King Oedipus

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King Oedipus in the manuscript Rome written in 1340, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana , Vaticanus graecus 920, fol. 193v

King Oedipus ( Greek Οἰδίπους Τύραννος Oidípous Bane ) is Sophocles ' dramatic machining (about 429-425 BC..) Of the Oedipus - myth . It is the second part of the "Theban Trilogy", which also includes Antigone and Oedipus on Kolonos . Both before and after the material was worked on by various important playwrights: ( Aeschylus , Euripides , Xenocles , Meletus , Seneca , Friedrich Hölderlin, etc.), whereby from antiquity only the version of Seneca has survived in addition to the Sophoclean. The Oedipus of Sophocles is one of the most outstanding works in world literature .

Prehistory to the drama

King Laius of Thebes had once abused the hospitality of King Pelops by trying to kidnap his son Chrysippus because he had fallen in love with the boy. The Oracle of Delphi then foretold Laios that if he should ever father a son, he would kill him and in turn marry the wife of Laius. For a king who is to found or continue a dynasty , this saying is of course a disaster. In agreement with his wife Iokaste, Laios has the newborn's feet pierced and tied up and then abandoned by a shepherd in the mountains.

However, the shepherd has pity on the newborn and hands him over to a shepherd friend in Corinth. Via this the child reaches the royal couple Polybos and Merope of Corinth , who adopts him and names him Oedipus (German: "Schwellfuß") after his swollen feet. More recently this etymology of the name has been questioned. Some Graecists suggest translating “Oidipous” as “He who knows everything”.

Oedipus grew up in Corinth without knowing where he came from. When he grew up, a drunk man made hints at a party that he was not the birth son of his parents. Oedipus is worried, the answer from Polybos and Merope does not satisfy him and so he finally asks the oracle himself. When this announces to him that he will kill his father and take his mother as his wife, he sets off into the distance to prevent the prophecy of his supposed parents from being fulfilled in Corinth.

At a narrow fork in the road he meets a car and gets into a heated argument with its driver, who, in his opinion, is treating him too arrogantly. In this dispute he fatally meets the passenger of the car - not realizing that he has killed his biological father Laios with it, which is how the first part of the oracle's prediction came true.

At the gates of Thebes he comes across the Sphinx (a dragon-like monster with a human head), which devours all travelers who want to pass it and cannot solve the riddle it has set. The riddle of the Sphinx is: “ It is quadruped in the morning, bipedal at noon, and tripod in the evening. Of all creatures it changes only with the number of its feet; but when it moves most of the feet, the strength and speed of its limbs are least. Oedipus does not find the riddle difficult and answers: " Your riddle is the person who walks on all fours in the morning of his life, as long as he is a weak and powerless child; if he is strong, he walks upright on two feet at noon of his life; when he has finally arrived at the end of his life as an old man, he uses the stick as a third foot. "

Because the riddle is solved, the Sphinx falls from the rock and Thebes is freed from this plague. As a reward, Oedipus is appointed king of Thebes as the successor to the just killed Laios and is given his birth mother to Iokaste. With her he fathered the twins Eteocles and Polynices and the daughters Antigone and Ismene . However, mother and son know nothing of Oedipus' killing of Laios or of their family relationship.

Sophocles' treatment of the myth was already highly valued in ancient Greece. So declared in the 4th century BC In his poetics , Aristotle used the Sophoclean drama as a model case of tragedy, especially from the point of view of the conduct of the action, the turning from happiness into unhappiness ( peripetia ) and from delusion to self-knowledge ( anagnorisis ).

The drama King Oedipus reflects the inability of humans to foresee their fate.

Sophocles' Oedipus


Oedipus : King of Thebes, two daughters (Antigone and Ismene) and two sons (Eteocles and Polynices).

Iokaste : Queen, wife of Oedipus and at the same time his mother.

Laios : father of Oedipus, had Iocaste as wife

Creon : Iokastes brother and advisor to King Oedipus.

Teiresias : Blind seer.

Messenger: Is in the service of the King of Corinth

Shepherd: Is in the service of the King of Thebes

Choir : Accompanies the viewer in a stimulating and instructive way by singing intermediate scenes, drawing attention to riddles and clues or praising the gods who have already determined fate.

Choir leader: Keeps up with what has been said and questions it. To do this, he comments on dialogues or stands between two fronts as a neutral observer. He also serves as a consultant, his opinion is valued.

Priest: Asks Oedipus for help to free the people from the worst horror. Describes the state of the sick city in need.

Servant: In the final scene, reports that Iokaste hanged himself and Oedipus blinded himself.

Merope and Polybos : sham parents of Oedipus

family tree


History and content

Because of an oracle who prophesied that he would die by his own son, Laios abandons Oedipus, who would later become king of Theban, as a child. Another oracle later prophesies Oedipus that he will kill his father and live in shame with his mother. Thereupon he leaves Polybos and Merope, the Corinthian king and his wife, who raised him as a son. On his hike he meets Laïos and his companion at a crossroads. He is involved in a fight with them and - without knowing it - kills his biological father Laios. At the gates of Thebes he can redeem the city from the Sphinx, a monster, and receives as a reward Iokaste, the widow of King Laios. He takes her as his wife and receives the kingdom of Thebes. This is where the actual dramatic plot begins, in which Oedipus reveals his past in six stages. An oracle that suggests the causes of a long raging plague relates Oedipus 'brother-in-law Creon to the unpunished murder of Oedipus' predecessor Laios. The new king of Thebes then opened an investigation into the case. The only surviving witness claims that the murder was committed by a gang of robbers.

When Oedipus summons the blind seer Teiresias to bring light into the darkness, he refuses to express the true connections. Only when he himself is suspected by Oedipus does he no longer hesitate: Oedipus himself is the murderer of Laios. He doesn't believe him and suspects a conspiracy between Creon and the seer. But with the memory of the incident at the crossroads, the first doubts arise. When Oedipus learns from a messenger arriving from Corinth that the deceased Polybos and his wife are not his birth parents, but received him from a servant of Laios, his fears become a certainty. Iokaste realizes that the Delphic prophecies were fulfilled in them. The juxtaposition of the Corinthian messenger who received Oedipus as a child brings the truth to light; the scars on his pierced feet at the time are obvious: Oedipus is Laios' and Iokaste's son. When Oedipus rushes into the house in horror, he finds Iokaste hanged. He blinds himself with her golden clasps. Oedipus, who now wants nothing more than to die, has to come to terms with the fact that the decision about it lies with the gods. He hands over his children to Creon, who will take control of Thebes.


An old priest and a group of children and young people complain to Oedipus of the suffering of the city, which Oedipus has of course long known himself to be, but the audience wants to be informed: Thebes are plagued by an epidemic. The people expect Oedipus, who at the time freed the city from the evil Sphinx, to help them out of the messed up situation. Oedipus asserts that he suffers from misery more than anyone else. For this reason he had already sent Creon to Delphi to consult the oracle, and his return was long overdue.

At that moment, exactly on cue, Creon from Delphi returns. Creon would rather not speak in front of the assembled people, but in the palace; Oedipus, however, thinks he should talk outside. So Creon tells us that Thebes has an unpunished blood guilt that must first be eradicated, or that the plague will not go away sooner . It is about Laios, the predecessor of Oedipus. Creon tells Oedipus the story of Laios' death and that at that time no one could take care of the investigation, because the Sphinx kept the whole city in suspense. Oedipus and Creon agree that a political attack was carried out here, commissioned and paid for by the citizens of Thebes. Oedipus promises to be cleared up quickly, because the murderer of Laios could also be after him. So he was acting very selfishly. One is generally optimistic.

Entry song of the choir

Various deities are invoked through the choir.

First main scene

Oedipus emphasizes that he is a new citizen, that he only knows the old story of Laios' death roughly and from hearsay. He urges all those citizens who know anything about ancient history to make this known and assures them of impunity. Anyone who remains silent is threatened with severe consequences, with ostracism and banishment. Oedipus reproaches the citizens of Thebes for not following up on history at the time. He wanted to look for the murderer of Laios now as if it were the murderer of his own father. For the time being, the choir leader insists that he doesn't know anything, then it occurs to him that Teiresias, the aged, blind seer, might be able to help, because Teiresias knows everything. Oedipus says that, on Creon's advice, he has already sent to Teiresias twice, and is astonished that he has not yet appeared. The choir leader thinks what is being rumored is nonsense, since some hikers committed the murder.

When Teiresias appears, Oedipus asks him to name the murderer. The seer is very unwilling, regrets having come at all, and wants to go again. Oedipus provokes him, however, by suspecting him of at least being an accomplice and co-conspirator, since as a blind man he could not have committed the act himself. Teiresias becomes very angry; he accuses Oedipus of being the man who defiles the city himself. Now Oedipus becomes angry for his part and threatens Teiresias with punishment. However, he goes one step further and accuses Oedipus of incest, without going into detail. He also suggests that Oedipus himself will soon be blind. Oedipus suspects an intrigue and publicly accuses Creon of being behind it. He mocks Teiresias for saying that his visionary gifts couldn't be far off, after all, at the time, he wasn't able to solve the riddle of the Sphinx either. He himself had solved the riddle himself, entirely without the power of vision, only on the basis of his intelligence, and he - Teiresias - wanted to spoil him - Oedipus - so that he, as Creon's favorite, could bring his little sheep to dryness. Only the age of Teiresias prevented him, Oedipus, from chastising Teiresias. The choir leader tries to mediate and blames everything on the current excitement of Oedipus and Teiresias. Teiresias makes it clear that as a seer he has the same rank as Oedipus, the king. He prophesies Oedipus' worst downfall. Oedipus wants to send him away, while Teiresias grumbles as he leaves that the producer scolded him as a fool, while the producers always honored him. Oedipus doesn't understand that, wants to know more. Teiresias calls out that the murderer of Laios lives in the city, believes he is a stranger, but that he was born in Thebes. He was brother to his children, son and husband to his wife, heir to his father, heir of the marriage bed and murderer at the same time. (Oedipus and Teiresias leave.)

First stand song of the choir

The choir is very moved and extremely confused by the prophecies of Teiresias. Oedipus, who once saved Thebes from the Sphinx and is himself considered a wise man, is simply not trusted to do such a thing. You don't want to judge it until you have irrefutable evidence.

Second main scene

Creon appears and complains about Oedipus' suspicions that he has just heard about. The choir leader reassures him, saying that this is only due to Oedipus' momentary anger. Creon denies a conspiracy, Oedipus holds against him that he, Oedipus, had been incited by him, Creon, to bring Teiresias into play at all. Oedipus notes that it is peculiar that Teiresias, who was also a respected seer at the time, had remained silent all the years and never accused him of murder. Oedipus attributes that Teiresias now dares to the fact that he is covered by Creon and his gang of conspirators. Creon defends himself with the argument that he is already a third party to rule with equal rights alongside Oedipus and Iocaste, without having to bear the burden of responsibility that the official king has. Why should he willfully put this burden on himself, which would not bring him any advantages that he is not already enjoying? The choir leader intervenes by asking Oedipus not to judge prematurely. However, he is stubborn and demands the death of Creon.

When Iokaste now appears, the choir leader praises her as a welcome mediator. Iokaste says they should all go home instead of fighting further. She asks Oedipus to believe Creon. The choir, too, asks Oedipus to trust Creon, remembering his previous achievements. Oedipus first objects that he would have to die himself if Creon were credible and Teiresias' statements were true, because then he would actually be to blame. Eventually, however, he gives in and renounces Creon's death, but continues to publicly refer to him as his mortal enemy. (Exit Creon.)

Iokaste now wants to know how the argument came about; the choir does not answer very precisely, only vaguely urges peace. Oedipus now explains to Iokaste that Creon had called him through the mouth of Teiresias the murderer of Laios. Iokaste recommends skepticism about seers' sayings and cites as an example the oracle that prophesied Laios to die by his own son. It was all not true, Laios was slain by robbers at a three-way crossroads, his son - three days old - was abandoned in the mountains with his foot shackled. So none of the prophecy came true. Oedipus is extremely concerned. He asks about the place, time and the details of the murder of Laios, everything can be described exactly. Only one out of five companions of Laios survived the attack. The servant had himself transferred to the country when he saw Oedipus on his entry as the new ruler of Thebes. Oedipus asks to have the servant brought.

In the meantime he tells Iokaste (and the choir) why he is so confused: He is the son of the Corinthian king Polybos and his wife Merope. At a meal a drunk man called out to him that he was not his parents' true son. He had confronted Polybos and Merope, who reassured him. Nevertheless he was worried and secretly went to Delphi to see the oracle. He was not given any information on this matter, but he was told that he was destined to father children as the husband of his own mother and to kill his own father. So - in order to avoid all this - he did not go back to Corinth. At the hour indicated he was at the said Way of the Cross, a man like the one described cheekily and forcibly pushed him off the path, he beat up the charioteer, whereupon the passenger attacked him so that he killed him. He then also killed everyone else. Oedipus is horrified, he knows that he is the cursed, that he has to leave Thebes. Nor can he return to Corinth if he does not want to incest the prophesied incest and parricide. His last hope is the old servant from back then who saw the murderer. According to Iokaste's words, this servant testified that Laios had been killed by a whole band of robbers. Iokaste is also confident, she distrusts the oracles, as Laios had already been announced that he would die of his son's hand, and yet this son had died as an infant.

Second stand song of the choir

First, the choir offers some basic religious and moral truths. Then he announces that he will never again rely on any word of gods if Apollo's oracle does not turn out to be correct now.

Third main scene

Iokaste enters, she is concerned about Oedipus, who reacts in panic to any piece of news and is hardly capable of critical examination.

A messenger from Corinth appears and tells Iocaste that the Corinthians wanted to make Oedipus king because Polybos, the old king, was no longer alive. Iokaste rejoices because she is now sure that the old seers' sayings are nonsense, Oedipus can no longer kill his father. She immediately passed it on to Oedipus, who also reviled the old seers' sayings. Then he realizes that the threat of incest is still on the table. Iokaste calms him down: “ In a dream maybe - some of you saw yourself in your mother's bed! ". The messenger, still standing around, interferes and asks which woman Oedipus is so afraid of. Oedipus explains that it is his mother because the oracle had announced that he would sleep with his mother, which is why he moved away from Corinth. The messenger calms him down, because Oedipus is not at all related by blood to Polybos of Corinth, since Polybos got him from himself, the messenger, at the time. However, he did not find the child himself, but took it over from a shepherd of King Laios. Oedipus asks the bystanders whether anyone knows this shepherd, and they think it could only be the one to whom Oedipus recently sent. Oedipus asks Iokaste whether this could be true, but Iokaste, who immediately recognizes the connections, answers evasively. When Oedipus continues to press for an answer, she asks him to stop asking immediately, which is of course the surest way to really pique curiosity. Finally, Iokaste falls desperately away. Oedipus thinks that because of her aristocratic status, Iokaste does not want his possibly low origin as a foundling to be exposed.

Third stand song of the choir

The choir makes some unsubstantiated speculations about the perhaps divine or semi-divine origins of Oedipus.

Fourth main scene

The faithful old shepherd of King Laios appears, he is identified, and the messenger from Corinth is introduced to him. The messenger asks the shepherd if he can still remember the child from back then, and the shepherd reacts extremely gruffly, bids the messenger silence, does not want to say anything himself. Oedipus threatens the shepherd with torture. Then he admits that the child came from the Laios' house, and finally that it was said that it was the king's own child. Queen Iokaste gave the child to the shepherd herself with the order to kill it. She wanted to protect her then husband (Laios). Oedipus now realizes the whole truth, he rushes into the palace with self-accusation and violent self-pity.

Fourth stand song of the choir

The choir argues about the impermanence of happiness and that one shouldn't praise the day before evening. In horror he turns away from Oedipus.

Final scene

The Dutch actor Louis Bouwmeester as the blinded king Oedipus in Sophocles' drama (shot by Albert Greiner sr. & Jr., Ca.1896)

A servant appears and tells the choir leader (and thus the whole choir, i.e. the people) that Iokaste has hanged himself. She had rushed into the house, lamenting her fate. Shortly afterwards Oedipus appeared, raved like a madman, grabbed a sword and asked about Iokaste. He then pushed open the door to Iokaste's room and found it hanging on the door post. He took two clothes clips from her dress and used them to gouge out his eyes. He cursed himself and expelled himself from the community of Thebes, just as he threatened the as yet unknown perpetrator.

Enter Oedipus, Oedipus and the choir leader try to outdo each other with lamentations . Oedipus asks to take him away from Thebes as soon as possible, him, the most cursed man. Oh, had he been killed then, he also curses the poor shepherd who saved his life back then. The choir leader complains that Oedipus should have killed himself rather than blinded himself, while Oedipus says that blinded he no longer needs to look at father and mother in the underworld. If there was a way to make himself artificially deaf, he would do it too, to completely isolate his thoughts from the terrible outside world. Enter Creon, whom the choir leader calls Oedipus' successor. Oedipus asks him to send him away immediately, to the mountains, into exile. Creon says that has already happened, just wait for the word of the oracle. Oedipus asks Creon to look after his children (especially the girls) and says goodbye to the daughters.


In the end, all the prophecies come true, those of Laios, those of Iokaste and those of Oedipus. Although they made fun of the gods, their fate shows that the sayings of the gods cannot be shaken. Everything turns out as it has to be, as it was predetermined. Oedipus returns to his faith. So one can say that the action of King Oedipus represents the path from ignorant appearance to understanding being and shows the greatness of the main character in tragic failure. It should be noted that the Greeks at that time already knew these myths before a play was performed, as they represented part of the general education of the time. The enjoyment of art was not achieved through the content, but through the linguistic implementation of the poet, through the sometimes new view of the myth and through the performance of the actors and the choir.


  • Sophocles, King Oedipus. Translated by Kurt Steinmann . Ed., Come on. and with an afterword by Horst-Dieter Blume . Reclam, Kitzingen 2019.
  • Sophocles, King Oedipus. Ed., Come on. and over. by Bernd Manuwald . De Gruyter, Berlin, Boston 2012.
  • Sophocles, King Oedipus . Transcribed and edited, with an afterword by Wolfgang Schadewaldt ; and three essays: The King Oedipus of Sophocles in a more recent interpretation with history of effects and literature references; Shakespeare's King Lear and Sophocles King Oedipus ; The broken jug of Heinrich von Kleist and Sophocles King Oedipus ; Insel Taschenbuch 15, ISBN 3-458-31715-5 .


  • Bernd Matzkowski: Sophocles: King Oedipus. King's Explanations and Materials (Vol. 46). Hollfeld: C. Bange Verlag 2003, ISBN 978-3-8044-1765-6 .
  • Thomas Halter: King Oedipus - From Sophocles to Cocteau , Stuttgart: Steiner 1998, ISBN 3-515-07256-X .

Web links

Commons : Oedipus  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Wolfgang Christlieb: The disenchanted Oedipus. Origins and changes in a myth . Nymphenburger Verlag.