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The Strangeness of Tragedy$
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Paul Hammond

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199572601

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199572601.001.0001

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Oedipus the King & Oedipus at Colonus

(p.74) 4 Sophocles
The Strangeness of Tragedy

Paul Hammond

Oxford University Press

Who is Oedipus? Where does he belong? In Oedipus the King, the heimlich (homely, familiar) and the unheimlich (strange, uncanny) undo each other before his own eyes. Oedipus has made Thebes his adopted, second, home by freeing it from persecution by the Sphinx, using his reason to defeat a monster and to solve a riddle. Step by step it is revealed to Oedipus that he himself is the one indicated by the oracle, that his origin is not in Corinth but here in Thebes. Sophocles presents us with reversals for which the word ‘irony’ seems inadequate. If recognition and reversal unfold the horror of Oedipus the King, in Oedipus at Colonus they are instead a means through which Oedipus is drawn with grace towards his ending. The meaning of the heimlich is reconfigured again, and the symbolic status of Oedipus himself undergoes a reversal in the course of the play, as he is brought into a new relation with the gods. Theseus confirms that the death of Oedipus is nothing which we should regret.

Keywords:   Oedipus, Thebes, Sophocles, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, heimlich, unheimlich, death, gods, home

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