Oedipus Rex and
Ancient Greek Theater
Sophocles and Athenian Society
Maps of Ancient Greece
Origins of Greek Drama
The Role of the Chorus
Ancient Greek Theaters
Stichomythic Dialogue
The Tragic Hero
Freytag’s Plot Triangle
 An archetype is a basic model, a prototype, a paradigm, an exemplar.
 An archetype is atavistic and universal; it is a product of the “collective
Fundamentals of Human
Growing up
Tribal life
Sibling rivalry
Generational conflict
Creatures and Symbols
Paradisiacal garden
Character Types
The rebel
The “player”
The “femme fatale”
The self-made man
The all-conquering hero
The traitor
The villain
The god-king
The king as a sacrificial
• The tragic hero
Sophocles (497 or 496 to 406 B.C.)
 Sophocles was born in Athens.
 Sophocles was the best-known ancient Greek playwright.
 While Sophocles was a member of the ruling class, he was
aware of the social inequalities in Athenian society.
 Sophocles used his plays to warn his fellow Athenians of
“divine retribution” for social injustice.
 Sophocles explored the fate-freewill dichotomy in his plays.
While humans eventually have to face the consequences of
their decisions and actions, freewill was not more powerful
than fate or destiny. In fact, one’s freewill could actually work
toward fulfilling fate!
Mt. Olympus
Origins of Greek Drama
 Sixth Century B.C.
o Thespis essentially invented acting by stepping in front of the chorus and
performing a solo.
o Thespian has come to mean actor.
 Fifth Century B.C.
o Each year plays were performed in an annual competition to honor Dionysus
Each playwright wrote three tragedies and a satyr-play (a farce for comic
relief) for the competition.
Sophocles won twenty of these competitions.
Sophocles introduced the third actor on stage. (Aeschylus introduced the use
of the second actor on stage.)
Sophocles Theban plays, while often anthologized together, were actually not
originally written as a trilogy. In fact, Antigone was written first, Oedipus Rex
was written second, and Oedipus at Colonus was written last.
The Chorus
 Group of 15 men who sang lyric poetry and danced to music
 Unpaid and drawn from the citizenry at large
 Considered a civic duty
 Costumed in light masks and the dress of the people
 Link between audience and actors
o Served as the “ideal spectator,” responding to the play as the playwright intended.
o Functioned as the conscience of the people, establishing an ethical perspective from which to view
the play
Reflected upon what had happened and foreshadowed what was to come
Questioned, made requests of, and at times advised the central characters
Helped to establish mood and heighten dramatic moments
Helped to establish pacing
Provided tension release
Separated the scenes
Performed in song with a back-and-forth movement that heightened the emotion of the performance
 Strophe (left to right)
 Antistrophe (right to left)
 Epode
A character or characters onstage interacted with the Chorus through a song, the kommos, or through
a leader or spokesperson, the Choragos, who would step forth from the Chorus to become a character
on stage.
Stichomythic dialogue (stichomythia):
Alternating individual lines of verse between
two speakers
 A technique used to provide contrast to long speeches
 A technique used to present thesis and antithesis, questions
and answer, argument and refutation.
A technique that allowed playwrights to distinguish for the
audience one masked actor from another
A technique used to heighten the drama
Usually occurs at moments of high tension
Usually structured in parallel lines of verse
Sometimes structured using antilabe
The Crime of Laius (Laios):
 Pelops: King of Pisa, husband of Hippodameia, father of Chrysippus (from
a previous marriage), Atreus and Thyestes, among others.
 Laius took refuge in Pisa after fleeing Thebes; his older cousins (Amphion
and Zethus) ruled Thebes at the time, and he feared for his life.
 Pelops welcomed Laius and entrusted him with the training of Chrysippus
in the art of war and charioteering.
 Antiope, mother of Amphion and Zethus, was raped by Zeus.
 Amphion married Niobe, who bragged about her many children and insulted the
goddess Leto. Leto’s twins, Apollo and Artemis (fathered by Zeus), killed all Niobe’s
children in retaliation. Amphion either killed himself or was killed by Zeus after
vowing revenge, and Niobe either killed herself or was turned to stone.
 Zethus had only one son, who died, so he killed himself.
 Laius fell in love with and abducted Chrysippus, taking him back to Thebes
once the “coast was clear.”
 Pelops gathered his army and marched to Thebes to retrieve his son,
but Hippodameia conspired with her two sons, Atreus and Thyestes, to
kill Chrysippus (in some versions Chrysippus kills himself out of
 Pelops banished Hippodameia, Atreus, and Thyestes to Mycenae,
where Hippodameia hanged herself and Atreus became king.
 Laius, having angered Pelops and the gods with his behavior, was
cursed by Pelops and warned by Apollo not to have any children. Hera
also sent the Sphinx to torment Thebes.
 Laius, being motivated by passion more than reason, did not heed
Apollo’s warning and had a son with Jocasta (Iocaste)—Oedipus!
 As far as Atreus and Thyestes are concerned, Atreus became king of
Mycenae and Thyestes seduced Atreus’ wife. Atreus retaliated by
serving Thyestes’ two sons to him at a “reconciliation” dinner.
Thyestes cursed Atreus and his two sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus.
Sound familiar?
Menelaus was the king of Sparta and husband of the infamous Helen,
the reason (mythologically speaking) for the Trojan War!
Agamemnon was king of Mycenae and fought with his brother in the
Trojan War.
According to legend, both survived the war and returned safely
home, but Agamemnon was betrayed and killed by his wife,
Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus—another son of Thyestes!
Orestes avenged his father’s murder, which is the subject of
Aeschylus’ trilogy Oresteia.
Paradox: A seemingly contradictory statement, which upon
further analysis makes sense; that which sounds impossible
but is actually possible; a side-by-side play on contradictory
ideas that clash and reconcile simultaneously.
 “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.”
 “It’s the little things in life that are colossal.”
 “Stone walls do not a prison make.”
 “None so blind as those that will not see.”
 Paradox of blindness!
 By exercising freewill, Oedipus fulfills his fate!
Tragic Hero
 He is elevated to a high status and position in society, and he
possesses noble stature and greatness.
While he embodies nobility and virtue, he is flawed.
His downfall or demise is due in part to freewill, an error in
judgment (i.e., hamartia) associated with a tragic flaw (e.g.,
His downfall or demise is due in part to fate.
His misfortune is not wholly deserved; the punishment exceeds the
He gains awareness, insight, and self-knowledge as a result of his fall
from grace.
 An action of great magnitude is at the center of the plot.
 Pathos (that which evokes pity or sympathy) is an essential
element of the play.
 The plot is carefully sequenced, moving from the complication
to the unraveling or denouement.
 Complication: Prologue to turning point
 Denouement: Turning point to the resolution
 Complicated plots involve reversal (peripeteia), which is a sudden
change or reversal of circumstance or fortune, and recognition
(anagnorisis), which is a change from ignorance to knowledge.
 A catastrophe occurs, which usually spirals outward: not only does
the tragic hero suffer, but his family also suffers.
 A catharsis (a purification or purging of emotions; a spiritual
renewal) occurs.
Prologue, Parodos, Scene I, and Ode I (3-26):
Text-dependent Questions
 How does the Priest try to appeal to Oedipus?
 How does Oedipus respond?
 What is (are) Oedipus’ motive(s) for finding the murderer?
 What riddles does Teiresias share with Oedipus?
 How does Oedipus respond? What is ironic about his
 What has been revealed about Oedipus’ possible tragic flaw
and hamartia?
 Find an example of stichomythia? How is it being used? What
is its effect?
Prologue and Parodos (3-12): Important Quotes
 Priest: “You are not one of the immortal gods, we know;/Yet we have
come to you to make our prayer…/…You saved us/From the
Sphinx…/…yet you were never/Better informed than we, nor could
we teach you:/It was some god breathed in you to set us free” (5).
Oedipus: “Sick as you are, not one is sick as I./Each of you suffers in
himself alone/…but my spirit/Groans for the city, for myself, for you”
Creon: “Is it your pleasure to hear me with all these/Gathered around
us? I am prepared to speak,/But should we not go in?” (7)
Oedipus: Let them all hear it./It is for them I suffer, more than for
myself ” (7).
Creon: “The riddling Sphinx’s song/Made us deaf to all mysteries but
her own” (9).
Oedipus: “Then once more I must bring what is dark to light” (9).
Oedipus: “By avenging the murdered king I protect myself ” (9).
Scene I and Ode I (12-26): Important Quotes
Oedipus: “Thus I associate myself with the oracle/And take the side of the murdered king” (14).
Oedipus: “As for the criminal,…/…I pray that the man’s life be consumed in evil and wretchedness./And as for me, this curse
applies no less…”(14).
Oedipus: “Their son would have been my children’s brother,/If Laios had the luck of fatherhood!” (14)
Oedipus: “I say I take the son’s part, just as though/I were his son, to press the fight for him/And see it won!” (14)
Teiresias: “How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be/When there’s no help in the truth!” (17)
Teiresias: “Let me go home. Bear your own fate, and I’ll/Bear mine. It is better so: trust what I say” (17).
Teiresias: “When it comes to speech, your own is neither temperate/Nor opportune. I wish to be more prudent” (17).
Teiresias: “You are all ignorant./No; I will never tell you what I know./Now it is my misery; then, it would be yours” (18).
Teiresias: “What does it matter!/Whether I speak or not, it is bound to come” (18).
Oedipus: “Then, if ‘it’ is bound to come, you are bound to tell me” (18).
Teiresias: “No, I will not go on. Rage as you please” (19).
Oedipus: “I’d say the crime was yours, and yours alone” (19).
Teiresias: “You yourself are the pollution of this country” (19).
Teiresias: “I say that you are the murderer whom you seek” (20).
Teiresias: “Creon is no threat.You weave your own doom” (20).
Teiresias: “You mock my blindness, do you?/But I say that you, with both eyes, are blind” (22).
Teiresias: “This day will give you a father, and break your heart” (24).
Oedipus: “Your infantile riddles!” (24)
Teiresias: “A blind man,/Who has his eyes now; a penniless man, who is rich now; /And he will go tapping the strange earth
with his staff/To the children with whom he lives now he will be/Brother and father…to her/Who bore him, son and
husband…” (25).
Chorus: “Shall I believe my great lord criminal/At the raging word that a blind old man let fall?/I saw him…/Prove his heroic
mind! These evil words are lies” (26)
Scene II and Ode II: Hope
 What does it mean to have hope?
 What is the difference between hope and faith?
 At the end of scene two, Choragos says, “But there is hope: you have yet to
hear the shepherd” (44). To this Oedipus replies, “Indeed, I fear no other
hope is left me” (44).
 Then in Ode II, the Chorus says, “The tyrant is a child of Pride/Who
drinks from his great sickening cup/Recklessness and vanity,/Until from
his high crest headlong/He plummets to the dust of hope” (46).
 Based on these lines, what does Sophocles seem to be suggesting about
hope? Explain.
 Read the following poem by Emily Dickinson and the following quote by
Patrick Henry. What does each author seem to be suggesting about hope?
How do their interpretations of hope compare to that of Sophocles?
Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—
I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet—never—in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of me.
Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University
Press, 1999)
Patrick Henry from “Speech to the Virginia
Convention” (“Give Me Liberty Or Give Me
Death!”), delivered in Richmond, Virginia, on
March 23, 1775
Our petitions have been slighted; our
remonstrances have produced additional
violence and insult; our supplications have
been disregarded; and we have been spurned,
with contempt, from the foot of the throne.
In vain, after these things, may we indulge
the fond hope of peace and reconciliation.
There is no longer any room for hope. If we
wish to be free² if we mean to preserve
inviolate those inestimable privileges for
which we have been so long contending²if we
mean not basely to abandon the noble
struggle in which we have been so long
engaged, and which we have pledged
ourselves never to abandon until the glorious
object of our contest shall be obtained, we
must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight!
Source: Wirt, William. Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry .
(Philadelphia) 1836, as reproduced in The World's Great Speeches, Lewis
Copeland and Lawrence W. Lamm, eds., (New York) 1973.
Scene II and Ode II: Text-dependent Questions
 How are Oedipus and Creon foils? Provide evidence from the text
for support.
According to legend, who killed Laios and where was he killed?
What realization does Oedipus have regarding the murder? Why?
What is Oedipus’ backstory? Where was he living before arriving
in Thebes? Why did he leave this place? (41-44)
How are Oedipus and Iocaste foils? Provide evidence from the
text for support.
Oedipus Rex Summation: Prologue-Ode II (3-47)
 What might Oedipus’ tragic flaw be? Provide evidence from the
text for support.
 What errors in judgment (also known as ________________)
does Oedipus make? Provide evidence from the text for support.
 How would you rate Oedipus as a leader? Explain.
Scene III and Ode III (47-59)
 What news does the messenger from Corinth bring regarding
How does Oedipus react? What is ironic about his reaction? Why
does he react this way?
What does the messenger reveal about Oedipus’ birth? How do
Oedipus and Iocaste react? What is ironic about Iocaste’s reaction?
Why does she react this way?
How does Oedipus interpret Iocaste’s reaction?
This scene is the peripeteia, or the reversal of fortune: Oedipus
learns that Polybos is not his biological father, so the prophecy may
still come true!
How would you rate Oedipus as a leader?
Oedipus Rex Summation: Prologue-Ode IV
 What is the difference between tragic flaw and hamartia?
 What might Oedipus’ tragic flaw be? How is it illustrated?
 What is the peripeteia? When does it occur
 What is the anagnorisis? When does it occur?
Imagery and Symbolism
Explain how imagery and symbolism underscore theme. In other words, use details from the text
associated with imagery and symbolism to make inferences about theme.
 References to Mt. Kithairon
 References to Light vs. Dark/Day vs. Night
 References to Sight vs. Blindness
 References to the Number Three
In small groups of three to four:
1. Cite two to three direct references from the text with page numbers!
2. Identify a common theme that the direct references illustrate!
3. Explain how each of the direct references illustrates this theme!
4. Draw a picture that illustrates how imagery and symbolism underscore theme!
In two “jigsaw” groups share your results!
 Artisan
 Liaison
 Orator
 Page Master
Imagery and Symbolism
Step 1 (Small groups of five according to color and
 Group 1: References to Mt. Kithairon
 Group 2: References to Light vs. Dark/Day vs. Night
 Group 3: References to Sight vs. Blindness
 Group 4: References to the Number 3
Step 2 (Jigsaw groups according to color):
 Group 1: Blue
 Group 2: Orange

Oedipus Rex Power Point