(Originally read this book and wrote this post September 27th 2008)
Sophocles wrote Oedipus at Colonus at the end of his life. Like the original Oedipus drama that explains the origin of scapegoating, this play serves as an explanation for why Oedipus is a sacred hero and protector of Athens rather than Thebes.
The story focuses on the end of Oedipus’s blind wanderings with only his daughter, Antigone as a guide. Unlike modern works, the narrative details fail to maintain a cohesive unity with the earlier play. In this version, Oedipus’s sons banished him against his will. Oedipus reflects on the tragedy of his life, knowing the end will soon come. Creon tries to lure Oedipus back to the city of Thebes, hoping to have Oedipus’s blessing of good luck and protection. He stoops so low as to kidnap Antigone and Ismene, Oedipus’s other cherished daughter. Meanwhile his two sons are at war with each other over inheritance of Thebes, and one of them seeks out Oedipus to bless his war efforts only to receive a curse of fratricide. The contrast between his daughter and sons suggests the sad truth that one’s children in old age can be either a curse or a blessing.
Here we find a much older and wiser Oedipus who now shows reverence towards the gods. This Oedipus is not fooled by the sweet talk and false promises of those who betrayed him in the past. This Oedipus has found true wisdom through his sufferings. At the end of his life, Sophocles wrote this play as a meditation on old age and the life experience misfortune can bring. Oedipus comes full circle from hubristic youth who taunts the old and blind (represented by Tiresias in the earlier play) and thinks he knows it all to this old hunched-over figure wandering in bitterness over his deepest sorrows, but possessing a genuine wisdom and love for his daughters.