Summary and Analysis: Oedipus at Colonus
A messenger arrives, announcing to the elders that Oedipus is dead. After describing the rituals that Oedipus, his daughter, and Theseus performed in preparation, the messenger explains that only Theseus can witness the passing of the tragic hero.
After her father's death, Antigone begs Theseus to take her to the grave. Theseus refuses, explaining that Oedipus wished its location to remain a mystery. Antigone says that she and her sister will return to Thebes, and Theseus promises his protection.
The chorus ends the play with the admonition to stop weeping and trust in the gods.
This final scene emphasizes that the play constitutes a drama of transformation of Oedipus from a blind beggar — cast out and reviled as society's ultimate sinner — to a heroic figure, sanctified and at one with the gods. The final mystical scene demonstrates the heroic stature and dignity that one can achieve despite — or perhaps because of — human suffering in an incomprehensible world.
The rituals surrounding the death of Oedipus and Theseus' witnessing of his mysterious passing again recall the Eleusian Mysteries that offered initiates powerful assurances of life after death. As his gift to Athens, Oedipus chooses Theseus alone to witness his death, which allows the king to gain the wisdom of eternal life.
Note that Antigone and Ismene will return to Thebes. In returning home, the two sisters head directly, as if driven by fate, for the events that will unfold as the final tragedy of the Oedipus Trilogy, Antigone.
Perithous the hero who went with Theseus into the lower world to bring back Persephone.
dirge a funeral hymn.