocles... (full context)
Lines 1193-1645
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
...requested a brief audience with Oedipus. Oedipus realizes that the man must be his son, Polynices. (full context)
Guilt Theme Icon
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
...but Antigone and Theseus argue that there's no harm in listening. Oedipus agrees to see Polynices, and Theseus exits. (full context)
Guilt Theme Icon
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Antigone says a man is approaching, alone, in tears. Polynices enters. He is miserable, and weeps at the pitiable state in which he finds his... (full context)
Guilt Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Polynices says his younger brother, Eteocles, seized power in Thebes by bribing people, and then banished... (full context)
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Polynices says that he is a beggar and an exile, like Oedipus, while Eteocles is a... (full context)
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Oedipus unleashes a flood of insults and curses at Polynices. Oedipus says that he is glad that Polynices is an exile, since Polynices helped drive... (full context)
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
Before he goes, Polynices asks his sisters to give him a proper burial if Oedipus's curses come true. Antigone... (full context)