Oedipus Rex

Oedipus Character Analysis

Long before the play begins, Oedipus became king of Thebes by solving the riddle of the Sphinx. His sharp mind and quickness to action have made him an admired and successful leader. When the priests come to petition him after a plague strikes the city, he has already set into motion two plans to deal with the city's crisis. Throughout the play, he makes decisions boldly and quickly, if not always wisely. In his attempts to discover the truth about the murder of Laius, he falsely accuses Creon and Tiresias of treachery, and even forces the reluctant shepherd to tell his story, which publicly reveals Oedipus to be the murderer and husband of his own mother. The same leadership skills that have brought him fame and success—decisive action, a desire to solve mysteries using his intellect—drive him to his own destruction.

Oedipus Quotes in Oedipus Rex

The Oedipus Rex quotes below are all either spoken by Oedipus or refer to Oedipus. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Oedipus Rex published in 1982.
Lines 1-340 Quotes
Here I am myself—
you all know me, the world knows my fame:
I am Oedipus.
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker)
Page Number: 7-9
Explanation and Analysis:

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Now my curse on the murderer. Whoever he is,
a lone man unknown in his crime
or one among many, let that man drag out
his life in agony, step by painful step—
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker)
Page Number: 280-283
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lines 341-708 Quotes
Just send me home. You bear your burdens,
I'll bear mine. It's better that way,
please believe me.
Related Characters: Tiresias (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 364-366
Explanation and Analysis:

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Did you rise to the crisis? Not a word,
you and your birds, your gods—nothing.
No, but I came by, Oedipus the ignorant,
I stopped the Sphinx! With no help from the birds,
the flight of my own intelligence hit the mark.
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker), Tiresias
Page Number: 449-453
Explanation and Analysis:

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No man will ever
be rooted from the earth as brutally as you.
Related Characters: Tiresias (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 488-489
Explanation and Analysis:

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Blind who now has eyes, beggar who now is rich,
he will grope his way toward a foreign soil,
a stick tapping before him step by step.
Related Characters: Tiresias (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 517-519
Explanation and Analysis:

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But whether a mere man can know the truth,
whether a seer can fathom more than I—
there is no test, no certain proof
though matching skill for skill
a man can outstrip a rival. No, not till I see
these charges proved will I side with his accusers....
Never will I convict my king, never in my heart.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 563-572
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lines 709-997 Quotes
Look at you, sullen in yielding, brutal in your rage—
you will go too far. It's perfect justice:
natures like yours are hardest on themselves.
Related Characters: Creon (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 746-748
Explanation and Analysis:

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You who set our beloved land—storm-tossed, shattered—
straight on course. Now again, good helmsman,
steer us through the storm!
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 765-767
Explanation and Analysis:

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Listen to me and learn some peace of mind:
no skill in the world,
nothing human can penetrate the future.
Related Characters: Jocasta (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 780-782
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lines 998-1310 Quotes
Man of agony—
that is the only name I have for you,
that, no other—ever, ever, ever!
Related Characters: Jocasta (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 1176-1179
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Lines 1311-1680 Quotes
"...is there a man more agonized?
More wed to pain and frenzy? Not a man on earth,
the joy of your life ground down to nothing
O Oedipus, name for the ages—"
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 1331-1334
Explanation and Analysis:

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My destiny, my dark power, what a leap you made!
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker)
Page Number: 1448
Explanation and Analysis:

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Take me away, far, far from Thebes,
quickly, cast me away, my friends—
this great murderous ruin, this man cursed to heaven,
the man the deathless gods hate most of all!
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker)
Page Number: 1477-1480
Explanation and Analysis:

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Now as we keep our watch and wait the final day,
count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 1683-1684
Explanation and Analysis:

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Oedipus Character Timeline in Oedipus Rex

The timeline below shows where the character Oedipus appears in Oedipus Rex. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-340
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
The play begins in the royal house of Thebes. The stage directions state that Oedipus solved the riddle of the Sphinx many years earlier and has since ruled as king... (full context)
Finding Out the Truth Theme Icon
Action vs. Reflection Theme Icon
Oedipus asks the priests why they have come. He knows that the city is sick with... (full context)
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Oedipus says he knows of the trouble and has been trying to think of a solution.... (full context)
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Guilt and Shame Theme Icon
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Creon tells Oedipus and the assembled priests the words of the god Apollo, according to the oracle. Before... (full context)
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Oedipus asks Creon about the circumstances of Laius's death. Creon says that Laius left the city... (full context)
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Oedipus orders anyone who knows anything about Laius's murderer to speak, in exchange for light treatment... (full context)
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Oedipus criticizes the people for not hunting more vigorously for Laius's killer. He says he will... (full context)
Lines 341-708
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Oedipus asks Tiresias, the prophet, to help Thebes end the plague by guiding him to the... (full context)
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Now angry, Oedipus accuses Tiresias of plotting to kill Laius. This upsets Tiresias, who tells Oedipus that Oedipus... (full context)
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Oedipus convinces himself that Creon has put Tiresias up to making these accusations in attempt to... (full context)
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As the men continue to argue, Tiresias prophesies that Oedipus will know who his parents are by the end of the day, and that this... (full context)
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...a prophecy. The chorus concludes that it will not believe the serious charges brought against Oedipus without proof. (full context)
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Creon enters, upset that he has been accused of treachery. Oedipus enters. He launches further accusations at Creon. Creon tries to defend himself against the charges.... (full context)
Lines 709-997
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Jocasta tells Oedipus and Creon that it's shameful to have public arguments when the city is suffering. When... (full context)
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Moved by the chorus's expression of loyalty, Oedipus allows Creon to go free, though he says that he still doesn't believe that Creon... (full context)
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Jocasta asks how Oedipus's argument with Creon started. Oedipus tells her that Creon sent Tiresias to accuse Oedipus of... (full context)
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Jocasta's story troubles Oedipus, so he asks Jocasta for more details about the murder of Laius. He grows even... (full context)
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Jocasta asks to know what's troubling Oedipus. Oedipus tells her his life story. His father Polybus and his mother Merope were king... (full context)
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Terrified, Oedipus never returned to Corinth in order to ensure that the prophecy would not come true.... (full context)
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The chorus tells Oedipus to remain hopeful until he questions the witness he has sent for. Oedipus takes heart—after... (full context)
Lines 998-1310
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Jocasta enters and makes an offering to Apollo to appease Oedipus's mind. Just then, a messenger—an old man—arrives from Corinth, with news that the people there... (full context)
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Oedipus enters and learns the news. Relieved, he celebrates with Jocasta and agrees with her that... (full context)
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The messenger asks what Oedipus is afraid of. Oedipus tells him the prophecy—that he would kill his father and sleep... (full context)
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The messenger tells Oedipus that he (the messenger) came upon a baby on the side of Mount Cithaeron, near... (full context)
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Jocasta reacts 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... (full context)
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Jocasta now begs Oedipus to abandon his search for his origins. Oedipus thinks she's worried that he will discover... (full context)
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Oedipus declares that he must know the secret of his birth, no matter how common his... (full context)
Lines 1311-1680
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The chorus, left alone on stage, chants first of Oedipus's greatness among men, and then about how fate brought about his horrifying destruction. The chorus... (full context)
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...locked herself in her room to mourn Laius and her own fate. In hysterical grief, Oedipus ran through the palace searching for Jocasta with sword drawn, cursing her. He knocked down... (full context)
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The chorus and the messenger are struck with grief and pity. Oedipus enters, but they can't bear to look at him. Blood pouring from his eyes, Oedipus... (full context)
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Oedipus gives a long and heart-rending speech about the terrible things he has done and that... (full context)
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Creon enters. The Chorus expresses hope that he will restore order to Thebes. Creon forgives Oedipus for his past actions, and orders that Oedipus be brought inside so that his shame... (full context)
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At Oedipus's request, Creon sends for Antigone and Ismene, who enter, crying. Oedipus hugs them. Weeping, he... (full context)
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Creon then puts an end to Oedipus's time with his daughters, and again refuses to grant Oedipus's wish for immediate banishment until... (full context)