Study Guide

Oedipus at Colonus Exile

By Sophocles


OEDIPUS. Child of a blind old man, Antigone, to what

Lands have we come, or to the city of which men?

Who will today receive with scanty gifts

The wanderer Oedipus? (1-4)

In this epic introductory speech, Oedipus uses a bunch of nicknames to get everyone up to speed with what’s going on. He calls himself the “wanderer Oedipus” because he’s exiled from his home city of Thebes. He’s not allowed to go home, so his lot in life is to wander from town to town. Who says you can't go home? Lots of people (and Gods), in Oedipus' case.    

STRANGER. Stay here, just where you appeared, until I

Go to tell these things to commoners of this place,

Not of the town. For these will judge

Whether you ought to remain or go away again. (77-80)

Here we go. Poor Oedipus barely arrives to the new city when the stranger figures out who he is and tells him there’s a good chance that he will be run out of town very soon. This is because Oedipus has committed a big no-no and his curse will affect anyone who’s near him. At least that’s the fear. 

CHORUS. A wanderer,

Some wanderer, is the elder,

Not a native of this land. For otherwise he would never

Go to the inviolable grove

Of the indomitable Maidens [. . .]. (123-27)

The Chorus is the voice of Athens; they recognize immediately that Oedipus must not be from around here because of the way he acts. He has entered a sacred grove, where no one is allowed to trespass, so they assume he’s an out-of-towner. Anyone who's anyone from Athens wouldn't be caught dead—or alive—in the grove. 

CHORUS. Who is the one who is led, laboring so much? What,

May we ask, is the land of your fathers?

OEDIPUS. Strangers, I have no city. But do not… (205-07)

Oedipus no longer says that he’s from Thebes because he’s been driven out. His relationship with his hometown is so broken that he has become an official exile, a man with “no city.” This is a big deal for the Chorus, because they ask Oedipus where he’s from because they want to figure him out. 

CHORUS. Back! Away from this place! Depart from my land! Hurry away,

Lest you fasten some further debt

On my city! (234-36)

As soon as the Chorus figures out that Oedipus is the Oedipus, the one who married his mother and killed his father, they are ready to exile him just like everyone else. This is because they are afraid that his presence will cause calamity for Athens, like it did for Thebes. 

OEDIPUS. [. . .] Many times she roams in the wild

Forests, without food, barefoot,

Afflicted by many storms and by the heat of the sun,

A wretched one. But she believes that having a life in a home

Is of secondary importance, if her father has nurture. (348-52)

Oedipus is an exile, which means that his entourage is, too. He describes his poor daughter, Antigone, revealing more details about the exile life. Being homeless, or exiled, means having no protection: no shoes, no roof, and no protective clothes. It basically sucks, but Antigone chooses exile in an attempt to provide her father with a little comfort. Someone's on track to being daughter of the year. 

OEDIPUS. [. . .] You took

Your stand as my faithful guard when I was driven out of the land. (355-56)

Oedipus recalls that traumatic moment when his son drove him out of Thebes. Losing your home is pretty awful, so the fact that his daughter, Antigone, stood by him as his “guard” at that moment makes her a very important figure in the poor, wandering Oedipus’ life. 

ISMENE. And the younger one, inferior in age,

Deprives the one born before, Polyneices, of the throne

And has driven him from the land of his fathers. (374-76)

Oedipus isn’t the only one dealing with exiled life. His son, the one who kicked him out in the first place, is now being exiled by his younger brother. Can't we all just get along? Nope. Basically the only way to keep a throne that isn’t rightfully yours is to make sure that everyone else who might want it stays very far away. 

OEDIPUS. [. . .] I, who begot them—

Who without honor was thrust out of the land of my fathers—

They did not hold onto me or protect me! But by the two of them

I was driven out! I was sent out and proclaimed an exile! (427-30)

See the relationship between family and home here? Oedipus is an exile, which means he was kicked out of the “land of his fathers”—Thebes isn’t just where he is from, but where his roots are. So exile is, for him, a major uprooting. He has lost everything that makes him who he is. 

OEDIPUS. You yourself drove out your own father here

And made me a man without a city, so that I would wear these clothes

Which now beholding you shed tears over, because you happen

To undergo the same labor of evils that I do! (1356-59)

What goes around comes around, in other words. Oedipus is ripping his son, Polyneices, a new one. Mr. P. is the cause for Oedipus’ exile; he kicked his dad out of Thebes and took his throne. But now that his brother kicked him out of Thebes, Polyneices feels the pain and goes looking for sympathy with Oedipus. But it’s too little, too late.