Study Guide

Oedipus at Colonus Setting

By Sophocles

Setting

Colonus, After Oedipus is Driven out of Thebes

Furious Colonus

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 hometown fans.

In-betweeners

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.