Notes on Oedipus at Colonus Themes

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Oedipus at Colonus Topic Tracking: City

City 1: The Chorus of Athenian elders tells Oedipus to listen to rules from the city of Athens because he is a guest in a new land. The customs of a city are very important for all citizens and guests to follow, because it maintains the law and order that a city creates. If people did not follow the rules of a city, then the city would fall apart.

City 2: The fact that Oedipus does not belong to any city because he has been exiled from his home of Thebes is very embarrassing to him. Exile from one's city is a worst punishment than death itself, as Oedipus himself later explains. Belonging to a city is very important for people living in ancient Greece.

City 3: The situation of civil war and conflict over the kingship seen in Thebes is a sharp contrast to the peaceful, smoothly-run machine seen in Athens, led by King Theseus. In Athens, two brothers cannot agree about who should be king. Instead of thinking about what is best for the city like the Athenians do, in Thebes the brothers Polyneices and Eteocles choose to just worry about themselves having the power to rule.

City 4: When Oedipus is denied the chance to be buried on Theban soil, he refuses to return to this city of his birth. Instead, he chooses to remain in Athens where he is welcome to be buried there. It is very important for Oedipus to have a city that he can belong to.

City 5: Oedipus does not accept responsibility for his actions of incest and patricide. Instead, he blames all of his suffering on the city of Thebes and all of the people within this city. It is the city that has unjustly caused him to suffer because of the circumstances that made him mistakenly marry his mother and kill his father; if he had not saved Thebes and become king as a reward, none of his suffering would have happened.

City 6: Oedipus complains that he does not have a city to call his home, for he was exiled from Thebes by his own sons. Theseus also relates to Oedipus' situation, claiming that he too had wandered as an exile far from his home during times past. His words do not seem to comfort Oedipus at first, however.

City 7: Trying to heal some of Oedipus' pain, King Theseus offers to give Oedipus citizenship ro Athens, since he is so unhappy that he is an exile. Oedipus is pleased to hear this news, although he turns down Theseus' offer, claiming that he does not want to go into the city of Athens. He desires to remain at Colonus.

City 8: Oedipus is very upset that Creon wants to take him back to his city, Thebes, even afte rhe had exiled him for many years. He claims that Creon is very cruel because now, when he wants to stay in the city of Athens, Creon wants to ruin his happiness again by taking him back to Thebes. Belonging to a city remains very important for Oedipus.

City 9: Theseus explains that the true purpose of a city such as Athens is to provide for "lawful institutions" and to give order to people. Creon, acting on behalf of Thebes, is everything that a city is not: selfish, arrogant, and reckless. Theseus reprimands him for kidnapping Antigone and Ismene, although Creon does not accept responsibility, claiming foolishly that he is right and Theseus is wrong.

City 10: The oldest son of Oedipus, Polyneices, is guilty of the same selfishness that Creon showed to everyone, and he wishes to bring Oedipus back to Thebes for the same purpose, so that he can win the battle for the kingship. Oedipus is disgusted at this behavior and refuses to help out at all; only Theseus' selflessness and the wisdom with which he rules Athens seem to demonstrate how a true city should be governed, unlike the injustice found in Thebes.

City 11: Although it is certain that he will fail and die, Polyneices insists on returning to attack Thebes with his seven armies because the pain of exile is too much to bear. He would rather die in battle fighting than live in exile peacefully. This reflects the same feelings of Oedipus, who wished that he had been stoned to death rather than endure so many years of exile.

City 12: Oedipus is so overjoyed with the kindness and sense of belonging that Theseus and the Athenian citizens have given to him, that Oedipus decides to reward Athens as he is dying. His grave will protect the city as long as its location is not revealed to anyone. Thus, belonging to a city is very important to people because without a city or a home, one is lost and forced to wander.

City 13: Antigone thinks that Oedipus died a lonely man because he was not on his home soil of Thebes. Antigone thus misses her home and plans to return soon after, but she does not realize that Oedipus refused to return to Thebes when given the chance by both Creon and Polyneices, because he was disgusted with the city's people and its government. Athens is a lawful city ruled by a just king, Theseus.

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