Greek Tragedy: Contemplation of the Mysteries of Human Nature

  • Sophocles (497-406 BC): treasurer, general, friend of Pericles, author of over 100 plays, winner of the tragedy competition more than 20 times, now an old man.
  • Oedipus Rex (425 BC) In the midst of the war with Sparta, just after the death of Pericles, plague has broken out in besieged Athens. The great experiment in democracy appears on the brink of failure.
  •  The Oedipus Myth: easily 1000 years old. Why does Sophocles choose to dramatize this myth to comment on the situation in Athens during the Peloponnesian Wars?

Greek Tragedy: Contemplation of the Mystery of Unexplained Suffering 
Mysteries suffuse the situation at the outset of the action:

  • Why did the Delphic Oracle lay such a terrible fate on Laios and Oedipus?
  • What have the Thebans done to deserve the terrible plague which has descended upon them?
  • Who can help them? The priests? (What would they do to propitiate the gods?)
  • No, Oedipus will help, the champion of reason, the hero who liberated Thebes from the Sphinx. What is the symbolic meaning of this victory?

But even after Creon has reported the Oracle's words and Oedipus has put his plan into motion, the mystery deepens:

  • Why was there no search for Laios' murderer at the time of his death?
  • Why such a long wait before renewing the search?
  •  Has Jocasta never spoken with her husband about her previous life?
  •  Is Oedipus' confidence in his ability to use his reason to solve this new riddle a case of hubris- the kind of reckless pride and arrogance that might bring down the wrath of the gods?