The Complete Greek Tragedies: Sophocles I

by Sophocles

Other authorsDavid Grene (Editor), Richmond Lattimore (Editor)
Paperback, 1991

Status

Available

Series

Genres

Publication

University Of Chicago Press (1991), Edition: Second, 218 pages

Description

Oedipus the King/ Oedipus at Colonus/ Antigone.

User reviews

LibraryThing member dchaikin
42. Sophocles I : Oedipus The King; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone (The Complete Greek Tragedies)
published: 1954 (my copy is a 33rd printing from 1989)
format: 206 page Paperback
acquired: May 30 from a Half-Price Books
read: July 3-4
rating: 4½

Each play had a different translator

Oedipus The King (circa 429 bce) - translated by David Grene c1942
Oedipus at Colonus (written by 406 bce, performed 401 bce) - translated by Robert Fitzgerald c1941
Antigone (by 441 bce) - translated by Elizabeth Wyckoff c1954

Greek tragedy can fun. After all those rigid Aeschylus plays, that is the lesson of Sophocles. The drama within the dialogue is always dynamic, and sometimes really terrific. I had to really get in the mood to enjoy reading a play by Aeschylus, otherwise I might be bored by the long dull choral dialogues. These three plays are all different and all from different points in Sophocles career, but they each drew me on their own.

Although they are all on the same story line, they were not written together, or in story order. Antigone was first, and was written when Sophocles was still trying to make a name for himself (vs Aeschylus). Oedipus the King came next, when Sophocles was well established. Oedipus at Colonus was apparently written just before Sophocles death, at about age 90. It wasn't performed until several years after his death. All this seems to show in the plays. Antigone having the sense of an author trying to make a striking impression. [Oedipus the King] carrying the sense of a master playwright with it's dramatic set ups. Oedipus at Colonus is slower, and more reflective. And two of the main characters are elderly.

Oedipus the King

This is simply a striking play, from the opening lines. In line 8, Oedipus characterizes himself to children suppliants as "I Oedipus who all men call the Great." It shows his confidence, but, as Thebes is in the midst of a suffering famine, it also shows outrageous arrogance - it's the only clear sing of this in the play. He is otherwise a noble character throughout. Of course he doesn't know what's coming. In the course of the play he will learn, slowly, his own tragic story - that a man he had killed in a highway fight was his father, and that his wife, and mother of his four children is also his own mother. As each person resists giving him yet another dreadful piece of information, he gets angry at them, threatening them in disbelief at their hesitancy. His denial lasts longer than that of Jocasta, his mother/wife, who leaves the play in dramatic fashion herself, first trying to stop the information flow, and then giving Oedipus a cryptic goodbye. And even as his awareness gets worse and worse, he cannot step out of character, the show-off i-do-everything-right ruler, but must continue to pursue the truth to it bitter fullness.

Oedipus at Colonus

A mature play in many ways. It's slow, thoughtful, has much ambiguity, and has many touching moments. The opening scene is memorable, where a blind Oedipus moves through the wilderness only with the close guidance of his daughter, Antigone.

...

Who will be kind to Oedipus this evening
And give the wanderer charity?

Though he ask little and receive still less,
It is sufficient:

                                  ​        Suffering and time,
Vast time, have been instructors in contentment,
Which kingliness teaches too.

                                         ​ But now, child,
If you can see a place we might rest,

...

It's interesting to see Creon, Jocasta's brother, turn bad. But it's more interesting to see Oedipus have a bitter side to him. He maintains his noble character, and that is the point of the play—he is hero because he never did anything bad intentionally, and yet he bears full punishment. But he also makes some interesting calls, essentially setting up a future war between his Thebes and Athens. And, Antigone is striking too. She saves Oedipus critically several times through her advice or her speech. While sacrificing herself and maintaining real affection for Oedipus, she is also shrewd, stepping forward boldly and changing the atmosphere.

Antigone

This play takes place immediately after what [[Aeschylus]] covered in [Seven Against Thebes]. Polyneices has attacked Thebes with his Argive army, and been repulsed by his brother Eteocles. Both are sons of Oedipus and they have killed each other in the battle. Creon is now ruler. He is a stiff ruler. Despite much warning, he refuses to listen to popular opinion, instead threatening it to silence (a clear political point is being made). But the problems start when he refuses to give his attacker Polyneices a proper burial. He threatens death on anyone who does try to bury him. Antigone openly defies this rule, setting up the play's drama. It's an extreme tragedy with a hamlet-like ending where practically everyone dies. I felt there was less here than in the other two plays, but yet there is still a lot. And it's still fun.

Overall

I don't imagine citizens of Thebes liked these plays. There is an unspoken sense of noble Athen poking fun its neighbor throughout. But, as it's not Athens, they give the playwright freedom to work in otherwise dangerous political points - and those are clearly there. But, mostly, these were fun plays. They don't need to be read as a trilogy. They were not meant that way, despite the plot-consistency. Each is independent. There are four more plays by Sophocles. I'm actually going to save them and start Euripides next. Because I think Sophocles is something to look forward to and that might push me through the next bunch.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
This is a modern and inferior translation. The third of the three plays, Antigone, is Greek tragedy at its classic best. Antigone is Oedipus' daughter who defies King Creon's order against burying her brother. He banishes her to be buried in an island dungeon. She hangs herself and Creon 's son and wife commit suicide.
LibraryThing member TakeItOrLeaveIt
Freud loved this shizzle. it is a classic. whether or not I want to kill my dad. oh wait, I'm sure of.
LibraryThing member mproeger
Classic Greek drama which tells of the tragedy of Oedipus and his family.

As foretold by Teiresius, a blind prophet, Oedipus unwittingly kills his own father, then marries his own mother, with whom he has four children.

The three plays in this book, King Oedipus, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone, show us what happens when Oedipus realises what he has done.

This harrowing tale, when read in the order above, forms a continuous narrative from Oedipus' birth, through to his tragic and horrifying act, his death, and then the consequences for his children.

I was surprised to learn though that this was not the order in which they were written. Sophocles (496-406 BC) wrote the last play, Antigone, first, in 442-441BC. This was followed by King Oedipus, the first of the trilogy in 429-420BC, and then Oedipus at Colonus in 401 BC which was released/performed in 401 BC, after the author's death.

There are some minor inconsistencies as a result of this non-sequential writing, but these do not detract from the impact of the drama.

Newcomers to Greek drama will find the introduction helpful, as this gives us a background on the origins and development of the dramatic form in Ancient Greece, a detailed analysis of each play, and the relevance of these texts to today's audience.

On this last note, I found one particular scene in Antigone very reminscent of recent events in Australian politics. Creon, brother-in-law to Oedipus and now the new king, stubbornly refuses to change his ruling on the burial of Oedipus' son, and the punishment for Antigone, who has defied this ruling. Despite indications that he may lose his family, his supporters, and his throne, Creon remains resolute.

I think the final words belong to Haemon, Creon's son:

"...good as it is to have infallible wisdom,
Since this is rarely found, the next best thing
Is to be willing to listen to wise advice."

If only John Howard had read this. Some things never change.
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LibraryThing member justagirlwithabook
Ah, Oedipus and all of his family problems. I purchased this book my first year of teaching because it was part of the recommended curriculum for sophomore English. While I'm generally not a fan of plays (or having to teach them), this one offered up all sorts of hilarious discussion opportunities with the sophomores and they were hooked. Oedipus has a million problems and it was fun to read and discuss with my students.… (more)
LibraryThing member ncgraham
The name of Oedipus the King (Oedipus Tyrannos or Oedipus Rex, if you prefer) is nearly synonymous with the idea of Greek tragedy, and maybe with the idea of tragic drama in general. Aristotle referenced it in his Poetics, as (of course) did Freud in his writings. Reading it today, it seems both very ancient and very new, outlandish and yet relevant. I found it immensely gripping, and fascinating in its juxtaposition of fate and human action, sight and blindness, intention and guilt.

I was assigned the play in two separate classes this semester, along with Antigone in one of them. I decided to go above and beyond by reading all of the plays, including Oedipus at Colonus, and I'm very glad I did. Although this often-skipped middle work is not as dramatically potent as the other two plays, Sophocles’ use of language is (as others have remarked) even more mature and lyrical than it was before. Also, one really read the three together not because there elements are perfectly cohesive—they aren’t—but because it is only then that the modern reader can understand the full scale of the Theban tragedy, something the Ancient Greeks would have known about going in.

Despite the popularity of Oedipus the King and the maturity of Oedipus at Colonus, most everyone I’ve talked to seems to likeAntigone best. I can understand why. It is the most varied of the plays, incorporating a little humor and romance, as well as the usual tragic elements. I think Antigone and Haemon are the first truly sympathetic characters in the cycle, which makes their downfall all the more heartrending.

Paul Roche’s translation is easy to read and modern in tone—almost too modern, to tell the truth. There is an almost Hemingway-like disregard of punctuation at times (“What another summons?” should read “What? Another summons?”) not to mention one of the most inane contractions I’ve ever seen (“what’re”). Still, these are minor blemishes, and the sheer readability of Roche's rendering is a definite aid in understanding these ancient tragedies.

Scholars have been discussing and debating these plays for literally centuries. I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of them, and can easily see myself coming back to them in the future.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Sophocles' is one of only three Ancient Greek tragedians with surviving plays. The plays by the earliest, Aeschylus, remind me of a ancient frieze--not stilted exactly, but still stylized, very formal. The plays by the last of the three, Euripides, to me seems the most natural, the most modern. Sophocles is more in the middle in more ways than chronologically. He is credited with adding a third actor onstage to allow for more conflict and less emphasis on the chorus. His Theban Plays are about Oedipus and his daughter Antigone, of the royal family of the ancient Greek city of Thebes, and the plays are often grouped together, but actually were each part of tetralogies that have been lost and written years apart. Only seven of over a hundred plays by Sophocles still remain in existence. Oedipus the King and Antigone are his most famous and influential, and I was introduced to both plays in high school, and amazingly, that didn't put me off for life.

Oedipus the King is a mystery story--with Oedipus the detective unraveling a secret that becomes his own doom. You may have heard of the "Oedipus Complex" associated with theories by Freud. Yes, that's this Oedipus, and that speaks to how primal, how deep goes some of the themes in this play. In the book 100 Top Plays, Oedipus the King comes in second only to Shakespeare's King Lear as most important play. Antigone comes in at number fifteen, after Aeschylus' Oresteia and two plays by Euripides. Antigone is the rare play with a female title protagonist--and its basic theme of the individual against the state resonated with me strongly, even as a teenager first reading it. Oedipus at Colonus, I found less memorable and impressive. In terms of the timeline, its events fall between those of Oedipus the King and Antigone, though this was actually one of Sophocles' last plays. That said, it falls nicely in between the two, filling some gaps, and it does have its beauties. But comparing this to the other two is like comparing Shakespeare's King Lear and Hamlet to, oh, his Cymbeline.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
The Cliff/Spark version of Antigone is this: Two sisters want to bury their dead brother. One wants to bury him admirably and the other doesn't want to break the law. He cannot be buried because he was executed for a crime and must be left to rot in the courtyard as an example for the community. Defiant sister must go against the king alone as everyone refuses to help her. True to Greek tragedy nearly everyone, including the king's wife ends up committing suicide. The end.

Of course there is much, much more to the story and, depending on which version you read, you get it. In my version of Antigone translated by Elizabeth Wyckoff the language is watered down and somewhat pedestrian. It's not as lyrical as other translations. A small example: from a 1906 Oxford Clarendon Press version (translated by Robert Whitelaw): "Ismene: There's trouble in thy looks, thy tidings tell" compared with the 1954 University of Chicago Press version (translated by Elizabeth Wycoff): "Ismene: What is it? Clearly some news has clouded you" (p 159). Ismene is basically saying the same thing in each line, but the Whitelaw version has more animation, more movement. In the end Antigoneis a simple story about the man against The Man, no matter how you read it.
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LibraryThing member camarie
Great book including the stories of epic Oedipus and his daughter, Antigone. Sophocles is an amazing author. Oedipus is a man who tries to avoid his prophecy, which is to kill his father and marry his mother. Not only marry his mother, but also have four children with her. Now, he searches for an answer to his question: Has he fulfilled the prophecy? Think your life has drama? Please. Oedipus has it worse than anyone. In Antigone, she goes against the law to bury her brother. What will win, reason and order or morality and fate? Beautifully written and relative even today.… (more)
LibraryThing member jpsnow
Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. Sophocles is surprisingly easy to read, not unlike a modern novel. I watched my understanding of the Greek society and beliefs being "rounded out" now that I have some context from previous choruses (tragedies) and the epics. The Oedipus trilogy showed an interesting thread through the three works. I can understand why the Greeks found such a format entertaining. Sophocles lived from around 495bc to 406bc and competed and won against Aeschylus in the contests. He was also a leader in Athens, born in Colonus. Oedipus is worth reading both to have that understanding of the classic work, as well as in its own right. I note here only the closing moral: "Therefore, while our eyes wait to see the destined final day, we must call no one happy who is of mortal race, until he hath crossed life's border, free from pain." In Colonus and again in Antigone I noticed what may have been the first reference of "stranger in a strange land." The parallels to Shakespeare are also so evident, best shown by the use of "ill-starred" - although Shakespeare would have done the exact opposite treatment of any death. Deaths typically happen off-stage in the tragedies. The moral of Antigone: "Wisdom is the supreme part of happiness; and reverence towards the gods must be inviolate. Great words of prideful men are ever punished with great blows, and, in old age, teach the chastened to be wise."… (more)
LibraryThing member gillis.sarah
I like Oedipus. In a kind of sick, twisted way, I guess.
LibraryThing member lyzadanger
Warning: I do mention things in this musing that could be construed as spoilers to the action in the plays.

Unlike Aeschylus, whose plays I battled through out of a sense of obligation and gravitas, Sophocles' Oedipal cycle snared me. Perhaps it is Robert Fagles' talented translation, perhaps I am simply reading with more care, but the complexity of the characters shone through, even 2500 years later.

It's not Oedipus I'm talking about here. For Oedipus, things happen to him and around him, but he himself is not much more than a vessel of fate. In the final play, "Oedipus at Colonus", he even argues (fiercely!) that he is innocent of his ghastly acts, instead a hopeless pawn of the gods' prophesies.

It's the women, and most strongly, Antigone. Her depth highlights the conflicting sense of womanhood held by the ancient Greeks. In Greek literature we usually see women in one of two ways. One: the simpering, overwrought mental weaklings (I tend to think of these as the Penelopes or the Aphrodites). These waifs are usually simultaneously revered for their constancy and tenderness, reviled for their uselessness. But then there's the other side of femininity. The Athena-like assertiveness, the uncompromising, the virginal.

This is Antigone (and, to a lesser extent, her sister Ismene). She is persuasive and adventurous. She risks her life for the honor of family. She is so upstanding that Oedipus can't quite compute--on multiple occasions he exhorts that his daughters are being so strong it's they who are the men, not his sons. It's not surprising that the Greeks would tend to ascribe positive characteristics as masculinity, but it interesting to me how far Antigone gets to go. However, I would argue that in this sense she had to die. Die, that is, before her marriage to Haemon, which would have taken her out of the virginal limelight and forced her into the sphere of domestic womanhood. I'd assert that this would have destroyed the integrity of her character.

Antigone's strength is but one aspect of probably a billion subthemes in these plays. It will take me a long time to sort it all out in my mind. A moment of bragging: I almost instantly recognized Oedipus' character at the beginning of "Colonus": totally King Lear! Turns out I was right; Shakespeare borrowed heavily.
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LibraryThing member Kassilem
I remember reading Antigone in high school but not much of the play itself. In my college class now, we are reading it and I got much more out of it this time. :) Could do with the fact that I'm older now. We were only required to read Antigone but I felt as if I were missing parts of the story overall without having read the other two so I decided to read all three. I've seen in other reviews that these translations of Fagles aren't as authentic as they could be, but in this context, since it's the first time I've read all three together I didn't mind that much. I knew the overall story of Oedipus, but not until I read these did I really understand it and get to see the character's as more than names. I enjoyed the plays and have decided that I need to read more plays next year. :)… (more)
LibraryThing member wenestvedt
If you can, see also the stage musical, "The Gospel at Colonus" -- or at least get the soundtrack. Set in a black pentecostal church, starring Clarence Fountain & The Blind Boys of Alabama, a massive choir, guitarist Sam Butler, and assorted other musical & vocal powerhouses, it was one of the best stage performances I've ever seen (Guthrie Theater, 1986 or 1987).… (more)
LibraryThing member Rhinoa
Three plays are collected in this volume surrounding Oedipus and his family. Oedipus was famous for killing his father and marrying his mother after being abandoned at birth. The first play is Antigone which follows the daughter of Oedipus and his wife/mother Jocasta. Her brothers have both died and while Eteocles is given a proper burial, Polynices is left out without any rites by their uncle Creon. Antigone is distraught and goes against Creon's wishes (he is the King after Oedipus) and tries to cover his body bringing about more sorrow to the doomed family.

Oedipus the King follows which shows the sequence of events leading up to Oedipus learning the truth about his birth and the crimes he has committed. It has him summoning the shepherd who is the sole witness of the death of Laius and it also emerges how he grew up not knowing his real parents. It's a sad tale as Oedipus did so much to try and avoid fulfilling the prophecy. The final play is Oedipus at Colonus which finishes the story of Oedpius after his exile. It concludes his story taking it to his death in Athens with Theseus. His daughters Antigone and Ismene are with him at the end.

I really enjoyed all three plays although I do feel that having Antigone first was out of order and it should have been the final play in the collection. I would really like to see them performed live, especially Oedipus the King which is the most powerful of the three with the truths it reveals. A must for all mythology fans.
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LibraryThing member saturnloft
When it comes to tragic irony, few ancient or modern playwrights come close to Sophocles and these are the three works that showcase his dark genius at its best. This particular edition is translated by the ever-dependable Robert Fagles, and contains the following plays, in the order they were first produced:

1 - ANTIGONE: Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus and heir to her family's persistent dark cloud of misfortune. She wants to bury her equally-unlucky brother but her loyalty to her doomed brethren may cost her. (Of course it will! It's Sophocles!)

2 - OEDIPUS THE KING: Oedipus is the best king for miles around and everyone knows it, including him.* Unfortunately an ominous stain is creeping into his idyllic kingdom; a plague is raging and it seems the gods are upset about something or other. The only person who seems to know what's up is a blind prophet and he's got some bad news for poor Oeddy.

3 - OEDIPUS AT COLONUS: The action in this place takes place between the events of Oedipus the King and Antigone. This the most philosophical of the trilogy, dealing with ideas of fate, guilt, and redemption. (I thought it was a bit boring.)

* Uh oh! Hubris!
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LibraryThing member leslie.98
A few years ago I had read the Storrs translation of these plays (the one most commonly found in the free public domain ebook editions) which were disappointingly poor. This translation by Robert Fagles is much much better!!

I cannot speak to the introductory material, as I skipped that part but there was a substantial amount of it.… (more)
LibraryThing member Bruce_Deming
Relying upon oracles when one is confused or indecisive, particularly one as malicious as that one at Delphi, was a very unhealthy unhappy practice.

Oedipus as an infant is sent to die on a hill because of that malicious tart, this fate is altered by another and he is sent to foster parents. He doesn't who is real mother is until after he has married her later in life and then freaks out big time and goes into self mutilation and self abasement.

The moral might be to send your oracles to the enemy camp, don't keep them at home among your friends.


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LibraryThing member anabellebf
Contains the best tragedy ever written. Always a pleasure to re-read.
LibraryThing member jstuart
The excellent translation by Robert Fagles keeps the sense of poetry without losing accessibility for the modern reader. Introductory essay and notes by Bernard Knox add to the value of the text for undergraduate readers and advanced scholars by offering context and approaches to Greek theatre generally and to these three Sophoclean plays in particular.… (more)
LibraryThing member serogers02
Beautiful.

I've only read Antigone so far, but it was stunning.
LibraryThing member shanaqui
Probably my favourite plays I ever had to read for Classical Studies. Oedipus, particularly. They certainly are tragedies, but they're wonderfully structured ones that, to me at least, certainly pack a punch.

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