Prologue (1-150) - Oedipus, Priest and Creon
What is the dramatic purpose of the prologue? How does Oedipus characterize himself (8)? What is his attitude toward the suppliants (13-14)?
What conditions in Thebes does the Priest describe (25-30)? How do the suppliants view Oedipus (31-34;40;46)? The Priest refers to Oedipus's saving of Thebes from the Sphinx (35-38), a monster with human female head and breasts and a lion's body with wings. The "tax" (36) which the Thebans paid the Sphinx was in the form of young men killed by the monster when they were unable to answer the riddle:2 "What has one voice and four feet, two feet and three feet?" The answer which only Oedipus was able to provide was "man" (crawling on all fours as a baby, walking unaided on two feet throughout most of his life and finally walking with the aid of a cane in old age). What request does the Priest make of Oedipus (41-42;51)?
2Although we associate riddles with children, these enigmatic questions were taken very seriously by primitive cultures and are often prominent in myths, which have their origin in a prehistoric era. Accordingly, riddle solvers were highly respected for their intelligence.
Dramatic irony is a much-used literary device in this play. Remember that the Athenian audience came into the theater already knowing the story of Oedipus and his horrible fate. Explain the irony of 60-61. What step has Oedipus already taken to deal with the problem (68-73)? According to Creon what did Apollo3 say must be done in order to cure Thebes of its pollution4 (95-107)? According to Creon what were the circumstances of Laius's death (114-123)? What motive does Oedipus assign to the killer of Laius (124-125)? What is Oedipus resolved to do (135-137)? Explain the irony of 137-141.
3 Creon had gone to obtain this information from Apollo's oracle at Delphi (also referred to as Pytho; Apollo himself is sometimes called Phoebus