The Oedipus Plays

by: Sophocles

Destiny

1

For other, once the gods have rocked a house to its foundations the ruin will never cease, cresting on and on from one generation on through the race—like a great mounting tide driven on by savage gales . . .

The Chorus delivers these lines as they observe what is happening throughout Antigone as well as the entire trilogy. When fate causes reversals of fortunes, the consequences ripple through generations and families. The heinous crimes committed by Oedipus sealed the fates of his four children. As a result of their father’s actions, Oedipus’s children cannot escape their own terrible lives and deaths. No matter what they do, they cannot avoid destiny, because the “rocking” and “cresting” continues through generations, as dependable as ocean waves.

2

Destiny guide me always Destiny find me filled with reverence pure in word and deed Great laws tower above us, reared on high, born for the brilliant vault of heaven—

The Chorus addresses the audience directly, commenting on what is being acted out on stage. At this point, Jocasta and Oedipus are afraid of the truth of Oedipus’s origins, but they are not yet convinced of it. They are about to fetch the shepherd to attest to whether it was a band of thieves or one person who killed Laius at the crossroads. The Chorus chants a prayer to Destiny and soon attests to the idea that a prideful man cannot escape his destiny. The great laws will always triumph. The Chorus’s words foreshadow Oedipus’s downfall.

3

Your life’s in ruins, child—I wonder . . . do you pay for your father’s terrible ordeal?

The Chorus speaks to Antigone here, asking what seems to be a question with an obvious answer in the context of the play. Antigone answers the question by admitting that she is experiencing the grief “three times over,” and that the house of Laius has been “struck down” by Oedipus’s actions. She describes herself as cursed, doomed, and unwed, and she anticipates that death will be a release from the horrible destiny that is her family’s to bear.

4

I pitied the little baby, master, hoped he’d take him off to his own country, far away, but he saved him for this, this fate. If you are the man he says you are, believe me, you are born for pain.

When the shepherd explains his rescue of Oedipus as a baby in Oedipus the King, Oedipus realizes his truth: He is cursed in his birth, his marriage, and his fatherhood. Oedipus’s realization is the turning point of the entire trilogy. All of the prophesies have come true despite everyone’s attempt to circumvent what has been foretold. Ironically, the actions each character took in an effort to flip his or her fate were the actions that actually sealed his or her own destiny. Jocasta, Oedipus, Laius, and the shepherd all aided destiny’s unavoidable hand.

5

Look through all humanity: you’ll never find a man on earth, if a god leads him on, who can escape his fate.

Antigone says this early in Oedipus at Colonus as she speaks to the leader of the Chorus. Her statement—that a man can’t change his own destiny—is a common theme throughout the trilogy. At this point, Antigone begs the members of the community to have compassion, not only for her father, but also for her entire family. The leader answers that although the Chorus pities both Oedipus and Antigone, they cannot offer them comfort or a place to stay because they will not risk upsetting the gods. The Greeks believed that a person’s fate is inescapable, and attempting to intervene may jeopardize their own lives.