DISCUSSION QUESTIONS ON SOPHOCLES’S OEDIPUS REX
1. What are your first impressions of Oedipus as a person and ruler?
2. Oedipus’s kingdom, Thebes, is beset by the plague and agricultural decline—“crises”. What does this presage for the characters during the remainder of the play, do you think?
3. What did Oedipus hope to gain by sending his wife’s brother, Creon, to pray to the oracle at Delphi?
4. What can only be termed “magical thinking” permits Oedipus to connect the murder of Laius, former ruler of Thebes, with the state of the kingdom at the outset of the play. On what religious or moral premise must such a connection be based?
5. As readers or playgoers, we would not question the sincerity of Oedipus’s extended speech if we didn’t already suspect that someone other than a cold-blooded murderer is responsible for the death of Laius and the state of Thebes. What makes us think there is some other reason for these events (even if we already know that Oedipus himself performed the crime)?
6. Why does Tiresius initially refrain from divulging the truth to Oedipus and assembled others?
7. What is Oedipus’s response to Tiresius’s refusal, and then later, to his accusations?
8. Tiresius replies that he is beholden to no one but Apollo—the “higher authority” that the Greeks thought was God. This allows him to speak the painful truth to Oedipus. What caused Tiresius to change his mind and speak the truth, do you think?
9. Now that you have seen Oedipus react directly to adversity, is your opinion of him different? Would you characterize Oedipus as evil, or merely human, in his angry reaction to Tiresius’s speeches?
10. With whom does the “I” of the Chorus identify as it vows to keep an open mind about Oedipus until there is “certain proof” of his guilt?
11. Creon tells Oedipus that he has “lost his sense of balance” and is “sullen in yielding and brutal in rage”. Is Oedipus’s anger measured, or does it seem paranoid, to you?
12. What effect does the Chorus’s repeated vows of faith for his “good helmsmanship” have on your perceptions of Oedipus? Would you feel the same way if there were no Chorus speeches?
13. Why did the lone surviving slave of Laius’s party plead with Jocasta to leave Thebes when he saw Oedipus on the throne, do you think? Does this explain why Oedipus wants him back?
14. Oedipus calls himself an “abomination” for killing his father and marrying his mother. If he was aware of neither, why does he call himself evil? Is a man responsible for the evil of his actions if he is truly unaware that they are evil? Explain Oedipus’s ancient Greek thinking and your own.
15. The death of Polybus raises the question in everyone’s mind but those who know the truth—“Is Oedipus’s biological father Laius or Polybus?” What does it say about Oedipus and his feelings of guilt (or lack) that he clings to the illusion that Polybus was really his biological father?
16. “Many a man before you, in his dreams, has shared his mother’s bed.” Explain the significance of this statement of Jocasta’s in relation to the significance of this play down through the ages.
17. Oedipus’s outrage concerning his mother’s act of sending her baby away to its death belies the fact that the ancients must have done this often; such stories (such as the story of Moses-- Exodus 2: 1-6) are present in the Bible. For extra credit, do research in a library or the Internet on ancient practices of abortion and child-murder and present it in a short talk to the class.
18. “How could the furrows your father plowed bear you?” asks the chorus. Of what literary device is this sentence an example?
19. In a short paragraph, recount the events that lead up to the self-blinding of Oedipus.
20. Does it seem fair for Oedipus to call himself “the worst of men”? Why or why not?
21. What function might such sentiments serve the ancients who watch the play in the audience?
22. What basis is there for Oedipus’s fears that his daughters will not easily find spouses?
23. “Count no man happy till (Oedipus) dies,” says the Chorus to the audience. Why?