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Oedipus Rex | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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How does the theme of blindness in King Lear by William Shakespeare (1564–1616) and Sophocles's Oedipus Rex compare and contrast?

In King Lear the main character is, like Oedipus, a ruler whose pride results in metaphorical blindness. King Lear blinds himself by attempting to manipulate events to protect his own power. He expects his children to flatter him to prove their love and will divide his kingdom based on who loves him best. Two of his daughters lie to his face with exaggerated declarations of affection. His daughter Cordelia, however, who truly loves him, refuses to stroke his ego. Blind to the evidence of her honest affection for him, he exiles her, an action that eventually leads to both their deaths. His hubris turns out to be a fatal mistake that could have been avoided. In Oedipus Rex, on the other hand, Oedipus's situation is unavoidable due to the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother. However, he also blinds himself metaphorically by trying to escape from the truth of the prophecy out of fear and a desire to do damage control by fleeing Corinth. The way he becomes king of Thebes by defeating the Sphinx reinforces his assumption that he is powerful enough to control events. What Oedipus discovers is the extent to which he has created his own blindness. This contributes to his decision to become literally blind.

How does Creon show his loyalty to Oedipus in Oedipus Rex?

Creon first shows his loyalty by swearing an oath that he will willingly order his own death if he is proven to be Laius's killer, though he knows he is not the murderer. Then he shows his loyalty by figuring out the kindest way to treat a blind, terrified, destroyed Oedipus. He brings Oedipus his children, and he agrees to let Oedipus banish himself, as well as agreeing to take care of Oedipus's daughters so they do not have lives as horrible as Oedipus's life has turned out to be. Even though Oedipus treated him as if he were a traitor, Creon still acts out of loyalty and love for Oedipus right up until the end of the play.

In Oedipus Rex what is the significance of the three crossroads where Oedipus kills Laius?

The crossroads is the point at which three roads meet and, therefore, is the point on a journey that forces a traveler to decide which way to turn. In Oedipus's case the gods have dictated the direction his journey will take instead, and he kills his own father at the crossroads without knowing what he's done. The crossroads are thus a reminder that Oedipus's fate is inevitable and not his to decide. The fact that there are three roads that converge is also important. The number three recalls the prophecy that binds three people together—Oedipus; his father, Laius; and his mother, Jocasta—in a terrible fate. The very crossroads Oedipus travels in order to escape the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother embodies his inability to escape that very prophecy.

In Oedipus Rex why does Oedipus refuse to listen to Creon's pleas that he is not Laius's killer?

Oedipus will not listen to Creon partly because of pride. After all, who would not want to be king, as far as he is concerned? He also will not listen to Creon because, if Creon did not put Teiresias up to repeating the exact prophecy he had been trying to escape, then Teiresias might be right when he claims Oedipus is the killer. At this point in the story, that is a fate too awful for Oedipus to even begin to contemplate. He purposely remains blind to that possibility, refusing to listen to Creon's very compelling explanation and oath.

How does Jocasta wield power over Oedipus and Creon in Oedipus Rex?

Jocasta chastens the two men, reminding them of the real matter at hand, which is the plague that has spread throughout the city. While the two men are bickering about who is right and who is wrong, people are dying. She shows she has power over both of them by getting them to stop arguing and getting Creon to leave the house. She also shows she has power over Oedipus by getting him to set aside his pride and take Creon's oath seriously. She even gets Oedipus to retract the threat to either kill Creon or banish him forever from Thebes.

What is the significance of the Chorus's final words in Oedipus Rex?

What happens to Oedipus may seem unique and isolated because it is so extreme (killing his father, marrying his mother). The final words of the Chorus suggest otherwise, forging a connection between Oedipus and the rest of humanity. They tell how Oedipus was once "the most powerful of men," but now "a surging tide of terrible disaster sweeps around him." They conclude that "while we wait to see that final day, we cannot call a mortal being happy before he's passed beyond life free from pain." The Chorus's final words suggest that suffering itself may be difficult to avoid, perhaps inevitable, and no one should assume it is possible to rise above it until he or she is dead. In this sense the words may be read as both a warning to humanity to avoid hubris and an expression of compassion toward Oedipus, whose suffering does not isolate him but ultimately links him to humanity as a whole.

In Episode 3 of Oedipus Rex, how is the Chorus's lamentation regarding bad worship illustrated?

In Episode 3 of Oedipus Rex, Jocasta claims to her husband that she does not believe oracles are worth anything and that the prophecy of the god Apollo was incorrect in her case. She holds on to this belief because it suits her and protects her from the truth. However, she prays to Apollo at his altar to get Oedipus to stop asking questions about his past and listening to people who tell him bad things about it. One suspects she knows what kinds of answers he will get, so it is particularly irreverent for her to give offerings to Apollo to encourage her husband to fight Apollo's prophecy. It is no wonder the Chorus is losing faith in people's ability to worship the gods in a way that shows they respect their power. Jocasta worships only to get what she wants and to protect her husband from that very power.

In Oedipus Rex how does the commentary in Stasimon 2 reflect the Chorus's new opinion of Oedipus?

In Stasimon 2 the Chorus sings about men who are arrogant enough not to revere the gods, hoping that these men are taken by fate and their lives made miserable. It sounds as if they suspect that Oedipus did not listen to the prophecy and take it seriously enough to know it would happen. If Oedipus had simply made offerings to the gods, asked for mercy, and stayed put, he might not have run away, and he might not have killed Laius. The Chorus believes that, if there is a prophecy given by Apollo and it does not come true, then there is no reason to be religious. At the same time, it plans to keep "demonstrating piety and reverence." It appears the Chorus believes that Oedipus, by questioning the prophecy, is doomed.

In Oedipus Rex why does the messenger say it is good news that Polybus is not Oedipus's father?

The messenger in Episode 3 is not the person who first found the baby. Therefore, he does not know that the shepherd did not really find the baby on a rock but that he brought the baby himself into the wilderness at the order of Jocasta and Laius. He is also not aware that Laius pinned his son's ankles together. The only thing he knows about the prophecy is what Oedipus has told him. The messenger was not there when Jocasta spoke of her experience with the same type of prophecy and her solution to the problem. He only knows he removed the pin from Oedipus's ankles and gave him to Polybus and Merope. He thinks Oedipus has completely avoided the prophecy because now Oedipus does not know who his real parents actually are.

In Oedipus Rex Episode 3, how does Oedipus's accusation of Jocasta reflect his opinion of her?

In Episode 3 Jocasta tries to convince Oedipus to stop asking questions. He assumes she says this because she is ashamed of his background and thinks he no longer has a noble lineage. He thinks she is upset that he is not the son of Polybus and Merope of Corinth and that he could possibly be of lower birth. His opinion of her is such that he believes nobility is the most important thing to her. This belief could not be further from the truth. Jocasta is trying to protect Oedipus from figuring out he is her son. When she hears that the servant who witnessed Laius's murder is the one who gave the messenger the baby with his ankles pinned together, she knows the shepherd she trusted to kill her son did not fulfill his mission and that her son is not only alive but is also married to her.

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