Theseus and his followers return with Antigone and Ismene. A grateful Oedipus steps forward to embrace Theseus, but suddenly restrains himself out of fear that he might defile the Athenian king.
Theseus tells Oedipus that a stranger awaits him at the altar of Poseidon. This stranger from Argos claims to be a kinsman of Oedipus. Oedipus realizes that it is Polynices and refuses to talk with him, but Theseus and Antigone persuade Oedipus to receive him.
This scene dramatizes both the political and spiritual consequences of Oedipus' tragedy.
Reunited with Ismene and Antigone, Oedipus seems genuinely happy for the first time. In another play, this might be the ending, but Oedipus' sense of his own defilement undercuts his joy. He restrains his impulse to take Theseus' hand in gratitude, suddenly reminded of his sinful state. Note that although Theseus reassures Oedipus, he does not take his hand.
The arrival of Polynices reminds Oedipus again of the consequences of his sins. Polynices' entrance will bring forward once more the unstable political situation in Thebes that Oedipus grappled with in the scene with Creon.
This is a play full of surprise entrances — the approach of Ismene, Creon's unexpected arrival, and now the appearance of Polynices, whom Theseus describes without even knowing his name. All these surprise arrivals suggest a mystery unfolding toward some ultimate revelation.
Aetolia region of ancient Greece, on the Gulf of Corinth.
Arcadia ancient, relatively isolated pastoral region in the central Peloponnesus.