Brief Outline of Sophocles' Oedipus the King
[Notes on terminology may be found at the end of this document.]
Prologue: Oedipus addresses Suppliants,
accepts plea of the Priest,
explains the mission he has has sent Creon on.
Creon reports the Delphic Oracles revelation.
Parodos: Chorus lament, and prayer to various Gods.
Episode I: Oedipus exhortation and oath/curse
Agon between Tiresias and Oedipus (Oedipus interrogation of Tiresias).
Episode II: Agon between Creon and Oedipus
Jocasta mediates this conflict, then
seeks to ally Oedipus anxiety
by dismissing Tiresias prophecy
by dismissing prophecy in general
by adducing a case in point (reporting a particular history).
Oedipus (however) is disturbed by Jocastas proof.
Oedipus & Jocasta resolve to call the old servant for interrogation.
Episode III: Jocasta invokes the aid of Apollo.
Messenger brings news from Corinth:
King Polybdos has died (of natural causes),
and Oedipus is called back to Corinth to be king there.
Oedipus is still reluctant to return (since his mother is still alive).
Messenger seeks to allay his fears
by offering a further revelation (Oedipus is not the son of Polybdos & Meropê.
Oedipus wants confirmation from the old shepherd.
Jocasta realizes the truth, and begs Oedipus to desist.
Episode IV: Brief agon between Oedipus and the Old Shepherd (Oedipus interrogates the Old Shepherd).
Oedipus realizes the truth,
rushes into the palace.
Ode IV: "O the generations of men / the dying generations...." [Fagles] / "Alas for the seed of men...." [Fitzgerald].
Exodos: Second Messenger enters from palace, reports to Choragos
the death of Jocasta and
Oedipus enters: dialogue with Choragos: lament & petition.
Creon enters: dialogue with Oedipus.
Oedipus repents his treatment of Creon; Creon accepts this.
Oedipus requests to see daughters; Creon agrees.
Antigone & Ismene enter. [They speak no lines.] Oedipus addresses them
Mini-agon with Creon: Oedipus relents and is led away.
Choragos: "People of Thebes...look upon Oedipus...."
Notes on terminology
Title: Sophocles' play, outlined here, is variously known as Oedipus the King, Oedipus Rex and Oedipos Tyrannos.
Rex is the Latin word for "king," whose root in other grammatical cases [for example, regis, the genitive case, meaning "the king's" or "of the king"] shows up in the English words "regal" and "regulate." The Greek term tyrannos is the origin of the English term "tyrant," but does not carry the meaning of "oppressive dictator." The term meant rather a strong leader, who rules either by personal merit or by dynastic succession. Although this or that tyrannos could acquire the reputation this kind of bad rule, a tyrannos could be recognized as enlightened and beneficent. The words for "king" in Greek would be anax and basileus, but by the time of Sophocles Greek city-states were no longer ruled by kings, and at Athens the official who carried the title basileus was merely one among many magistrates, and, in particular, one who was charged with carrying out various priestly duties that originally had probably been part of the role of a king.
Prologue (prologos): the initial speech or address in a Greek tragedy. It has the function of setting forth the situation that gives rise to the subsequent action of the play.
In modern terms: it accomplishes the exposition (by summarizing the morbid condition that has befallen Thebes) and introduces the precipitating incident (Apollo's diagnosis, through the Delphic Oracle, that this sickness is due to a corruption within the city, in the person of the murderer of its former king, and his prognosis that this will continue until the murderer is eliminated by expulsion or death).
The prologue is followed by the parados, the entry of the Chorus (cf. our derived term "parade").
The Chorus (choros) is a group, often identified as the citizens of the city where the action takes place. It can be a silent witness to the dialogues that take place between the characters, but periodically it will perform a dance that it accompanies with words -- a stasimon or ode (odos). Odes serve to punctuate the action into distinct episodes, by commenting on what has just happened -- expressing thoughts and feelings it has aroused in the witnesses.
While the characters in tragedy came to be played by professional actors, the members of the chorus were amateurs, often stemming from the tribe of the playwright.
The personage who speaks on behalf of the Chorus, in dialogues, is the Choragos, in some translations (e.g., that of Fagles) referred to as Leader.
The term agon means "struggle" (cf. our derived term "agony"), and in Greek tragedy refers to an episode in which two or more characters come into conflict, when one character tries to extract information from another who is at pains to withhold it (e.g., the Oedipus's interrogation of Tiresias.
An episode (episodos), in Greek tragedy, is the part of the play between two choric songs. Since it is the equivalent to a unit of developed situation in modern theater, it is sometimes designated as a "scene," even though the Greek word skenos refers to a physical part of the theater itself.
The exodos is the part of a Greek drama that follows the last song of the Chorus. (Compare the English word exodus, taken directly from Latin, meaning "departure." At the end of the exodos, in fact, the actors and chorus leave the playing area (orchestra).
For terminology concerning the physical layout of the Greek theater, see Introduction to Greek Stagecraft at the Didaskalia site.
Spelling of names
In writing for our course, you are welcome to adopt any of these alternatives.
Return to the Index to Study Guides on Sophocles' Oedipus the King.
Suggestions are welcome. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Contents copyright © 2002 by Lyman A. Baker.
Permission is granted for non-commercial educational use; all other rights reserved.
This page last updated 23 September 2002 .