Oedipus at Colonus is Sophocles' last play, written when he was 90 years old. As such, it should come as no surprise that one of the play's major themes is old age and the end of life. Through Oedipus, who himself is about to die, and to a lesser extent through Creon, the play examines the question of whether or not old age brings wisdom. When Oedipus tells Antigone early in the play that he has learned to accept his suffering the answer appears to be a resounding "Yes." And in his conduct regarding the gods, Oedipus unfailingly accepts the gods' dictates, a profound change from his youthful attempts to thwart the prophecies of the Delphic oracle. Yet in his dealings with other people, Oedipus is still prone to outbursts of holy rage. The subject of one such outburst, Creon responds that "not even the years can bring you to your senses. Must you disgrace old age?" Yet Creon himself seems no wiser, responding to a challenge from Theseus by saying: "But opposing you, old as I am, I'll stop at nothing, match you blow for blow. A man's anger can never age and fade away, not until he dies. The dead alone feel no pain."
Creon's comment seems to point to the play's larger point about old age: that it is awful, full of pain, envy, and loneliness that is only relieved by death. Perhaps, ultimately, that is the wisdom that Oedipus has learned. He does not fight death, as he used to fight the prophecies of the gods. He accepts his coming death, and so his last moments of life, as described by the messenger, are of love, calm, and acceptance. Although his life was one of misery and infamy, in his final hours Oedipus becomes a model of how to die.
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death ThemeTracker
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Quotes in Oedipus at Colonus
you do yourself no good, not now, not years ago,
indulging your rage despite the pleas of loved ones—
blind rage has always been your ruin.
leaves me weak, however just my cause.
But opposing you, old as I am,
I'll stop at nothing, match you blow for blow.
A mans' anger can never age and fade away,
not until he dies. The dead alone feel no pain.
who turns his back on a decent length of life,
I'll show the world a man who clings to folly.
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.
You'll never look on me again, alive.
you and your country and your loyal followers,
may you be blessed with greatness,
and in your great day remember me, the dead,
the root of all your greatness, everlasting, ever-new.
let Oedipus rest forever.