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Seidenberg, R. Papathomopoulos, E. (1960). Oedipus at Colonus and the Aged Sophocles. Psychoanal Q., 29:236-239.

(1960). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 29:236-239

Oedipus at Colonus and the Aged Sophocles

Robert Seidenberg, M.D. and Evangelos Papathomopoulos, M.D.

The name of Oedipus is generally associated in our minds with incest and patricide and with the punishment which is the theme of Sophocles' play Oedipus Tyrannus. Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus (3), (5), (10) is less well known. At Colonus near Athens, Oedipus, banished, abandoned by his sons, infirm, blinded, and having long wandered in destitution, finds a refuge. An embittered and vindictive old man, he receives care and comfort only from his daughters, Antigone, and Ismene. His crimes expiated, he is intensely hostile toward his neglectful sons and places a curse upon them. When one of them, Polyneices, at last comes to Oedipus for aid, Oedipus rebukes him and predicts that both he and his brother, Eteocles, will kill each other in battle.

Previously despised and shunned, he is now befriended by Theseus, King of Athens, who gives him sanctuary and aid in exchange for 'the power of the grave', which it seems he is now able to bestow. Whence this power came to Oedipus is not disclosed, but the former outcast is now a hero with supernatural power. He exacts from Theseus a promise that no one, not even Antigone and Ismene, may see his burial site. At his death, Oedipus achieves divine stature and Theseus guards this secret against the strong protest and curiosity of Antigone. Bowra (2) states that this apotheosis from a blind outcast to a potent spirit, who lives eternally in the earth at Colonus, is a theme unique in Greek plays.

Because of the emphasis on Oedipus' unpardonable transgressions and condign punishment, it is not commonly known that great glory came to him in his old age and after death. In psychoanalytic literature Oedipus at Colonus has been neglected, except, notably, by Kanzer (7) and by H. A. van der Sterren (11), (12). Kanzer compares various parts of the play to phases of a neurosis. The basic drives of Oedipus are said to be reactivated in an effort to master the original trauma.

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