Oedipus Rex

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A Shepherd Character Analysis

The former servant of King Laius who took pity on the baby Oedipus and spared his life. The shepherd was also an eyewitness to the death of King Laius. When Oedipus commands the shepherd to tell him what he knows about Oedipus's origins, the shepherd refuses, and only relents under punishment of death.

A Shepherd Quotes in Oedipus Rex

The Oedipus Rex quotes below are all either spoken by A Shepherd or refer to A Shepherd. 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 vs. Free Will Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Oedipus Rex published in 1982.
Lines 998-1310 Quotes
If you are the man he says you are, believe me
you were born for pain.
Related Characters: A Shepherd (speaker), Oedipus, A Messenger
Page Number: 1304-1305
Explanation and Analysis:

When interrogated by Oedipus, the shepherd at first resists his attempts to procure information. Yet eventually the shepherd gives in, condemning Oedipus to his terrifying fate.

These lines articulate an important new position on the role of fate in Oedipus’s destiny. Whereas other characters or critics may believe the tragic action occurred due to a mixture of destiny and human folly, the shepherd clearly attributes what will occur solely to a pre-determined narrative. That Oedipus was “born for pain” implies that his life's torment began precisely at the moment he came into the world: his later actions thus would only fulfill this pre-designed path, rather than carving a new one. This point builds on Jocasta’s claim that his name is “man of agony”—which makes his identity similarly equivalent to pain—and reiterates the power of the gods and fate to control each moment in human affairs. Thus Sophocles moves at this crucial moment in the tragedy to highlight the role of destiny over human action.

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A Shepherd Character Timeline in Oedipus Rex

The timeline below shows where the character A Shepherd appears in Oedipus Rex. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 709-997
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Guilt and Shame Theme Icon
Sight vs. Blindness Theme Icon
...he questions the witness he has sent for. Oedipus takes heart—after all, the witness, a shepherd, had said that a group of thieves killed Laius, not just one man. Jocasta also... (full context)
Lines 998-1310
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Sight vs. Blindness Theme Icon
Finding Out the Truth Theme Icon
...parents were, the messenger says he doesn't know, but was given the baby by another shepherd who was a servant of Laius. (full context)
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Guilt and Shame Theme Icon
Sight vs. Blindness Theme Icon
Finding Out the Truth Theme Icon
...sharply to this last piece of news. Meanwhile, the chorus tells Oedipus that this other shepherd, Laius's old servant, is the same man as the eyewitness to the murder of Laius. (full context)
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Guilt and Shame Theme Icon
Sight vs. Blindness Theme Icon
Finding Out the Truth Theme Icon
Action vs. Reflection Theme Icon
...her. She insists that isn't it, and continues to beg him not to question the shepherd. He won't listen to her. At last, she lets out a wrenching scream, calls Oedipus... (full context)
Sight vs. Blindness Theme Icon
Finding Out the Truth Theme Icon
...he must know the secret of his birth, no matter how common his origins. A shepherd approaches. The messenger confirms that it's the same man who gave him the baby. Oedipus... (full context)
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Guilt and Shame Theme Icon
Sight vs. Blindness Theme Icon
Finding Out the Truth Theme Icon
Action vs. Reflection Theme Icon
Only after Oedipus threatens to torture the shepherd does the shepherd admit that he gave the baby to the messenger. The shepherd then... (full context)
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Guilt and Shame Theme Icon
Sight vs. Blindness Theme Icon
Finding Out the Truth Theme Icon
...pass, Oedipus lets out a terrible cry and rushes into the palace. The messenger and shepherd exit. (full context)