my children, weep no more. Here where the dark forces store up kindness
both for living and the dead, there is no room for grieving here—it
might bring down the anger of the gods.
at Colonus, 1970–1974)
Theseus’s short speech from the end
of Oedipus at Colonus argues that grieving might
not be a good thing—a sentiment unusual in the Theban plays. Sophocles’
audience would have seen, before this speech, the most extreme consequences
of excessive grief: Antigone’s death, Haemon’s death, Eurydice’s
death, Jocasta’s death, Oedipus’s blinding, Oedipus’s self-exile.
The rash actions of the grief-stricken possess both a horror and
a sense of inevitability or rightness. Jocasta kills herself because
she cannot go on living as both wife and mother to her son; Oedipus
blinds himself in order to punish himself for his blindness to his
identity; Eurydice can no longer live as the wife of the man who
killed her children. Theseus’s speech calls attention to the fact
that the violence that arises from this grieving only leads to the
perpetuation of violence.
At the end of Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone
and Ismene beg to be allowed to see their father’s tomb, to complete
the process of their grieving at that spot. But Theseus insists
on maintaining the secret as Oedipus wished. Unlike the other two
Theban plays, death is in this play a point of rest, a point at
which lamentation must stop rather than begin.