Oedipus and Polyneices: Characterization and the Self in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus

Document Type


Publication Date



Classical Studies



Publication Title

Materiali E Discussioni per L'analisi Dei Testi Classici


While there has been recent work on character and characterization in tragedy, no treatment of Sophoclean characterization has appeared in print since P.E. Easterling's work. This paper is an attempt to reopen the topic with specific reference to the characters of Oedipus and Polyneices in the Oedipus at Colonus (1251-1446). My approach to the characters of Oedipus and Polyneices takes its cue from the current lively discussion on the nature of the self in ancient Greece, of which C. Gill's work represents the most recent and comprehensive treatment. Fundamental to this investigation are Gill's terms "objective-participant" (O-P) and "subjective-individualist" (S-I). The O-P concept of self understands the person as a set of internal parts or organs which dialogue with each other -- hence, "objective". In addition, the person gains authenticity through participation in a community where bonds to family members, friends, and the city actually constitute the self -- hence, "participant" or relational. The S-I concept of self is a non-relational self, i.e. subject-centered, which gains authenticity through abstracting itself from pertaining circumstances, self-legislating moral principles, and generally establishing an individuated stance. I shall argue that Oedipus is an instance of an extraordinary character construction because he appears to act and speak in ways that, although based on O-P ways of viewing the world, nevertheless are constituent of an agent who self-legislates, undergoes a process of transcendence -- though from old bonds to new ones, and, in effect, realizes a new self. A further goal of my argument is to show that the Oedipus at Colonus is not a frustrating piece of inconsistent character representation to which the varying views of scholars testify. Rather, the problem of characterization in the play is best understood through a consideration of the ancient Greek self.


For more information on the published version, visit Libraweb's Website.



Full text currently unavailable.