The play opens several years after Oedipus' banishment from Thebes. The aged, blind Oedipus, led by his daughter Antigone, arrives in a sacred grove at Colonus, outside Athens.
From his entrance, Oedipus shows a clear change of character from the passionate, willful hero of Oedipus the King. Older, worn by years of wandering, Oedipus now accepts his fate with resignation, just as he accepts the scraps he begs with patience and humility.
But Oedipus springs to life with the news that he is sitting in a grove sacred to the Eumenides, the sometimes terrible, sometimes kindly spirits who rule over unavenged crimes, especially within families. Oedipus has reason to believe that the Eumenides have taken pity on him. According to the oracle, this grove will be his resting place. In a wild eagerness for release from his suffering, Oedipus refuses to move, despite a citizen's warning that he is trespassing. In this, he shows the willfulness of the old Oedipus.
His renewed spirit also emerges in his command that the citizen bring Theseus, king of Athens, to the grove to hear what blessings Oedipus might bring the city. Here the old, blind man speaks not only with the authority of a king, but also as a messenger of the gods themselves.
Furies the three terrible female spirits with snaky hair who punish the doers of unavenged crimes.
Colonus a village to the north of Athens. Here, the setting for the tragedy.
Thebes chief city of ancient Boeotia, in eastern central Greece. Here, the kingdom that Oedipus once ruled.
Terrible Goddesses another name for the Furies.
Eumenides, the Kindly Ones other names for the Furies.
Poseidon god of the sea and of horses.
Prometheus a Titan who steals fires from heaven for the benefit of mankind; in punishment, Zeus chains him to a rock where a vulture (or eagle) comes each day to eat his liver, which grows back each night.
Theseus the principal hero of Attica, son of Aegeus and king of Athens, famed especially for his killing of the Minotaur. Here, Oedipus' chief ally.
Aegeus a king of Athens who drowns himself when he thinks his son Theseus is dead.
Apollo the god of music, poetry, prophecy, and medicine in Greek and Roman mythology. Here, Apollo is most important as the source of the prophecies of the oracle.
Athena the goddess of wisdom, skills, and warfare.