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October 06, 2006

Alyssa's Quote Commentary on Oedipus

Alyssa Roehmer
CompLit Sec 004
"Oedipus the King"

Chorus: “Oedipus I have said this many times
I would be mad helpless to give advice
If I turned against you now
You took our city in her storm of pain
Straightened her course found fair weather
O lead her to safety now
If you can” (Sophocles 55, lines 915-922)

Oedipus cannot stop, and he cannot be stopped. He is like a ship on autopilot, so while he has a hand in his fate, his course is nonetheless pre-determined. When the plague is upon Thebes like a storm, Oedipus, being the great hero and “problem-solver” that he is, is confident that he can save the city and again “find fair weather.” Despite warnings to stop seeking the truth, Oedipus plunges onward, trying to take control of the “ship” manually. Oedipus feels the necessity to be the determining force in his own fate (“ship”) and is also alluded to as the captain of the “ship” (otherwise known as Thebes) that is headed for disaster. Ironically, it is a disaster toward which he is intent upon sailing. The chorus expects that Oedipus can lead the city through her “storm of pain” to safety because he solved the riddle of the Sphinx, but in the end, Oedipus is exiled and essentially “thrown overboard” from the ship he once guided.

This fits nicely with the Greeks’ beliefs that the sea is untamed. Sophocles references this later in the play when Oedipus says, “…what tide breaks over my life?” (Sophocles 84), and clearly Oedipus is no match for the god that controls the sea.

Posted by romie at October 6, 2006 04:07 PM


I agree with your observation that, in these lines, Oedipus is being compared to a captain of a ship. Although he comes off as being overly confident, I almost feel like Oedipus is slightly unsure of himself in these early lines of the play. The way in which he keeps talking himself up and using the first person lends itself to the feeling that he is actually trying to convince himself that he can handle it and that he is legitimate. Another interesting portion of the passage that you chose is the very last line: "If you can". This is very peculiar because it appeared that the majority of the people of Thebes believed that Oedipus could save them from anything but then the chorus throws in the possibility that he may be unable to solve this problem. This may even be a sort of foreshadowing into the rest of the play, where we figure out that Oedipus himself is actually a large part of the problem

Posted by: samlily at October 8, 2006 01:54 PM

Another interesting thing about this passage is the reference to experience. There is an underlying expectation from the chorus that Oedipus will be able to save the city. Interestingly, this unwavering faith in Oedipus comes from the fact that he has experience-- a theme of importance throughout the play. If a person is said to be experienced in a certain matter, then it is expected that they can apply that success to other problems. Thus, since Oedipus proved successful in the solving of the riddle of the Sphinx, it is naturally assumed that he will be prepared for the task of saving the city of Thebes.

Posted by: burkmar at October 8, 2006 04:52 PM

Very nicely done, especially your observation of the connection with the later metaphor about the tide sweeping across the ship.

The sea played a very important role in Greek life, since Greece consisted of a number of islands. So, many metaphors draw upon the sea.

Posted by: bhattach at October 8, 2006 11:39 PM

This quote brings in the theme of man versus nature, or in this case the gods who control nature, in Oedipus' attempt to control nature(his fate,) and overcome the plague upon Thebes. But as is the teachings and beliefs of the Greeks, man canont control nature any more than he can comand the gods. The gods have already determined the only courses Oedipus might steer through. He can either follow the path that allows Thebes to come to ruin by the plague or he may take the course the saves Thebes but leads to his own destruction. In the end, by Oedipus' dedication to his promise and his own stuburnness to know the truth, he comes to the ruin that was doomed to be his.

Posted by: lacaga at October 9, 2006 12:35 PM

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