HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Oedipus Rex
Author: E. A. Sophocles
Publisher: Filiquarian Publishing LLC, reissued in 2006
Language level: 1 (I don’t really recall everything, but nothing too objectionable stands out in my memory)
Reading level: 16 and up
Rating: 2 stars (POOR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Sophocles, E. A. Oedipus Rex (written in c. 429 B. C.). Sophocles (c. 497/6 BC–407/6 BC) was the second of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus and earlier than those of Euripides. According to the Suda, a tenth century encyclopedia, Sophocles wrote 123 plays during the course of his life, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, Trachinian Women, Oedipus the King, Electra, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus. The most famous of Sophocles’ tragedies are those concerning Oedipus and Antigone: these are often known as the Theban plays. The son of Sophillus, a wealthy member of the rural deme (small community) of Colonus Hippius in Attica, Sophocles’ first artistic triumph was in 468 BC when he took first prize in the Dionysia theatre competition over the reigning master of Athenian drama, Aeschylus. Sophocles died at the age of ninety or ninety-one in the winter, having seen within his lifetime both the Greek triumph in the Persian Wars and the terrible bloodletting of the Peloponnesian War.
Oedipus the King, (also called Oedipus Tyrannus or Oedipus Rex), came in Sophocles’ middle period. The other two Theban plays are Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus. All three plays concern the fate of Thebes during and after the reign of King Oedipus. They have often been published under a single cover. Sophocles, however, wrote the three plays for separate festival competitions, many years apart. Each of the plays relates to the tale of the mythological Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother without knowledge that they were his parents. His family is fated to be doomed for three generations. In Oedipus the King, first performed c. 429 B. C., Oedipus is the protagonist. He becomes the ruler of Thebes after solving the riddle of the sphinx. Before solving this riddle, Oedipus had met at a crossroads a man accompanied by servants; Oedipus and the man fought, and Oedipus killed the man. Oedipus continued on to Thebes to marry the widowed Queen, who was, unknown to him, his mother. Oedipus eventually learns of an oracle’s prophecy and flees his homeland in fear that he would kill his father and fulfill the Delphic Oracle’s prophecy of him. Upon learning of the completed prophecy, his mother, Jocasta, realizes the incest and commits suicide; Oedipus, in horror of what he has seen, blinds himself and leaves Thebes. The couple had four children, who figure in the remaining plays of the set.
We read Oedipus Rex in high school, probably in our sophomore literature class. Why anyone would think that high school students should read it is completely beyond me. While I suppose that there might be some literary advantage in being acquainted with such works, and there is the possibility that they could be used to show that even the pagans understood that evil actions have bad consequences, the immorality that underlies the plots of many of them and the extreme fatalism inherent in them simply do not make these kinds of things very appealing to me at all. And the fact that Sigmund Freud used the term “Oedipus” for part of his wacky psychiatric theories is enough to turn me off from it.