Oedipus the King

Ages ago (about 429--425 BC)
Sophocles presented a man who by all outward appearances seemed to be the most noble, most honorable of men. Did Fate deliver him to his tragic end, or did he choose his downfall--did he act in ways that led him to his shame?

How well do any of us know ourselves? Could we be blinded by pride or arrogance to our true natures? Or is what you see what you get? And finally, if we don't know ourselves, are we to be held accountable for our own actions? Who's responsible for how we behave?  

Can we see and
still be blind?

The Sphinx's Riddle:

"What goes on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?"


Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Oedipus and Sphinx. 1808.
Oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris, France.

Unit Plans:
  • Read the play together in class
  • Study Aristotle's definition of tragedy and tragic hero
  • Become familiar with Greek tragedy
  • Themes: self-knowledge, pride, arrogance
  • Analytical Focus: tone & irony
  • Terms to define (in groups)
  • Selected questions from the text (in groups)
  • Essay#1
Related Links:
Terms to define:
  1. tragedy
  2. comedy
  3. tragic hero (and what classifies one as a tragic hero)
  4. hamartia
  5. catharsis
  6. tragic flaw
  7. satire
  8. Deus ex machina
  9. melodrama
  10. farce
  11. Oedipus (what's the name mean?)
  12. oracle
  13. strophe
  14. antistrophe
  15. sphinx
Questions from the text:

These questions are from the Perrine text, pages 1359-60.

In your groups, read and respond to questions 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11 & 15


Cast of Characters:
  • Oedipus, King of Thebes, supposed son of Polybus and Merope, King and Queen of Corinth
  • Iokaste, wife of Oedipus, widow of King Laios
  • Kreon, brother of Iokaste, a prince of Thebes
  • Teiresias, a blind seer who serves Apollo
  • Priest
  • Messenger, from Corinth
  • Shepherd, former servant of Laios
  • Second Messenger, from the palace
  • Chorus of Theban Elders, narrates and reflects on action
  • Choragos
  • Antigone & Ismene (daughters of Oedipus and Iokaste; they do not speak)
  • Suppliants, Guards, Servants
Dramatic Irony:

Sophocles makes great use of dramatic irony in Oedipus Rex. We, as the audience, know quite a bit about Oedipus that he does not know. Watch for instances of dramatic irony in this play and take note of them. You will want to refer to these passages (hint, hint) later.

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2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 Dawn Hogue
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