Subject: doctorlit reviews Sophocles's Oedipus Cycle (not safe for Calliope, FourMoonsWatching or Scapegrace)
Posted on: 2020-05-05 12:35:19 UTC

Yeeeeaaaaaah uh. Been reading these. So.

Spoiler warning for the entire Oedipus trilogy of plays, and of course, content warnings for incest, suicide and eye horror. (not safe for Calliope, FourMoonsWatching or Scapegrace)

And on that note . . . I just want to say for the record I really really hate the topic of incest. I’ve known too many people hurt by it, I don’t like reading about it, and I refuse to do any missions that involve it. I don’t even know why I bought this book; I guess just because it’s a classic . . . Whatever, here we are, I read them, I’m reviewing them, let’s just get it over with.

Oedipus Rex

Okay, wow. This was significantly shorter than I was expecting it to be. Granted, I clearly already knew the big “twist” of the story, but there’s so little setup it really doesn’t even feel like a twist at all. It’s given away pretty overtly by dialogue almost immediately. It feels like the kind of story that really deserved a lot more suspenseful buildup. Although, as I understand it, the basic story itself was already a well-known legend before Sophocles adapted it into this play, so I suppose his audiences would have already known what was coming anyway. Welp. At least the next two in the trilogy are completely unknown content for me.

Even knowing the “twist” ahead of time, I didn’t know/remember what happened to Oedipus and Iocaste. Man, what a horror. While the rest of the play felt like a lot of talking heads, Iocaste’s suicide and Oedipus blinding himself really hit me hard; it drove home the utter shame and ill feeling that incest entailed, even back in those ostensibly less civilized times. (Mood whiplash, but I feel a need to point out that Iocaste is one of the coolest-sounding names I’ve ever read. What a shame it’s probably never going to make a comeback, considering the context its owner will forever be remembered for.)

Um, I kind of want to know more about how Oedipus took down the sphinx? Sphinxes need more representation in fantasy fiction.

Oedipus at Colonus

Well. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly is a whole lot of Oedipus being in Colonus. I’m honestly not convinced I really understood all that was going on this time. I liked the parts where Oedipus interacted with his daughters, because the emotional bonds between them felt real, even with the centuries-long cultural gap between me and this play. But the main plot, where Oedipus’s sons are at war with each other to take over his throne, and they want him back to help him settle the war for . . . some . . . reason. Yes, things were going so well in Thebes while Oedipus was there. Definitely not a terrible curse from the gods ruining the whole city, no. Yes, let’s just bring Oedipus right back home, maybe the gods won’t notice this time.

I don’t know, I just don’t feel this one the way I did OR. There, the conflict existed because the gods weren’t down with the incest and patricide, and I’m not down with those things either, so I was invested in the conflict. In this play, though, the conflict feels one step removed from the original crimes; they don’t want Oedipus back in Thebes because that’s what they said last time, weren’t you mortals listening? It’s more abstract, and harder for me to care about. Maybe it’s just my reading comprehension not being compatible with the language in this translation? Oh well. There’s one more play in the trilogy, and Oedipus won’t be in it himself. Let’s see what the future holds . . .


Yes, this one started out a lot more interesting! Antigone is a real headstrong sort of character, the sort of female character we’re only starting to see a lot of in recent decades. It feels so rare to see female characters like that before, say, the 1980s, let alone in ancient literature. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I actually feel like there’s a trace of feminism in Sophocles here, because our antagonist figure, Creon, goes on a nasty rant: “And no woman shall seduce us. If we must lose, let’s lose to a man, at least! Is a woman stronger than we?”

Creon was in the other two plays of this trilogy, but I didn’t remark on him in my reviews for those titles because . . . well, he was just kind of . . . there. In OR, he certainly wasn’t this weird, angry proto-men’s rights activist jerk, to the point where it almost feels like he’s a different character in Antigone. And while he was in OaC, and cast as an antagonist there, he was ultimately trying to save his country from war, so he wasn’t really an evil figure—just cast against the abstract will of the gods, and at cross-purposes to the protagonists. In Antigone, he actually reminds me quite a bit of Dolores Umbridge in Half-Blood Prince, the way he furiously spouts off about the absolute power of kings, and of citizens’ obligations to follow the law. Maybe it’s a simple matter of the crown going to his head, going to his head?

So while he’s an unlikable figure, I do wish his comeuppance didn’t come at the cost of his wife and the two nice, likable characters in this play. Yes, I know, the genre is “tragedy,” and the point of an ancient tragedy is to be a morality play where people die because of poor choices. But I can’t help being a modern reader and wanting the story to end nicely for the good guys, especially a good guy as cool as Antigone.

—doctorlit, ready for something a little more recent next reading

“I am so afraid for you!”
“You need not be: You have spoilers to consider, after all.”
“I am so afraid for you!”
“You need not be: You have spoilers to consider, after all.”
“I am so afraid for you!”
“You need not be: You have spoilers to consider, after all.”

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