Oedipus is Driven out of Thebes
The entire play takes place in a sacred field in a part of
Athens called Colonus. Oedipus asks a stranger where he is, and the guy tells
him that the fields “boast that their founder is the knight / Colonus, and all
bear this one’s name / In common, having been so named” (58-61). The fields are
dedicated to the Furies, a group of goddesses who were in
charge of taking revenge for wrongdoing.
The fact that the fields are dedicated to the Furies is not
a coincidence; the fact that the Furies take pity on Oedipus hints that he has
finally, finally, been forgiven or
paid for the sin of having killed his father and slept with his mother (which
he does in Oedipus the King, by
accident). You might expect him to be immediately struck down when he wanders
onto the Furies’ turf, but instead he finds his final refuge. The setting, a
promised land, is a sign of Oedipus’s pardon
It’s also interesting to think about the fact that Sophocles
was from Colonus, a part of Athens, so he’s writing about his hometown as a sort
of sweet paradise. This in comparison with Thebes, Oedipus’ homeland, which is
a wild place where people just marry their mothers without even realizing it.
Since the play would be produced for an Athens crowd, Sophocles is pleasing the
Oedipus at Colonus takes
place in ancient times, probably around when the playwright, Sophocles, was
living (5th century BCE). But it’s also helpful to look at the time
frame in comparison to two of his other plays, Oedipus the King and Antigone.
This play comes smack in between them, bridging the gap
between the two. This lets the play sort of pass the torch from father,
Oedipus, to daughter, Antigone, through his death. The play fills in the gaps
between what happens in each play.