Oedipus the King, lines 1–337
steps out of the royal palace of Thebes and is greeted by a procession of priests, who are
in turn surrounded by the impoverished and sorrowful citizens of Thebes. The citizens carry
branches wrapped in wool, which they offer to the gods as gifts. Thebes has been struck by a
plague, the citizens are dying, and no one knows how to put an end to it. Oedipus asks a priest
why the citizens have gathered around the palace. The priest responds that the city is dying and
asks the king to save Thebes. Oedipus replies that he sees and understands the terrible fate of
Thebes, and that no one is more sorrowful than he. He has sent
, his brother-in-law and
fellow ruler, to the Delphic oracle to find out how to stop the plague. Just then, Creon arrives, and
Oedipus asks what the oracle has said. Creon asks Oedipus if he wants to hear the news in private,
but Oedipus insists that all the citizens hear. Creon then tells what he has learned from the god
Apollo, who spoke through the oracle: the murderer of Laius, who ruled Thebes before Oedipus, is
in Thebes. He must be driven out in order for the plague to end.
Creon goes on to tell the story of Laius’s murder. On their way to consult an oracle, Laius and all
but one of his fellow travelers were killed by thieves. Oedipus asks why the Thebans made no
attempt to find the murderers, and Creon reminds him that Thebes was then more concerned with
the curse of the Sphinx. Hearing this, Oedipus resolves to solve the mystery of Laius’s murder.
enters, calling on the gods Apollo, Athena, and Artemis to save Thebes. Apparently, it
has not heard Creon’s news about Laius’s murderer. It bemoans the state of Thebes, and finally
invokes Dionysus, whose mother was a Theban. Oedipus returns and tells the Chorus that he will
end the plague himself. He asks if anyone knows who killed Laius, promising that the informant
will be rewarded and the murderer will receive no harsher punishment than exile. No one
responds, and Oedipus furiously curses Laius’s murderer and anyone who is protecting him.
Oedipus curses himself, proclaiming that should he discover the murderer to be a member of his
own family, that person should be struck by the same exile and harsh treatment that he has just
wished on the murderer. Oedipus castigates the citizens of Thebes for letting the murderer go
unknown so long. The Leader of the Chorus suggests that Oedipus call for
, a great
prophet, and Oedipus responds that he has already done so.