Play Summary Oedipus at Colonus


In Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles dramatizes the end of the tragic hero's life and his mythic significance for Athens. During the course of the play, Oedipus undergoes a transformation from an abject beggar, banished from his city because of his sins, into a figure of immense power, capable of extending (or withholding) divine blessings.

As the play opens, Oedipus appears as a blind beggar, banished from Thebes. Oedipus and Antigone, his daughter and guide, learn they have reached Colonus, a city near Athens, and are standing on ground sacred to the Eumenides (another name for the Furies). This discovery causes Oedipus to demand that Theseus, king of Athens, be brought to him. Meanwhile, Oedipus' other daughter, Ismene, arrives from Thebes with the news that Creon and Eteocles, Oedipus' son, want Oedipus to return to Thebes in order to secure his blessing and avoid a harsh fate foretold by the oracle. Oedipus refuses to return, and when Theseus arrives, Oedipus promises him a great blessing for the city if he is allowed to stay, die, and be buried at Colonus.

Theseus pledges his help, and when Creon appears threatening war and holding the daughters hostage for Oedipus' return, the Athenian king drives Creon off and frees the daughters. Shortly after Creon leaves, Oedipus' other son, Polynices, arrives to beg his father's support in his war to regain the Theban throne from his brother and Creon. Oedipus angrily curses Polynices, prophesying that he and his brother Eteocles will die at one another's hand.

Suddenly, Oedipus hears thunder and declares that his death is at hand. He leads Theseus, Ismene, and Antigone into a hidden part of the grove and ritually prepares for death. Only Theseus, however, actually witnesses the end of Oedipus' life.

Since Oedipus' final resting place is at Colonus, Athens receives his blessing and protection, and Thebes earns his curse. At the conclusion of the play, Antigone and Ismene return to Thebes, hoping to avert the war and civil strife.