Notes on Characters from Oedipus at Colonus

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Oedipus at Colonus Major Characters

Oedipus: A former king of Thebes. He blinded himself after learning that he had unknowingly killed his father and had sexual intercourse with his mother. His name in Greek means 'limping foot' (oido = limping, pous = foot) because his ankles were sliced as a boy by his father. Disabled, he was thus sent to die in the hills because the oracle at Delphi predicted that Oedipus would one day kill his father. The father had tried to avoid this fate, although his actions were actually a part of it. After being exiled from Thebes for his crimes, Oedipus wanders for many years, lamenting about his great suffering and how the gods have punished him for no reason, guided by his daughter Antigone. He finally dies near Athens; his grave spot remains a secret to all except Theseus, whom Oedipus has rewarded for his kindness by giving divine protection to Athens.

Antigone: A daughter of Oedipus. She guides her father during his final years as he wanders in exile throughout Greece. When people approach such as Creon, Ismene, or Polyneices, it is Antigone who announces their approach, for she is Oedipus's eyes. After her father's death, Antigone plans to return to Thebes to stop her brothers from battling each other. Her name in Greek is similar to a word meaning 'of the opposite opinion' (anti = against, gnome = opinion).

Theseus: A king of Athens and of Colonus. Theseus comes to Oedipus' rescue by stopping Creon from kidnapping his daughters. As a result, Oedipus rewards him with unending protection for his city of Athens as long as he keeps the site of his grave a secret. His daughters Antigone and Ismene are left in Theseus' care.

Creon: Antigone's uncle and regent of Thebes. His sister Jocasta was Oedipus' mother; Creon dislikes Oedipus, blaming him for her death. Creon kidnaps Antigone and Isemene to force Oedipus to return to Thebes so that his city will be given Oedipus' divine protection instead of Athens. Theseus prevents him from succeeding, and Creon is forced to return to Thebes empty-handed. In the battle for the Theban kingship, Creon supports Oedipus' youngest son Eteocles.

Minor Characters

Stranger: The first person who meets Oedipus and Antigone at Colonus. He tells them to leave the grove because it is sacred to the Eumenides, but Oedipus doesn't listen to him and demands that he go and get King Theseus from nearby Athens. The Stranger decides instead to tell some common citizens and let them decide if he is worthy.

Chorus of Athenian elders: A group of old Athenian citizens who come to see Oedipus after the Stranger told them he was in the sacred grove. Throughout the story, the Chorus constantly offers advice and opinions about events that are occurring; these range from praising the gods to reprimanding Oedipus for his past crimes.

Ismene: Oedipus' youngest daughter. While her sister Antigone stayed with Oedipus to be his guide, Ismene remained in Thebes. She flees to find her father at Colonus when her brothers are fighting over the city's kingship; later she is chosen to perform a ritual that will appease the Eumenides after Oedipus trespassed in their sacred grove. After her father's death, she returns with Antigone to Thebes.

Polyneices: The oldest son of Oedipus. He is exiled from Thebes by his younger brother Eteocles, who has crowned himself king with the support of Creon. Angry, Polyneices gathers together seven armies from Greece to march against Thebes and return the throne to him; he finds Oedipus at Colonus, hoping that his father will return to Thebes with him and give his support. Oedipus refuses because Polyneices once exiled him from Thebes; he curses both of his sons, declaring that they will both die in battle. After his father's death, Polyneices returns to Thebes to fight against his younger brother.

Eteocles: The youngest son of Oedipus. Eteocles crowned himself king of Thebes with the support of Creon, exiling his older brother Polyneices from the city. Creon goes to Colonus to seek Oedipus' support for Eteocles, but Oedipus refuses to help because he will not be given burial on Theban soil. Creon returns to Thebes empty-handed as a result. Oedipus curses both of his sons, declaring that they will both die in battle.

Jocasta: The mother of Oedipus. She married Oedipus when he arrived in Thebes without realizing that he was her own son; after many years Thebes is filled with sickness because the gods are angry that Jocasta and Oedipus have an incestuous marriage. Disgusted to learn that he is her own son, Jocasta commits suicide.

Messenger: A man who describes the events before Oedipus' death. He arrives before Antigone, Ismene, and Theseus return from the wilderness. He describes to the Chorus how Oedipus walked off into the wilderness, washed himself with water from the stream, and was swallowed by the earth after leaving his daughters. Only Theseus observes his final moments, the Messenger says.

Laius: The father of Oedipus. When Oedipus was a baby, Laius heard a prophesy that one day his son would murder him; trying to avoid this fate, he sliced his son's ankles and abandoned him in the wilderness. Found by a shepherd, Oedipus survived until much later when, running into an arrogant King Laius on the road to Thebes, Oedipus unknowingly killed him after being hit with a stick. Arriving at Thebes, he saves the city and unknowingly marries his own mother, taking his father's place as king.

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