Friday, March 12, 2010
Sophocles and Oedipus Rex
Oedipus Rex play. Picture from http://www.murphsplace.com/olivier/images/lorex.jpg
The Athenian Sophocles (497/6 BC- 406/5 BC) was to become one of the great playwrights of the golden age. With his studies complete on all Arts, he won many prizes in plays competitions. An accomplished actor, Sophocles performed in many of his own plays. Oedipus Rex is considered one of the best classic Greek tragedies. Aristotle referred to it frequently in the Poetics.
Sophocles presents the story of King Oedipus, who was condemned by oracle to kill his father and marry his mother. It shows the fatalism of destiny, though he tried, he could not escape his will.
In the agony of events and emotions, I reproduce here when Tiresias, the great blind prophet of Thebes, after resisting telling Oedipus that the “monster of the oracle” was alive, he is compelled to reveal who Laius’ murderer was. Though, being explicit, Oedipus would not believe it.
Sophocles, picture from wikipedia.org
Tiresias appears to Ulysses during the sacrificing. 1780- 1785 Aquarell by Füssli, Johann Heinrich
Oedipus Tiresias, thou who searchest everything,
Communicable or nameless, both in heaven
And on the earth –thou canst not see the city,
But knowest no less what pestilence visits it,
Wherefrom our only saviour and defence
We find, sir king, in thee. For Phoebus –if
Thou dost not know it from the messengers-
To us, who sent to ask him, sent word back,
That from this sickness no release should come,
Till we had found and slain the men who slew
Laius, or driven them, banished, from the land.
Wherefore do thou –not sparing augury,
Either through birds, or any other way
Thou hast of divination –save thyself,
And save the city, and me; save the whole mass
By this dead corpse infected; for in thee
Stands our existence; and for men, to help
With might and main is of all tasks the highest.
Tiresias Alas! How terrible it is to know,
Where no good comes of knowing! Of these matters
I was full well aware, but let them slip me;