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Quotes from Oedipus Rex

Quotes from Oedipus Rex
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  • 0:05 Features of Greek Tragedies
  • 1:10 Quotes from 'Oedipus Rex'
  • 8:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ansley Stephenson

Ansley is a former high school English teacher with a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in English Education.

'Oedipus Rex' is a tragedy written by the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles. In this lesson we'll identify and analyze some of the most important quotes from the play.

Features of Greek Tragedies

Oedipus Rex is a Greek tragedy written by Sophocles. Greek tragedies feature a tragic hero, a protagonist who has a fatal flaw that eventually leads to his or her downfall. Often tragic heroes start from a place of high standing and end up falling to a place of low standing.

Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars movies is an example of a tragic hero. He begins as a 'good guy' fighting for the Republic. Unfortunately, his desire for power and control goes too far, and Anakin ends his life on the dark side of the force--as Darth Vader.

In Sophocles' play, Oedipus is the tragic hero; he begins as the king of Thebes and ends up banished as a blind beggar. Like many tragic heroes, his flaw is pride--he thinks he can solve the mystery of his father's murder on his own.

Another characteristic of Greek tragedies is that they are built around the concept of dramatic irony, moments when the audience knows something the characters don't. While the audience knows that Oedipus has killed his father and married his mother, Oedipus has no idea; this drives the entire plot of the play.

Quotes from Oedipus Rex

Let's explore some of the quotes that are most important in Sophocles' Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex.

Thebes Asks Oedipus for Help

As the play opens, the city of Thebes suffers from a plague. The priest and citizens beg Oedipus to save them from it as he has saved them in the past. They see him as 'the mightiest head' among them all because he has helped them before--by solving the Sphinx's riddle and keeping the monster from terrorizing the city. Because of Oedipus' first miraculous act, the citizens believe that he is the only one who has the power to 'succor' (provide relief for) the city and end the plague. The following quote also shows us not only how the city views their king, but also why Oedipus is so full of himself: he's told that he's awesome all the time. It's understandable why he thinks so highly of himself. The priest says:

Thou art named, and known, our life's establisher.

Thee therefore, Oedipus, the mightiest head

Among us all, all we thy supplicants

Implore to find some way to succor us.

- Priest

Oedipus Responds

As for myself I pray, if with my knowledge

He should become an inmate of my dwelling,

That I may suffer all that I invoked

On these just now.

- Oedipus

At this point in the play, an oracle has told Oedipus that the plague is due to a lack of vengeance for the former king's murder. Oedipus vows to find the murderer and banish him at any cost. This is an example of dramatic irony, one of the driving forces of the play, because although Oedipus doesn't know he's the murderer, the audience does know. Oedipus ironically says that he hopes he himself suffers if the murderer is found living in his home. Oedipus' speech here serves as an example of why he shouldn't be so prideful in trusting his own power and knowledge.

Since I am vested with the government

Which he held once, and have his marriage-bed,

And the same wife; and since our progeny--

If his had not miscarried--had sprung from us

With common ties of common motherhood…

- Oedipus

As Oedipus continues his response, the dramatic irony is driven home. He mentions the former King Laius' marriage-bed and that he is sleeping in it with the man's wife. He doesn't realize that those words actually mean he's sleeping in his father's bed with his own mother. Oedipus also says that if Laius and Jocasta had offspring, Oedipus's children would have been their half-siblings 'with common ties of motherhood.' This reminds us that Laius' child is Oedipus, which makes Oedipus' children his siblings. The poor guy has no idea.

Tiresias Counsels Oedipus

At another point, Oedipus summons Tiresias to ask his advice about finding Laius' murderer. At first the soothsayer refuses to tell Oedipus, but he ends up coming right out and accusing Oedipus of killing King Laius. When Oedipus doesn't believe him, he makes fun of Tiresias for being physically blind. Tiresias responds by saying that although Oedipus may have his physical sight, he doesn't 'see' what's right in front of him--the whole father-murderer wife-mother situation he's in. This quote is a great example of the theme of sight vs. blindness. Tiresias warns Oedipus that soon his eyes will turn dark--he'll be physically blind--because of his pride and inability to realize what he's done.

You have your sight, and do not see

What evils are about you, nor with whom,

Nor in what home you are dwelling. Do you know

From who you are? Yea, you are ignorant

That to your own you are an enemy...

Soon from this land shall drive you, stalking grim,

Your mother's and your father's two-edged curse,

With eyes then dark, through they look proudly now.

- Tiresias

The man you have been seeking, threatening him,

And loud proclaiming him for Laius' murder,

That man is here; believed a foreigner

Here sojourning; but shall be recognized

For Theban born hereafter; yet not pleased

In the event; for blind instead of seeing,

And poor for wealthy, to a foreign land,

A staff to point his footsteps, he shall go.

Also to his own sons he shall be found

Related as a brother, though their sire,

And of the woman from whose womb he came

Both son and spouse; one that has raised up seed

To his own father, and has murdered him.

-Tiresias

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