It's considered the perfect and ultimate tragedy. The prophesy is fulfilled: Oedipus unknowingly kills his father and sleeps with his mothers. And when the realization happens in the climax of the play, he puts out his own eyes.
Now what is so attractive about this story that continues to draw us to its telling over and over again?
Well let us boil it down to its essentials and see. If you look at it, the play is about two things.
Have you ever had a day when everything goes wrong? One of those days when the fates, or the gods, or the universe, or whatever you want to call it, decides to completely screw you over. You loose your job. You get a parking ticket, or worse, you get in a car accident. You wind up in the emergency room. Your spouse leave you. Your dog runs away (ok, now it's sounding like a bad country song). But the point is we've all had those days when things keep going wrong. When you look at the play like this, it totally becomes relate-able. Now Oedipus' day is so much worse than anything we will (hopefully) ever experience which is what makes it great tragedy.
The other topic is the question of how well we know another person. Oedipus and and Jocasta had been lovers for years. Despite the strange beginnings, we have to believe that they were in a very stable and loving relationship. Imagine the betrayal each must have felt as the horror of the story's details begin to wash over them. This too is something that we all have to face. Whether it is our partner or our parents, siblings, or friends - we face those moments in our lives where we find out a detail about someone and have to think "who are you" or "I would have never thought you'd be capable of that hurtful thing." It's a fear we all have to live with constantly. And on top of that the bigger question becomes how well do we know ourselves?
So take the time this weekend to reread Oedipus and forget about the great-grandfather of tragedy. Forget about all the Greek choruses and festivals. Forget about Freud and all of the other things that this story has come to represent. Read this play as a very intimate and personal story about confronting fears that we have to deal with every day and share with us your reflections on the text.
Happy Birthday: Frederico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936)
Happy Birthday (June 6): Pierre Corneille (1606-1684)