Oedipus Rex

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Oedipus Rex, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The ancient Greeks believed that their gods could see the future, and that certain people could access this information. Prophets or seers, like blind Tiresias, saw visions of things to come. Oracles, priests who resided at the temples of gods—such as the oracle to Apollo at Delphi—were also believed to be able to interpret the gods' visions and give prophecies to people who sought to know the future. During the fifth century B.C.E., however…

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The play begins with a declaration from the oracle at Delphi: Thebes is suffering because the person guilty of the murder of King Laius has not been brought to justice. Oedipus sets himself the task of discovering the guilty party—so guilt, in the legal sense, is central to Oedipus Rex. Yet ultimately it is not legal guilt but the emotion of guilt, of remorse for having done something terrible, that drives the play.

After…

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When Oedipus publicly declares his intention to solve the mystery of King Laius's murder, he says, "I'll start again—I'll bring it all to light myself." Oedipus's vision and intelligence have made him a great king of Thebes—he solved the riddle of the Sphinx and revitalized the city. But he is blind to the truth about his own life. It takes the blind prophet, Tiresias, to point out his ignorance and to plant the first…

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The terrible deeds that are Oedipus's undoing actually took place long before the play begins. King Laius has been dead for many years, Oedipus has ruled for some time, and his marriage to Jocasta has produced four children. They might have all remained happy in their ignorance had the plague not come to Thebes and the oracle not commanded that the murderer of Laius be found. Good king that he is, Oedipus swears he…

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In his quest for truth, Oedipus is a man of constant action. When the priests come to ask for his help, he has already dispatched Creon to the oracle to find out what the gods suggest. When the chorus suggests that he consult Tiresias, Oedipus has already sent for him. Oedipus decides quickly and acts quickly—traits his audience would have seen as admirable and in the best tradition of Athenian leadership. But Oedipus's tendency…

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