The ancient Greeks believed that their gods could see the future, and that certain people could access this information. Independent prophets, called seers, 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. Oracles were an accepted part of Greek life—famous leaders and common people alike consulted them for help with making all kinds of decisions. Long before the beginning of Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus has fulfilled one of the most famous prophecies in world literature—that he would kill his father and marry his mother (these events are covered in detail in Sophocles's Oedipus Rex). Despite his efforts to avoid this terrible fate, it came to pass. When Oedipus learned what he had inadvertently done, he gouged out his own eyes, and was banished from Thebes.
As Oedipus at Colonus begins, Oedipus is nearing the end of his life. When he arrives at the grove of the Furies at Colonus, he realizes that in the same prophecy that foretold his fate, the oracle said that this grove would be the spot where he would die. No longer one to question the power of fate, Oedipus refuses to leave the area of the grove. He convinces Theseus, king of Athens, that an oracle has predicted that Oedipus's tomb will serve as a great defense for Athens if Theseus protects Oedipus at the end of his life. Theseus accepts this version of fate, and the supernatural way in which Oedipus dies suggests that the gods have, in fact, afforded the old man some power in death. Based on the predictions of another oracle, both Polynices and Creon come to find Oedipus and try to win his favor—by persuasion or by force—to their respective causes, knowing that whoever has Oedipus on their side is destined to win. But Oedipus has become something of a prophet himself—he predicts the miserable death of Polynices, and Polynices leaves, knowing he cannot avoid his fate. Theseus keeps his word, and Oedipus's death occurs just as he predicted it would.
Fate and Prophecy ThemeTracker
Fate and Prophecy Quotes in Oedipus at Colonus
some greater penalty on our city.
a man on earth, if a god leads him on,
who can escape his fate.
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.
hide your own disgrace, consent—
return to Thebes, the house of your fathers!
your words like honey—your actions, drawn swords.
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.
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?
Rush me, wing me into the whirlwind, O dear god,
like a dove at the thunderheads of heaven I'd look down
I'd scan these struggles, I would see their glory.
you and your great country. Here among you,
you alone of all mankind—
I have discovered reverence, humanity
and lips that never lie.
Die and be damned!
I spit on you! Out!—
your father cuts you off! Corruption—scum of the earth!—
out!—and pack these curses I call down upon your head:
never to win you mother-country with your spear,
never return to Argos ringed with hills—
Die by your own blood brother's hand—die!—
killing the very man who drove you out!
So I curse your life out!
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.