Oedipus the King

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Overview

"Since it was first performed in Athens in the 420s B.C., Oedipus the King has been widely regarded as Sophocles' greatest tragedy and one of the foundation stones of western drama. Taken as a model by Aristotle in his Poetics, it became a yardstick for future generations. Since the play's rediscovery in the Renaissance, audiences - including Sigmund Freud - have found new interpretations and meanings in Sophocles' portrayal of the Theban king, inexorably pursuing the truth, only to discover that he has killed his father and married his mother."
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Overview

"Since it was first performed in Athens in the 420s B.C., Oedipus the King has been widely regarded as Sophocles' greatest tragedy and one of the foundation stones of western drama. Taken as a model by Aristotle in his Poetics, it became a yardstick for future generations. Since the play's rediscovery in the Renaissance, audiences - including Sigmund Freud - have found new interpretations and meanings in Sophocles' portrayal of the Theban king, inexorably pursuing the truth, only to discover that he has killed his father and married his mother." This translation by Don Taylor, accurate yet poetic, was made for a BBC TV production of The Theban Plays in 1986, which he also directed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226768687
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2010
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 88
  • Sales rank: 446,058
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

David Grene (1913–2002) taught classics for many years at the University of Chicago. He was a founding member of the Committee on Social Thought and coedited the University of Chicago Press’s prestigious series The Complete Greek Tragedies.

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Read an Excerpt

Oedipus the King


By Sophocles, David Grene

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2010 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-76869-4



CHAPTER 1

OEDIPUS THE KING


Scene: In front of the palace of Oedipus at Thebes. To the right of the stage near the altar stands the Priest with a crowd of children. Oedipus emerges from the central door.

Oedipus

Children, young sons and daughters of old Cadmus, why do you sit here with your suppliant crowns? The town is heavy with a mingled burden of sounds and smells, of groans and hymns and incense; 5 I did not think it fit that I should hear of this from messengers but came myself,— I Oedipus whom all men call the Great.

(He turns to the Priest.)

You're old and they are young; come, speak for them. What do you fear or want, that you sit here 10 suppliant? Indeed I'm willing to give all that you may need; I would be very hard should I not pity suppliants like these.

Priest

O ruler of my country, Oedipus, you see our company around the altar; 15 you see our ages; some of us, like these, who cannot yet fly far, and some of us heavy with age; these children are the chosen among the young, and I the priest of Zeus. Within the market place sit others crowned 20 with suppliant garlands, at the double shrine of Pallas and the temple where Ismenus gives oracles by fire. King, you yourself have seen our city reeling like a wreck already; it can scarcely lift its prow out of the depths, out of the bloody surf. A blight is on the fruitful plants of the earth, 25 A blight is on the cattle in the fields, a blight is on our women that no children are born to them; a God that carries fire, a deadly pestilence, is on our town, strikes us and spares not, and the house of Cadmus is emptied of its people while black Death grows rich in groaning and in lamentation. 30 We have not come as suppliants to this altar because we thought of you as of a God, but rather judging you the first of men in all the chances of this life and when we mortals have to do with more than man. You came and by your coming saved our city, 35 freed us from tribute which we paid of old to the Sphinx, cruel singer. This you did in virtue of no knowledge we could give you, in virtue of no teaching; it was God that aided you, men say, and you are held with God's assistance to have saved our lives. Now Oedipus, Greatest in all men's eyes, 40 here falling at your feet we all entreat you, find us some strength for rescue. Perhaps you'll hear a wise word from some God, perhaps you will learn something from a man (for I have seen that for the skilled of practice the outcome of their counsels live the most). 45 Noblest of men, go, and raise up our city, go,—and give heed. For now this land of ours calls you its savior since you saved it once. So, let us never speak about your reign as of a time when first our feet were set secure on high, but later fell to ruin. 50 Raise up our city, save it and raise it up. Once you have brought us luck with happy omen; be no less now in fortune. If you will rule this land, as now you rule it, better to rule it full of men than empty. 55 For neither tower nor ship is anything when empty, and none live in it together.

Oedipus

I pity you, children. You have come full of longing, but I have known the story before you told it only too well. I know you are all sick, yet there is not one of you, sick though you are, 60 that is as sick as I myself. Your several sorrows each have single scope and touch but one of you. My spirit groans for city and myself and you at once. You have not roused me like a man from sleep; 65 know that I have given many tears to this, gone many ways wandering in thought, but as I thought I found only one remedy and that I took. I sent Menoeceus' son Creon, Jocasta's brother, to Apollo, 70 to his Pythian temple, that he might learn there by what act or word I could save this city. As I count the days, it vexes me what ails him; he is gone far longer than he needed for the journey. 75 But when he comes, then, may I prove a villain, if I shall not do all the God commands.

Priest

Thanks for your gracious words. Your servants here signal that Creon is this moment coming.

Oedipus

His face is bright. O holy Lord Apollo, 80 grant that his news too may be bright for us and bring us safety.

Priest

It is happy news, I think, for else his head would not be crowned with sprigs of fruitful laurel.

Oedipus

We will know soon, he's within hail. Lord Creon, my good brother, 85 what is the word you bring us from the God?

(Creon enters.)

Creon

A good word,—for things hard to bear themselves if in the final issue all is well I count complete good fortune.

Oedipus

What do you mean? What you have said so far leaves me uncertain whether to trust or fear. 90

Creon

If you will hear my news before these others I am ready to speak, or else to go within.

Oedipus

Speak it to all; the grief I bear, I bear it more for these than for my own heart.

Creon

I will tell you, then, 95 what I heard from the God. King Phoebus in plain words commanded us to drive out a pollution from our land, pollution grown ingrained within the land; drive it out, said the God, not cherish it, till it's past cure.

Oedipus

What is the rite of purification? How shall it be done?

Creon

By banishing a man, or expiation 100 of blood by blood, since it is murder guilt which holds our city in this destroying storm.

Oedipus

Who is this man whose fate the God pronounces?

Creon

My Lord, before you piloted the state we had a king called Laius.

Oedipus

I know of him by hearsay. I have not seen him. 105

Creon

The God commanded clearly: let some one punish with force this dead man's murderers.

Oedipus

Where are they in the world? Where would a trace of this old crime be found? It would be hard to guess where.

Creon

The clue is in this land; 110 that which is sought is found; the unheeded thing escapes: so said the God.

Oedipus

Was it at home, or in the country that death came upon him, or in another country travelling?

Creon

He went, he said himself, upon an embassy, but never returned when he set out from home. 115

Oedipus

Was there no messenger, no fellow traveller who knew what happened? Such a one might tell something of use.

Creon

They were all killed save one. He fled in terror and he could tell us nothing in clear terms of what he knew, nothing, but one thing only.

Oedipus

What was it? 120 If we could even find a slim beginning in which to hope, we might discover much.

Creon

This man said that the robbers they encountered were many and the hands that did the murder were many; it was no man's single power.

Oedipus

How could a robber dare a deed like this were he not helped with money from the city, money and treachery? 125

Creon

That indeed was thought. But Laius was dead and in our trouble there was none to help.

Oedipus

What trouble was so great to hinder you inquiring out the murder of your king?

Creon

The riddling Sphinx induced us to neglect 130 mysterious crimes and rather seek solution of troubles at our feet.

Oedipus

I will bring this to light again. King Phoebus fittingly took this care about the dead, and you too fittingly. And justly you will see in me an ally, 135 a champion of my country and the God. For when I drive pollution from the land I will not serve a distant friend's advantage, but act in my own interest. Whoever he was that killed the king may readily wish to dispatch me with his murderous hand; 140 so helping the dead king I help myself. Come, children, take your suppliant boughs and go; up from the altars now. Call the assembly and let it meet upon the understanding that I'll do everything. God will decide 145 whether we prosper or remain in sorrow.

Priest

Rise, children—it was this we came to seek, which of himself the king now offers us. May Phoebus who gave us the oracle come to our rescue and stay the plague. 150

(Exeunt all but the Chorus.)

Chorus

Strophe

What is the sweet spoken word of God from the shrine of Pytho rich in gold that has come to glorious Thebes? I am stretched on the rack of doubt, and terror and trembling hold my heart, O Delian Healer, and I worship full of fears for what doom you will bring to pass, new or renewed in the revolving years. 155 Speak to me, immortal voice, child of golden Hope.

Antistrophe

First I call on you, Athene, deathless daughter of Zeus, and Artemis, Earth Upholder, 160 who sits in the midst of the market place in the throne which men call Fame, and Phoebus, the Far Shooter, three averters of Fate, come to us now, if ever before, when ruin rushed upon the state, 165 you drove destruction's flame away out of our land.

Strophe

Our sorrows defy number; all the ship's timbers are rotten; taking of thought is no spear for the driving away of the plague. 170 There are no growing children in this famous land; there are no women bearing the pangs of childbirth. You may see them one with another, like birds swift on the wing, 175 quicker than fire unmastered, speeding away to the coast of the Western God.

Antistrophe

In the unnumbered deaths of its people the city dies; those children that are born lie dead on the naked earth unpitied, spreading contagion of death; and grey haired mothers and wives everywhere stand at the altar's edge, suppliant, moaning; 182–85 the hymn to the healing God rings out but with it the wailing voices are blended. From these our sufferings grant us, O golden Daughter of Zeus, glad-faced deliverance.

Strophe

There is no clash of brazen shields but our fight is with the War God, a War God ringed with the cries of men, a savage God who burns us; 191 grant that he turn in racing course backwards out of our country's bounds to the great palace of Amphitrite or where the waves of the Thracian sea 195 deny the stranger safe anchorage. Whatsoever escapes the night at last the light of day revisits; so smite the War God, Father Zeus, beneath your thunderbolt, for you are the Lord of the lightning, the lightning that carries fire. 200

Antistrophe

And your unconquered arrow shafts, winged by the golden corded bow, Lycean King, I beg to be at our side for help; 205 and the gleaming torches of Artemis with which she scours the Lycean hills, and I call on the God with the turban of gold, who gave his name to this country of ours, 210 the Bacchic God with the wind flushed face, Evian One, who travel with the Maenad company, combat the God that burns us with your torch of pine; for the God that is our enemy is a God unhonoured among the Gods. 215

(Oedipus returns.)

Oedipus

For what you ask me—if you will hear my words, and hearing welcome them and fight the plague, you will find strength and lightening of your load. Hark to me; what I say to you, I say as one that is a stranger to the story as stranger to the deed. For I would not 220 be far upon the track if I alone were tracing it without a clue. But now, since after all was finished, I became a citizen among you, citizens— now I proclaim to all the men of Thebes: who so among you knows the murderer 225 by whose hand Laius, son of Labdacus, died—I command him to tell everything to me,—yes, though he fears himself to take the blame on his own head; for bitter punishment he shall have none, but leave this land unharmed. Or if he knows the murderer, another, 230 a foreigner, still let him speak the truth. For I will pay him and be grateful, too. But if you shall keep silence, if perhaps some one of you, to shield a guilty friend, or for his own sake shall reject my words— hear what I shall do then: 235 I forbid that man, whoever he be, my land, my land where I hold sovereignty and throne; and I forbid any to welcome him or cry him greeting or make him a sharer 240 in sacrifice or offering to the Gods, or give him water for his hands to wash. I command all to drive him from their homes, since he is our pollution, as the oracle of Pytho's God proclaimed him now to me. So I stand forth a champion of the God and of the man who died. 245 Upon the murderer I invoke this curse— whether he is one man and all unknown, or one of many—may he wear out his life in misery to miserable doom! If with my knowledge he lives at my hearth 250 I pray that I myself may feel my curse. On you I lay my charge to fulfill all this for me, for the God, and for this land of ours destroyed and blighted, by the God forsaken. Even were this no matter of God's ordinance 255 it would not fit you so to leave it lie, unpurified, since a good man is dead and one that was a king. Search it out. Since I am now the holder of his office, and have his bed and wife that once was his, 260 and had his line not been unfortunate we would have common children—(fortune leaped upon his head)—because of all these things, I fight in his defence as for my father, and I shall try all means to take the murderer 265 of Laius the son of Labdacus the son of Polydorus and before him of Cadmus and before him of Agenor. Those who do not obey me, may the Gods grant no crops springing from the ground they plough 270 nor children to their women! May a fate like this, or one still worse than this consume them! For you whom these words please, the other Thebans, may Justice as your ally and all the Gods live with you, blessing you now and for ever! 275

Chorus

As you have held me to my oath, I speak: I neither killed the king nor can declare the killer; but since Phoebus set the quest it is his part to tell who the man is.

Oedipus

Right; but to put compulsion on the Gods 280 against their will—no man can do that.

Chorus

May I then say what I think second best?

Oedipus

If there's a third best, too, spare not to tell it.

Chorus

I know that what the Lord Teiresias sees, is most often what the Lord Apollo 285 sees. If you should inquire of this from him you might find out most clearly.

Oedipus

Even in this my actions have not been sluggard. On Creon's word I have sent two messengers and why the prophet is not here already I have been wondering.

Chorus

His skill apart 290 there is besides only an old faint story.

Oedipus

What is it? I look at every story.

Chorus

It was said that he was killed by certain wayfarers.

Oedipus

I heard that, too, but no one saw the killer.

Chorus

Yet if he has a share of fear at all, his courage will not stand firm, hearing your curse. 295

Oedipus

The man who in the doing did not shrink will fear no word.

Chorus

Here comes his prosecutor: led by your men the godly prophet comes in whom alone of mankind truth is native.

(Enter Teiresias, led by a little boy.)

Oedipus

Teiresias, you are versed in everything, 300 things teachable and things not to be spoken, things of the heaven and earth-creeping things. You have no eyes but in your mind you know with what a plague our city is afflicted. My lord, in you alone we find a champion, in you alone one that can rescue us. Perhaps you have not heard the messengers, 305 but Phoebus sent in answer to our sending an oracle declaring that our freedom from this disease would only come when we should learn the names of those who killed King Laius, and kill them or expel from our country. Do not begrudge us oracles from birds, 310 or any other way of prophecy within your skill; save yourself and the city, save me; redeem the debt of our pollution that lies on us because of this dead man. We are in your hands; pains are most nobly taken to help another when you have means and power. 315

Teiresias

Alas, how terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the man that's wise! This I knew well, but had forgotten it, else I would not have come here.

Oedipus

What is this? How sad you are now you have come!

Teiresias

Let me go home. It will be easiest for us both 320 to bear our several destinies to the end if you will follow my advice.

Oedipus

You'd rob us of this your gift of prophecy? You talk as one who had no care for law nor love for Thebes who reared you.

Teiresias

Yes, but I see that even your own words miss the mark; therefore I must fear for mine. 325

Oedipus

For God's sake if you know of anything, do not turn from us; all of us kneel to you, all of us here, your suppliants.

Teiresias

All of you here know nothing. I will not bring to the light of day my troubles, mine— rather than call them yours.

Oedipus

What do you mean? You know of something but refuse to speak. 330 Would you betray us and destroy the city?

Teiresias

I will not bring this pain upon us both, neither on you nor on myself. Why is it you question me and waste your labour? I will tell you nothing.

Oedipus

You would provoke a stone! Tell us, you villain, 335 tell us, and do not stand there quietly unmoved and balking at the issue.

Teiresias

You blame my temper but you do not see your own that lives within you; it is me you chide.

Oedipus

Who would not feel his temper rise at words like these with which you shame our city? 340

Teiresias

Of themselves things will come, although I hide them and breathe no word of them.

Oedipus

Since they will come tell them to me.

Teiresias

I will say nothing further. Against this answer let your temper rage as wildly as you will.

Oedipus

Indeed I am 345 so angry I shall not hold back a jot of what I think. For I would have you know I think you were complotter of the deed and doer of the deed save in so far as for the actual killing. Had you had eyes I would have said alone you murdered him.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Oedipus the King by Sophocles, David Grene. Copyright © 2010 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction

Chronology of Ancient Greek Theater

Chronology of Ancient Greece

Translator's Preface

Oedipus the King

Notes

Interpretive Notes

Critical Excerpts

Questions for Discussion

Suggestions for the Interested Reader

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2001

    A truly hip translation!

    Maybe it's because I heard it rather than read it, but this is one of the best translations of a play from Greek to English I've ever heard. I applaud Mr. Steen for his sense of theatricality, something so sadly lacking in too many 'scholarly' translations. This one breathed a whole new life into a great classic. I'd love to get a copy of the text, if it's available.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2008

    Awesome!

    I like it because of the story itself and I can relate to Oedipus because I was also abandoned. But it was just my father so I can see myself killing my father because I don't know who he is or what he looks like.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2007

    An ancient story of the way things were

    Abandoned by your dad/grow up/meet your dad/fight your dad/win/inherit his kingdom/your mom becomes your possession and wife? Incomprehensible to the people of today, but this is in ancient Greece. Kids should read this just to see how different their lives would have been 3,000 years ago in Greece as opposed to how they are now. I love shocking tales of how things used to be and I'm sure others do, too, yet be able to find comfort in the way things are today. However, animal life, throughout the centuries, has never changed one bit unless it concerned humans, and they are the real marders.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 30, 2014

    An effort to work through the language, but very well worth it.

    An effort to work through the language, but very well worth it. I've seen it performed a few times in my life and have read one other version. I got this in Nook format to test out my new reader and really liked it. This will be a classic for as long as humans exist.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2014

    loved it

    Awesome..

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2008

    Kind of dull

    I like classics, but this one wasn't my type.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2007

    A reviewer

    Oedeipus The King is quite frankly, I believe, one of the best stories of history. Really, think about it. Shakespeare's plays have been hits for 400 years, and we think that that means they have passed the test of time, but just think This play by Sophocles has been a hit for 2000 years! And this is not surprising. Expertly written, this tale of mystery and prophecy draws you in and keeps you on the edge of your seat until an hour and a half later when you finish and think 'Oh my god! I didn't even know I was still in my living room! Hey where'd the cat go...' and I am not kidding. I started it and couldn't stop until it ended. This is a tragedy though do not expect a happy ending. It's Sophocles, not Disney (though I could see this as a Disney musical... that would be hilarious). Anyway, this book is for anybody who doesn't mind a sad (but funny and ironic) ending and a winding, complex plot. Even if you don't like these, I still say you should read it. This book is superb, but you need to read it to find that out for yourself.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2002

    Wonderful

    This is a great work by a wonderful playwriter. One of Sophocles' best and most prominent pieces ever. The irony...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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