Study Guide

Oedipus at Colonus Writing Style

By Sophocles

Writing Style

Poetic Mix of Monologue and Dialogue

You gotta remember that, unless you’re really, really into classic Greek, you’re probably reading one of many, many translations of Oedipus at Colonus, so it’s hard to comment on Sophocles’ style without having a shot at the original. We can look at the way the characters talk to each other, though. (And for more on the original, check this out)

Oedipus at Colonus is written in a pretty poetic style, even in up-to-date versions like Peter J. Ahrensdorf and Thomas L. Pangle’s 2014 translation. Just look at how the play opens, with Oedipus talking to his daughter:

Child of a blind man, Antigone, to what

Lands have we come, or to the city of which men? (1-2)

This poetic way of characterizing his daughter, relating her to him and to his blinded condition, isn’t just a pretty way of saying things. It’s also meant to quickly get audiences up to speeds: It’s Antigone and Oedipus, after he’s blinded himself.

There’s also an interesting mix of monologue and dialogue in the play that keeps it interesting. You get Oedipus going on and on in a prayer to the Furies:

Oh Mistresses with Terrible Countenance, since in

This land, first at Your suppliant seats, I have found rest,

Be not unmindful of Phoebus and of me! (84-86)

He takes his time and really lets out what he’s feeling, what he’s been through, and what he wants, in this monologue. That gives audiences a nice, thorough look into the character’s mind and motivation.

However, we also can see how characters relate to one another with some of the back-and-forth dialogue:

OEDIPUS. No! No! Do not ask me who

I am! Do not examine me further in your inquiry!

CHORUS. What is this?

OEDIPUS. A terrible nature!

CHORUS. Speak! (210-14)

There’s still a lot of poetry in this dialogue, almost a call-and-response feel, but it’s quick and snappy, which amps up the intensity of the emotions in the exchange, letting the audience really taste Oedipus’ despair and the Chorus’ curiosity.