Over the weekend I managed to squeeze in some reading for fun. Having been lazy for so long in my reading through of all the ancient Greek plays, and having had Sophocles sitting by my bed for nearing two months (poor guy, he’s probably hungry too since I haven’t fed him anything, but then maybe he’s been sneaking food from the fridge when I am gone at work during the day), I decided to read Oedipus the King. Even though I’ve come to the conclusion that Robert Fagles isn’t a translation god and that older translations are, if not necessarily as accurate, more poetic, I have the Fagles version of the play.
It’s been (incoherent mumbling) years since I first read the play in high school and then again as an undergrad in college. I always thought of it what my teachers told me to and didn’t care to actually think about it on my own. Is it any wonder then that my memory of the play is different than the play itself? And as I read the play I kept thinking, “where’s all this hubris business that I remember teachers drilling into my head?” Sure Oedipus is a proud man, he’s king of Thebes after all and he solved the Sphinx’s riddle when no one else could. But I didn’t find him inordinately proud.
Instead of hubris bursting at the seams, what I found instead was a play dripping with irony. How wonderful and tension-creating is that irony too. I can imagine the Greeks in Athens watching the play for the first time must have been on the edge of their seats, wringing their hands in anxiety and waiting with anticipation both delightful and dreadful, for the moment when Oedipus finds out the truth.
I also remember that Tiresias was a great and awe inspiring figure so that I somehow have a hushed reverence for the blind prophet. What a surprise that he’s kind of a jerk. When he is brought before Oedipus he refuses to provide the information for which he has been sent. He keeps refusing and hinting at something ominous in such a way that it makes Oedipus angry and then Tiresias gets angry at Oedipus for getting angry at him and even then he doesn’t tell it out straight, he leaves him with a riddle since Oedipus is so good at riddles. Far from feeling any kind of reverence for Tiresias, I wanted to give him a good whack or two for his impertinence.
And then the ending with Jocasta hanging herself, I had no recollection of that. And Oedipus, blinding himself with a brooch from his dead wife’s robe. We don’t get to see the hanging or the blinding but the kind palace guard describes it in great detail and I keep having flashes in my mind at random moments of Oedipus scratching and jabbing his eyes with the pin, blood gushing everywhere while he cries out in pain and anguish.
I enjoyed the play much more than my teachers ever allowed me to in the past. I am glad I read it again instead of skipping it as I originally thought I might.