After years of reflection, Oedipus realizes he was not treated fairly by the people of Thebes, by his own sons, and by Creon in particular. They took advantage of his misery and banished him forever—in his moment of greatest agony he let them, even asked them to banish him. Now, stung and angered by Creon's insults, Oedipus turns to the question of justice: "Come, tell me: if, by an oracle of the gods, some doom were hanging over my father's head that he should die at the hands of his own son, how, with any justice, could you blame me?" Oedipus killed a man in self-defense, not knowing that man was his father. So how, he asks, could Creon condemn such an unwitting act with any real sense of justice.
Oedipus finds the justice he was denied by his own family and city of Thebes in Theseus and Athens. At last, Oedipus has found a ruler and a people who will not torment him for things he didn't mean to do. Theseus himself makes this plain to Creon when Creon tries to kidnap Oedipus: "You have come to a city that practices justice, that sanctions nothing without law." Unlike the Thebans, who seem caught in an endless cycle of vengeance, Athens is held up as an ideal city, founded on the rule of law.
Justice Quotes in Oedipus at Colonus
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.
now turn your glowing praises into action!
your words like honey—your actions, drawn swords.
that sanctions nothing without law, but you,
you flout our authorities, make your inroads,
seize your prizes, commandeer at will!
Tell me, did you imagine Athens stripped of men,
peopled by slaves? Myself worth nothing?
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.
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?
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.
you and your great country. Here among you,
you alone of all mankind—
I have discovered reverence, humanity
and lips that never lie.
why fill the air with empty boasting?
to beg too long, or a man to receive help,
then fail to treat a fellow victim kindly.
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.