updated 25 September 2002
This guide is designed to be used in conjunction with the translation by Peter Meineck (Hackett Press).
There is an on-line text with extensive hyperlinks.
Compare the the myth in Sophocles with the beginning of Euripides' tragedy, The Phoenician Women. What additional information is supplied there (look at several screens) ? How is Euripides' version different?
Look for references in the first scenes to Oedipus' conquest of the Sphinx, represented in the vase paintingyou can view here. A second vase depicts this scene as well; do you see a different emphasis? There are also images of a sculpture of a sphinx from Delphi which was made 100 years before this drama. Do you see any significance in the nature and appearance of the sphinx? In what way does his this victory recall Cadmus' slaughter of the dragon? Sophocles' play never explicitly tells the riddle of the Sphinx, so, if you are uncertain of its nature you can here look up the riddle of the Sphinx which Oedipus solved.
Throughout the play you will need to consider the relationship between Oedipus and the gods. Why are the gods doing this to him, or at least allowing this to happen.
Also, what is the relationship in this play between fate and free will?
All call upon the Healer Apollo. What does Apollo have to do with healing? Why should Oedipus consult this god's oracle? Learn more about Apollo and visit Delphi, taking advantage of the available pictures.
Consider: does Oedipus strike you as arrogant in this scene and others, or is Oedipus a case of the saying of that great philosopher and baseball great Dizzy Dean -- "It ain't bragging if you can do it" ?
Pay close attention to any references to sight, eyes or blindness, as vision is an important metaphor in this play.
After Creon enters and tells the words of Apollo, note the discrepancy between the number of outlaws in the account of each character. Why do you think Oedipus says "thief" while Creon says "thieves"? This will happen again later.
If you have read Pericles' Funeral Oration, consider the extent to which Oedipus embodies the characteristics of the ideal Athenian as described by Pericles.
Why does Tiresias refuse to help Oedipus?
Why can't Oedipus understand the information Tiresias does give to him?
Note the complexity of Oedipus' character, a mixture of paranoia and an earnest desire to save the city.
Consider the images of hunting and wildness here, as they will return later.
Is Creon especially admirable here? Compare his actions and wishes to Oedipus'.
Read carefully Jocasta's account of her lost child which begins at 705, and then Oedipus' reaction to it. Does anything in his reaction strike you as strange? Consider this especially in light of the almost identical story he tells later in the same scene . Why doesn't Oedipus make a connection?
Pay close attention to Jocasta's denunciation of oracles.
Think about the larger resonances of Oedipus' comment (845) "How can one be the same as many?"
What is the connection between this wild man and "the sacred dance" (896) ?
Note: lines 980-2 are underlined in the German translation of this play which Freud owned
1032: why is the connection between Oedipus' name and his ankles so important?
At what point do you think that Jocasta begins to suspect the truth?
When the Shepherd arrives, why won't he talk willingly?
When Jocasta runs off the stage, Oedipus thinks she is afraid he will be proven a peasant. Why does this idea make him so happy (1076ff) ? And how does Jocasta seem to you now?
Note the half-line exchanges between Oedipus and the Herdsman; this marks the heightened suspense and excitement in the dialogue. With the remark "Her own baby?" Oedipus' world collapses.
Is blinding an appropriate punishment? Why doesn't he commit suicide?
1295 The Messenger instructs all to "pity" Oedipus. Think about the other references to pity in this drama.
How would you describe Oedipus' state of mind and attitude here? Does anything surprise you about the way he views his disaster?
Think about the Chorus' near panic about him, their complete inability to respond coherently to his presence.
Is Creon fair to Oedipus? Consider especially his admonition at 1523. Consider how the drama would change if the closing lines of the chorus were absent; some scholars believe the texts ends with Creon's words.
Why are Oedipus' daughters in particular so special to him?
What effect has blindness had on his knowledge?