Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Oedipus’s Swollen Foot

Oedipus gets his name, as the Corinthian messenger tells us in Oedipus the King, from the fact that he was left in the mountains with his ankles pinned together. Jocasta explains that Laius abandoned him in this state on a barren mountain shortly after he was born. The injury leaves Oedipus with a vivid scar for the rest of his life. Oedipus’s injury symbolizes the way in which fate has marked him and set him apart. It also symbolizes the way his movements have been confined and constrained since birth, by Apollo’s prophecy to Laius.

The Three-way Crossroads

In Oedipus the King, Jocasta says that Laius was slain at a place where three roads meet. This crossroads is referred to a number of times during the play, and it symbolizes the crucial moment, long before the events of the play, when Oedipus began to fulfill the dreadful prophecy that he would murder his father and marry his mother. A crossroads is a place where a choice has to be made, so crossroads usually symbolize moments where decisions will have important consequences but where different choices are still possible. In Oedipus the King, the crossroads is part of the distant past, dimly remembered, and Oedipus was not aware at the time that he was making a fateful decision. In this play, the crossroads symbolizes fate and the awesome power of prophecy rather than freedom and choice.

Antigone’s Entombment

Creon condemns Antigone to a horrifying fate: being walled alive inside a tomb. He intends to leave her with just enough food so that neither he nor the citizens of Thebes will have her blood on their hands when she finally dies. Her imprisonment in a tomb symbolizes the fact that her loyalties and feelings lie with the dead—her brothers and her father—rather than with the living, such as Haemon or Ismene. But her imprisonment is also a symbol of Creon’s lack of judgment and his affronts to the gods. Tiresias points out that Creon commits a horrible sin by lodging a living human being inside a grave, as he keeps a rotting body in daylight. Creon’s actions against Antigone and against Polynices’ body show him attempting to invert the order of nature, defying the gods by asserting his own control over their territories.