People of Thebes, my countrymen, look on Oedipus. He solved the famous riddle with his brilliance, he rose to power, a man beyond all power. Who could behold his greatness without envy? Now what a black sea of terror has overwhelmed him. Now as we keep our watch and wait the final day, count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last.
(Oedipus the King, 1678–1684)
These words, spoken by the Chorus, form the conclusion of Oedipus the King. That Oedipus “solved the famous riddle [of the Sphinx] with his brilliance” is an indisputable fact, as is the claim that he “rose to power,” to an enviable greatness. In underscoring these facts, the Chorus seems to suggest a causal link between Oedipus’s rise and his fall—that is, Oedipus fell because he rose too high, because in his pride he inspired others to “envy.” But the causal relationship is never actually established, and ultimately all the Chorus demonstrates is a progression of time: “he rose to power, a man beyond all power. / . . . / Now what a black sea of terror has overwhelmed him.” These lines have a ring of hollow and terrifying truth to them, because the comfort an audience expects in a moral is absent (in essence, they say “Oedipus fell for this reason; now you know how not to fall”).