Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King Memory and the Past Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
OEDIPUS And thou shalt not be frustrate of thy wish. Now my imaginings have gone so far. Who has a higher claim that thou to hear My tale of dire adventures? Listen then. My sire was Polybus of Corinth, and My mother Merope, a Dorian; And I was held the foremost citizen, Till a strange thing befell me, strange indeed, Yet scarce deserving all the heat it stirred. A roisterer at some banquet, flown with wine, Shouted "Thou art not true son of thy sire." It irked me, but I stomached for the nonce The insult; on the morrow I sought out My mother and my sire and questioned them. They were indignant at the random slur Cast on my parentage and did their best To comfort me, but still the venomed barb Rankled, for still the scandal spread and grew. So privily without their leave I went To Delphi, and Apollo sent me back Baulked of the knowledge that I came to seek. But other grievous things he prophesied, Woes, lamentations, mourning, portents dire; To wit I should defile my mother's bed And raise up seed too loathsome to behold, And slay the father from whose loins I sprang. Then, lady,--thou shalt hear the very truth-- As I drew near the triple-branching roads, A herald met me and a man who sat In a car drawn by colts--as in thy tale-- The man in front and the old man himself Threatened to thrust me rudely from the path, Then jostled by the charioteer in wrath I struck him, and the old man, seeing this, Watched till I passed and from his car brought down Full on my head the double-pointed goad. Yet was I quits with him and more; one stroke Of my good staff sufficed to fling him clean Out of the chariot seat and laid him prone. And so I slew them every one. But if Betwixt this stranger there was aught in common With Laius, who more miserable than I, What mortal could you find more god-abhorred? Wretch whom no sojourner, no citizen May harbor or address, whom all are bound To harry from their homes. And this same curse Was laid on me, and laid by none but me. Yea with these hands all gory I pollute The bed of him I slew. Say, am I vile? Am I not utterly unclean, a wretch Doomed to be banished, and in banishment Forgo the sight of all my dearest ones, And never tread again my native earth; Or else to wed my mother and slay my sire, Polybus, who begat me and upreared? If one should say, this is the handiwork Of some inhuman power, who could blame His judgment? But, ye pure and awful gods, Forbid, forbid that I should see that day! May I be blotted out from living men Ere such a plague spot set on me its brand! (771-833)
Oedipus recalls the prophecy he received as a young man only when Teiresias again prophesies the same fate.
JOCASTA My lords, ye look amazed to see your queen With wreaths and gifts of incense in her hands. I had a mind to visit the high shrines, For Oedipus is overwrought, alarmed With terrors manifold. He will not use His past experience, like a man of sense, To judge the present need, but lends an ear To any croaker if he augurs ill. Since then my counsels naught avail, I turn To thee, our present help in time of trouble, Apollo, Lord Lycean, and to thee My prayers and supplications here I bring. Lighten us, lord, and cleanse us from this curse! For now we all are cowed like mariners Who see their helmsman dumbstruck in the storm. (911-924)
Jocasta laments Oedipus’s blindness and suggests that the ability to remember and perceive one’s past mistakes is central to acting wisely.
OEDIPUS Let the storm burst, my fixed resolve still holds, To learn my lineage, be it ne'er so low. It may be she with all a woman's pride Thinks scorn of my base parentage. But I Who rank myself as Fortune's favorite child, The giver of good gifts, shall not be shamed. She is my mother and the changing moons My brethren, and with them I wax and wane. Thus sprung why should I fear to trace my birth? Nothing can make me other than I am. (1077-1086)
While it is dangerous for Oedipus not to recall the prophecies of his youth and look to the past for direction, delving into the past in order to further understand his identity is similarly perilous. He is, it seems, stuck between a rock and a hard place.