Greatest Literature banner

Theban Plays 1965 paperback editionCollection, 1965 paperback
By Sophocles
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

Also called
Oedipus Coloneus

406 BCE

First performed
401 BCE

Literature form

Tragedy, mythology

Writing language

Author's country

Approx. 43,000 words

Oedipus at Colonus



Although it's often referred to as an immediate sequel to Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, which follows the former king on his exile from Athens, was actually written more than two decades later. It was probably Sophocles's last work and first performed several years after the playwright's death. The play isusually included as the middle piece in the so-called Theban Plays trilogy or Oedipus Cycle, although both Oedipus Rex and Antigone, which follows a daughter of Oedipus, were originally presented in ancient Greece as parts of different trilogies.

The variance in timing and context may account for some of the discrepancies of narative and character among the plays. Sophocles wasn't really trying to write a consistent trilogy, but at very different times in his life was adapting parts of the Oedipal mythology to highlight issues that seemed important to him then.

The late writing and posthumous production of Oedipus at Colonus might also help account for its greater length (more than twice that of the other plays in the cycle) and perhaps its slightly lesser quality. My suspicion is that the play might have been further honed if a Sophocles had been able to bring it to the stage himself.

On the other hand, Sophocles might have purposely written it at such length to accommodate all the philosophical and political questions that the aged playwright dwelled on in late life. Unlike in the twisting, shocking, unsettling plot of the earlier play, the former king and the other characters in Oedipus at Colonus have time in this village outside Athens to reflect on sacred obligations, filial duty, human stubborness, the relation of a ruler to his people and the acceptance of fate.

This play's examination of the big themes in human experience goes beyond the regal certainties that were so shaken in Oedipus Rex. His search for answers is now more measured and mature than his earlier frenetic reactions. As Oedipus seeks a place to end his life, his parallel search is more about finding a place somewhere between absolutes and what has become known as situational ethics.

Sophocles goes beyond what everyone knows of the myth

- also strikes again how open psychologically open - revealing in dialogue the nuance of consious thought - not nearly as much as later in Shakespeare but more alive than expected in ancient times


both pale next to Oedipus Rex in terms of twisting plot and unsettling charactars, but bear in mind elements of Oedipus myth were not created by Sophocles but were known to the Greek audiences - may find At Colonnus the most interesting for continuing the tragic tale of Oedipus and finishing it with a kind of fulfilment, perhaps reflecting end of Sophocles


— Eric McMillan



See also:

Epic poem

Epic poem
The Odyssey

On Amazon:

Cover missing
The Oedipus Cycle: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone

On Twitter:

Follow on Twitter