When the play opens, Oedipus is king of THEBES. He became king by answering the riddle of the SPHINX and thereby freeing the city from its enslavement to this mythical monster. The previous king, Laius, had recently been killed while on a journey...
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: INTERPRETING AND
APPRECIATING OEDIPUS REX
To follow the plot of Oedipus Rex, think of the play as divided into six acts separated by the principal choruses. Be aware of how these structural divisions and their different lengths affect the pace of the play and contribute to its suspense. What are the principal actions, questions and discoveries in each section?
Act 1: pp. 159-67; chorus, pp. 168-70.
Act 2: pp. 171-85; chorus, pp. 186-87.
Act 3: pp. 188-208; chorus, pp. 209-10.
Act 4: pp. 211-24; chorus, p. 224.
Act 5: pp. 225-32; chorus, pp. 233-34.
Act 6: pp. 235-50; chorus, p. 250.
-Think of this play as a detective story. What questions is Oedipus trying to answer? What clues does he get? What false leads does he pursue? How do the questions change from section to section of the play?
-What oracles or messages from the gods are described in the play? How do they affect the action?
-What is irony? Find examples of irony in the speeches of the characters and the development of the plot. Consider, for example, Oedipus' proclamation (245-314), his exchange with TIRESIAS (340-526), and his discussion of the oracles and the killing of Laius with Jocasta (778-949). Is irony used differently with different characters? Why is irony so important in this play?
-Some critics say that the main characters in tragedies are brought down by a flaw in their character, their "tragic flaw". Do you think this applies to Oedipus?
-Read closely the choral ode on pp. 209-10 (lines 954-997). What is the chorus literally saying? How is the choral ode related to the dramatic action that precedes and follows it? Does it cast light on the themes of this play?
COMPARING WORKS>>> Is the end of this play satisfying? Compare it with the end of the Iliad.
PERICLES' FUNERAL ORATION AND THE PLAGUE IN ATHENS
-What are the most important values that Pericles finds in Athenian society and in the character of the Athenians?
-Compare Pericles' praise of the warriors of Athens with the image of the warrior in the Iliad.
-Thucydides provides a detailed, clinical description of the physical symptoms and effects of the plague. How is this "medical" description related to his analysis of the plague's impact on attitudes, beliefs and behavior?
-Thucydides say the plague made "men...indifferent to every rule of religion or of law". Why did people ignore the law? What does their behavior suggest about why people do or do not obey laws?
-Thucydides says, "No fear of god...had a restraining influence. As for the gods, it seemed to be the same thing whether one worshipped them or not". Yet, he also says that "at this time of distress people naturally recalled old oracles". Can you reconcile his claim that people neglected the worship of the gods with his comment about people searching out the old oracles?
-In Pericles' speech in defense of his policies, is he right to say to the Athenians, "I am the same as I was, and do not alter; it is you have changed."? Is this speech consistent with the ideals of the funeral oration?
-To justify the war, Pericles implies that the Athenians have had a choice forced upon them "submission and immediate slavery or danger with the hope with the survival"; later, he urges the Athenians not to "fall below the standards of your fathers, who not only won an empire...but went on the keep it safe". Are these two motivations for war consistent?
-Pericles warns the Athenians that their "empire is now like a tyranny". Is this consistent with his praise of Athenian democracy?