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Chapter 17: The Trojan Saga


Read the Commentary on Chapter 17.


Familiarize yourself with the map of Attica.


Read the section of the Historical Overview in the Perseus Project entitled Hero Cults (10.1.6).
View the images of Europa on the bull and Oedipus and the Sphinx.


Read Sophocles’ plays Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Colonus. How does the author’s view of the responsibility and guilt of Oedipus differ in the two works? Why, at last, do the Dread Goddesses permit him entrance into their sanctuary?

You may wish to read Statius’ Thebaid, a much-neglected, but masterful, epic rendition of the story of the Seven against Thebes.

You may find it helpful to read Aristotle’s Poetics, particularly his discussion of the nature of tragedy. Especially pertinent to the Oedipus myth is section 1452a-1462b.

Read Cocteau’s The Infernal Machine, a masterpiece of the modern theater.
Sigmund Freud was indebted to the myth of Oedipus, and in particular to Sophocles’ version in Oedipus Tyrannus. The Interpretation of Dreams, a seminal work in psychoanalytic literature, explains Freud’s ideas about the reason Sophocles’ work has had such a profound effect on audiences.

For a scholarly treatment of the Oedipus myth and the influence it has had, consult Lowell Edmunds’ Oedipus: The Ancient Legend and Its Later Analogues.

For a definition of “heroine,” read Deborah Lyons’ Gender Immortality: Heroines in Ancient Greek Myth and Cult. Read chapter 1 (“Heroines and Heroes”) to refine your concept of heroic characteristics in both men and women. Also, familiarize yourself with the Appendix, which provides a “Catalogue of Heroines.”

Compact Discs and Videos

Be sure to view the video of Night Journey, choreographed and danced by Martha Graham, with music by William Schuman, in which Jocasta, at the moment of her suicide, relives her destiny (with Oedipus, Tiresias, and Chorus). This succinct, intense, and erotic dance illustrates Graham’s art at its best. This ballet is discussed in the Commentary on this chapter.

If you do not already know the humorous musical works of Peter Schickele, under the pseudonym P.D.Q. Bach, by all means listen to his Oedipus Tex. This “dramatic oratorio” turns the Oedipus tragedy into a cowboy legend of the old west.

Everyone should become familiar with the relatively unknown operatic masterpiece Oedipe, by Georges Enesco.

The film Oedipus Rex, written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, is worth much study for its revealing insights.

An acclaimed opera of the 1990s is Tobias Picker’s Emmeline. You will be moved by this powerful work, based on the novel by Judith Rossner, which set the Oedipus legend in the eastern United States in the mid-19th century.

Listen to the CD or, better, watch the video of Igor Stravinsky’s opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex. The text, after Sophocles, is by Cocteau, translated into Latin  by Jean Danielou.

The musical Gospel at Colonus, by Bob Telson with lyrics by Lee Breuer and Bob Telson, is a great experience on CD and an even better one on video.  This original, moving, and faithful setting of Sophocles’ play in the context of a black gospel service should be compared to Sophocles’ text.

The cinematic version of Sophocles’ Antigone written and directed by George Tzavellas is worth seeing for the great Irene Papas.

Carl Orff is well known because of his Carmina Burana, which is often performed and recorded. You may be surprised by the dramatic impact of his Antigonae, an operatic setting of Hölderlin’s German translation of Sophocles’ play.


What is an Oedipus/oedipal complex? An Electa complex? Explain the derivation of Europe and sphinx. What is a Cadmean victory?


View the constellations Taurus and Draco.

Essay Questions

  1. Using the elaboration of the nine motifs that frequently occur in Greek saga, discuss in what ways these motifs are manipulated in the story of Oedipus.

  2. Discuss the religion and philosophy of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus.

  3. A major category of thought, whose moral dimensions Greek writers often explored, was the competing demands of nomos and physis, or law and nature. How is this dilemma brought out in Sophocles’ Antigone?

  4. Discuss the roles of Tiresias and Jocasta in Sophocles’ Oedipus.

  5. What are the roles of fate and free will in Sophocles’ Oedipus.

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