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Oedipus and Jonah

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2013

D.A. Hester
University of Adelaide


Attempts to interpret the Oedipus Tyrannos of Sophocles have been so numerous that anyone who seeks to add to their number is almost compelled to start by apologising for being so presumptuous as to think that he could offer anything new. I would incline to classify these attempts under four ‘main’ and three ‘ancillary’ headings. The ‘main’ interpretations are those which seek to interpret the play as a drama, and vary according to the view they take of the guilt of Oedipus. There are those who assert (with or without qualification) that Oedipus is to be viewed as guilty; those who see him as a victim of a malignant fate (and hence innocent); those who are content to assert his innocence without stressing the element of fatality; and those who leave the question of guilt or innocence aside. The ‘ancillary’ interpretations are those which seek to find in the play a non-dramatic relevance, i.e. a political relevance, a religious relevance, or a psychological relevance.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s). Published online by Cambridge University Press 1977

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1. See Appendix A.

2. See Appendix B.

3. See Appendix C.

4. See Appendix D.

5. See Appendix E.

6. See Appendix F.

7. See Appendix G.

8. For his innocence by the law of Draco see e.g. Bowra (1) p. 165, Bremer p. 156, Grieffenhagen, Perrotta (1) p.188-9, Sheppard (1) p.xxviii, Weinstock (1) p.158 and compare Oedipusat Colonus 548.

9. Sophocles the Unphilosophical’, Mnemosyne 24 (1971) 1159CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10. See my article Very much the safest plan’, Antichthon 7 (1973) 813CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11. All biblical references are from the RSV.

12. E.g. Fortes, H. Müller, Nelson, and Perrotta opp.cit.

13. For primitive religious ideas in Sophocles see p.41-7 of the article cited in footnote 9, and Crossland's lecture (Appendix B). The basic general text is of course Dodds, E.R., The Greeks and the irrationa (Sather C.L. 25, Berkeley 1951)Google Scholar.

14. On the date of the play see Appendix H. The prologue is especially discussed by Ax (see Appendix F) and by Imhof, M., Bemerkungen zu den Prologen … (diss. Bern 1957)Google Scholar.

15. References in Appendix A.

16. E. Wunder in his edition (London 1831) is so shocked that he deletes the line; the view of Jebb is anticipated by J. Brasse in his edition (London 1829). Campbell's view is rejected by Bruhn.

17. See Szondi, P., ‘Tragik des Oidipus’, Die Neue Rundschau 69 (1958) 485–9Google Scholar, and, of the works already cited, especially Gould (1), Kane and Knox (3).

18. See my article cited in n. 10 and references in it. especially Becker, C., Studien zum Sophokleischen Chor (diss. Frankfurt 1950) 2840Google Scholar; see also Sánchez Lasso de la Vega, J., ‘Los coros del Edipo Rey’, Cuadernos de Fil. Clas. (19711972) 995Google Scholar.

19. Most standard works, of course, discuss these scenes; the simplest views are that they show Oedipus' irrationality (as Bowra (a), Ehrenberg, Harsh, Kitto (3), Kremer, Turolla, and Wolf), and the contrary view that Oedipus' conduct is reasonable in the circumstances (as Bremer, Falk, Gould, Kamerbeek, Maddalena, Perrotta, Ronnet, U. von Wilamowitz). Specialist articles by Carrière, J. (2), ‘Ambiguité et vraisemblance dans l'Oedipe RoiPallas 4 (1956) 514CrossRefGoogle Scholar (compare CR 27 (1913) 37)Google Scholar; Drexler, H., ‘Die Teiresias-Szene des K.O.’, Maia 8 (1956) 326Google Scholar; Kamerbeek, J.C. (3), ‘Prophecy and tragedy’, Mn. 18 (1965) 2940Google Scholar.

20. Two warning notes: the first, that it is odd that the ‘punishment’ (i.e. being a father-killer and mother-marrier) should precede the ‘crime’ (Dodds op.cit.): the second, that Aristotle's ‘fatal flaw’ has been drastically reinterpreted (refs. in Mnemosyne 24 (1971) 12Google Scholar). Adkins (1), Gould (1) and Sauer maintain that Aristotle's doctrine of ἁμαρτία is valueless from the point of view of literary criticism, and I am inclined to agree (Mnemosyne loc.cit. 47).

21. The scholiast is surely wrong (pace Knox) in seeing a reference to Creon already in line 124, though the reference to bribery in that line is (like so much in this part of the play) ominous for the future.

22. Keeping, with Dain, /Mazon, , Knox, , Murray, , Vellacott, and Volgraff, , Mn. 51 (1923) 368Google Scholar the μϵ… γϵ σοῦ of the manuscripts in 376 against Brunck's generally accepted σϵ.. γ' ἐμοῡ, and translating the ambiguous 374-5 ‘So that I… could never hurt you’. Teiresias' ruin is in view (compare403 and 448); there is no implication that it is to be from Apollo, as τάδ' in 377 could be quite general ‘to deal with the situation’. This point is not, of course, vital to my argument; if Brunck is right, the point is not made here, but it is made in 402-3.

23. Mn. loc. cit. 31-2.

24. Op.cit. p.40; see also Appendix C fin.

25. See Appendix B fin; on this scene in general see Hulton, A.O., ‘Two theme changes in the O.T.’, Mn. 20 (1967) 113–19Google Scholar; on variant forms of the legend see above, and scholiast on 733.

26. More essays … (Oxford 1962) 210Google Scholar (citation from Dodds op.cit.); cf. Knox (3) p.40.

27. See on this especially T. von Wilamowitz op.cit.

28. See footnote 8.

29. On the second stasimon see especially Becker, Blumenthal, Bremer, Errandonea, Gould, Kitto (3), Lloyd-Jones, Knox, Kremer, Macurdy, Maddalena, Murray, Nestle, Robert, Ronnet, Schlesingcr, Sheppard, Vellacott, Vlachos and Whitman opp.cit.; important references are in the editions of F.M. Blaydes (Halle 1904), W.Linwood (London 1878) and Wunder (London 1831); specialist articles by Winnington-Ingram, R.P. (2), JHS 91 (1971) 119–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Kamerbeek, J.C. (4), WS 79 (1966) 8092Google Scholar, Lesky, A. (5), Festschrift W. Schadewaldt (Stuttgart 1970) 91–7Google Scholar, Müller, G., Hermes 95 (1967) 269–91Google Scholar, Schadewaldt, W., SIFC 27–8 (1958) 489–97Google Scholar = Hellas und Hesperien (Zurich 1960) 287–94Google Scholar and Untersteiner, M. (3), Athenaeum 10 (1932) 344–54Google Scholar.

30. See Appendix E. The ode is, of course, also crucial to many of the religions views (Appendix F).

31. Andrewes, A., The Greek tyrants (London 1956) 2030Google Scholar. The attempted emendation of Blaydes , accepted ‘with the utmost reluctance’ by Winnington-Ingram, does not seem to me to be either likely or helpful.

32. The last particularly Ehrenberg, Kitto and Sheppard op.cit.

33. Notably Bowra, Gould, Winnington-Ingram, Kamerbeek, G. Müller and Whitman.

34. Diano, C. (2), ‘Edipo figlio della Tyche’, Delta 10 (1957) 3334Google Scholar. ‘Son of Fortune’ = ‘bastard’. On the third stasimon see Firnhaber, C.G. in ZfG 3 (1849) 753–64Google Scholar and Sansone, D. in CPhil 70 (1975) 110–17Google Scholar.

35. On this see especially Bonnard, Cameron, Dimock, Howe, Kane, Ronnet, Schlesinger, Sewall and Weinstock (2) opp.cit. Devereux's, G. article in JHS 93 (1973) 3649CrossRefGoogle Scholar maintains that the motives for the self-blinding are not correctly stated by Oedipus, and that the action is really a symbolic self-castration for Oedipus' sexual crimes; a prime example of the ‘documentary fallacy’ which would have delighted Waldock.

36. Oedipus at Thebes chapter 5; see also Dimock op.cit., Mullens, H.G.Oedipus and the tragic spirit’, G & R 7 (1937/1938) 149–53Google Scholar, Livingstone, J.R., ‘The Exodus of the Oedipus Tyrannos’, Essays presented to Gilbert Murray (Oxford 1936) 158–63Google Scholar, Pratt, N.T., ‘From Oedipus to Lear’, CJ 61 (1965) 4957Google Scholar, Robinson, J., ‘The Oedipus Tyrannos’, Proceedings of APhA 74 (1943) xxiiiGoogle Scholar, Untersteiner (2), and Verséni: opp.cit.

37. Antichthon 7 (1973) 1112Google Scholar; see also especially Dawe, R.D., Studies on the text of Sophocles I (Leiden 1973) 266–73Google Scholar, Graffunder, P.L.W., ‘Über den Ausgang …’, NJPhP 132 (1885) 389408Google Scholar, Kitto, , Poiesis 214–20Google Scholar, and Mayerhoefer, F., Über die Schlüsse.. (diss. Erlangen 1908) 1621; of course, most authors comment on the passage.Google Scholar

38. See my forthcoming article ‘The Heroic Distemper’.

39. See n.9.

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