250 word summary

There was no better way than mine. No more advice! If I had eyes, how could They bear to look at my father in Hades? Or at my devastated mother? Not even Hanging could right the wrongs I did them both. (lines 1554-58)

– ™ Author ™ Time/Date of Composition ™ Contextual Information ™ Form ™ Major Themes


– Author

™ Lived circa 496-406 BCE ™ Spent most of his life in the

city-state of Athens ™ Very popular, well-educated,

and productive writer ™ Only seven of his plays are

extant: the three Oedipus plays, Ajax, Trachiniae, Electra, and Philoctetes

(“Sophocles” from Wikipedia)

– ™ Sophocles is remembered for his tragic plays AND

for changes he made to the theater, including… –  “introduction of scene painting” (Norton 482) –  “increase of chorus members from twelve to

fifteen” (Norton 482) & decreased centrality of chorus to plot

–  “bringing in a third actor” (Norton 482) à allowed for three-way dialogues


– ™  Folks like Sophocles’ writing because his characters seem

real –  Consider The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Ramayana, and

Sunjata. The main characters are all epic heroes… basically, the ancient world’s version of today’s super-heroes. They aren’t “real people” they’re “super”-real

™  Sophocles’ characters are real—with qualities people can relate to and flaws that make them fallible. They could be… us. –  …but hopefully not “us” with Oedipus-level flaws! –  Thought exercise: pay attention to any characters you find

relatable in Oedipus Rex. What about them is relatable? Do you pity them? Fear them?


– ™ Oedipus Rex was probably composed and performed

around 429 BCE à be mindful that the exact date is not certain

™ 429 BCE is also the date of a terrible plague in Athens. Some folks argue the plague afflicting Thebes in Oedipus Rex is actually a reference to the plague that was affecting Athens when Sophocles was writing (Norton 484)

Time/Date of Composition

– Contextual Information

™ The Oedipus myth was a well-known story in the ancient Greek world (Norton 483).

™ Consider the following passage from Homer’s The Odyssey (not be confused with The Iliad), dating to the 700s BCE –  Note: The Odyssey spells

Oedipus’s mother Epicaste instead of Jocasta

“Attic Cup: Oedipus and the Sphinx” from Encyclopedia Britannica)

– I saw Oedipus’ mother, beautiful Epicaste, Who unwittingly did a monstrous deed, Marrying her son, who had killed his father. The gods soon brought these findings to light; Yet for all his misery, Oedipus still ruled In lovely Thebes, by the gods’ dark designs. But Epicaste, overcome by her grief, Hung a deadly noose from the ceiling rafters And went down to implacable Hades’ realm Leaving behind for her son all of the sorrows A mother’s avenging spirits can cause (Odyssey 11.275-85)

Contextual Information

– ™ Oedipus Rex is a tragedy, or a kind of play with a

serious subject matter à often focus on questions of ethics – Note: Today, “tragedy” is a term that can also apply to

movies, novels, et al ™ Tragedies possibly originate out of ritual traditions

and the worship of Dionysus (Norton 475-76) à regardless, they were very popular in ancient Greece

™ Tragedies borrow plots from Greek mythology, especially The Iliad and The Odyssey (Norton 476)


– ™ Dialogue (aka, the spoken language between

characters) in tragedies was written/spoken in iambic meter, “which was supposed to be the verse form closest to normal speech” (Norton 479) –  Iambic sounds like characters are speaking normally

rather than reciting poetry


– ™ Oedipus Rex makes use of dramatic irony ™ Dramatic irony is a convention of plays (and today,

movies) in which the audience knows or understands something the main character doesn’t – Example: the original audience for Oedipus Rex would

have known who Oedipus’s real parents really were and were therefore aware of what Oedipus would eventually discover

– Thought exercise: can you think of any dramatic irony in recent movies or TV shows you’ve seen?


– ™ Literal and metaphorical meanings of language

(especially as regards oracles and prophecies) ™ Blissful ignorance ™ Free will vs destiny/fate ™ Crime and punishment

Major Themes