A SYNOPSIS OF ‘OEDIPUS THE KING’
The story begins with a dialogue between Oedipus, the king of Thebes, and the priest, as they discuss the evil predicament that has befallen their land; blights on their harvest and grazing flocks. Oedipus informs the priest of having sent his consort brother, Menoeceus’s son, Creon, to inquire from the Pythian Phoebus at his Delphic shrine, how the state might be saved.
Before long, Creon arrives bringing news from the gods. He says what they demand is the punishment, either by death or banishment, of the murderer of the past King, Laius son of Labdacus. Oedipus, who is new to the land, and keen to bring to light this criminal who is the cause of their woes, asks him details of the murder.
In another scene, Oedipus lays a curse on the killer, prohibits all Thebans from associating with him and encourages those who have knowledge of him to announce it.
The chorus/elders advise Oedipus to summon Teiresias, the blind seer, to give his opinion on the issue. But Oedipus had already sent Creon, in a much earlier time, to bring him to the palace.
Eventually, Teiresias, the widely renowned seer arrives at the palace. He is very unwilling to speak on the Laius and his murderer, the issue for which he was summoned; he in fact requests that he be allowed to take his leave. However, Oedipus accuses him of being the murderer. Hearing this, Teiresias made a counter-accusation by daring to say Oedipus himself was the man who killed Laius. After the exchange of invectives, Oedipus claims that Teiresias must have conspired with Creon to blemish and overthrow him. After hearing this, Teiresias prophesies that Oedipus will be exiled from Thebes and have his eyes no more after he discovers his true lineage.
Creon comes out to deny the king’s allegations, asking what is he to gain from bidding to overthrow him. He would rather not inherit the position at such a trying time, because all he desires, fame and fortune, are already his; the crown is just a burden.
Nevertheless, Oedipus threatens him with death, after he, Creon, suggested banishment.
Jocasta enters and pleads with her husband, Oedipus, to believe Creon for his oath’s sake, for her sake and for the sake of the elders (chorus). She went ahead to enquire about the cause of the rift.
After hearing the claim of the seer, she told him that it could not be true as it was formally predicted that Laius would be killed by his son at a spot where three roads meet. But obviously, he was murdered by highway robbers, as reported by the survivor of the attack. Oedipus was shocked on hearing this fact, so he asked where exactly the incident happened. Jocasta said Phocis, where roads from Daulis and Delphi meet. He asks further, trembling that perhaps the seer might be proven right, what the built of Laius was and how many attendants he had with him.
Oedipus then immediately demands that the Serf, who survived, be brought before him for questioning. He thereafter narrates the cause of his fear to Jocasta, how a drunkard once told him that he is not the true son of his seer (Polybus; and Merope, his mother), how he visited Delphi and Apollo told him of a prophesy that he would kill his father and sleep with his mother, how he ran away and killed some men when he got to the three-branching road. But there is hope of him not being the killer if the Serf confirms that indeed it was an army of robbers that killed Laius and not a lone wayfarer.
Shortly afterwards, a messenger comes from Corinth bringing news of Polybus’s (Oedipus guardian) death, and the search for a new king. This gladdens Oedipus because it seems that the prophecies were false after all, as his father died not through his hands. Nevertheless, he mentions his fear of returning to Corinth because Merope, his mother, still lives and he does not want the second part of the prophecy to materialise.
The messenger offers to rid him of this fear by disclosing that Polybus and Merope are not his real parents, adding that it was he who gave him to Polybus, after another shepherd who is from Laius’s palace hands him over to him. This other shepherd turns out to be the same as the witness of Laius’s death.
Oedipus, against the wish of Jocasta, wants to get to the root of the matter. He wants to discover his true lineage. Hence, he asks, more emphatically, that the shepherd be brought for questioning.
In next to no time, the long-awaited shepherd who is expected to shed more light on the conundrum finally arrives. He was very reluctant to give straight answers to Oedipus’s questions, he even rebuked the Corinthian messenger for saying Oedipus is the accursed child he gave to him years back. However, he soon admitted it, after Oedipus threatened him with death. He also admitted that Jocasta, his mother, gave him to her so that he may get rid of him.
Oedipus was devastated, that, after cursing himself, he immediately left the scene. Not long after his exit, a second messenger came in with the terrible news of Jocasta’s death. She was said to have committed suicide through hanging. And then Oedipus himself inflicted injury on himself, he used the golden brooches on Jocasta’s robe to smite his eyeballs, thereby blinding himself.
Oedipus, came out, a wretched scene he was. He asked that Creon exile him from the land into the desert so that no eye may behold him and Thebes may be freed from his curse. But Creon refused, firstly deciding to consult the gods, and then instructing Oedipus to leave by himself, if he must.
Such was the fate of Oedipus of Thebes, the son of Laius. And such was the evil calling and cunning desire of the gods. To kill his father, lay with his mother, and spend the rest of his miserable life groping in darkness and humiliation.