Classic Monologue from "Oedipus the King"

Bénigne Gagneraux, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

This Greek tragedy by Sophocles is based on the ancient legend of a fallen hero. The story has several interchangeable names including Oedipus Tyrannus, Oedipus Rex, or the classic, Oedipus the King. First performed around 429 BC, the plot unfolds as a murder mystery and political thriller that refuses to reveal the truth until the end of the play.

The Mythic Tragedy

Although it was crafted thousands of years ago, the story of Oedipus Rex still shocks and fascinates readers and audience members alike. In the story, Oedipus rules over the kingdom of Thebes, yet all is not well. Throughout the land, there is famine and plague, and the gods are angry. Oedipus vows to find out the source of the curse. Unfortunately, it turns out that he is the abomination.

Oedipus is the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta and unknowingly marries his mother, who he ends up having four children with. In the end, it turns out that Oedipus has also murdered his father. All of this, of course, was unbeknownst to him.

When Oedipus discovers the truth of his actions, he is wrought with horror and self-loathing. In this monologue, he has blinded himself after witnessing his wife’s suicide. He now devotes himself to his own punishment and plans to walk the earth as an outcast until the end of his days.

What Readers Can Take Away from Oedipus the King

The significance of the story surrounds the character development around Oedipus as a tragic hero. The suffering he endures as he goes on his journey in search for the truth is different from his counterparts who have killed themselves, like Antigone and Othello. The story can also be seen as a narrative around family ideals about a son who is competing with his father for his mother's attention.

The ideals set by Greek society are challenged by the Oedipus character. For example, his personality characteristics such as stubbornness and anger are not that of the idealized Greek man. Of course, the theme around fate is central as the gods have willed it toward Oedipus. It is only until he is king of the land that he learns about his dark past. Although he was a model king and citizen, his complexity allows him to be labeled as a tragic hero.

An Excerpt of the Classic Monologue from Oedipus the King

The following excerpt from Oedipus is reprinted from Greek Dramas.

I care not for thy counsel or thy praise;
For with what eyes could I have e'er beheld
My honoured father in the shades below,
Or my unhappy mother, both destroyed
By me? This punishment is worse than death,
And so it should be. Sweet had been the sight
Of my dear children--them I could have wished
To gaze upon; but I must never see
Or them, or this fair city, or the palace
Where I was born. Deprived of every bliss
By my own lips, which doomed to banishment
The murderer of Laius, and expelled
The impious wretch, by gods and men accursed:
Could I behold them after this? Oh no!
Would I could now with equal ease remove
My hearing too, be deaf as well as blind,
And from another entrance shut out woe!
To want our senses, in the hour of ill,
Is comfort to the wretched. O Cithaeron!
Why didst thou e'er receive me, or received,
Why not destroy, that men might never know
Who gave me birth? O Polybus! O Corinth!
And thou, long time believed my father's palace,
Oh! what a foul disgrace to human nature
Didst thou receive beneath a prince's form!
Impious myself, and from an impious race.
Where is my splendor now? O Daulian path!
The shady forest, and the narrow pass
Where three ways meet, who drank a father's blood
Shed by these hands, do you not still remember
The horrid deed, and what, when here I came,
Followed more dreadful? Fatal nuptials, you
Produced me, you returned me to the womb
That bare me; thence relations horrible
Of fathers, sons, and brothers came; of wives,
Sisters, and mothers, sad alliance! all
That man holds impious and detestable.
But what in act is vile the modest tongue
Should never name. Bury me, hide me, friends,
From every eye; destroy me, cast me forth
To the wide ocean--let me perish there:
Do anything to shake off hated life.
Seize me; approach, my friends--you need not fear,
Polluted though I am, to touch me; none
Shall suffer for my crimes but I alone.

Source: Greek Dramas. Ed. Bernadotte Perrin. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1904

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Bradford, Wade. "Classic Monologue from "Oedipus the King"." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Bradford, Wade. (2020, August 26). Classic Monologue from "Oedipus the King". Retrieved from Bradford, Wade. "Classic Monologue from "Oedipus the King"." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).