Study Guide

Oedipus at Colonus Summary

By Sophocles

Oedipus at Colonus Summary

Oedipus, blind and homeless, shuffles into a field in Athens called Colonus with his daughter, Antigone. The king of Athens, Theseus, decides that he’ll give Oedipus some shelter, even though most cities are afraid of the curses he’s been known to bring down on cities he lives in (see Oedipus the King for more on that). This guy is some bad luck, the human equivalent of opening an umbrella indoors as you're walking under a ladder. Still, Oedipus promises to protect Theseus if he’s allowed to die there in peace. Um…deal?

Creon, Oedipus’ brother-in-law (and uncle) shows up and tries to get Oedipus to come home so that Creon can bury him in a place he’s got picked out that should keep Thebes, his city, out of trouble. If this seems weird, it might be because it has to do with curses and Greek gods, who sound like some moody and spiteful jerks.

Oedipus refuses to go with Creon, so naturally Creon orders his soldiers to capture Antigone and her sister, Ismene. Considering Oedipus is blind, old, and homeless, this might seem like a bit of an overreaction, but if you haven't noticed, these Ancient Greeks had a tendency to be a little dramatic. Oedipus is really bummed by this, and Theseus sends his own soldiers to get the girls back. They come back and Theseus kicks Creon out of town. Good riddance.  

Next Polyneices, Oedipus’ oldest son, who drove Oedipus out of Thebes after it came out that he’d married his own mother and killed his father (without knowing, in his defense) and asks Oedipus for his blessing. He wants to go back to Thebes and take back the throne from his little brother, Eteocles.

Not so fast, Polyneices. You can't just drive your old man out of town and come back for help when it best suits you. Oedipus laughs at his son’s boldness and, instead of blessing him, curses both Polyneices and Eteocles, predicting their death. And since Oedipus has a knack for actually bringing death and suffering to those he curses, Polyneices asks his sisters to bury him when he dies. Homeboy knows he's got it coming.

It starts storming and—oh, what do you know—Oedipus realizes that it’s time for him to die (he’s a nobleman, so he can just feel it). He leads Theseus and his daughters to a certain place where the earth swallows him up like a tasty little morsel.

Antigone and Ismene ask Theseus to take them back to Thebes so they can try to stop their brothers from killing each other, and he agrees. Is it just us, or does this sound strangely similar to an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians? So. Much. Drama.