Oedipus Tyrannus

In *Oedipus Tyrannus* Sophocles displays some interactions among some citizens of the city of Thebes. Thebes was a real Greek city, but in the play it was supposed to be part of the myth. Oedipus and Thebes are intimately related: we may understand the play as a portrait of Oedipus' city at a crucial moment in the city's life, or as a portrait of Oedipus at a crucial moment in his life.

A portrait - a picture - is of course different from a play, having no entrances or exits, no changes of time or place, but must by the nature of the craft conform to the classical unities. But some pictures may also tell a story, like Winslow Homer's picture of the former mistress visiting with the former slaves, or the tired fox being stalked by ravens in the snow. *Oedipus Tyrannus*, which tells a story is, correspondingly, a portrait of the "psychological moment".

Sociologically, *Oedipus Tyrannus* may be understood as displaying the interactions among various characters. But it may also be understood psychologically, as the portrait of an individual human soul. Oedipus, Jocasta, Creon and the rest may be understood as the embodiment of certain hopes and fears, elations and depressions, certain psychological states of mind, or places in the psychological map of the man and his city.

*Oedipus Tyrannus*, though not a painting, may be studied as if it were a painting or a map. After our first reading or seeing, we go back to study the moments that fascinate us- Oedipus's pride at the city he rules (his kingdom) and in himself as its ruler, and the beginnings of the inquiry that will bring him down; his dogged pursuit of leads, or relentless, brilliant questioning of witnesses. The people like Jocasta in the moment they come to see the horrible truth; or like Teiresias begging Oedipus to stop his search. Our everlasting fascination with the way the story unfolds inexorably gives the play this stationary, unchanging yet always changing quality.

I'll add that *Oedipus Tyrannus*, which survived the dark ages and the industrial revolution, survives the internet deluge too, as an "ever-fixed mark," by which later, more ephemeral productions can be judged.

© copyright, 1997, Vincent Badger
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