Summary and Analysis: Oedipus at Colonus Lines 1411-1645



When Polynices arrives seeking Oedipus' support in his struggle for the Theban throne, Oedipus at first refuses to talk with him. After Polynices makes his argument — namely, that both he and his father have suffered at the hands of Eteocles and Creon and that both will prosper if Polynices' side wins the throne — Oedipus rejects him in fury. Despite his father's curse that the brothers should die at one another's hands and despite Antigone's pleadings to avoid war, Polynices goes back to his troops, ready to storm Thebes.


With the arrival of Polynices, two other tragedies intersect with the main story. Polynices' vain attempt to take the throne from Eteocles will end in both the brothers' deaths, a story dramatized in Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes. As in Oedipus' own story, Polynices' fate is foretold; but, unlike his father, he continues to pursue his object — Thebes — in the belief that his fate cannot be fully known or avoided. Antigone's pleas, therefore, do not move him, although Polynices does ask his sister to see to his burial, a request that foreshadows the last tragedy of the Oedipus Trilogy, Antigone.

Although Oedipus' wrath recalls his uncontrollable rage at the end of Oedipus the King rather than his present wiser and calmer state, to Sophocles' audience, Oedipus' fury is a righteous wrath. The intensity of Oedipus' rage and the brutality of his curse on his son may seem out of bounds to modern readers, but in fifth century Athens, honoring one's parents was a primary duty. Even Polynices himself describes Oedipus' wretched condition and apologizes for neglecting his father. This neglect and Polynices' part in his father's banishment constitute serious offenses.