Oedipus at Colonus

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Oedipus at Colonus Lines 1646-2001 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Thunder crashes, terrifying the chorus. Oedipus, sensing his imminent death, asks for someone to bring Theseus. The thunder sounds again and the chorus cries out in terror. As the thunder and lightning continue, Oedipus tells his children that his end has come and he may die at any minute.
The thunder signals that the gods themselves are involved in Oedipus's fate. Oedipus has become like a prophet—he knows the hour of his death and what he must do when that time comes.
Themes
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
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The chorus calls for Theseus to come quickly. When the king arrives, Oedipus says that he wants to fulfill the pledge he made to Theseus. Theseus asks what he needs to do. Oedipus responds that he will lead Theseus to the place where Oedipus will die. Only Theseus will know where it is, and he must never reveal the secret for as long as he lives. Upon his deathbed, the Theseus and each of his descendants may pass along the secret of Oedipus's grave site. If this is done, the presence of Oedipus's burial place near Athens will bless and defend the city.
The powerful Theseus has recognized the importance of Oedipus as a protector of Athens. Theseus has been good to his word in his dealings with Oedipus, so Oedipus trusts Theseus to keep the secret of his burial place. A closeness seems to have developed between the two men—it is Theseus, after all, who will be with Oedipus in his final moments.
Themes
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
Oedipus rises to his feet on his own power and motions for his children to follow him. Without their aid, the blind man moves toward his final resting place. His daughters, Theseus, and Theseus's attendants exit with him.
Oedipus is inspired with new strength and stamina, as well as an ability to sense where he is going, despite his blindness. These changes show that he is now favored by the gods.
Themes
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
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, to the Furies, to the gatekeeper of Hades, to make Oedipus's passage to the underworld an easy one, and to let him rest at last.
Oedipus is no longer a cursed man to be feared, but a man whose suffering has earned him a peaceful eternal rest.
Themes
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
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A messenger enters with the news that Oedipus is dead. He gives an account of what happened. The whole party followed Oedipus down a steep descent to a place where Oedipus stopped. His daughters then bathed him in spring water and dressed him in linen. Thunder boomed, and Oedipus embraced his weeping daughters and told them of his boundless love for them. Then the voice of a god cried out from the sky that it was time for Oedipus to fulfill his task.
The prayers of the chorus appear to have been answered—the gods were personally monitoring the rituals of Oedipus's death, moving the process along. Oedipus is depicted as being at peace with his death—he does not fight it, he accepts it. He has been granted a peaceful death with his daughters at his side.
Themes
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
Oedipus asked Theseus to swear to watch over his daughters. Theseus pledged to do so. Oedipus then gave a final blessing to his children and told them and everyone besides Theseus to go. The party moved away, and when they looked back, Oedipus had vanished and Theseus stood covering his eyes as if he'd seen something terrible and amazing. Then Theseus knelt and prayed to the gods.
It's common for dramatic events to happen offstage in Greek theater and then be reported onstage by a messenger. But in this case, whatever happened was so awesome that even the messenger wasn't allowed to see it. Oedipus's death is a kind of supernatural miracle.
Themes
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
As the messenger stops speaking, Antigone and Ismene enter, chanting a funereal dirge. Answering questions from the chorus, Antigone confirms the miraculous nature of Oedipus's death. Overcome by grief, Antigone says that now, without their father, she does not know where she and her sister will go, or to whom they can turn.
Antigone has supported and advised her father up until now. In her grieving, Antigone reveals her forceful and passionate personality. She and Ismene are now orphans without a home.
Themes
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Theseus enters and tells the daughters to dry their tears, since to grieve too much after Oedipus received such a blessing might anger the gods. Antigone begs to see her father's tomb, but Theseus says he cannot allow it, citing his oath to Oedipus to keep the location secret. Antigone accepts his decision and ceases her grieving, but asks that she and her sister be sent back to Thebes to try to prevent the war between their 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.
Oedipus's transformation into a heroic protector of Athens is now complete. Antigone accepts Theseus's refusal because she knows it follows her father's wishes, and because she, too, has learned to obey the gods. In Sophocles's Antigone, which takes place after Antigone has returned to Thebes, she does not accept Creon's refusal when it goes against her promise to bury Polynices, because she knows that breaking an oath is an offense to the gods.
Themes
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon