Oedipus at Colonus

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The Chorus Character Analysis

In this play, the chorus represents the elder citizens of Colonus. Sophocles's choruses react to the events of the play. The chorus speaks as one voice, or sometimes through the voice of its leader. It praises, damns, cowers in fear, asks or offers advice, and generally helps the audience interpret the play.

The Chorus Quotes in Oedipus at Colonus

The Oedipus at Colonus quotes below are all either spoken by The Chorus or refer to The Chorus. 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 1-576 Quotes
Off and gone from the land—before you fix
some greater penalty on our city.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 250-251
Explanation and Analysis:

The Chorus speaks these lines to Oedipus shortly after his arrival at Colonus, near Athens, and after he has just revealed his identity.

The tale of Oedipus's past – what takes place in Oedipus Rex – is a tragic one, and well-known by people from places far beyond Thebes. Thebes was the city Oedipus once ruled, but from which he was exiled after it was revealed that he had unknowingly killed his father, married his mother, and in doing so brought the wrath of the gods against Thebes. Aware of Oedipus's history, the Chorus wants to make sure that Athens is not affected by the fate which plagues Oedipus. This scene reveals a key belief about fate and guilt – that it travels with a person and can even 'infect' their surroundings and the people around them, like a virus. There's a sense that Oedipus's fate can be exchanged with others, with the inhabitants of Colonus or Athens. Oedipus has already disturbed Colonus by directly addressing the area's goddesses, the Furies – and the Chorus wants to resist acquiring any more negative effects that might stem from Oedipus's fate and guilt.

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Lines 1193-1645 Quotes
Like a seer I sense the glory in these struggles—
Rush me, wing me into the whirlwind, O dear god,
like a dove at the thunderheads of heaven I'd look down
I'd scan these struggles, I would see their glory.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Theseus
Page Number: 1226-1229
Explanation and Analysis:

The Chorus speaks these lines after Creon escorts Theseus to the site where Antigone and Ismene are being held.

Here, the Chorus describes its desire to observe the microscopic level of human struggles--between Oedipus, Theseus, and Creon--from a divinely aerial perspective, from a macroscopic view that might allow them to witness the very unfolding of human fate. In witnessing the structure to the divine unfolding of those struggles, the Chorus "would see their glory." There's a sense that there's something glorious about the very nature of human affairs--the way they are structured and how they proceed. Though the Chorus envisions the Athenians winning the struggle, this glory also seems to be something not entirely attributable to one side of the struggle, but to the struggle as a whole--as if the struggle was itself the product of a divine configuration of fate.

Show me a man who longs to live a day beyond his time
who turns his back on a decent length of life,
I'll show the world a man who clings to folly.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: 1378-1380
Explanation and Analysis:

The Chorus speaks these lines shortly before Polynices arrives and speaks with Oedipus.

In this pessimistic speech, the Chorus denounces any person who would desire to live longer than the average life span (or the life span he or she's fated to have), thinking such a person to be foolish. To desire to live longer than a "decent length of life," for the Chorus, must mean that one is out of touch with the reality of life's never-ceasing pain. To not feel the constant pelting and accumulation of pain, to not recognize how age constantly strips humans of what little unspoiled joy remains--this person "clings to folly," and lacks the sensibility to recognize life for what it truly is.

Not to be born is best
when all is reckoned in, but once a man has seen the light
the next best thing, by far, is to go back
back where he came from, quickly as he can.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: 1388-1391
Explanation and Analysis:

The Chorus speaks this lines shortly before Polynices arrives and speaks with Oedipus.

Evolving the pessimism of the previous quote, these lines reinforce the Chorus's total distaste for life--their sense that life is a joyless succession of pain that is better avoided altogether. The best thing, they say, is to simply not be born at all; however, if one does have the misfortune of being born, then the next best thing is to realize how painful life truly is and return to the void of lifelessness--to die--as quickly as possible. This theme is repeated elsewhere in Greek literature, and is generally considered the "wisdom of Silenus" (Silenus was a companion to the god Dionysus): "It is best not to be born at all; and next to that, it is better to die than to live." Thus to "see the light" in life is not to recognize the good in it, but to realize how the world ultimately lacks the kind of goodness humans desire in order to bear their lives.

Lines 1646-2001 Quotes
God of eternal sleep, I call to you,
let Oedipus rest forever.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 1788-1789
Explanation and Analysis:

Wishing Oedipus an eternally undisturbed death, the Chorus speaks these lines shortly before Oedipus' death.

Oedipus has lived an incredibly tragic, unfortunate and unlucky life--death will at once bring an end to all of that as well as unleash Oedipus' divine power: the boon to be bestowed on Athens. As long as Oedipus remains at rest, this boon will serve Athens. The Chorus's wish, then, is at once a wish for Oedipus' suffering to subside, as well as a desire to tap into Oedipus' divine boon. Oedipus almost becomes his death; for Athenians, the memory of Oedipus will be a memory of his death--for, at the point of his death, Oedipus gains his greatest identity. At death, Oedipus at once atones for his crimes and acquires his greatest power.

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The Chorus Character Timeline in Oedipus at Colonus

The timeline below shows where the character The Chorus appears in Oedipus at Colonus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-576
Guilt Theme Icon
More citizens (the chorus) come looking for the stranger who has dared to set foot on the sacred ground... (full context)
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
...as a just city and a protector of the weak. Moved by his speech, the chorus agrees to let the king of Athens decide what should be done. (full context)
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
...their devotion to him, but says he will never help his sons. He tells the chorus that if they help defend him against the men from Thebes who will try to... (full context)
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
The leader of the chorus is moved by Oedipus's request. He tells Oedipus the ritual that must be performed to... (full context)
Lines 577-1192
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
The chorus surrounds Oedipus and presses him to hear the true story of his suffering. Oedipus doesn't... (full context)
The chorus gathers around Oedipus and chants in praise of his new home, the city of Athens,... (full context)
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
...take Oedipus's two daughters away, toward Thebes. As the guards seize Antigone and Ismene, the chorus condemns this action but is unable to stop them. When Creon tries to leave, however,... (full context)
Lines 1193-1645
Justice Theme Icon
The chorus imagines a battle between Theseus and his men and Creon's guards, who took Antigone and... (full context)
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
The chorus surrounds Oedipus and chants about the miseries of life and the certainty of death. The... (full context)
Lines 1646-2001
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Thunder crashes, terrifying the chorus. Oedipus, sensing his imminent death, asks for someone to bring Theseus. The thunder sounds again... (full context)
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
The chorus calls for Theseus to come quickly. When the king arrives, Oedipus says that he wants... (full context)
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
The chorus remains onstage. It gathers at an altar and prays to the gods of the dead,... (full context)
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
...brothers. Theseus agrees to do this and to help in whatever way he can. The chorus tells the daughters not to weep any more, for everything has been set right. (full context)