Vocabulary in Oedipus Rex
The name “Oedipus” literally translates to “swollen foot” in Greek. When children were abandoned, their feet or ankles were pinned together to ensure they wouldn’t survive, and Oedipus’s name refers to the injuries he sustained. This revelation is another clue in solving the mystery of Oedipus’s past and determining whether or not the prophecy is true.
"Rex" translates to "king" in Latin. In English, the title of the play reads, Oedipus the King.
“Paean” may refer to two things in this passage. First, “Paean” was an epithet of Apollo, the god Thebes is praying to. However, the priest may also being praying to the Greek physician of the gods of the same name to save Thebes from the plague. Either way, the urgency of the situation calls for divine intervention.
This refers to the first strophe of this choral ode. A strophe is the first part of an choral ode, and it is followed by the metrically-identical antistrophe (“Ant”) and epode. These various parts of the ode are similar to poetic stanzas, characterized by alternating long and short syllables. The purpose of choral odes was varied, but they often revealed public opinion, as this one does. Each shift from strophe to antistrophe signals a shift in perspective, from one praying Theban to another. Each perspective is very similar, suggesting unity between the townspeople.
“Ancient” may refer to the fact that the crime in question was committed many years ago, and the perpetrator has been harboring guilt for a long time. However, “ancient” connotes a much greater passage of time. The ambiguity of this statement creates a suspenseful mood.
This is a reference to the Sphinx, a monster that terrorized Thebes until Oedipus inadvertently destroyed it. Sophocles does not explicitly name the monster because Greek tragedies were based on widely-known myths that the audience was already familiar with. This way, he could simply make allusions rather than explain everything.
In theatre, the orchestra is the pit directly in front of the stage where musicians play. In ancient Greek tragedies, the Chorus remained in the orchestra for the duration of the play, only stepping out onto the stage when stage direction dictated it. Sometimes, the Chorus will speak directly to the characters in Oedipus Rex; other times, they merely sing.
In Greek culture, suppliants wore or carried special emblems, such as olive branches, in order to identify themselves, and traditionally knelt before the person they were supplicating to touch either their knees or chin, which were thought to be connected to a person’s heart. For the Greeks, it was taboo to harm a suppliant, and anyone who did so would be cursed.