Chapter 21

Oedipus the King

Oedipus the King, by the Greek dramatist Sophocles, is an ancient play based on an even older myth. Because the story was very well known even when this play was written, in the 420s B.C.E., the original Greek audience already knew the outcome and even the particulars of the myth. Therefore, as you read, look out for places where the audience could derive additional enjoyment from an ironic view of what was being said in the performance.

Unless you have read Greek plays before, some aspects of Greek drama may seem strange to you. This chapter provides you with an orientation to this classical art form, describing the structure of the Greek theater, the style of performance, and its purpose. The role of the chorus in performance, in particular, may be new to you. Try to imagine it in your mind as you read: a group of Theban men who care deeply about Oedipus, but who are also worried about the fate of their city.

You may also consider the relationship between this play and the other Greek myths found in this book-about Prometheus (Chapter 25), Demeter (Chapter 28), and Heracles (Chapter 32), as well as the Greek creation story in Chapter 3. Sophocles' play reappears for consideration in Chapter 26 as a literary myth, in comparison with other kinds of mythic stories. And this play of Sophocles exercised a significant influence on the work of the founder of psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud, and his student Otto Rank, as discussed in the Introduction to Part 3.

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