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Oedipus Rex | Prologos | Summary

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Greek tragedies have a unique structure. They are broken into parts, and each part has a specific purpose:

  1. Prologos: the introduction to the play that sets the scene for the story and gives background
  2. Parados: introduces the audience to the Chorus and its role in explaining the story
  3. Episode(s): during which the plot takes place
  4. Stasimon(s): the Chorus's response to the episode that precedes it
  5. Exodos: the Chorus's final chant, focusing on the moral of the play

Summary

Oedipus, king of Thebes, had arrived in the city as a stranger after the death of King Laius. He was given the crown because he saved the city from the Sphinx, a mythological creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human. Oedipus comes out of the palace to speak with the high priest about the plague that has spread throughout the city, and he asks what he can do to help. Grieving for the loss of so many people, he says he is willing to put himself at risk to help them. His life is less important than the well-being of his city, and he would be "hard-hearted" if he did not do everything he could to alleviate their suffering. The priest begs him to "restore our city" and suggests he send someone to consult Apollo for advice. Oedipus replies that he has already sent Creon, his brother-in-law, to ask for assistance. Creon returns and reports that Apollo said the plague is caused by the unavenged death of King Laius. Oedipus must find Laius's killer and avenge his death in order to save his people from the pestilence destroying their crops, making women infertile, and killing men, women, and children. Oedipus promises he will find the killer and punish him.

Analysis

The Prologos, the introduction to the play, sets the scene for the story and gives background. When Oedipus arrived at Thebes, he saved the city from the Sphinx, so he has already established himself as a hero to the people. He makes quite a grand entrance, stating, "I, Oedipus, whose fame all men acknowledge." From his first appearance onstage, Oedipus already displays his overreaching pride in his own ability to save the city from the plague.

When Creon returns from consulting the oracle, Oedipus tells him that "the grief I feel for these citizens is even greater than any pain I feel for my own life." This statement of feeling for others shows that Oedipus is not entirely driven by pride, and he genuinely wants to help his people. He questions Creon about Laius's death and does not stop until he has all of the information he can possibly glean. He promises to "once again shed light on darkness." He is, however, afraid the killer will come after him, so his zeal to find the culprit is not entirely unselfish, and he admits as much.

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