Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Section 6 Analysis (lines 1215-1350)

All the dramatic irony and tension building throughout the work culminates in this section when Oedipus learns, beyond all doubt, the truth about himself. His understanding of his actions, ignorance, and misdirected threats now equals that of the audience. The back and forth between Oedipus and the shepherd who doesn't want to reveal the truth serves only to heighten the drama up until the point of Oedipus's terrible revelation. An empathetic audience can't help but feel how tragic these events are despite knowing already how the story ends. Sophocles keeps up the suspense, however, by having Oedipus rush off the stage—the audience still knows Oedipus has yet to maim himself.

Oedipus's epiphany (which includes a play on words about his vision) "all come true, all burst to light" (l. 1306) is immediately followed by lines from the Chorus that connect Oedipus's suffering to the human experience: "You are my great example, you, your life, your destiny, Oedipus, man of misery—I count no man blest" (ll. 1317-1319). If even Oedipus, who beat the Sphinx and became king, leads such a cursed life, what good can any other person look forward to in his or her life?

The Chorus is also arguably mirroring the audience's build to catharsis. One goal of Greek tragedy was to achieve catharsis, or a purging of emotion. A tragic hero, like Oedipus, is a person of high status who experiences a reversal of fortune (peripeteia). Sophocles increases the efficacy of this device with the Chorus's declaration of mankind's situation, effectively redirecting the emotions tied up with this well-known story to apply the lives of the audience members.

Contents