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“Yet the riddle, at least, was not for the first comer to read: there was need of a seer's help, [395] and you were discovered not to have this art, either from birds, or known from some god. But rather I, Oedipus the ignorant, stopped her, having attained the answer through my wit alone, untaught by birds.

“What is that which has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?” Apollod. 3.5.8


Aristotle, Poetics 1453a This is the sort of man who is not pre-eminently virtuous and just, and yet it is through no badness or villainy of his own that he falls into the misfortune, but rather through some hamartia in him, he being one of those who are in high station and good fortune, like Oedipus and Thyestes and the famous men of such families as those. . . . The change must be not to good fortune from bad but, on the contrary, from good to bad fortune, and it must not be due to villainy but to some great hamartia in such a man as we have described, or of one who is better rather than worse. This can be seen also in actual practice. For at first poets accepted any plots, but today the best tragedies are written about a few families — [20] Alcmaeon for instance and Oedipus and Orestes and Meleager and Thyestes and Telephus and all the others whom it befell to suffer or inflict terrible disasters.

oedi pus oidi pous

Oedi/pus Oidi/pous

Oedipus the King, [980] But fear not that you will wed your mother. Many men before now have slept with their mothers in dreams. But he to whom these things are as though nothing bears his life most easily.

homer and hesiod s oedipus
Homer and Hesiod’s Oedipus

Odyssey 11.271-80 And I saw the mother of Oedipodes, fair Epicaste, who wrought a monstrous deed in ignorance of mind, in that she wedded her own son, and he, when he had slain his own father, wedded her, and straightway the gods made these things known among men. [275] Then he lived as lord of the Cadmeans in lovely Thebe, suffering woes through the baneful counsels of the gods, but she went down to the house of Hades, the strong warder. She made fast a noose on high from a lofty beam, overpowered by her sorrow, but for him she left behind woes [280] full many, even all that the Avengers of a mother bring to pass.

Hesiod, Works and Days 161-3 Grim war and dread battle destroyed a part of them, some in the land of Cadmus at seven-gated Thebes when they fought for the flocks of Oedipus



Cadmus looks for his sister Europa

Oedipus marries his mother, Jocasta

Antigone buries her brother Polynices, despite prohibition


The Spartoi kill each other

Oedipus kills his father

Eteocles kills his brother, Polynices


Cadmus kills the Serpent

Oedipus kills the Sphinx



(= left-sided)

son of


(= lame)


(= swell-foot)

“The overvaluation of blood relations is to their undervaluationas the attempt to escape autochthony is to the impossibility of succeeding in it.” Claude Lévi-Strauss


Aristotle, Poetics 6 1449b25 Tragedy is a representation (mimesis) of a serious, complete action that has importance, in embellished speech, with each of speech's elements used separately in the various parts of the play, represented by people acting (drama) and not by narration, accomplishing by means of pity and fear the catharsis of such emotions.



Theatre of Dionysus


Sophocles, 1st victory 468Theban Plays, not a trilogyAntigone late 440sOedipus Tyrannus 428 ?Oedipus at Colonus 402




Great Dionysia (March) Lennaea (January)

day one - procession of statue of Dionysus, sacrifice

dithyrambic contest accompanied by flute

day two - five comedies

days 3-5 three tragedies each day plus satyr play

1000 active participants, 14,000 spectators

each play only performed once

chor-egoi and playwrights

3 or possibly four actors, choral leader

poets become didaskaloi, directors of the plays

judges chosen by lot from those nominated by their tribes

5 votes used from 10 cast

competition between choruses

audience consists probably only of men


Definitions by AristotleRevelation/recognition An anagnorisis . . . is a change from ignorance to knowledge . . . among people with regard to people’s good fortune or misfortune. A recognition is finest when it occurs at the same time as a peripeteia, as it does in the Oedipus.

Plot - mythos

The mythos should be constructed in such a way that, even without seeing it, someone who hears about the incidents will shudder and feel pity at the outcome, as someone may feel upon hearing the plot of the Oedipus.


A peripeteia is a change of the actions to their opposite. . . in accordance with probability and necessity. E.g. in the Oedipus, the man who comes to bring delight to Oedipus and to rid him of his terror about his mother, does the opposite by revealing who Oedipus is.


1-150 Prologue 25 A blight has fallen on the fruitful blossoms of the land.33 We deem you the first among men in life's common fortunes and in dealings with divinities.64 My soul is in pain at once for the city, for myself, and for you.114 He left our land, as he said, on a mission to Delphi.122 He said that robbers fell upon them, not one man alone, but with a great force.130 The riddling Sphinx had forced us to let things that were obscure go.151-215 Parados All you gods, help !353 you are the accursed defiler of this land. 366 You have been living in unguessed shame with your closest kin.385 Creon, my old friend, has crept upon me by stealth, yearning to overthrow me, and has suborned such a scheming juggler462-512 Stasimon1 The augur has spread confusion.709 Nothing of mortal birth shares in the science of the seer. 713 He would suffer his doom at the hands of the child to be born to him and me. 730 Laius was slain where the three roads meet.745 I have laid myself under a terrible curse without realizing it.774 My father was Polybus of Corinth, my mother the Dorian Merope.779 A man drunk with wine cast it at me that I was not the true son of my father.


784They were angry at the one who had let this taunt fly.792 I was fated to defile my mother's bed, that I would reveal to men a brood which they could not endure to behold, and that I would slay the father that sired me.813 I slew every one of them. 821 And I pollute the bed of the slain man with the hands by which he perished.843 He spoke of Laius as slain by robbers. 871-910 Stasimon 2 Hybris breeds a tyrant.911-1088971 But as the oracles stand at least Polybus has swept them with him to rest in Hades.1016 You had no blood in common with Polybus.1040 Another shepherd gave you to me.1042 I think he was said to be one of the household of Laius.1056 Regard it not; waste not a thought on what he said; it would be vain.1062 Even if I should be found the son of a servile mother, a slave by three descents, you will not be proven baseborn.1068 May you never know who you are!1080 I, who hold myself son of Fortune that gives good, will not be dishonored.1089-1109 Stasimon 3 Is Oedipus the child of a god?1110-11851171 It was said to be (Laius’) own child.1182 Oh, oh! All brought to pass, all true.


1186-1221 Stasimon 4Call no earthly creature blessed.1226 For I think that neither the Ister nor the Phasis could wash this house clean, so many are the ills that it shrouds, or will soon bring to light, ills wrought not unwittingly, but on purpose. [1230] And those griefs smart the most which are seen to be of our own choice.1281 The old happiness of their ancestral fortune was once happiness indeed. But now today lamentation, ruin, death, shame, and every earthly ill [1285] that anyone could name are all theirs.1297-1367 Kommos 2 O dread fate for men to see.1329 It was Apollo, friends, Apollo who brought my troubles to pass, these terrible, terrible troubles. But the hand that struck my eyes was none other than my own, wretched that I am!1349 Perish the man, whoever he was, who freed me in the past years from the cruel shackle on my feet. Aristotle, Poetics 1452b A prologos is the whole of that part of a tragedy which precedes the entrance of the chorus. [20] An episode is the whole of that part of a tragedy which falls between whole choral songs. An exodos is the whole of that part of a tragedy which is not followed by a song of the chorus. A parodos is the whole of the first utterance of the chorus. A stasimon is a choral song without anapaests or trochaics. A kommos is a song of lament shared by the chorus and the actors on the stage.


Multiple-choice type questions:A deadly footed, double striking curse, from father and mother both, shall drive you forth out of this land, with darkness on your eyes, that now have such straight vision.” Who is being addressed?A. Creon B. Cadmus C. Oedipus D. Hippolytus E. Io3. To say that a myth is etiological means that a. it reduces to a shorthand script for some ritual. b. it derives ultimately from the structure of the mind. c. it contains the basic, identical structure shared by all myths. d. it went through layers of historical development. e. it explains the origin of some fact or custom.


Antigone1 Ismene, my sister, true child of my own mother, do you know any evil out of all the evils bequeathed by Oedipus that Zeus will not fulfill for the two of us in our lifetime? And now what is this new edict (kerugma) that they say the general has just decreed to all the city? As for the poor corpse of Polyneices, however, they say that an edict has been published to the townsmen that no one shall bury him or mourn him, but instead leave him unwept, unentombed.(40) 35 Whoever performs any of these rites, for him the fate appointed is death by public stoning among the entire city. This is how things stand for you, and so you will soon show your nature, whether you are of good birth, or the corrupt daughter of a noble line.(51) 45 Yes, he is my brother, and yours too, even if you wish it otherwise. I will never be convicted of betraying him.No, it’s not for him to forbid me from my own.


(56) 58 Consider how badly we will be destroyed, if in defiance of the law (nomos) [60] we transgress against a tyrants’ vote or his powers. No, we must remember, first, that ours is a woman's nature, and accordingly not suited to battles against men; and next, that we are ruled by the more powerful, so that we must obey in these things and in things even more stinging. [65] I, therefore, will ask those below for pardon, since I am forced to this, and will obey those who have come to authority. (87) 74 The time is longer when I must serve the dead than the living, since in that world I will rest forever. (90) I do no dishonor. But to act in violation of the citizens' force — of that I am by nature incapable.(118-) 99-153 Parodos - Hurray, we beat Argos !


(191) 173 I now possess all the power and the throne according to my kinship with the dead. Now, it is impossible to know fully any man's soul (psyche), thought (phronema) , or decision (gnome), until he has been proved by the test of rule (arche) and laws. (202) 183 If any man thinks a friend (philos) more important than his fatherland (patra), that man, I say, is of no account.(210) 192 Such are the rules (nomoi) by which I strengthen this city. Akin (adelpha) to these is the edict which I have now published to the citizenry concerning the sons of Oedipus. (291) 264 We were ready to take red-hot iron in our hands, to walk through fire and to swear oaths by the gods that we had neither done the deed, nor shared knowledge of the planning or the doing. (ordeal)(320) 289 From the very first certain men of the city were chafing at this edict and muttering against me, tossing their heads in secret, and they did not keep their necks duly under the yoke in submission to me. By those men, I am certain, they were led astray and bribed to do this deed.


(368-) 332-372 First Stasimon Ode to Man (anthropos)Sophists, the Sophistic Movement Protagoras: man is the measure of all things Plato, Cratylus 386a(368) [332] Wonders (deina) are many, and none is more wonderful than man. . . Only from death can he call on no means of escape. . . . If he honors the laws of the earth and the justice of the gods he has confirmed by oath, high is his city.(1168) [1096] To yield is terrible (deinon), but, to resist, to strike my pride with ruin — this, too, inspires terror.(571) [520] But the good man gets a portion not equal to the evils. Who knows but that these actions are pure to those below?


(418) 381 Surely they are not bringing you captive for disobeying the King's laws and being caught in mindlessness (aphrosune)?(483) 439 Naturally, though, all such things are of less account to me than my own safety.(487) 442 I declare it and make no denial.(492) I knew it. How could I not? It was public. (494) [450] Yes, since it was not Zeus that published me that edict, and since not of that kind are the laws which Justice who dwells with the gods below established among men. Nor did I think that your decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten [455] and unfailing statutes given us by the gods. (523) 478 For there is no place for great thought (phronein), when one is his neighbors' slave. This girl was already practiced in outrage when she overstepped the published laws. (528) 484 I am no man (aner), but she is, if this victory rests with her and brings no penalty. (535) 491 I saw her inside just now, raving, and not in control of her wits. (576) 523 It is not my nature to join in hate, but in love (philein).


(613) 558 The mistake (exhamartia) is identical for both of us.(640-) 583-625 Second Stasimon This law prevails: nothing that is vast comes to the life of mortals without ruin.(775) 718 For if even from me, a younger man, a worthy thought (gnome) may be supplied, by far the best thing, I believe, would be for men to be all-wise by nature. (794) 734 Shall the city prescribe to me how I must rule?(805) 743 I see you making a mistake and committing injustice.(840) 773 I will take her where the path is deserted, unvisited by men, and entomb her alive in a rocky vault, setting out a ration of food, but only as much as piety requires so that all the city may escape defilement. [780] it is fruitless labor to revere the dead.(849) 781-800 Third Stasimon Omnia vincit Amor (eros)(870-933) 801-882 Kommos (882) 821 Guided by your own laws (autonomos) and still alive, unlike any mortal before, you will descend to Hades.(897) [839] Ah, you mock me! In the name of our fathers' gods, [840] why do you not wait to abuse me until after I have gone,


(1002) 944-987 3rd Stasimon [944] So too endured Danae in her beauty to change [945] the light of the sky for brass-bound walls, and in that chamber, both burial and bridal, she was held in strict confinement. And yet was she of esteemed lineage, my daughter, [950] and guarded a deposit of the seed of Zeus that had fallen in a golden rain. (1011) [955] And Dryas's son, (Lycurgus), the Edonian king swift to rage, was tamed in recompense for his frenzied insults, when, by the will of Dionysus, he was shut in a rocky prison. There the fierce and swelling force of his madness trickled away.


(1024) 971 Ares, neighbor of that city, saw the accursed, blinding wound inflicted on the two sons of Phineus by his savage wife. It was a wound that brought darkness to the hollows, making them crave vengeance [975] for the eyes she crushed with her bloody hands and with her shuttle for a dagger.Apollodorus: Cleopatra was married to Phineus, who had by her two sons, Plexippus and Pandion. When he had these sons by Cleopatra, he married Idaea, daughter of Dardanus. She falsely accused her stepsons to Phineus of corrupting her virtue, and Phineus, believing her, blinded them both.


(1096) 1038 Turn your profits, make your deals for the white gold of Sardis and the gold of India, if it pleases you, but you shall not cover that man with a grave, not even if the eagles of Zeus wish to snatch and carry him to be devoured at the god's throne. (1102) 1044 No mortal has the power to defile the gods. (1142) In the dead you have no part, nor do the gods above, but in this you do them violence. For these crimes the avenging destroyers, [1075] the Furies of Hades and of the gods, lie in ambush for you, (1180) [1105] Ah, it is a struggle, but I depart from my heart's resolve and obey. We must not wage vain wars with necessity (ananke).(1193) 1115-1154 Fourth Stasimon Dionysus, help !(1238) [1165] And now all this has been lost. When a man has forfeited his pleasures, I do not reckon his existence as life, but consider him just a breathing corpse. (1312) 1234 Then the ill-fated boy was enraged with himself and straightway stretched himself over his sword and drove it, half its length, into his side. Still conscious, he clasped the maiden in his faint embrace, and, as he gasped, he shot onto her pale cheek a swift stream of oozing blood.


(1340) [1261] Ah, the blunders (hamartemata) of an unthinking mind, blunders of rigidity, yielding death!

(1395) [1317] Ah this guilt can never be fastened onto any other mortal so as to remove my own! It was I, yes, I, who killed you, I the wretch. [1320] I admit the truth.