Summary and Analysis: Oedipus the King
In this ode, the chorus wonders at the prophet's accusation that Oedipus is the murderer of Laius. As loyal subjects, they are horrified and confused. Still, they will stand by their king unless the charges are proved.
The ode continues the theme of belief in spiritual power contrasted with reason and everyday common sense. The opening ritually glorifies the Olympian gods, especially their power to reveal truth and destroy evil. The murderer, the chorus warns, will be hunted down by the gods through their oracle, who will descend upon the guilty like "dark wings beating around him shrieking doom" (548).
But the chorus does not trust prophecy completely, and so the image turns around. In the second half of the ode, the chorus itself feels "wings of dark foreboding beating" (552) around them because the prophecy implicates their king. The moment tests the peoples' faith in both the gods and the state, forcing them to choose belief or reason. Conflicted and confused, they come to an uneasy compromise — revere the god, but demand proof of his prophet. This solution allows the chorus to remain loyal to Oedipus while keeping open to conviction on his guilt.
Parnassus mountain in central Greece, sacred to Apollo.
Polybus king of Corinth, Oedipus' adoptive father.