The Bucket List Book Adventure: Book Seven - Oedipus the King

 Dear Henry,

Book Seven, Sophocles's Oedipus the King of the Bucket List Book Adventure (read about that here), is done! Let me tell you all about it.

Sophocles was born in 497 BC or 496 BC in Hippeios Colonus in Attica, just a few years before the Battle of Marathon.   He was the son of a wealthy armorer and was well-tutored and educated. He was also more than a playwright. Sophocles also served as a soldier and statesman. His first known public duty was to lead the thanksgiving chant or paean, celebrating the Greek victory at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC when he was around 17.   Sophocles would have his first artistic triumph at the Dionysia in 468 BC when he toppled the great Aeschylus and would become the premier playwright in Greece following the death of Aeschylus in 456 BC. Sophocles also served as one of the treasurers in Athens (the Hellerotamiai) and as one of the 10 Athenian generals in the Samos war.   He died in 405/6 BC, having reached the miraculous age of 90, and survived both the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars.

Of the more than 120 plays, only seven survived, of which Oedipus the King, thanks to Dr. Freud and his complexes, is the most well-known.

The play begins in Thebes, where Oedipus becomes king after solving the riddle of the Spinx. The people of Thebes were being decimated by a plague and begged their new king (who, having solved the puzzle of the Spinx, was thought to be really smart) to find a way to stop the plague. Oedipus calls an Oracle and is told that the only way to cure the epidemic would be to solve the murder of Laius, the former king.

Oedipus immediately goes to work, first calling the prophet Tiresias, who blames Oedipus for the death of Laius, and, when the king disagrees, foresees that Oedipus will wander the earth blind, crazy, and infamy. 

Oedipus doesn't like this prophecy and turns to his new wife, Jacosta, for advice. Jacosta tells Oedipus not to be silly; prophecies don't mean anything at all. She tells Oedipus it was predicted that Laius would be killed by his son, but since Laius exposed the infant, the prophecy came to naught. Besides, Laius was killed by bandits. Or so Jacosta thought.

Oedipus begins to get a little concerned. Laius sounds an awful lot like someone he killed before he ran into the Spinx. Additionally, there was another nagging prophecy in the back of Oedipus's mind, the one where he was told he would kill his father and marry his mother, and the reason he left his home city of Corinth.

Jacosta begs him to leave the question alone, but Oedipus is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, so he sends for a shepherd, the only living witness to the murder of Laius. While he is waiting for the shepherd, a messenger arrives to inform Oedipus that his father, Polybius, has died. Still concerned about marrying his mother, Oedipus shares his concerns about the prophecy. However, the messenger tells Oedipus not to worry, Polybius isn't his real father, and Oedipus is a foundling.

In walks the shepherd, and the whole story of how the shepherd took the baby of Laius and Jacosta to safety spills out. It is revealed that Oedipus is the natural son of Laius and Jacosta and is currently living in a disgraceful situation, having murdered his father and married his mother.

The story ends with Lacosta, in grief hanging herself and Oedipus gouging his eyes out with the pins of her robes. 

 I assume that because the murderer of Laius was discovered, the plague in Thebes ends.

The story of Oedipus is one of fate and the belief that once something is fated, it cannot be avoided, no matter how much one tries to do so.  Laius and Oedipus both try to prevent the prophecies surrounding Oedipus's birth, and their actions set them both up to fulfill them.

One wonders what would have happened if they had left well enough alone.  I doubt that Oedipus would have been duped into fulfillment had Jacosta been his mother the entire time, and perhaps that is another lesson that a mortal cannot outwit the gods. Particularly since the gods seem to enjoy making humans suffer.

I can't wait to hear what happens next in Oedipus at Colonus.

xoxo a.d. elliott


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

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