Great Books 101: Ancient to Medieval

"Sophocles, Oedipus Rex"

Overview

Oedipus Rex is a tragedy written by Sophocles in Athens in the 5th century BC. The play tells the story of Oedipus, who is prophesied at birth to kill his father and commit incest with his mother. As is characteristic of ancient Greek drama, the play shows a man caught in inescapable imperfection. The story of Oedipus is the story of human nature—we may think we are doing the best thing but in fact we are unwittingly doing the worst thing. Oedipus is a good-hearted leader, who loves his family and his city. Nevertheless, his every decision and act in his quest to find the murderer of Laius, the former king of Thebes, makes his situation worse. His relentless pursuit of justice pushes him headlong into tragedy. In this, the play displays a key feature of Western Civilization that has contributed to its greatness—the capacity to pursue the truth while at the same time being self-critical.

Lecture

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Recommended Readings 

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the role of the chorus in Greek drama, and why is its role so important?
  2. How does the virtue of Oedipus lead to his tragic downfall?
  3. Is it possible to reconcile the concept of free will with the seemingly inevitable outcome of the play?

Q & A Session

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