The Oedipus Rex, without argument one of the greatest plays ever written in any language, is also one of the most complex. Scholars have spent millennia debating Sophocles’ intentions and how he achieved such a powerful effect. At the root of the play’s popularity lies its humanity: All human beings search for themselves during life, and we all want to know who we really are. Through science, religion, and art, we try to discover who we are as a species—what it means to be human. This is precisely the search undertaken by Oedipus, and his quest to understand himself and its horrifying consequences resonate deeply inside all of us. The play communicates to us even though we are separated from it by time and language.

In preparing this translation from the Greek, I have used the Oxford text of Lloyd-Jones and Wilson. I have also availed myself of the excellent commentaries by Jebb and Kammerbeek. The manuscripts for the Oedipus Rex, although generally coherent, do contain several gaps and troublesome passages. In some cases, I have used an alternate reading to that of Lloyd-Jones and Wilson; in these instances, I generally follow the manuscript reading over the emendation and have rarely deviated without the authority of one of the commentators.

J. E. Thomas, Translator

Providence, R.I.


  1. For the most part, Greek religion did not follow a moral code. The Greeks did not love their gods, but respected their power. Humans won the favor of the gods through sacrifice and offerings, whether blood sacrifice of an animal (the kind of animal would be determined by tradition and the means of the sacrificer); pouring out a liquid offering (libation) of milk, wine, or honey; placing a gift of flowers or incense by the statue of a god; or dedicating an object of value in a temple. In return for such gifts, the gods would heed one’s prayers. Since crimes like homicide or incest offended the gods, they threatened the effectiveness of the prayers and sacrifices of the entire community, so the entire community could become involved in punishing those crimes.

    — Owl Eyes Reader