The Theban Plays by Sophocles – Part 1 – “Oedipus the King”

Nightmare Fodder

Oedipus the King – Sophocles

[At the Royal Palace with Priest, Oedipus and suppliants with suppliant branches]

Oedipus – What’s with all the branches, incense and sickness? Fill me in, Priest

Priest – There’s a plague. The people are sick. The plants and animals are all dying. Please, do something about this before we all die

Oedipus – This is awful. I was told earlier and sent my brother-in-law, Creon, to Delphi to learn what to do about it. When he comes, we’ll know…

Priest – Here he comes now [Creon enters]

Creon – Well, I’ve just heard from the Oracle. We’ve got to get rid of a defiler who killed your predecessor, Laius. His murder must be avenged. Then the plague will be lifted.

Oedipus – How did he die?

Creon – He was killed on the way back from Delphi. Only one man of his group survived. He said it was robbers. Once Laius was killed, the plague set in. We could never find the killer. The Sphinx forced us to stop and focus on other things

Oedipus – We’ll get to the bottom of this. Apollo will guide us to the killer and release us from the plague

[Creon, Priest, Oedipus enter palace]

Chorus of Elders – Zeus, Apollo, Athena, Artemis, Bacchus… Help! Please heal out sick. Chase out the plague. Let the crops grow back. Stop killing our people. Make the animals and people fertile again

[Oedipus enters]

Oedipus – I heard you pray. We’ve got to find the murderer of Laius, and either kill him or exile him. If you know something, tell me. Don’t worry, you’ll be rewarded. If I find you’ve been hiding something, it’s your ass!! These are Apollo’s instructions. It’s the only way to come out of this thing.

Chorus – Perhaps you ought to talk to Teiresias, the blind prophet.

Oedipus – I’ve already sent for him. Here he is [Teiresias enters]. We’ve got a plague. Apollo says we’ve got to find Laius’s murderer, kill him and it’ll be lifted. Can you help?

Teiresias – I really shouldn’t say. You don’t want to hear it.

Oedipus – The gods are asking for your help. Please tell us.

Teiresias – No. Nothing good can come from it

Oedipus – You old fool. We need to know. The plague is killing us. Don’t make me force you or threaten you.

Teiresias – If you insist… This is all your fault. You’re the defiler

Oedipus – Are you mocking me?

Teiresias – No, just telling you the truth. The further down this path of inquiry you go, the worse you’ll find it to be. It’s because of your nearest of kin.

Oedipus – What do you mean?

Teiresias – Every question you ask and every answer you get will get you deeper in the shit. You ought to quit while you’re ahead.

Oedipus – I think you and Creon are in cahoots.

Teiresias – Creon and I are not your problem. You’re your own problem.

Oedipus – It seems you two are jealous of my power. I’m sad that Creon, whom I trusted, would do this with a blind old fool. The riddle needed me and a seer to solve but I think you’re doing it with Creon to get rid of me.

Chorus – Let’s cool down. We’re not getting anywhere like this.

Teiresias – It’s got nothing to do with Creon. I’m with Apollo, not Creon. But as for you… What do you know of your parents? Your mother? Your father? Your parents have cursed you. You’ll see what I mean in due course.

Oedipus – So this was all Creon’s fault. Get out of here, you old fool.

Teiresias – You’re the one who sent for me.

Oedipus – Well, I didn’t know you would talk such shit.

Teiresias – You think I’m a fool but your parents didn’t.

Oedipus – Who were they? You’re speaking in riddles.

Teiresias – And you’re not skilled enough to unravel them. You’ll out soon enough. Fortune will be the one to undo you, not me or Creon.

Oedipus – Get out.

Teiresias – Very well. One thing before I leave. You’ve been hurling threats and accusations about the murderer of Laius. He’s here in this city. Seemingly foreign but really a Theban. He sees now but he’ll soon be blind. He’s rich now but he’ll soon be poor. He’s committed incest and killed his father. Think it over. [Oedipus and Teiresias leave]

Chorus – Who was the murderer? Apollo will punish him in time. Things are doomed but Teiresias’s words are vague. Perhaps Oedipus is to blame but there’s no real evidence [Creon enters]

Creon – Listen up, everyone, I understand that the king has been accusing me of many things. Murder and, what’s worse, treason.

Chorus – I think he’s been under a lot of stress and strain lately. He doesn’t mean it.

Creon – What about all his lies about me and the seer?

Chorus – But here’s your chance to ask him yourself. [Oedipus enters]

Oedipus – Why are you here? To kill me and steal my throne? You little shit. How long has it been since Laius’s murder?

Creon – Many years.

Oedipus – And was Teiresias a seer before the murder?

Creon – Yes and a very reputable one

Oedipus – But he never mentioned me as the murderer?

Creon – Not when I was around

Oedipus – Why didn’t he say something before the murder?

Creon – I have no idea. I can’t even speculate on that

Oedipus – When you two spoke, did he mention me killing Laius? It’s not possible. I’ve never met the man, let alone killed him. Why are you two trying to overthrow me?

Creon – Look, you’re married to my sister. I’ve got a fantastic life in your court. I have all the benefits of high living and none of the responsibilities of being king. I’ve got it made. Why would I want to change things now? If you don’t believe me, go and ask the Oracle yourself.

Chorus – Oedipus, he’s telling the truth.

Oedipus – This is a conspiracy. I intend to have you two killed. [Iocasta enters]

Chorus – Maybe Iocasta can settle things

Iocasta – What’s this all about? This spat isn’t helping our plague

Creon – Oedipus claims that he’ll kill me or exile me.

Oedipus – I’ve caught him conspiring against me

Chorus – He’s denied your claim and you’re accusing your friend of betrayal without any reason to suspect him. Don’t base your decisions on wild rumors.

Oedipus – So, you want our downfall too? The land is plagued. If you all stand up for him, both I and this city are doomed. Is that what you want?

Creon – You’re wrong and I’ve had enough of this shit [leaves]

Iocasta – What’s this all about?

Oedipus – Creon’s seer said I killed Laius. This is just a plot against me.

Iocasta – Do you have evidence of that? Does he?

Oedipus – His seer said so while he just keeps quiet.

Iocasta – Don’t listen too much to seers. A seer once said to Laius that his own son would end up killing him. So, we had our new born baby killed. Since he was killed by robbers and the baby was dead, the prophecy cannot be true. This murder happened somewhere out on a road where 3 roads met.

Oedipus – Oh shit!

Iocasta – What?

Oedipus – Where were these 3 roads?

Iocasta – Phocis. The road leads to Delphi and Daulia

Oedipus – Oh, fuck! Zeus what have you done? What did he look like? How tall was he?

Iocasta – About your height and build – slightly greying

Oedipus – Oh fuck! How many were in his party?

Iocasta – 5 of them in 1 carriage. There was only 1 survivor, our servant then. I think he’s a shepherd now

Oedipus – I have to tell you… My father was Polybus of Corinth and my mother was a Dorian, Meropé. When I was young, a stranger told me they weren’t my real parents. I asked them about it and they denied it. But it always stuck in the back of my mind. At Delphi, I was told that I would kill my father and marry my mother. I ran away from home to avoid this coming true. I ran into a group of travelers. The servant tried to run me off the road. I hit him and the rest of them came after me. I killed all of them. I know it’s not my fault that they attacked me but what if he was my father? I killed my father and ended up marrying his wife

Chorus – It’s a scary thought but we’re not completely sure of it yet

Oedipus – If this servant’s story doesn’t match yours then, I’ll be fine. But if not, then I’ll know it was my fault

Iocasta – The whole city knows the story. If he contradicts himself, there’s reason to doubt the story and therefore the prophecy was bullshit [They leave]

Chorus – It looks like prophecies are fading in importance and men don’t believe them anymore. Apollo isn’t glorified anymore and worship is dying. We’re suffering the consequences for that

[Iocasta enters with suppliant branch and incense]

Iocasta – Please rid us of this plague, Apollo. Oedipus won’t listen to me and the whole city is panicking because he’s panicking. [Prays]

[Messenger enters and speaks to Chorus]

Messenger – Is this Oedipus’s home? Where can I find him? I’ve got some news from Corinth.

Iocasta – Yes, he’s inside. I’m his wife. What’s the news?

Messenger – Oedipus will be king of Corinth. His father, Polybus is dead from old age.

Iocasta – So, the prophecy was wrong. How wonderful! [Oedipus enters]

Oedipus – What’s going on?

Iocasta – This man from Corinth brings news of your father’s death from old age.

Oedipus – Poor man. I guess the Oracle was wrong after all. But I’m still worried about sleeping with my mother.

Iocasta – Well, don’t do it then. We don’t need to fear prophecies and gods. We have our own lives to live with our own purposes.

Oedipus – My mother’s still alive though.

Messenger – She’s not your real mother. I actually found you in the woods and gave you to them when you were a baby since they were childless. I remember. You had your ankles pinned together.

Oedipus – Where did I come from?

Messenger – That I don’t know. Ask one of Laius’s servants. He’d know because he gave you to me. I’d recognize him

Oedipus – Elders, do you know who this is?

Chorus – No, but Iocasta would

Oedipus – Well?

Iocasta – Well, what? I wasn’t paying attention

Oedipus – Who was the servant?

Iocasta – You’d do well not to carry out this search

Oedipus – Who was the servant?

Iocasta – Please don’t!! [Leaves]

Chorus – Iocasta is crying for what will come of this

Oedipus – Come what may. I have to find out. I have to face my destiny

Chorus – Apollo knows. We’ll know by the end of tomorrow

Oedipus – This old man might know [Herdsman enters]. Messenger, is this the man?

Messenger – Yes.

Oedipus – Herdsman. Did you ever serve Laius?

Herdsman – Yes, mostly herding flocks in Cithaeron and near it

Oedipus – Do you recognize this man, the Corinthian messenger?

Herdsman – No, not really

Messenger – Of course you do. We had our flocks on the same mountain for 3 years. Don’t you remember?

Herdsman – Vaguely. But that was a long time ago.

Messenger – This might ring a bell… You gave me a baby to raise as my own.

Herdsman – I don’t remember that.

Messenger – Of course, you do

Herdsman – No I don’t. Shut up!

Oedipus – Do you remember that?

Herdsman – He doesn’t know what he’s talking about

Messenger – Of course I do

Oedipus – Did you give him a child to raise?

Herdsman – Yes and I regret it

Oedipus – Where did you get the child?

Herdsman – Please don’t ask!!

Oedipus – Where did you get the child?

Herdsman – From the house of Laius

Oedipus – From a servant?

Herdsman – No, from the queen. She gave it to me to kill to avoid the prophecies coming true

Oedipus – Why did you give it to this man?

Herdsman – Because I couldn’t kill a baby. I thought the prophecy wouldn’t come true

Oedipus – It did come true. I killed my father and married my own mother [Leaves]

Chorus – Oedipus’s fate is sad. You thought your life was going so well and now it’s all fallen apart. Your father’s curse has doomed you [2nd Messenger enters]

2nd Messenger – I have to announce that Iocasta has hanged herself out of exasperation of the fulfilment of the prophecy. Oedipus took her brooches and gouged out his own eyes. He’s blind now [Oedipus enters]

Chorus – What a terrible thing to see. I can’t bear to look

Oedipus – What a shitty fate. Why did this have to happen to me. It’s so cruel

Chorus – Why did you blind yourself?

Oedipus – I know you. I recognize your voices. Apollo brought all of this shit down on my. I can’t bear to look at anything anymore from this world. I didn’t want any of this, it was my destiny. I was doomed before I was even born

Chorus – Perhaps you’d be better off dead

Oedipus – Why didn’t that shepherd kill me? Why did I kill Iocasta? Elders, please kill me. Or at least get me out of Thebes.

Chorus – Creon will rule in your place. [Creon enters]

Oedipus – I can’t be around him. Ah, Creon. Please look after my daughters. My sons are old enough to fend for themselves [Antigone and Ismene enter]. Girls, your father’s cursed and your mother is dead. Creon will look after you when I leave. I’d better get going. I need to leave Thebes so the curse and plague are lifted.

Chorus – People used to look at Oedipus with envy. They don’t do that anymore.


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