Sophocles: Oedipus Tyrannus



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Oedipus Tyrannus by the great tragedian Sophocles is one of the most famous works of ancient Greek literature. The play has always been admired for the tight unity of its plot; every bit of every scene counts towards the dramatic effect. The action is concentrated into a single day in Oedipus’ life; his heinous crimes of unwittingly killing his father and marrying his mother all lie long ago in the past, and now, in the action of this one day, there awaits for him only the discovery of the truth. 
Oedipus is portrayed as a noble king, deeply devoted to his people and they to him.  Proud of his earlier defeat of the Sphinx, he is determined to save his city once again, and he unflinchingly pursues the truth of who he is and what he has done, unaware that it will bring him to disaster.  The spectators, familiar with Oedipus’ story, wait in horrified suspense for that terrible moment of realisation to arrive. And when it does, Oedipus survives it: he takes full responsibility for what he has done, accepts the grief and the pain, and carries on, remaining indomitable to the end. 
Sophocles gives no answer as to why Oedipus is made to suffer his tragic fate.  He simply shows us how human life is; how even a great and good man can be brought to the utmost misery through no fault of his own.  The gods may, for no apparent reason, deal out unbelievable suffering, but humankind can survive it. 
Jenny March’s new facing-page translation brings alive the power and complexities of Sophocles’ writing, with a substantial introduction and a detailed commentary.

‘For incisive comment and sharp analysis (as well as obvious enthusiasm for this play), M. is very hard to beat and also refreshingly easy to read.’
John Godwin, Classics for All

‘All in all, this is a lovely introduction to Oedipus the King for intermediate-level Greek students... The copious references to scholarship and the window into textual criticism will also open students’ eyes and prepare them for further work. March gives us a strong, intelligent, caring Oedipus and shows us how Sophocles dramatizes his story.'
Anne Mahoney, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Author Information

Dr Jenny March has taught at London, Reading and Southampton universities, was a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University College London, and is attached to Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The founder and editor of the Classical Association's journal CA News for twenty years, she has dedicated her career to making Classics accessible to a wide audience. Her previous books include the award-winning Dictionary of Classical Mythology (new edition Oxbow 2014), The Penguin Book of Classical Myths (2009), and Sophocles Electra (2001) in this series.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
I: The Myth before Sophocles10
i) The Pre-dramatic Tradition10
ii) The Myth in Aeschylus14
iii) The Myth in Art16
II: The Play18
i) Name and Date18
ii) Dramatic Design20
iii) Sophocles’ Innovations28
iv) Staging31
v) Characters33
vi) Themes and Issues37
a) Dramatic irony37
b) Recognition40
c) Foundlings41
d) The Role of Apollo44
e) Oedipus’ Tragic Fate46
vii) The Question of the Ending47
III: The Myth Lives On52
IV: This Edition57
Oedipus Tyrannus68