Click this quilt piece to go to Litonline's home page.VCCS Litonline Introduction to Literature
English 112 (English Composition II)
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Oedipus the Wreck

Regicide or Incest? The Slaying of Laius (thumbnail); click to website for full version.

Which seems to bother the chorus (elders of Thebes) more--the killing of the king or the incest? To answer, review "stasimon 1"--the chorus' response to Oedipus and Tiresias making accusations against each other. That is, contrast how the chorus feels about incest in lines 1335-1345 vs. how they feel about the assassin of Laius in lines 527-549.

Kill a king!: In 1997, Ann Remington of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia, USA, suggested that the chorus was more upset by the regicide: "The chorus is outraged at the murder of the king and they seem shocked and ashamed by the incest. In Stasimon I (lines
527-49), the Chorus makes no reference to the the accusations of incest, only their outrage at the murder. They express their anger saying, 'Whose ruthless, bloody hands have done this work?' They will not convict Oedipus in their hearts without proof; however, the Chorus does say whoever this man may be he should just run. They threaten the murderer by saying the fates will 'hunt him down with all their strength' and the 'doom that never dies, the terror' will follow him.

When it becomes apparent that Oedipus is the son, murderer, and his mother's lover, they finally speak of the incestuous relationship. There is no reason they can think of to forgive him for his sins. They are sad that it was him. 'How could the furrows your father plowed bear, your agony, hallowing in silence O so long?' They blame Jocasta; she should have known. The elders [chorus] simply wish they could forget Oedipus. But they will not judge him because Time has already done that. He will not be hunted by doom and terror for sleeping with his mother."

Skepticism to sadness: In 1998, Becky Dorsett points out a change in the attitude of the chorus: "In Stasimon 1 the chorus wonders who the murderer is, but they don't believe Tiresias's statement. At this point, they stand by their king saying, 'Shall I believe my great lord criminal at a raging word that a blind old man let fall? I saw him, when the carrion woman [sphinx] faced him of old, prove is heroic mind. These evil words are lies.' So the mood in this stasimon is more of curiosity as to who the murderer is.

The mood in Stasimon 4 is more of sadness. The chorus chants solemnly on the sorrows of life and the tragic fate to which even the noble are subject. They cry, 'And now of all men ever known, most pitiful is this man's story: His fortunes are most changed; his state fallen to a low slave's ground under bitter fate.'"

Plague-bringer: Killing the king brought upon Thebes the plague that prompted the investigation, points out Laura Whitehead (1998), so that personal threat to them upsets them more than the incest.

Incest: Sarah Martino (2000) suggested that the incest was primary: "The incest bothers them more. They speak continuously of how Oedipus has now ploughed the same fields that his father had (speaking of Jocasta). It is apparent that this bothers them a great deal."

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