Oedipus Rex

Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex begins with a warning: the murderer of the old king of Thebes, Laius, has never been identified or caught, and he’s still at large in the city. Oedipus is the current king of Thebes, and he sets out to solve the crime. His investigations lead to a devastating conclusion. Not only is Oedipus himself the killer, but Laius was his father, and Laius’ wife Jocasta, who Oedipus has married, is his mother. Oedipus Rex was composed during the golden age of Athens, in the 5th century BC. Sophocles probably wrote it to explore the dynamics of power in an undemocratic society. It has unsettled audiences from the very start: it is the only one of Sophocles’ plays that didn’t win first prize at Athens’ annual drama festival. But it’s had exceptionally good write-ups from the critics: Aristotle called it the greatest example of the dramatic arts. Freud believed it laid bare the deepest structures of human desire.

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  • Nick Lowe 6 episodes
    Reader in Classical Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Fiona Macintosh No other episodes
    Professor of Classical Reception and Fellow of St Hilda's College at the University of Oxford
  • Edith Hall 19 episodes
    Professor of Classics at Durham University

Reading list

  • Compulsion for Antiquity: Freud and the Ancient World
    Richard H. Armstrong (Cornell University Press, 2005) Google Books →
  • The Ancient Concept of Progress and Other Essays on Greek Literature and Belief
    E. R. Dodds (Oxford University Press, 1990) Google Books →
  • Oedipus
    Lowell Edmunds (Routledge, 2006) Google Books →
  • Greek Tragedy: Suffering under the Sun
    Edith Hall (Oxford University Press, 2010) Google Books →
  • Oedipus at Thebes: Sophocles' Tragic Hero and His Time
    Bernard Knox (Yale University Press, 1998) Google Books →
  • The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative
    Nick Lowe (Cambridge University Press, 2000) Google Books →
  • Sophocles: Oedipus Tyrannus
    Fiona Macintosh (Cambridge University Press, 2009) Google Books →
  • A Companion to Sophocles
    Kirk Ormand (ed.) (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) Google Books →
  • Freud and Oedipus
    Peter Rudnytsky (Columbia University Press, 1992) Google Books →
  • Oedipus Tyrannus: Tragic Heroism and the Limits of Knowledge
    Charles Segal (Oxford University Press, 2001) Google Books →
  • An Introduction to Greek Tragedy
    Ruth Scodel (Cambridge University Press, 2010) Google Books →
  • Oedipus the King: Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries 57
    Sophocles (trans. P. J. Finglass) (Cambridge University Press, 2018) Google Books →
  • Antigone, Oedipus the King, Electra
    Sophocles (ed. Edith Hall, trans. H. D. F. Kitto) Google Books →
  • Oedipus the King: A New Verse Translation
    Sophocles (trans. David Kovacs) (Oxford University Press, 2020) Google Books →
  • Oedipus Tyrannus
    Sophocles (ed. and trans. Jenny March) (Liverpool University Press, 2020) Google Books →
  • Four Tragedies: A New Verse Translation
    Sophocles (trans. Oliver Taplin) (Oxford University Press, 2015) Google Books →
  • Greek Tragedy in Action
    Oliver Taplin (Routledge, 2002) Google Books →
  • Pots & Plays: Interactions between Tragedy and Greek Vase-painting of the Fourth Century BC
    Oliver Taplin (J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: m001mlm4

Episode page: bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001mlm4

Auto-category: 882 (Greek drama)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, Sophocles' play, Oedipus Rex, begins with a warning.