Vocabulary in Oedipus the King

Since Oedipus the King is a translation, the vocabulary items represent the language choices of the translator, which were likely influenced by the time in which the work was translated.

Vocabulary Examples in Oedipus the King:

Oedipus the King 8

"suborned..."   (Oedipus the King)

The verb “suborned” means to bribe or otherwise influence someone to commit an unlawful act. By this statement, Oedipus suggests that the only reason a group of robbers would have killed the king is if they were paid by someone within Thebes. He assumes that Laius was killed in a plot against Thebes and the throne.

"fell songstress..."   (Oedipus the King)

In this context, the adjective “fell” means terrible, evil, or ferocious and the “songstress” is the Sphinx that terrorized Thebes until Oedipus destroyed it. In the Oedipus myth, Oedipus encounters the Sphinx on the road to Delphi. He must answer the Sphinx’s riddle correctly or be killed. When he correctly answers the riddle, the surprised Sphinx drowns herself in the sea and Thebes is free from her rule. As a reward, Oedipus is given a beautiful wife, Jocasta, and he becomes King of Thebes.

"CHORUS..."   (Oedipus the King)

In ancient Greek tragedies, the Chorus was a group of unnamed characters who acted as a collective, speaking (or singing) about and to the various themes and characters in the play. They offer background information about the plot and characters and help the audience follow the action. The chorus often operated as the moral center of the play, demonstrating for the audience how they were supposed to interpret the themes of the play and offering crucial insight to characters on stage.

"O King Apollo! may his joyous looks Be presage of the joyous news he brings!..."   (Oedipus the King)

Apollo is the god of music, truth, healing, plague, and poetry. His shrine at Delphi housed a famous Oracle whose prophecies were both renowned and feared throughout the Greek city-states. However, Apollo also stood for light and reason. Here, Oedipus means that Creon is brilliant or radiant. Apollo's opposing attributes, both god of light and god of disease, underscore the key themes in the play.

"augury..."   (Oedipus the King)

This is a reference to the Greco-Roman divination practice of interpreting omens from the flight or singing of birds, known as augury by the Romans. Augury was used by prophets to understand the will of the gods.

"inveterate..."   (Oedipus the King)

The adjective “inveterate” means long-established and unlikely to change; deep-seated, or entrenched.

"A fell pollution that infests the land,..."   (Oedipus the King)

This “pollution” is what was known to the Greeks as miasma, a contagious power caused by crimes such as murder. It could only be purged through proper rituals that would lead to catharsis, the Greek concept of cleansing one’s emotions to experience renewal. The expanse of the pollution indicates the theme of the separation of private life versus public life, as a single person’s crime creates consequences for the community.

"suppliants..."   (Oedipus the King)

A “suppliant” is a person who makes a humble plea to someone in a position of power or authority. In Greek culture, suppliants wore or carried special emblems, such as olive branches, in order to identify themselves. They traditionally knelt before the person they were petitioning and touched 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.