Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Section 4 Summary (lines 768-997)

Jocasta tries to comfort Oedipus by telling him how she and Laius took measures to avert a prophecy they received while still married stating that Laius would be killed by his own son. At this point in the play, neither Jocasta nor Oedipus realizes that she is his mother. Jocasta explains how she and Laius had a messenger leave the baby (Oedipus) with bound ankles (which caused Oedipus's swollen foot) in the wilderness to die. Jocasta and Laius hoped that by doing this they could keep the prophecy from coming true (she doesn't yet know that Oedipus survived.) She mentions that Laius was killed at a crossroads, shortly before Oedipus was made king. Oedipus is disturbed by her revelations and inquires further about the murder, growing more upset as Jocasta reveals more about the incident. At this point Oedipus is fearful that he is the victim of a great curse and he asks to interview the sole witness to Laius’s murder.

While they are waiting for the arrival of the witness, Jocasta pleads for Oedipus to explain his distress, and he reveals he heard from a drunk that he was not the son of Polybus, the king of Corinth. Oedipus then sought the advice of the oracle and it told him he was fated to wed his mother and murder his father. Greatly upset by this prophecy and wanting to prevent it, Oedipus left his mother and father in Corinth and during his journey came upon the same crossroads described by Jocasta. He then tells how he came upon a man and his retainers, and slew the lot of them in self-defense. Oedipus vainly hopes the survivor's testament will disprove what he most fears: that he killed Laius.

The confidence of the Chorus in Oedipus starts to wane as they praise the gods. They remind the audience that the proud tyrant (alluding to Oedipus) "crashes down the abyss—sheer doom" (l. 967). They continue, saying that all men (and women) must have reverence for the gods, and say they will lose faith in the gods if the Olympians fail to carry out the prophecies against men who defy them.

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