Oedipus at Colonus

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Redemption and Atonement Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
Old Age, Wisdom, and Death Theme Icon
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Oedipus at Colonus, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Redemption and Atonement Theme Icon

Oedipus killed his father and married his mother, driving his mother to suicide, causing his exile, and ensuring a miserable life for his daughter and traveling companion, Antigone. And yet, Oedipus didn't knowingly commit these acts, didn't wish to commit them, and punished himself harshly by gouging out his eyes and wandering the land as an outcast and beggar.

By accepting his fate and punishment in Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus has atoned for his guilt. He is at peace in the grove of the Furies, the avenging spirits of Greek mythology who punished those who killed a parent or sibling—or who broke their oaths. In addition, in his blindness, he now has powers of prophecy, as well as the power to offer eternal protection to a deserving leader of a just city. Oedipus at Colonus shows Oedipus's final transformation from an outcast in life to a hero in death—a redemption earned through years of hardship and remorse. His miraculous death proves that the gods who brought on his awful fate feel that he has suffered enough and has earned a kind of immortality. They welcome him to the underworld so that he may at last rest in peace.

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Redemption and Atonement Quotes in Oedipus at Colonus

Below you will find the important quotes in Oedipus at Colonus related to the theme of Redemption and Atonement.
Lines 1-576 Quotes
Look through all humanity: you'll never find
a man on earth, if a god leads him on,
who can escape his fate.
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker)
Page Number: 266-268
Explanation and Analysis:

After the Chorus tells Oedipus to leave Colonus, he tries to explain how he's innocent, to a certain extent, of his past crimes, and why the inhabitants of Colonus shouldn't fear him.

The quote is one of Oedipus's pleas to the Chorus to empathize with his situation. Here, we get a subtle glimpse at how Oedipus is beginning to accept the passive nature of his role in the unfolding of his tragic fate.  By appealing to the inescapable nature of fate – by describing fate as something that is fulfilled unavoidably and beyond the control of the person it involves – Oedipus reveals how he has begun to view himself as not entirely responsible for his past crimes (parricide and incest), but as simply being the tool of the gods. By appealing to "all humanity," he absolves himself of any special circumstances that would make him more in control of his fate/actions than others - and thus alleviates some of his guilt, and makes his excessive punishment seem unjust.

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Lines 577-1192 Quotes
Never, I tell you, I will never shrink
from a stranger, lost as you are now,
or fail to lend a hand to save a life.
I am only a man, well I know,
and I have no more power over tomorrow,
Oedipus, than you.
Related Characters: Theseus (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 636-641
Explanation and Analysis:

Theseus speaks these lines when he first enters the play and greets Oedipus.

Theseus is showing a lot of empathy for Oedipus's situation here, putting himself on equal footing with the infamous exile. He claims to "have no more power over tomorrow"--over the future unfolding of fate--than Oedipus. Further, he suggests that this powerlessness is a condition of his being "only a man." In this way, he does not merely sympathize with Oedipus out of pity, but rather empathizes with him out of a sense of being equally susceptible to tragedy and the whims of the gods--as if such susceptibility is a condition of all humanity.  In the same speech as these lines, Theseus explains that he has also experienced exile and isolation in foreign lands.

In this scene, Theseus reveals the selflessness of his character, despite being a person of great importance and authority, as well as his hesitance towards judging strangers--qualities which, for him, seem to constitute the backbone of justice. He is not corrupt and motivated by personal gain, like--as we later discover--Creon and Polynices.

And if,
once I'd come to the world of pain, as come I did,
I fell to blows with my father, cut him down in blood—
blind to what I was doing, blind to whom I killed—
how could you condemn that involuntary act
with any sense of justice?
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker), Creon
Page Number: 1112-1117
Explanation and Analysis:

Oedipus speaks these lines to Creon, who has implied that Oedipus willfully killed his father.

Here, we see Oedipus assert confidence in defending his past actions--we see that Oedipus' view about his responsibility for his crimes has evolved since Oedipus Rex. He acknowledges the full extent of his innocence in the parricide (the killing of one's father)--that the murder was justified with regard to self-defense, as well as the fact that its turning out to be parricidal was something out of his control.

Further, the ironic word-play on Oedipus's blindness continues in these lines. Blindness, here, connotes an innocent sense of ignorance and involuntariness--'ignorance' not in the sense of a willful evasion of the truth, but rather a total lack of being able to know the truth, to know beforehand that it was his father whom Oedipus killed. This understanding of ignorance propels Oedipus's confident questioning of Creon's condemnation. For Oedipus, Creon's sense of justice is twisted--all that matters for him is the bare fact that Oedipus committed parricide; Creon refuses to acknowledge the true complexity of the circumstances. He is incapable of empathizing with Oedipus as intensely as Theseus is.

So now I cry to those Great Goddesses,
I beg them, I storm them with my prayers—
Come to the rescue, fight for me, my champions!
So you can learn your lesson, Creon, learn
what breed of men stands guard around this city.
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker), Creon
Related Symbols: The Grove of the Furies
Page Number: 1155-1159
Explanation and Analysis:

Oedipus speaks these lines shortly after Creon has seized Antigone (Ismene has already been seized). Here, Oedipus appeals to those "Great Goddesses"--likely referring to the Furies he directly addressed upon arriving at the Grove of the Furies in Colonus--and asks them to support him in opposing Creon.

Oedipus equates the "lesson" he wants Creon to learn with comprehending "what breed of men stands guard around this city." This "breed," represented by someone such as Theseus, stands for and upholds a sense of justice that, for Oedipus, is much more virtuous than Creon's (and that Sophocles clearly intends to praise and valorize, as he himself is a citizen of Colonus and Athens). If Creon could come to understand this sense of justice, then his entire project--his corrupt way of trying to manipulate Oedipus into returning to Thebes--would lose its value, since his entire mission is based on self-interest and the gaining of power. Unlike Theseus, Creon gives no regard for whether Oedipus is treated justly or not.

Lines 1193-1645 Quotes
May the gods reward you just as I desire,
you and your great country. Here among you,
you alone of all mankind—
I have discovered reverence, humanity
and lips that never lie.
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker), Theseus
Page Number: 1275-1279
Explanation and Analysis:

Oedipus speaks these lines to Theseus, after Ismene and Antigone have been rescued.

When everyone but his daughters have deserted or cheated him, Oedipus finds he can trust Theseus. Theseus's empathy and levelheadedness in dealing with the plight of Oedipus show a restraint and concern for justice that is uncharacteristic of Creon and Polynices. Oedipus finally encounters someone with a selflessness that stems from a higher principle--justice--as opposed to the self-interested and power-hungry men of Thebes. Oedipus and Theseus are therefore beginning to form a very close bond--and Oedipus wants the boon of his death to reward his new friend.

It isn't good for men with a decent cause
to beg too long, or a man to receive help,
then fail to treat a fellow victim kindly.
Related Characters: Antigone (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 1366-1368
Explanation and Analysis:

Antigone speaks these lines to Oedipus after he (initially) refuses to speak with Polynices.

Antigone believes that Oedipus should give Polynices a chance; considering that Oedipus just received help (having his daughters returned) from Theseus, Antigone feels that Oedipus should heed Polynices' request. In this way, Antigone likens Polynices to a potential victim whom Oedipus might help by speaking with him. Even though Polynices has wronged his father, Antigone seems to think that ignoring him would be an act of injustice by Oedipus; permitting Polynices to speak and have a chance to atone for his wrongdoing would be an act of justice. Further, Antigone reiterates here the logic of Oedipus's former claim to "never honor the gods in one breath / and take the gods for fools the next." To fully honor the justice of Theseus's actions, she feels, would be to honor Polynices' request to speak--this would affirm justice by paying Theseus's help forward.

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.