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Oedipus Rex | Episode 3 | Summary

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Summary

Jocasta comes to the altar of Apollo and places an offering there, hoping to stop her husband from thinking about the past and listening to the prophecies. A messenger comes to tell her that Polybus, who is supposedly Oedipus's father, has died of natural causes. This news gives Jocasta hope that the prophecy is not true because Polybus was not killed by his son. Oedipus hesitantly pronounces oracles worthless but says there is still one thing that bothers him: his mother, Merope, is still alive, and the other part of the prophecy claims he will marry his mother and have children with her. Jocasta tells him not to worry about it.

The messenger then says that the good news is that there is no reason for Oedipus to fear going back to Corinth. This is because Oedipus is not, in fact, the real son of Polybus and Merope. Oedipus was a gift from a shepherd who found him on a rock, with his ankles bound, as a child. The messenger took pity on the child and removed the pin from his ankles, bringing the baby to Polybus and Merope, who did not have children of their own. But the messenger was not the person who found the baby. Oedipus asks the messenger who gave the child to him, and the messenger says it was another shepherd, a servant of King Laius. The Chorus leader says the shepherd they are looking for is the very servant they have called to come explain what he witnessed when Laius was killed. Jocasta suddenly realizes who Oedipus is, and she tries to convince him to stop asking questions. He, however, is determined to know more about his birth. She says it is enough for her to suffer, and Oedipus assumes she is worried about his lineage. Jocasta tells him she is trying to protect him and begs him not to seek the truth. Frantic and unable to stop him from learning the truth, she runs into the palace and says she will never speak again.

Analysis

Jocasta prefers to use reason and logic to counsel Oedipus, but her methods fail as she tries to stop him from learning the truth about himself. The woman who thinks oracles and prophecy are useless and untrue resorts to praying at Apollo's altar to get Oedipus to stop torturing himself. Oedipus, however, has to know what has happened, and, when the messenger tells him his parents really are not his biological parents, he cannot stop asking questions. The messenger's admission that he removed a pin from Oedipus's ankles when he found him and he received him from Laius's shepherd opens up the truth to Jocasta in a way she can no longer avoid.

Jocasta is willing to bear her shame alone to keep Oedipus in the dark about what she has done, whom he has killed, and how they have fulfilled the prophecy together. But Oedipus will not stop asking questions: "I cannot prove false to my own nature, nor can I ever cease from seeking out the facts of my own birth." He wants to speak with the shepherd who is Laius's servant, the one who is the witness to the murder, because he knows this last piece of information will reveal the whole truth.

Oedipus is unwilling to let the truth remain hidden or let his people suffer for his actions, while Jocasta will not sacrifice her husband's mental stability for the sake of the truth. She realizes she cannot stop him, though, and she no longer has a reason to speak. Her statement, "Alas, you poor miserable man! There's nothing more that I can say to you" is the literal truth. She cannot remain alive knowing he, too, must bear the shame of their relationship.

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