The Oedipus Cycle (full name: Sophocles, Oedipus Cycle: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone) is a book that consists of three plays that were originally written by ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. The three plays were collectively translated by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald.
- Main article: Oedipus Rex
Oedipus Rex is the first story featured in the book, and its main plot involves the story of Oedipus's realization of his fulfillment of a prophecy he received.
Oedipus is informed of a plague hitting upon the citizens of Thebes. Creon informs Oedipus that the cause was the result of the fact that the murderer of Laius has not been caught; Oedipus thus urges anyone who has information regarding the murder to tell him immediately.
Oedipus consults with the blind prophet Teiresias to learn the truth; however, Teiresias asserts that the murderer was actually Oedipus himself. Furious at this accusation, Oedipus lashes out against Creon, believing he was attempting to undermine his power. Oedipus's wife Iocasta later comes to calm Oedipus, convincing him that the prophecy probably wasn't true.
As they converse with each other Oedipus starts to realize a terrifying possibility that Teiresias might have actually been correct: Laius's murder took place at a crossroads, and earlier Oedipus was at a crossroads. He remembers that at Corinth he received a prophecy by an oracle that he was to murder his father and sleep with his mother. To prevent this from coming true Oedipus left Corinth, but during the road trip he encountered a carriage that attempted to overtake him. Oedipus ended up killing its rider, which was actually Laius.
A shepherd later comes to reveal his part of the puzzle, effectively proving the oracle to be true after all. Iocasta hangs herself in shame, and Oedipus gouges his eyes out as a result of his guilt. Creon agrees to take care of his daughters, Antigone and Ismene, while Oedipus exiles himself from Thebes, never to come back again.
Oedipus at ColonusEdit
- Main article: Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus at Colonus continues the story of Oedipus as he travels to Colonus with his daughter, Antigone. Oedipus is old and blind, and requires the assistance of his daughters.
Ismene comes to tell Oedipus that Eteocles has seized the throne of Thebes and banished his older brother Polyneices from the city. Oedipus strongly criticizes his sons, however, for mistreating him in the past, and refuses to comply with Creon's request for him to be buried at the border of Thebes, due to an oracle giving power to the city at which Oedipus is buried.
Theseus, king of Athens, meets and befriends Oedipus, sympathizing with him and offering him citizenship of Athens. When Creon comes and captures Ismene and threatens to attack Oedipus, Theseus comes to Oedipus's aid and successfully overpowers Creon and the Thebans.
Later Polyneices comes to reconcile with Oedipus and to ask for assistance in attacking Thebes, but Oedipus curses him for mistreating him in the past and for banishing him from Thebes. Oedipus curses both of his sons to die in battle. Shortly after Polyneices leaves, a thunder strike from Zeus foreshadows Oedipus's death, and Oedipus brings in Theseus to accompany him before his death. Oedipus offers to have his body lain to rest at Athens, but he informs Theseus that his burial site must remain a secret until his next heir. Theseus agrees, and Antigone acknowledges it and leaves Athens.
- Main article: Antigone
Antigone is the final play of the three Theban plays.
Polyneices and Eteocles have both died as a result of Oedipus's curse, and Creon becomes the new ruler of Thebes. Polyneices's body, under Creon's decree, is to be left in the battlegrounds to be left to the wild animals. Antigone decides to do justice and bury her brother's body, but her sister Ismene advises against it. Antigone disregards her advice.
A Sentry later appears to inform Creon of the burial of Polyneices. The Sentry brings in Antigone, who faces a now infuriated Creon. Creon concludes by imprisoning Antigone and Ismene, whom he believes was also responsible for the crime. Haemon appears and urges Creon to spare Antigone's life, but Creon refuses. Thereupon Haemon turns against his father.
Eventually Creon decides to set Ismene free and imprison Antigone in a cave underground. Teiresias comes to warn Creon that because he left Polyneices unburied and kept Antigone underground, he will be gravely punished. Shaken up by this fact, Creon reluctantly agrees to right his wrongs. However, when he visits the cave, he finds Antigone dead, as she committed suicide by hanging herself. Next to her is Creon's son Haemon, who has killed himself upon seeing Antigone.
Eurydice, Creon's wife, learns of their deaths and her husband's wrongdoings, and she commits suicide as well. Distraught and highly ashamed, Creon realizes his horrible mistakes. He laments over his life and the acts of wrong he has done.
- Oedipus - the titular character of the first two plays. He is brave and proud, but his temper is easily set off if anyone attempts to undermine his power. Once he finds out the prophecy was true that he would sleep with his father Laius and sleep with his mother Iocasta, he blinds himself with Iocasta's pins. Later on he becomes much more humble and weak, and finally he dies at Colonus, an area near Athens; his resting place is kept a secret.
- Antigone - Oedipus's faithful daughter who accompanies him to Colonus and acts as his guide. She is compassionate and concerned for the welfare of others, especially those close to her, as evident by her determination to bury her brother Polyneices despite a death penalty for doing so. She dies after being imprisoned in an underground cave, and this causes grief for her lover Haemon, who kills himself in response.
- Ismene - Oedipus's other daughter. Although she remains faithful to her father, she shows some cowardice and indecision, in contrast to Antigone. When Antigone tries to convince her to bury Polyneices's body, she refuses in fear of punishment. However, Ismene does show some desirable traits, such as when she offers to die along with Antigone despite not committing the crime of Polyneices's burial.
- Creon - Oedipus's half-brother who was initially on good terms with Oedipus. However, when Eteocles usurps the throne, Oedipus turns on him after Creon forcefully tries to bring Oedipus back to Thebes. Later, Creon takes the Theban throne, but during his rule he makes the critical mistake of disgracing Polyneices's body, which ultimately leads to others' deaths and his own profound grief.
- Theseus - king of Athens who takes Oedipus into his welcome arms and grants him his utmost companionship at Colonus. When Oedipus dies, Theseus is the only person Oedipus trusts to keep his burial site a secret until his next heir.
- Teiresias - the blind prophet from Thebes who is the first to know that Oedipus murdered Laius. Oedipus criticizes Teiresias for his accusation. Later, Teiresias warns Creon of the disastrous consequences of leaving Polyneices's body out in the open.
- Polyneices - one of Oedipus's sons who is thrown out of Thebes by his younger brother Eteocles. After he fails to convince Oedipus to ally with him in the fight for control, he is cursed by his father to die along with his brother in battle. Polyneices marches to battle with his Argive army, and he dies as the result of the curse. His body is left out in the battlegrounds by Creon, which causes a series of unfortunate events.
- Laius - Oedipus's real father. Laius is murdered at a crossroads when he encounters Oedipus leaving Corinth in fear of the prophecy.
- Polybus - Oedipus's adoptive father. He and Merope receive Oedipus when he was a baby from a shepherd. Polybus dies early on in the plays, and his death brings temporary relief to Oedipus as it proves part of the prophecy incorrect.
- Merope - Oedipus's adoptive mother.
- Shepherd - there are several shepherds that play a key part in the prophecy. Baby Oedipus is passed on from shepherd to shepherd, until finally Polybus and Merope receive him.
- Choragos - leader of the Chorus of men. He, along with the Chorus, follows Oedipus everywhere, and at one point he convinces him not to execute Creon when Oedipus blames him for hiring Teiresias to undermine his authority.
- Eurydice - Creon's wife who kills herself after hearing of Creon's actions that cause the death of Antigone and Haemon.
- Haemon - Creon's son who kills himself after seeing Antigone's dead body.
- Eteocles - one of Oedipus's sons who usurps the throne from Polyneices. After he dies his body is honored by Creon, unlike Polyneices's.
The main themes that persist throughout the plays are loyalty and the downfall of the strong.
In the beginning, Oedipus was mighty, strong, and proud. As king, he asserted his authority over others and felt obligated to protect his citizens. However, when he blinds himself after his realization, he transforms into a weak, frail, and blind man. He becomes the polar opposite of what he once was, and the Chorus laments over his drastic change of power.
Similarly, Creon faces the same situation when he comes to power in Thebes. He is powerful and possesses a strong determination to consolidate his power, such as when he comes to Oedipus to beg him to come back. He abuses his power when he orders that Eteocles be honored while Polyneices is disgraced. This ultimately leaves to his comeuppance when his wife and son die, and in the end he becomes overcome with grief.
Loyalty is a powerful theme that remains throughout the plays. Oedipus's daughters, in contrast to Oedipus's sons, are loyal to their father, which causes Oedipus to favor them over his sons. It is evident that Sophocles may have favored females over males, as he portrays the daughters in a positive way and disgraces the sons. The daughters are shown to have persistent loyalty, which ultimately saves them from Oedipus's curse.