Oedipus’s wife, Jocasta, enters and convinces Oedipus that he should neither kill nor exile Creon, though the reluctant king remains convinced that Creon is guilty. Creon leaves, and the Chorus reassures Oedipus that it will always be loyal to him. Oedipus explains to Jocasta how Tiresias condemned him, and Jocasta responds that all prophets are false. As proof, she offers the fact that the Delphic oracle told Laius he would be murdered by his son, while actually his son was cast out of Thebes as a baby and Laius was murdered by a band of thieves. Her narrative of his murder, however, sounds familiar to Oedipus, and he asks to hear more.
Jocasta tells him that Laius was killed at a three-way crossroads, just before Oedipus arrived in Thebes. Oedipus, stunned, tells his wife that he may be the one who murdered Laius. He tells Jocasta that, long ago, when he was the prince of Corinth, he heard at a banquet that he was not really the son of the king and queen, and so went to the oracle of Delphi, which did not answer him but did tell him he would murder his father and sleep with his mother. Hearing this, Oedipus fled from home, never to return. It was then, on the journey that would take him to Thebes, that Oedipus was confronted and harassed by a group of travelers, whom he killed in self-defense, at the very crossroads where Laius was killed.
Hoping that he will not be identified as Laius’s murderer, Oedipus sends for the shepherd who was the only man to survive the attack. Oedipus and Jocasta leave the stage, and the Chorus enters, announcing that the world is ruled by destiny and denouncing prideful men who would defy the gods. At the same time, the Chorus worries that if all the prophecies and oracles are wrong—if a proud man can, in fact, triumph—then the gods may not rule the world after all. Jocasta enters from the palace to offer a branch wrapped in wool to Apollo.
Whatever sympathy we might have lost for Oedipus amid his ranting in the second section, we regain at least partially in the third. After Jocasta intercedes in the fight between Oedipus and Creon, Oedipus calms down and recalls that there is a riddle before him that he, as the ruler of Thebes, has a responsibility to solve. Consequently, his incessant questions become more purposeful than they were in his conversations with Tiresias and Creon. We see that Oedipus logically and earnestly pursues the truth when he does not have a preconceived idea of what the truth is. When Oedipus seizes upon the detail of the three-way crossroads (805–822), he proves that he was not merely grandstanding in the first scene of the play when he expressed his desire to be forthright with his citizens and to subject himself to the same laws he imposes upon others. In his speech at lines 848–923, Oedipus shows that he truly believes he killed Laius and is willing to accept not only the responsibility but the punishment for the act. The speech is heartbreaking because we know that Oedipus has arrived at only half the truth.
In this section, Jocasta is both careless and maternal. She tells Oedipus that prophecies do not come true, and she uses the fact that an oracle incorrectly prophesied that Laius would be killed by his own son as evidence. Jocasta’s mistake is similar to Oedipus’s in the previous section: she confuses conclusions and evidence. As Oedipus assumed that Tiresias’s unpleasant claims could only be treason, so Jocasta assumes that because one prophecy has apparently not come to pass, prophecies can only be lies. While Oedipus’s hasty and imperfect logic in the second section has much to do with his pride, Jocasta’s in this section seem attached to an unwitting desire to soothe and mother Oedipus. When Jocasta is not answering Oedipus’s questions, she is calming him down, asking him to go into the palace, telling him that he has nothing to worry about—no need to ask more questions—for the rest of his life. Jocasta’s casual attitude upsets the Chorus, which continues to be loyal to Oedipus throughout this section (see 761–767). The Chorus’s ode at lines 954–997 serves as a reminder that neither Oedipus, Jocasta, nor the sympathetic audience should feel calm, because oracles speak to a purpose and are inspired by the gods who control the destiny of men. Throughout the play, the Chorus has been miserable, desperate for the plague to end and for stability to be restored to the city. Nevertheless, the Chorus holds staunchly to the belief that the prophesies of Tiresias will come true. For if they do not, there is no order on earth or in the heavens.
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The Chorus enters and cries that even Oedipus, greatest of men, was brought low by destiny, for he unknowingly murdered his father and married his mother. The messenger enters again to tell the Chorus what has happened in the palace. Jocasta is dead, by suicide. She locked herself in her bedroom, crying for Laius and weeping for her monstrous fate. Oedipus came to the door in a fury, asking for a sword and cursing Jocasta. He finally hurled himself at the bedroom door and burst through it, where he saw Jocasta hanging from a noose. Seeing this, Oedipus sobbed and embraced Jocasta. He then took the gold pins that held her robes and, with them, stabbed out his eyes. He kept raking the pins down his eyes, crying that he could not bear to see the world now that he had learned the truth.
Just as the messenger finishes the story, Oedipus emerges from the palace. With blood streaming from his blind eyes, he fumes and rants at his fate, and at the infinite darkness that embraces him. He claims that though Apollo ordained his destiny, it was he alone who pierced his own eyes. He asks that he be banished from Thebes. The Chorus shrinks away from Oedipus as he curses his birth, his marriage, his life, and in turn all births, marriages, and lives.
Creon enters, and the Chorus expresses hope that he can restore order. Creon forgives Oedipus for his past accusations of treason and asks that Oedipus be sent inside so that the public display of shame might stop. Creon agrees to exile Oedipus from the city, but tells him that he will only do so if every detail is approved by the gods. Oedipus embraces the hope of exile, since he believes that, for some reason, the gods want to keep him alive. He says that his two sons are men and can take care of themselves, but asks that Creon take care of his girls, whom he would like to see one final time.
The girls, Antigone and Ismene, come forth, crying. Oedipus embraces them and says he weeps for them, since they will be excluded from society, and no man will want to marry the offspring of an incestuous marriage. He turns to Creon and asks him to promise that he will take care of them. He reaches out to Creon, but Creon will not touch his hand. Oedipus asks his daughters to pray that they may have a better life than his. Creon then puts an end to the farewell, saying that Oedipus has wept shamefully long enough. Creon orders the guards to take Antigone and Ismene away from Oedipus, and tells Oedipus that his power has ended. Everyone exits, and the Chorus comes onstage once more. Oedipus, greatest of men, has fallen, they say, and so all life is miserable, and only death can bring peace.
The speech of the Chorus, with which this section begins (1311–1350), turns the images of the plowman and ship’s captain, which formerly stood for Oedipus’s success and ability to manage the state, into images of his failure. And the way in which it does so is quite extreme, focusing particularly on the sexual aspect of Oedipus’s actions. Oedipus and his father have, like two ships in one port, shared the same “wide harbor,” and Oedipus has plowed the same “furrows” his father plowed (1334–1339). The harbor image ostensibly refers to Jocasta’s bedchamber, but both images also quite obviously refer to the other space Oedipus and his father have shared: Jocasta’s vagina.
Images of earth and soil continue throughout the scene, most noticeably in one of Oedipus’s final speeches, in which he talks to his children about what he has done (see 1621–1661). These images of earth, soil, and plowing are used to suggest the metaphor of the sturdy plowman tilling the soil of the state, but they also suggest the image of the soil drinking the blood of the family members Oedipus has killed (see in particular 1531–1537). Oedipus’s crimes are presented as a kind of blight on the land, a plague—symbolized by the plague with which the play begins—that infects the earth on which Oedipus, his family, and his citizens stand, and in which all are buried as a result of Oedipus’s violence.
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