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A Summary of Oedipus the King by Sophocles, and Notes

This play, no doubt to Sophocles’ surprise,
When first performed took only Second Prize.

Summary

King Oedipus of Thebes, both good and wise—
Or such, in pride, he thinks himself to be—
Packs Creon off to Delphi to surmise
Why plague has cursed his realm incessantly.

“We suffer for a prophesy proved true,”
Says Creon. “It was fated that the one,
Whose grievous curse we bear—the one who slew
King Laius and wed his wife—would be his son.”

“That man must die!” King Oedipus replies.
“His day of reckoning long overdue!”
“Perhaps, but we shall see,” good Creon sighs.
“For he who did these awful things, was you!”

His wife (and mother) by her own hand, dies.
While Oedipus, sore grieved, pokes out his eyes.

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Notes

We each, it seems, possess a fatal flaw
That gnaws upon our soul with tooth and claw.
And when (not if) our destiny comes due
There’s nothing much that anyone can do.

For Oedipus, his sin was god-ordained,
And yet, defying the gods, the good king named
Himself as cursed to bear the guilt and shame
Although it was the gods who were to blame.

Because the gods refused to self-condemn
He set aside his royal diadem
And, though the gods denied his wish to die,
He broke with fate and plunged into each eye

A pin that innocent Jocasta wore
And thus atoned for guilt that others bore.
Though life be filled with comedy, we find
That tragedy is never far behind.

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Musings on Thomas More’s Utopia

“Utopia!” It sounds so nice.
A place we all would love to be.
Where people “all just get along”
In perfect peace and harmony.

Did Thomas More, who coined the word,
Intend it as a subtle joke?
A place where things aren’t what they seem,
Behind the mirrors and the smoke?

Or did he think that there could be
A place that really looks like that?
Where people choose their leaders
And reject the term, “aristocrat?”

Where only criminals are slaves
And others’ freedom is declared?
Where work is seen as virtue and
Where all one owns is freely shared?

Where laws are few but one cannot
Do much of anything unless
the people’s Prince approves it, out
Of his beneficent largesse.

Where all respect each other’s faith,
And no one fights religious wars?
Where men choose wives and women husbands
Just as if they bought a horse.

The word, “Utopia,” itself
Might be a helpful, clever clue.
For it can mean two different things
If spelled with an “Eu” or “U.”

In Greek the word, “Eutopia,”
Can mean, “good place,” as I recall.
But spelling it, “Utopia”
Translates to mean, “no place,” at all

My guess is that what Thomas wrote
Was what I’d call a fantasy,
Describing both what never was
And what the world will never be.

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James A. Tweedie is a retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He has written and published six novels, one collection of short stories, and three collections of poetry including Mostly Sonnets, all with Dunecrest Press. His poems have been published nationally and internationally in The Lyric, Poetry Salzburg (Austria) Review, California Quarterly, Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online, Better than Starbucks, WestWard Quarterly, Society of Classical Poets, and The Chained Muse.


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9 Responses

  1. Peter Hartley

    James – Had it not been for Œdipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx the Sphinx would still be asking people stupid questions today and devastating the Egyptian tourist trade. We should forgive him almost anything for that, but, my giddy aunt! I couldn’t cope with all those foul-mouthed slanging matches between More and Luther. Thank you for the stories, and yes, U – topia, because it could never have existed. Cf the “Erewhon” of Samuel Butler (nearly nowhere backwards) which describes another improbable world. I was told once, though I haven’t read Utopia myself (despite its brevity) that More advocates women in the priesthood.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      From what I have read he was very fond of and possibly even dyed on his four daughters (and one son). He seems to have treated them as fully human and worthy of all due expect. As for women in the priesthood, however, I have no knowledge. By all accounts he was genteel with allies, but wielded his full power and authority of his office against any who he believed posed a threat to either the authority of the RC Church (and Pope) or to Henry VIII who he served as faithfully as his conscience allowed up to his execution.

      He reserved most of his near-obsessive Wrath and ire for the person of William Tyndale, Reformer, scholar, and translator of the Bible into English (much of which was directly copied into the original KJV, including some of its most elegant and well-known citations. I do not believe that More would have allowed Tyndale into Utopia if he was given a say in the matter.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        More didn’t “dyed on his daughters” he “doted” on them! Spell check strikes again! Lol

  2. Paul Freeman

    Thanks for three fine reads – and a bit of education thrown in for good measure.

    Reply
  3. Damian Robin

    “all due expect” is another dyed in the wool hexler.
    Thanks for more of your knowledge on the development of the English Bible, Jim.

    Reply
  4. Damian Robin

    Thanks, James, for the simple language used for the ancient and traditional Oedipus. A neat and tidy telling and good-natured opinion in the notes.

    “Although it was the gods who were to blame” for pulling Fate’s strings, as it were, they were also guided or worked by higher beings. The ancient Euro gods seem flushed with human emotion. But super powers as well, of course.

    Thanks for pointing out the spellings of Eutopia/Utopia. Online there is a lot of fudge and overlap.

    Two (e)utopian novels besides Samuel Butler’s “Erewhon” mentioned by Peter Hartley above, are : William Morris’ “News from Nowhere”, written as a pastoral, craft-based life antidote to the industrial (e)utopia of “Looking Backward” by Edward Bellamy.

    “Looking Backward” was a big seller in its day. It was published in 1888, a year after the English edition of Marx’s “Capital Vol 1”. “The Communist Manifesto” was published at the end of 1871 in the American Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. Samuel Butler’s “Erewhon” was published in 1872, anonymously. The Communist Manifesto was printed in pamphlet-form in English in the same year as “Looking Backward”.

    Of course socialist ferment had frothed since the French Revolution in the classic “They got it wrong them Frenchies. That wasn’t real socialism”.

    Reply

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