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The Death of the King

Assignment: Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles and selections from The Golden Bough 

Selections from The Golden Bough can be found by clicking here. (Please read Chapters 24 and 25.)

You may also download a PDF version of the selected chapters by clicking this link The Golden Bough – excerpt

*If you are interested in Frazer’s work or want more background information on how mythology has impacted the formations of kings and queens, feel free to read the following chapters: 1, 2, 6, 8, 13, 14, and 17.

The Gospel at Colonus

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJqkr9quJks] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOU38qRJPok]

Indexing of The Golden Bough

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5OeMCSBOlo]
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16 thoughts on “January 22

  1. Oedipus at Colonus maintains a much more jaded disposition, and portrays the ultimate mental and psychological deterioration that comes hand in hand with experience. Although Oedipus has gained a sense of wisdom throughout the many trials and tribulations in his lifetime, his wisdom only comes with a sense of cynicism and loss of hope.
    Oedipus at Colonus, although still filled with the anxieties, chaos, and simultaneous good and bad circumstance of life itself, it loses its sense of melodrama and in my opinion, overdone theatrics. The play now maintains a firmer grasp upon reality, possibly because of Oedipus’ final acceptance of the truth. In a sense, he has now come to terms with fate and now has come to the realization that it is inescapable, and therefore must be embraced.
    In allowing Oedipus to come to this acceptance with fate, the play releases a sort of tension that has existed throughout the story. Although dark, and jaded, the play now exists in the silver lining of comfort that even the worst truth comes with.

  2. Sarah Scafidi
    The Golden Bough
    The Killing of a King
    While I was reading this passage, I felt for once fortunate not to be a born leader, perhaps because these customs sound too extreme for me however I can see where they come from. A king or queen is a leader and as such should show no signs of weakness like Queen Elizabeth for England, the leaders aren’t only in charge of a group or nation but also the icon. A king must stand tall and be the strong rock for the nation. Without a leader, anarchy would waltz about and turmoil would be all around. I understand why if must be done because without a strong leader the group would certainly crumble. It was interesting to learn about the kings in Africa, I am not well versed in that area except for Egypt. Some of the nations would kill their leaders if they were ill since they didn’t believe in their king dying of natural causes. The one that I found was most chilling way the group that killed their leader if they didn’t recover in three days, it brought back the idea of how for a class in college we are only allowed two sick days and on the third is a failing of the class.

    In a way, our nation does this metaphorically every four years with retiring our once president for a new start or another successor. All the time hoping that the next with live either to the standards of the previous leader or the next one.

    Even the burials of the kings had a western flare to them or at least our customs might have been adopted from them. One of the groups respected their leaders after death with a proper burial which we do that even in this era with a passing of a loved one.

  3. Oedipus at Colonus threw me off a little because there were some character changes that seemed to have been introduced to us really without any sort of build up. I was trying to figure out why Oedipus was so upset with his sons for not having fought against his banishment. He was beyond a state of reconciliation. I am guessing it may have had to do with the fact that years had passed, and Oedipus too had changed, and possibly felt differently about who was to blame, or more specifically, how much Oedipus felt he was to blame for. In Oedipus the King, when he finds out that he is the reason for the curse, he is seeking forgiveness and you get the feeling that because he is so remorseful he may actually have known that he had in fact killed his father and married his mother (which, he didn’t of course)…but at Colonus, Oedipus in an entirely different man, he is still proud, and knows that he has some control over matters…and the one thing that he can do is bring great fortune to the place where he chooses to be his burial site. Because of that control, he sticks it to Creon and does everything possible to ensure, that Thebes (nor his sons or Creon) won’t benefit from his death.

  4. Both works of literature were wonderful to read. The Golden Bough was surprisingly interesting. After reading it, many of the people we chose to do our thesis on under go the same events in one way or another. It made me think about how many people of power had died or lost their rights.
    In correlation with Oedipus, we can clearly see the fall of both kings, Oedipus and his father. In his fathers case, he tried to avoid his fate by taking matters into his own hands. Oedipus, unaware of the events that had taken place prior to him becoming prince had sealed his own death. But even in doing so took full responsibility for what had happened and did what he thought was right for his people. Wandering blindly with his daughters. Ismene tells him of the news of her brothers and the impending war to come. Them and his sons and Creon are aware of the prophecy. Oedipus lost his power by his own means. Even with him stepping down and leaving his kingdom, his children still felt the repercussions of his fathers and grandfathers actions.
    With him gone, problems still resided. Both of his sons had caused a war against each other, resulting in one being casted away for going against his uncle. After the war, the results were both of them passing away, leaving Antigone and her sister to deal with the aftermath of what took place.

  5. As I begin reading “The Golden Bough” I am reminded of Neil Gaimans novel “American Gods” which plays with the idea of the birth and death of gods. Consequently, through the migration from Europe to America and the clashing of cultures and beliefs, new and old gods are created and destroyed. Some are rising, such as the god of television and media, or the god of technology, while the old gods start to diminish in strength and power as less people begin to believe in them. Alongside this principle exists the idea of the divine power of kings. The power that is invested in a man can be given just as easily as it is taken, for the people (not the man or any divine being) give the power to the individual. Throughout history there are examples of the rise and falls of people in power. If one receives it is only logical that what is given can be taken. The idea of a mortal god is curious, as it accepts the humanity within a man or deity and admits that all good things come to an end. This clashes with the typical idea of a god, as an almighty, all-powerful being beyond the natural laws of man. Furthermore, the idea that to succeed a god or king one must kill that god as dying a mortal death is ungodly was especially fascinating. It still spits in the face of human mortality but not to the extent of a vastly powerful and all knowing being. Definite food for thought.

  6. Camille Chan

    Both Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus worked towards lifting people’s morale; the first by redeeming them of their personal guilt, the second by remembering a greater Athens. It seems that the theme that is central to Oedipus at Colonus is the infallibility of their democracy, or Sophocles’ wish for that to be so. It almost acts as a propaganda piece, a morale-building and fire-inducing play that builds upon the viewer’s national identity.

    Within this context, Theseus represents the ideal ruler. He is loving to the point of being fatherly with his subjects, he is just and honorable, but he is also willing to fight to defend his own and to defend what he feels is right. On the other hand, Oedipus’ sons represent the non-optimal. They are selfish in their aspirations and are willing to destroy their own city and their own people for the throne.

    I was however struck by the reaction of the Chorus at the threat of war. It’s almost as if they didn’t hear the word war. They received the news with stoicism and no hint of fear. This should thus be the reaction of Athenians facing a battle, so much faith in themselves that they don’t even blink. A time when Athens was strong and confident again takes center stage. So, Oedipus at Colonus is a play to reminisce, to remember and to inspire its citizens.

  7. That was definitely a lot to grasp, The Golden Bough was surprisingly fascinating! Normally when something looks as though it’s going to read as a documentary-type book or history book i cringe at the idea of the density i will be trudging through! I was thoroughly impressed and constantly entertained by all the different thoughts and rituals.

    When i was reading that they encourage and sometimes require death when a king is aging (gray hairs ect.) or if he is thought to be in bad health. I couldn’t help but think of my dads graying hair and thinking “Wow that would suck being killed at like 50..” Although i suppose time and place definitely have some play in the whole outlook. Although, i just kept thinking of these strage ideas they lived by and kept wondering “What would life be like if we lived that way here in NY?” Although this did get me thinking of Oedipus because they go hand in hand when it comes to the belief and spirituality.

    Oedipus at Colonus was not really what i expected but…i guess that goes for all greek literature around that time for me at least. But it was an obvious display of “What happens to the king?” And i can see why we read The Golden Bough, what i mainly saw were the obvious differences in how death takes/took place but also the common thread of knowledge of the future. In the Golden Bough there are these rituals in these societies of people that have their rituals that take place and many of them described rid themselves of the king at a determined time depending on certain variables, yet knowing this there are still those who try/choose to be king. Oedipus knew his fate, what was going to occur in his life and he tried to prevent many things but in doing so he played into his own fate. It’s interesting to note the differences in the similar notes of the two readings.

  8. The events of Oedipus at Colonus takes place several years after that of Oedipus the King. With that there are several notable differences between the two plays. One major difference is that of the central character, Oedipus. Since the event of his banishment from Thebes, he has undergone a complete personality change and possesses a new outlook on life. He no longer believes that he is responsible for his actions but that the gods has bestowed his fate upon him. This is resemblant when he asks King Theseus to harbor him until the predicted time of his death [which will have a great significance that isn’t well explained.] In this play, his actions seem to be aimed at vengeance upon his two sons for banishing him from Thebes. This is rather strange because in Oedipus The King, he has requested himself to be banished and forced to suffer for his mistakes. He now responds defensively whenever his dark past is mentioned and tries to rid himself of any guilt. One would suggested that his sudden personality change came about through years of wandering granting him a new kind of wisdom, but nothing is made clear.
    Another difference I found interesting from both plays being the reader’s loss of connection from both the characters and the story in Oedipus at Colonus. In the previous play, the reader knows about the character Oedipus before he himself does, and the true identities of other characters are revealed through riddles. The reader connects to the story and the struggles that Oedipus goes through. In Oedipus at Colonus however, significant plot points are kept hidden from the reader. For example, the event of Oedipus’ death is only seen by Theseus, which makes it difficult for the reader to feel sympathetic. Also, the conflict between Polynices and Creon is never fully resolved but one could only suggest that Antigone and Ismene arrived at Thebes to resolve things. The conflict between Oedipus and his sons is interesting but it is strange that they are never mentioned in the previous play.
    The overall outcome of this play is much brighter and uplifting than that of the Oedipus the King. Although it is suggested that the gods have full control over destiny, it is assumed that destiny worked in favor of the common good and Oedipus’ death has resolved further conflicts. It is gratifying that in the end, Oedipus got what he wanted.

  9. Oedipus at Colonus really is ten times more entertaining when bounced off of Oedipus the King. They really play off each other brilliantly. For example Oedipus the King relies on the audience’s knowledge of the secret that Oedipus actually does kill his father and marry his mother. Its a play that everybody knows, similar to how everybody today knows the story of Romeo and Juliet. It has this whole theme of unspeakable irony that really gets to you.

    The funny thing about Oedipus at Colonus though is that the whole play revolves around a secret that is only revealed to Oedipus and Theseus, but not the audience, and that secret is where Oedipus is buried. Not to mention that Oedipus is pretty much completely oblivious to everything in the first story, but in Oedipus at Colonus Oedipus has practically unlimited self-knowledge. Its pretty much the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of Oedipus the King, and I find that to be pretty interesting.

    The only thing that puzzles me a bit about Colonus though is that a lot of the character seem to go through dramatic changes for no reason, at least when compared to Oedipus the King. For example, Oedipus hates his sons for letting him be exiled, but his sons were barely even MENTIONED in the first play, and when Oedipus was exiled he felt as if he DESERVED it. Its what he wanted. He’s gone through so many strange changes since we last saw him. Eh, either way, I guess years of wandering will do that to you.

  10. Just by reading the first few pages of excerpts of The Golden Bough, really made me start thinking and questioning human beings and their serious and somehow scary and complex way of thinking. Just reading about different cultures, their own beliefs and procedures of gods, man-gods, the way one determines how to kill these man-gods through disease, natural death, etc… it’s so crazy! In a fascinating way.

    Obviously if one were to compare modern day to how it was back centuries ago of course the obvious observation would be that people have “changed / adapted / evolved” the way they think. Today everyone is taught or is told that every person is alike: people share the same feelings, same pain, and same struggles. You can’t really discriminate something that is clearly the same thing. The same goes with people of “high standing” like celebrities or royalty. We are taught despite their status, they are the same like everyone else. They breathe the same air, feel the same things, and do similar things that everyone does each morning. So by reading what many civilizations / countries people used to do to their kings / man-gods when they passed away is what I feel is contradictory to how many of us think today. I find it fascinating that they see gods at the same level as human beings, but at the same time, it frightens me to see how they go through so many procedures to see their “worth” in a sense? Or to be specific with what determines their death and they go through so many things, rituals, etc. when in the end… aren’t they just as human as you said they were? To create “gods in his own likeness”? Why go through something different that when in the beginning they created something that wanted to be like them?

  11. The Passage had me curious, because generally burning something in the likeness of another man or woman is usually bad thing. you see burning images of bush and obama and pretty much every president that was. it’s always violence without actually harming someone. but it seems here it is more a good thing, brning the effigy and the tree spirit. to make the ground further. though in a way i feel it only makes sense. fire purges all things, when you BBQ sometime you leave the tongs inside under high flame to sanitize the tongs. Fire was also used in slash and burn farming tactics. it represents destruction and rebirth. a chance to begin again. as strange as these burings may seem to me its no stranger than new years day and new years resolutions. you drink an unhealthy amount, and promise to begin again and something new and better will come. they jump over fires, though i’d sooner take a shot than leap over a fire. They did lose me once they started setting themselves and thier friends on fire and walking down the street. jumping over the flame is more than enough i’d say.

  12. Demi Elisson
    Blind and fragile, after years of wandering in exile from Thebes, Oedipus arrives outside of Athens. Led by his daughter Antigone they enter the town of Colonus. His sons, Eteocles and Polynices who have been battling for the thrown of Thebes finally come to a conclusion. The younger son, Eteocles wins and exiles his older brother. Polynices now is preparing troops in Argos for and attack on Creon and his brother. Oedipus vows to never support either of his sons for they did nothing to prevent his exile.
    The King of Athens, King Theseus aids Oedipus by keeping him safely in Athens until his demise. When Creon appears to abduct Oedipus from Athens he is unsuccessful in that he kidnaps his daughters instead. King Theseus returns with his daughters shortly after. When Eteocles tries to convince his father that his brother is evil, Oedipus predicts that Eteocles and Polynices will die at one another’s hands.
    When it is time for Oedipus to die, he will lead King Theseus to his final resting place. He asks Theseus to never reveal the spot, but pass it on to his own son, who then must pass it on to his son, and so on. This way Thesus and his heirs will always rule over a safe city.
    Antigone and Ismene mourn over the death of their father, not knowing where to go. They beg for Theseus to reveal their father’s tomb, but he states that Oedipus had forbidden it. He tells the girls to stop their weeping for their father’s soul now rests in the hands of the gods.

  13. Lichen

    Sections of The Golden Bough were more disturbing than any horror novel I have ever read. The idea of god is very abstract and it seems that the groups of people mentioned in The Golden Bough put his magical abilities and greatness into a concrete form- that of a human king. By having an identifiable being they can point to for success or failure, people were able to explain natural phenomena and perhaps have an object to blame and get rid of during hard times. It seems that the story of Oedipus is the same. People look to Oedipus to bring back prosperity, believing he was guided by god. But according to Apollo, he was the single figure that diseased Thebes and needed to be removed. The relationship between the king and the people is rather selfish. Kings are taken care of in societies as “incarnations of the divinity” but only because the people want prosperity. Thus when this king, or rather vessel holding the powers of the divine shows any weakness, he needs to be killed so the people don’t suffer. These ideas are similar to the ways we view celebrities/kings/queens. Perhaps the reason why we admire someone and maybe even become fixated with them is because in a selfish way, we want that individual to lead by example and demonstrate a magical ability which we can follow in order to achieve something that we think will bring us fortune, happiness, or greatness. When they make a mistake, we blame any disappointment on that figure and look to more individuals who seem to be holding the magic answer to life. Another similarity between the two readings is the careful planning of death. Oedipus dies after he hears the warnings of thunder and has a list of instructions to follow in order to make sure there is a security for Theseus and his lineage. The kings from The Golden Bough also followed rituals and needed a carefully prepared death so the people can capture the magic leaving his body and save it for the next king. In order to reach the title of king, again struggle is apparent. In these stories, a king’s ability is a physical ability to strike down everyone else in order to take the crown. Oedipus’ sons are fighting to rule as well as the older kings. Even today especially with the media, verbal attacks and scandals trying to destroy a king’s/queen’s image are methods in which people try to be better than one another (rather than physical attacks). The physical appearance of kings and queens are also important because if like Oedipus who is blind, it gives off a message of weakness where he needs to rely on his daughters for support. People around him see Oedipus with a disability when he ‘sees’ clearer than ever before; he no longer dismisses truth and divine power. In Joan of Arc’s case, wearing armor and being a youthful female leading an army gave the soldiers inspiration to fight. Her choice of fashion helped Joan define herself as a powerful leader. If she wore dresses or even kept her hair long, people would probably have taken her less seriously.

  14. To learn and discover a king or queen’s ascend to power makes for an inspiring read. I like how Oedipus at Colonus writes out the aftermath of a king and what he becomes in the eyes of the people once his power is taken away from him. In class, the idea of Oedipus being rather egoistic in Oedipus Rex was agreeable, so it was certainly interesting to see him crying to be exiled. I think it is also sad to see that Oedipus’ assumption is true, especially for their society: He needed not worry about his sons because they would be fighting to death for the throne but his daughters are to suffer with them because no one would take care of them.
    In my opinion, I feel like Oedipus at Colonus emphasis the viewpoint of the Chorus more than Oedipus Rex as well. There is that point in the play they gather around and force Oedipus to re-tell his crimes of fulfilling the terrible prophecy. There is a part where the Chorus sings that “Not to be born is best when all is reckoned in, once a man has seen the light the next thing, by far, is to go back where he came from quickly as he can.”(pg 358) I also feel like that here is a more distinct good and evil plot in this play compared to Oedipus Rex, but it’s interesting to see that the intentions behind the characters are more complex than they appear. Oedipus at Colonus is part of the Antigone and Oedipus trilogy so there is no surprise the characters meet an unfortunate demise, standard for Greek tragedies. Even though this was written the last when it was meant to be the second in the trilogy, I find the ending a successful transition to Antigone.

  15. Oedipus at Colonus takes place years after the events of Oedipus the King. It’s very interesting to see what has happened to Oedipus and his family during this time. Still exiled from Thebes, Oedipus and his daughter, Antigone arrive in a town called Colonus. Both of his sons want the throne of Thebes and were willing to die for it. Oedipus foresaw that his two sons would die in battle over the throne.

    Greed is a very big in the story as well as betrayal. Oedipus’s sons betrayed him when they didn’t speak in his defense at his exile trial. They just let him go so that they could rule the kingdom. When Polynices told Oedipus that he should have stood up for him all the years, Oedipus didn’t forgive him. His heart was broken years ago and nothing could repair the damage that had been done.

    I never expected a happy ending to this story from the moment I started reading it. After what has happened to the family in Oedipus the King, it was obvious that things were only going to get worse. As if the family was cursed. But they were cursed. The sons did die in battle and Oedipus died himself. You would think at this point that there would be peace in the family. What about his daughters? What will be their fate? They will probably share the same fate as their brothers did: death.

  16. Oedipus at Colonus is the second of the three Theban plays, although it comes last in the trilogy. In this story Oedipus is near the end of his life in exile as the former king of Thebes. The story consists of betrayal amongst Oedipus’ sons, Eteocles and Polynices. Both are in a struggle for the rule of Thebes until the older Polynices is exiled from Thebes. Antigone, eldest daughter of Oedipus travels with Oedipus in his exile as the reach Athens under the rule of Theseus. This story consists of back and forth betrayals, between both sons and eventually Oedipus curses his sons due to the fact that their conflict never ceases. I find this story to be sort of a whirlwind in comparison to the everlasting effect of Oedipus The King. It is the unwinding of the everlasting conflict that is the city of Thebes. It is almost as if Oedipus’ undoing carried through an undying fate that his whole family would suffer, first his sons in Oedipus at Colonus and then eventually his daughters in the story of Antigone. The only relieving aspect in this particular story is the fact that Theseus will gain protection from Oedipus as he descends into death, as long as his grave is never found. There are a lot of interesting small yet pinnacle plot points in Oedipus at Colonus, it is sort of the deep breath before the plunge that is the story of Antigone. Finally Oedipus is forgiven for his life’s errors and he i permitted to die a blind and tired old man, stricken by his own treachery. It seems as if his death is a true blessing, finally a chance to be in peace, yet the turmoil will continue as both his sons die and his daughters will eventually seek the same fate. As i stated before, it seems as if Oedipus’ mistakes have cursed his family since his conception, the first mistake being his thought to be forbidden existence.

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