Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Important Quotes

The following important quotes convey information about themes, symbols and motifs or the characters of the play. Section (as divided by the chorus) and line numbers are indicated.

There are many translations of the play, these quotes and line numbers refer to the translation by Robert Fagles The Three Theban Plays: Antigone; Oedipus the King; Oedipus at Colonus, published by Penguin Classics (1st edition).

Section 1. Lines 6-9:

“I thought it wrong, my children, to hear the truth from others, messengers. Here I am myself—you all know me, the world knows my fame: I am Oedipus”
- Oedipus

Oedipus addresses the people of Thebes in this opening passage, which right away sets up the paradigm of dramatic irony Sophocles employs throughout the work. What makes these particular lines ironic is that Oedipus is known not only to the people of Thebes for defeating the Sphinx, but by the actual theater audience because of his terrible fate, which had long been known through the retelling of myths. Also, it is through messengers that Oedipus eventually pieces together the puzzle of his life, leading him to his ghastly revelations—the truth—of his life.

Section 2. Lines 284-285:

“I curse myself as well…if by any chance he proves to be an intimate of our house”
- Oedipus

Oedipus says these lines while pronouncing a curse on the murderer of Laius. He hasn't yet realized he is the murder and is thus cursing himself—a curse that will later be carried out. This decree of punishment is ironic because he is both judge and criminal.

Section 2. Line 499:

“This day will bring your birth and your destruction”
- Tiresias

Spoken by Tiresias to Oedipus, this line acts as a riddle to Oedipus, a master at solving riddles, except he has no patience for this one. Tiresias provokes Oedipus by challenging his ability to solve riddles. This line also foreshadows the origins of Oedipus, the death of his wife, the loss of his sight, and the decree he pronounced on Laius's murderer being carried out upon Oedipus himself. Tiresias is directly referring to Oedipus's peripeteia, or reversal of circumstances.

Section 4. Lines 963-967:

“Pride breeds the tyrant violent pride, gorging, crammed to bursting with all that is overripe and rich with ruin—clawing up to the heights, headlong pride crashes down the abyss—sheer doom!”
- Chorus

This commentary on the effects of pride occurs when Oedipus is quickly finding out more details about his two edged curse, and does not cease trying to find the truth, despite pleas from Jocasta. The sentiment of pride being Oedipus’s downfall is one that is repeated throughout the play, with Tiresias being the first to mention it. Oedipus is a proud man, he is praised as the King of Thebes and the defeater of the Sphinx, but it is his pride, his own belief that he is a good man who is favored by the gods, that leads him to unravel this very belief. In his attempt to find the historical evidence to prove he is favored by the gods, he only proves to himself and those around him that he suffers from a cruel fate.

Section 5. Lines 1188-1190:

“I count myself the son of Chance, the great goddess, giver of all good things—I'll never see myself disgraced”
- Oedipus

These lines are spoken by Oedipus before he is aware that the prophecy he tried avoid has come true. However, this quote is just as true at the end of the play, where Oedipus knows and accepts his horrible fate. In Greek mythology, Fortune (Chance) is the goddess of fate and she is depicted as veiled, as to be unbiased of those to whom she was distributing good or bad luck. In the situation in which he says this line, Oedipus is dealing with the newfound fact that the people who raised him were not his parents. He thinks that because his patronage is unknown, that Fortune must be his mother, since he has been gifted with greatness. At the end of the play, the irony is that Oedipus is still greatly under the guidance of Fortune, but rather than favoring him, it destroys him.

Section 7. Lines 1471-1472:

“What good were eyes to me? Nothing I could see could bring me joy”
- Oedipus

Oedipus speaks these lines in response to a senator’s questioning as to why he gouged out his own eyes. He believes it is better to no longer see the things and people around him. This is a testament to Oedipus’s character that he is willing to accept a harsh, self-administered punishment, and accept it with all the grace he can muster. At this point in the play, Oedipus sees no alternative to blind exile and speaks calmly in lyric form.

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