Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Book 12: Oedipus the King by Sophocles
Title: Oedipus the King by Sophocles (also known as Oedipus Rex) translated by Bernard M. W. Knox
How it was obtained: I think I inherited this book from my parents. Thanks mom and dad!
Time spent on the "to read" shelf: Probably a year or so.
Days spent reading it: One afternoon while getting the oil in my car changed.
Why I read it: I read this play in high school and was interested in reading it again. As I mentioned in a previous post, I enjoy Greek plays. Especially tragedies.
The story of Oedipus is well known to us today. Oedipus unknowingly kills his own father, marries his own mother, and in the process becomes King of Thebes. What I found interesting in the reading the introduction to this play was that all Greek plays would be fairly well known to the audience. The playwright would be honored for skill in telling the tale and in their poetry. And in the case of Oedipus some of the greatest artistry is in the dramatic irony of Oedipus's words.
What I love about Oedipus the King is the constant struggle of Oedipus to reveal the truth of who his father's murder is (and eventually his own history) and his stubborn refusal to accept the truth when it is told plainly. The first major conversation Oedipus has with Tiresias captures this conflict perfectly. Oedipus asks Tiresias to tell what he knows. Tiresias understands who Oedipus is and what he has done. So Tiresias refuses to tell Oedipus. Oedipus promises it will be alright, just tell the truth. Tiresias tells Oedipus that Oedipus is the killer of the previous King, Laius. Oedipus rejects the truth, and rejects Tiresias. Over and over again, Oedipus wants the truth, but rejects it until all the evidence cannot be ignored any longer.
The other element of Greek tragedies that I have long enjoyed is the idea that in attempting to avoid our destiny we fulfill it. For example, Oedipus left his "home country" to avoid killing his father (who he thought was the king of Corinth, Polybus). So he wanders to Thebes and kills a man at a crossroads. Who is, of course, his own father. Classic.
I enjoyed reading Oedipus the King. It was a short read, but it has some profound moments in it. I look forward to reading some more Sophocles once I get through some more of this list. Oedipus continues his story in Oedipus at Colonus. And we hear about his daughter in Antigone (which I read in High School). If you enjoy tragedy, this is a must read!
"Time, which sees all things, has found you out." -Chorus
Stars: 4 of 5.
Final Word: Sobering.