Line 342-627 Notes from Oedipus at Colonus

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Oedipus at Colonus Line 342-627

Arriving on the scene, Ismene greets both her blind father, Oedipus, and her sister, Antigone, since it has evidently been a long time since she has seen them. Oedipus asks Ismene where her brothers Polyneices and Eteocles are, assuming that the two of them are staying indoors like women while the two daughters are wandering about to help out their father. Oedipus recalls "Ismene, in the old time came to me/unknown to the [Thebans], with all their oracles/that spoke about this carcass of mine./You were my trusted guard when I was hunted/out of Theban land" Line 183-187. Ismene explains, however, that her reason for coming is to inform him about the bad luck of his two sons. At first content to allow Jocasta's brother Creon to rule over the city of Thebes, the two brothers later changed their minds. After this, although the elder brother Polyneices was deserving by birth to hold the throne, it was the younger brother Eteocles who took it from him by force and exiled Polyneices from Thebes, just as Oedipus himself had been exiled.

Topic Tracking: City 3

Ismene continues with news from the oracle of Phoebus Apollo at Delphi that Oedipus shall soon be sought out by people in Thebes, because his pattern of bringing misfortune wherever he goes can be used as a weapon against Thebes' enemies. These people in Thebes want him to live outside of the city's gates in case he is needed to help them. Disgusted to hear this, he laments "It is a poor thing to exalt the old/when he fell in his youth" Line 437-438. Oedipus is repulsed at the idea that he is wanted now when he is old and near death, in spite of how he had made so many mistakes as a younger man. He does not believe that he should help Thebes, especially since the city had exiled him before for his crime of murdering his own father and having sex with his own mother. His refusal to return to Thebes is decided when Ismene tells him that he still will not be allowed burial on Theban soil because "the guilt of family bloodletting/debars it." The fact that he murdered his own father makes him ineligible for burial on Theban soil. This upsets Oedipus a great deal, for Oedipus bears a great deal of resentment because he was forced to leave the place that he had once ruled and protected.

Topic Tracking: City 4
Topic Tracking: Old Age 3
Topic Tracking: Religion 3

Oedipus asks what his sons' reactions were when they heard this news from the oracle at Delphi, and Ismene tells him that they both had chosen to remain in Thebes to wage their fight for the kingship. Disgusted, he wishes a curse upon the two young men, wishing that neither son will win the battle for the throne of Thebes. Oedipus remembers how his two sons both had expelled him from the city, although he himself had wished instead to be put to death by stoning. Death is something he looks forward to even now, as an only escape to his suffering. His sons chose to exile him from the city rather than granting him the death he wanted to have. Oedipus rejoices only in remembering the help that his daughters Antigone and Ismene have given during the years passed. Oedipus says again that only misfortune shall befall these two sons for their selfishness. Neither of them shall win the throne of Thebes when the fighting is done, according to these new oracles that Ismene has told him about.

Observing all of this conversation, the Chorus becomes sympathetic and offers advice for how Oedipus can help himself out. They declare that he should "Make an atonement to those deities/you came to first,/when you trespassed on their ground" Line 521-522. Curious and willing, Oedipus asks how he can do this and appease the Eumenides, whose sacred grove he violated after first entering Colonus. The Chorus replies that he must fill a bowl from the grove with sacred water from a nearby stream, covering it with newly cut wool. Then he must face the east and pour the water three times, the last time adding honey to it as well. No wine is to be used for the ritual. After the water is absorbed into the ground, Oedipus must place nine olive sprigs on that spot and recite a prayer to these Goddesses. Hearing all of this, Oedipus turns to his daughters and asks if they both understand what must be done, explaining that one of them must perform this ritual because he is too frail and weak, nor can he see what he is doing due to his blindness. Ismene volunteers herself, asking Antigone to remain behind to guard their father. Oedipus sends her in the direction of the sacred grove so that the task can be done.

Topic Tracking: Religion 4

After Ismene's departure, the Chorus changes its initially fearful demeanor. Now these old men are fascinated by Oedipus' fate, demanding to know the details of his fate. At first he resists and appears ashamed, as he had been when first asked about his identity, yet he gives in at teh Chorus' insistence that they had helped him already and he owed it to them to speak. Beginning to answer, Oedipus blames his fate upon all of Thebes, "It was the city bound me,/in utter ignorance, in a deadly marriage,/in fated ruin, that came with my wife" Line 588-590. The Chorus is stunned to learn that both these two women, Antigone and Ismene, are the products of his incest, stating in disgust that they are both his daughters and his sisters. Lamenting upon his fate, he states again that "I received a gift/for serving the city--would to God I had never won it!--/for my heart is broken" Line 610-612. Oedipus appears to be very bitter that he was rewarded with a punishment from the gods even after he had saved Thebes from destruction by becoming king. Oedipus wishes he had never gone there in the first place.

Topic Tracking: City 5

The Chorus reminds Oedipus that he deserved punishment because it was he who first killed his own father Laius on the road to Thebes, committing the same crime of patricide that prohibits him from being buried on Theban soil. Yet Oedipus justifies his actions because he did not know that the man was his father and even so, Laius had originally maimed his son's ankles and cast him out into the forest, hoping that he would die. Thus, he replies that his actions were fully justified, "Those that I killed would have killed me./So in law I am innocent and came to all this/in ignorance" Line 624-625. Oedipus refuses to accept responsibility and continually affirms his innocence, remaining guilt-free from any crime. His past ignorance is his defense. His father's death was just because his father had originally plotted to kill him as a young child after hearing prophesies from the oracle of Delphi that his son would murder him one day. To prevent this, the father tried to murder his son first.

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