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Oedipus Rex Book Summary

by Sophocles

Oedipus Rex



Oedipus Rex, a classic Athenian tragedy by Sophocles, tells the story of Oedipus, the king of Thebes, who unknowingly fulfills a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. As he investigates a plague ravaging the city, he uncovers the horrifying truth of his origins and the crimes he has unwittingly committed. The play explores themes of fate, free will, and the nature of truth.

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Author & Writing Background

Sophocles was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, known for his masterful storytelling and exploration of human nature. He wrote over 120 plays, of which only seven have survived in their entirety. Oedipus Rex is considered his masterpiece and a cornerstone of Western literature, renowned for its complex characters, dramatic irony, and timeless themes.

Key Takeaways

The Prophecy

Oedipus is born under a terrible prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother. His parents, the King and Queen of Corinth, attempt to evade this fate by abandoning him as a baby, but their actions inadvertently set the prophecy in motion.

Oedipus the King

Oedipus, unaware of his true origins, becomes the king of Thebes after solving the riddle of the Sphinx and unknowingly kills his biological father, Laius, in a roadside altercation.

The Plague and Investigation

Thebes is struck by a devastating plague, and Oedipus vows to find the cause and save his city. He consults the oracle and learns that the plague is a consequence of the unpunished murder of the previous king, Laius.

Unraveling the Truth

As Oedipus investigates, he gradually uncovers the truth about his past and his unwitting fulfillment of the prophecy. He discovers that he is not the biological son of the Corinthian king and queen, but the abandoned son of Laius and Jocasta, the current Queen of Thebes and his wife.

Jocasta’s Suicide

Jocasta, realizing the horrific truth and the incestuous nature of her relationship with Oedipus, hangs herself in despair.

Oedipus’s Self-Mutilation

Overwhelmed by guilt and horror, Oedipus blinds himself with Jocasta’s brooches, unable to bear the sight of the suffering he has caused.

Exile and Reflection

Oedipus, now blind and exiled from Thebes, reflects on the nature of fate, free will, and the limitations of human knowledge.

Themes of Tragedy

The play explores universal themes of human suffering, the search for truth, the consequences of pride, and the complex relationship between fate and free will.

FAQ about Oedipus Rex

What is the main conflict in Oedipus Rex?

The main conflict is between Oedipus’s desire to uncover the truth and the devastating consequences of that truth, which lead to his downfall and suffering.

Is Oedipus a victim of fate or responsible for his actions?

The play presents a complex interplay of fate and free will. While the prophecy shapes Oedipus’s destiny, his own choices and actions contribute to its fulfillment. The question of his ultimate responsibility remains a subject of debate and interpretation.

What is the significance of the Sphinx in the story?

The Sphinx represents the challenges and riddles of life that Oedipus must overcome. His ability to solve the Sphinx’s riddle foreshadows his intelligence and determination, but also his eventual downfall due to his pursuit of knowledge and truth.

Oedipus Rex Quotes

  • “To throw away an honest friend is, as it were, to throw your life away.”
  • “How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be when there’s no help in truth!”
  • “Time eases all things.”