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The Banishment of Oedipus

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 May 2015

D.A Hester*
University of Adelaide


The Choephori and the Bacchae remain masterpieces of Greek literature although an unkind fate has removed a leaf (or more) from their texts. For the first part of this article I would like to assume that an unkinder fate has deprived us of the end of that greater masterpiece, the Oedipus Rex. The play (as we have it) now concludes with the heart-breaking farewell of Oedipus to his infant daughters. We could wish no better end, but it is not characteristic of Greek tragedy in general or of Sophoclean tragedy in particular to end on a dramatic high-point; loose ends must be tied up and the tension must be eased. We may reasonably assume that some such development occurred at the end of the Oedipus Rex. Fortunately, there is a good deal of evidence to tell us (in general) what happened. The versions of Euripides’ Phoenissae and Seneca’s Oedipus may be useful, particularly the latter (which is much closer to the Sophoclean original); there is, of course, Sophocles’ own Oedipus Coloneus; most important of all, there is the evidence of the Oedipus Rex itself, to which I shall now turn.

Research Article
Copyright © Australasian Society for Classical Studies 1984

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1 On the end of the Oedipus Rex see esp. Jebb, R.C., edition (Cambridge 1883);Google ScholarGraffunder, P.L.W., ‘Über den Ausgang des König Oedipus von Sophokles’, NJPhP 132 (1885), 389408;Google ScholarMayerhoefer, F., Über die Schlüsse der erhaltenen griechischen Tragödien(Erlangen 1908), esp. 1621;Google ScholarLivingstone, J.R., ‘Exodus of the O.T.Greek Poetry and Life: Essays G. Murray (Oxford 1936), 158–63;Google ScholarBowra, C.M., Sophoclean Tragedy (Oxford 1944), esp. 175–6;Google ScholarKnox, B.M.W., Oedipus at Thebes (New Haven 1957), esp. 185–96Google Scholar [reprinted in Twentieth Century Interpretations of the ‘Oedipus Rex’ ed. M.J., O’Brien (Englewood Cliffs 1968), 90–8];Google ScholarCalder, W.M., ‘Oedipus Tyrannus 15151530’, CPh 57 (1962), 219–29;Google ScholarKitto, H.D.F., Poiesis [= SCL 36 (1966)], esp. 214–22;Google ScholarPoetscher, W., ‘Sophokles, Oidipus Tyrannos 15241530’, Emerita 38 (1970), 149–61;Google ScholarGellie, G.H., Sophocles (Melbourne 1972), esp. 100–1;Google ScholarDawe, R.D., Studies on the text of Sophocles 1 (Leiden 1973), 26673;Google ScholarTaplin, O., Greek Tragedy in Action (London 1978), 456,186;CrossRefGoogle ScholarDavies, M., ‘The end of SophoclesO.T.’, Hermes 110 (1982), 268–77;Google ScholarDawe’s, R.D.edition (Cambridge 1982);Google ScholarTaplin, O., ‘Sophocles in his theatre’, Entretiens Hardt 30 (1982), 155–83,Google Scholar esp. 166–176.

2 See e.g. my ‘Very much the safest plan’, Antichthon 7 (1973), 8–13.

3 Thuc. 2. 54; contrast e.g. Ajax 745 ff., Women of Trachis passim, Electra 32 ff., Philoctetes and Oedipus Coloneus passim.

4 E.g. Ajax 485–529; Trachiniae 1175–258; Antigone 39–98; Electro 938–1057; Philoctetes 1314–408.

5 See especially Davies op. cit.; see also my ‘Oedipus and Jonah’, PCPhS 203 (= n.s. 23) (1977), 32–61, esp. 45–6.

6 Odyssey 11. 271–80. For variant version of the saga cf. especially Robert, C., Oidipus (Berlin 1915);Google ScholarKock, E.L. de, ‘The Sophoclean Oedipus and its antecedents’, Acta Classica 4 (1961), 728;Google ScholarCameron, A., The identity of Oedipus the King (New York 1968), 331Google Scholar [= Antioch Review 25 (1965), 167–88.]

7 Dopheide, G., De Sophoclis arte dramatica (diss. Munster 1910), 6285;Google ScholarRobert, C. op. cit. 1. 457–90;Google ScholarTanner, R.G., ‘The composition of the Oedipus Coloneus’, Essays F. Letters (Melbourne 1966), 153–92.Google Scholar Dopheide himself found the theory of textual disarrangement unnecessary.

8 Op. cit. 268–71.

9 Similarly Knox loc. cit., who is arguing that the finale shows the successful reassertion of himself by Oedipus. Against him see Davies and Hester (notes 1 and 2, above).

10 Méautis, G., Sophocle (Paris 1957), esp. 135–7;Google Scholar cf. Murray, G., translation (London 1911), 92.Google Scholar

11 Op. cit. (above, note 2): also Bowra, Poetscher, Calder (above, note 1) with refs.

12 I am indebted to Mrs. P.E. Easterling for sending me a copy of Graffunder's article (which I read long ago in Cambridge) when all normal methods of getting one failed. An associated theory of Walker, R.J. in his edition of the Ichneutai (London 1919), 595608Google Scholar is that the Oedipus Rex, Oedipus Coloneus, Antigone, and Sphinx were first produced as a tetralogy; it can safely be rejected not so much on the basis of our ancient information about these plays (which, as he points out, is fragile) but on internal evidence. Graffunder ascribes his theory to a tentative suggestion by Schneidewin, Abh. der ködnig. Ges. der Wiss. zu Göttingen 5 (1853), 206, which is not available to me.

13 Schol. Ar. Frogs 67 (cited by Graffunder); for the posthumous production of the Oedipus Coloneus see the second hypothesis of the O. C.

14 Refs. in Dawe (works in note 1, above).

15 Antigone 904 ff; see Mnem 24 (1971), esp. 55–8.

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