Sophocles (496-406 B.C.)

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Biographical and Historical Background:


Oedipus the King (c.425 BC)

Study Questions:

Consider that many of the events in the traditional story of Oedipus (killing his father, solving the riddle of the Sphinx, marrying his mother, etc.) have already occurred when the play opens. Why? Why does Sophocles concentrate on the life of Oedipus after his becoming king of Thebes?


How would you describe the character of Oedipus? What sort of a person is he? Consider how Oedipus sees himself (as seen for example in the play's opening speech and his later dialogues with Creon and Tiresias). What character traits and dispositions are dominant in his personality?


What is the effect of Oedipus's insistence and promises regarding the hunting down and punishing of the murderer of Laius? What does this suggest concerning his character as well as the meaning of Sophocles's play?


What may be the purpose and significance of the interactions between Oedipus and characters like Tiresias and Creon?


Why does Tiresias hesitate to tell Oedipus the truth of his identity?


What is the significance of Oedipus's slow coming into awareness of that identity?


What is the significance of the physical blindness of the prophet Tiresias? Is blindness an important and repeated symbolic motif in the plain? How can we interpret Oedipus's act of self-blinding? Is his physical blindness symbolically similar to or different from that of Tiresias?


What do you make of the various situations at the end of the play (the suicide of Jocasta, Oedipus's self-blinding and exile, his prediction of a miserable life for his own children)? Why are the outcomes so tragic and extreme? What is the significance of the curse/prophecy which seems to haunt the family of Oedipus?


Is Oedipus an innocent victim of an unjust fate or does he bear some responsibility in the outcome of his life? Is his fate the result of unavoidable necessity or does he contribute to it through his own choices? Could he have changed the fate described in the prophecies? How?




Study Questions

Why is Antigone so insistent on burying the body of her brother Polynices? Is she aware of the punishments which Creon has promised for anyone attempting such a burial? Are her actions heroic? In what way?


Is the choice of burying Polynices symbolic in some way? What does that choice express? What seems to be most important to Antigone? What does she give up in making her choices? What are her alternatives? Are her possible choices related to a structured set of thematic oppositions in the play?


Why does she call her tomb a "bridal-bed"? Is she referring to Haemon? If not then who is she marrying?


How would you describe the character of Antigone? What evidence can we gather in this respect from an examination of her dialogues with her sister Ismene and with Creon? Does she have anything in common with her father Oedipus? What?


Do Antigone's choices have anything in common with the choices and situations in Oedipus's life? Is Antigone's tragic fate the result of an inevitable destiny or does she make choices which contribute to the fulfillment of that fate?


Are there any noticeable changes in the character of Creon in Antigone as compared with his role in Oedipus the King? What is the significance of those changes in connection with the events which lead up to his son's and his wife's suicides?

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