Summary and Analysis: Oedipus at Colonus
The chorus of elders enters, searching for the man who trespasses in the sacred grove. Oedipus offers to come out of the sacred precinct if they promise not to harm him, and they agree.
In the conversation that follows, Oedipus reveals his identity. Sympathetic, but still horrified, the elders urge Oedipus to leave town.
Note that Sophocles shapes this scene with an emphasis on hurried exchanges and outbursts, expressing the confusion and then the anxiety of the elders of Colonus.
The chorus begins their chant with the energy of pursuit — "Look for the man! Who is he? Where's he hiding?" (142). Later, their exchanges with Oedipus tend to be short and directed, as they shout instructions about where he may sit.
The chorus even peppers Oedipus' retelling of his fate with sudden outbursts. The whole effect of the rapid exchanges quickens the scene, introducing necessary plot summary economically, while also emphasizing that the panicked elders are rushing to judgment of Oedipus out of fear of the gods' fury.
Their final order for Oedipus to leave Colonus, therefore, constitutes a snap decision — one they will think through more carefully over the course of the play.
libation the ritual of pouring out wine or oil upon the ground as a sacrifice to a god. Here it refers to the sacrifice that must be made to please the Furies, to whom the grove is sacred.
Laius king of Thebes before his son, Oedipus. Killed by Oedipus before the action of the tragedy Oedipus the King.
Thebes chief city of ancient Boeotia, in eastern central Greece. Here, the city from which Oedipus was banished.
Argos ancient city-state in the northeast Peloponnesus from the seventh century B.C. until the rise of Sparta. Here, the location of Oedipus' son Polynices.
oracle among the ancient Greeks and Romans, the place where or the medium by which deities were consulted. Also, the revelation or response of a medium or priest.
Delphi a town in ancient Phocis, on the slopes of Mount Parnassus; seat of the famous ancient oracle of Apollo.