Oedipus Rex- page 19-20, lines 215-275


Here, Oedipus just talks a lot and makes a long speech to the people of Thebes. Oedipus urges the citizens to reveal any information that they might know about the murderer of Laius. He wants the murderer to come forth and confess even though the murderer might fear for his life. To encourage this, Oedipus says that the murderer will not be harmed or punished, and will be allowed to leave the area unharmed. However, if a person knows the murderer, Oedipus says that he is grateful for the information and will pay that person. These are the conditions that Oedipus sets. On the other hand, if a person were to keep quiet on any information of the murderer (even to protect a friend), he would be punished the most severely by exile. Oedipus proceeds to curse the murderer to a life of misery and doom, using harsh words. He then urges the citizens again to seek out the murderer and resolves that he himself will do everything he can to try and find the murderer. Because Oedipus now has Laius's job and wife, he believes that he is deeply connected to Laius somehow and vows to fight for his as he would for his father (irony! but later!). Finally, Oedipus wishes the same fate that he had just lengthily described and worse for those who do not obey him.


This is Oedipus's second and longest speech thus far in the novel, addressed to the citizens of Thebes. Oedipus's speech begins humbly, as he proclaims himself a 'citizen among you, citizens' (224) and saying that he was 'without a clue' (222) on the whole situation. Oedipus cleverly manipulates his status as one of the citizens so that they are all placed in the same situation regardless of status-- this may be partly why he is so loved and supported as a ruler. However, his true feelings are revealed when further into his speech, he lengthily describes a fate that the citizens who do not obey him will meet, an example being, "Those who do not obey me, may the Gods grant no crops springing from the ground they plough nor children to their woman!"(269-271). His status and feelings of superiority over the citizens is shown here, as he believes that he has the power to punish whoever does not obey him. The fact that people must obey him and that he feels that it is appropriate for him to make the necessary punishments are other signs of his power and status, as well as his arrogance. In the sentence above, Oedipus is arrogant enough to mention the Gods and what they will do, believing himself equal to the Gods and elevating his status. A parallel is drawn here, as Oedipus describes what punishments the citizens who do not obey him will receive and then proceeds to mention the punishment that the Gods will give. The mere fact that Oedipus was bold enough to use the name of the Gods and proclaim what they shall do gives readers a good measure of his arrogance and pride. The Gods were both greatly feared and revered in ancient Greece, and using their names in such a way was extremely dangerous and risky.

In a play so heavily loaded with irony, irony is also significantly present in Oedipus's speech. On the surface, his entire speech is deeply ironic as he constantly describes the punishments and harshly curses the murderer, when the murderer is, in fact, himself. Among his many punishments he described was exile for the murderer, which may be interpreted as foreshadowing when he realizes his true identity and ask to be exiled later in the play. Irony is further enhanced when Oedipus says that he will "fight in his [Laius's] defense as for my father" (264) because he feels a deep connection to Laius since he now possesses his job and wife. As will be discovered later, Laius is the biological father of Oedipus, which Oedipus does not suspect and realize the full meaning of when he says those words carelessly. All these subtleties in the text regarding irony are extremely obvious to the ancient Greeks, who are no doubt already familiar with this famous and popular play. The theme of blindness and sight is hinted at throughout, as Oedipus describes the measures that he will try and seek out the murderer when the murderer is right before his eyes all along-- himself.