Classics Sophocles’ Oedipus the King
P. J. Finglass
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0266


Oedipus the King (also known as Oedipus Tyrannus, Oedipus Rex, and Oidipous Tyrannos) is one of seven plays by Sophocles that have survived complete, out of the more than one hundred and twenty that he wrote. Probably first performed around the 430s BCE, it was a popular play in antiquity, frequently mentioned by Aristotle in his Poetics, and the inspiration for other works such as the Oedipus by the Roman dramatist Seneca; in the modern period it has often been regarded as the paradigmatic Greek tragedy. The play begins with the people of Thebes supplicating their beloved king Oedipus, begging him to find a cure for the plague that is afflicting the city. His search for that cure leads him to begin an investigation that culminates in dreadful discoveries: he inadvertently killed Laius, the former king of Thebes; that same Laius was Oedipus’s father; and Laius’s widow Jocasta, whom Oedipus married after winning the kingship of the city, was Oedipus’s mother. The interpretation of the play, in particular the role of the gods in bringing about the fall of Oedipus, and its fascinating structure, have long fascinated spectators and readers, and provoked debate and disagreement among scholars.

Editions and Commentaries

Critical editions of this play typically differ from each other in dozens of places, reflecting how much work on the text and language of Sophocles still remains to be done. Editions in this section all contain a commentary explaining the editor’s textual decisions, as well as analyzing the play as a work of dramatic literature. Jebb 1893 is a classic work; Finglass 2017 is (for the moment) up to date; Manuwald 2012 is a good for German readers; Dawe 2006 can be stimulating, though should be used with care. Where editions without commentaries are concerned, the most commonly used is Lloyd-Jones and Wilson 1992, although its text is far from definitive and contains many decisions that have not found favor. Lloyd-Jones 1997 offers a slightly different text, as well as a translation. The textual choices of Dawe 1996 are on the whole less reliable; Dain 1958 is out of date. The commentary Kamerbeek 1967 is not accompanied by a printed text of the play; the book is very conservative in its approach to both text and interpretation.

  • Dain, A. 1958. Sophocles. Tome II. Ajax – Oedipe Roi – Électre. Texte établi par Alphonse Dain et traduit par Paul Mazon. Paris: Société d’édition “Les Belles Lettres”.

    Not a good text even when published, and subsequent manuscripts discoveries have left it even more out of date; its translation is excellent, however.

  • Dawe, R. D. 1996. Sophoclis Oedipus Rex. Stuttgart and Leipzig: Teubner.

    Text with detailed apparatus. Better apparatus than that of Lloyd-Jones and Wilson 1992; its textual decisions generally are less good, however.

  • Dawe, R. D. 2006. Sophocles: Oedipus Rex. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Idiosyncratic commentary; occasionally brilliant analyses of Sophocles’ language occluded by willful textual choices and inconsistent coverage.

  • Finglass, P. J. 2017. Sophocles: Oedipus the King. Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    The most up to date edition, with introduction and detailed commentary; analysis throughout of text, language, stagecraft, and meaning, with an introduction that examines Sophocles’ handling of the myth, different interpretive approaches to the play, and the drama’s reception within antiquity and beyond.

  • Jebb, R. C. 1893. Sophocles: The Plays and Fragments. Part I. The Oedipus Tyrannus. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Edition with introduction, facing translation, and commentary. Essential reading, although now considerably out of date. Reprinted as R. C. Jebb, Sophocles: Oedipus Tyrannus. Bristol, UK: Bristol Classical Press, 2004. P. E. Easterling, general editor. Introduction by J. Rusten.

  • Kamerbeek, J. C. 1967. The plays of Sophocles: Commentaries. Vol. 4, The Oedipus Tyrannus. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    Contains only a commentary; has little new to add.

  • Lloyd-Jones, H. 1997. Sophocles: Ajax, Electra, Oedipus Tyrannus. Loeb Classical Library 20, 21, 483. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Slightly different text from Lloyd-Jones and Wilson 1992; offers brief apparatus and facing (sometimes unreliable) translation. Corrected version of 1994 impression.

  • Lloyd-Jones, H., and N. G. Wilson. 1992. Sophoclis Fabulae. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Corrected version of 1990 impression. Text with apparatus. A standard edition which must be used with care, given its many errors in the apparatus and excessive welcome for Lloyd-Jones’s own conjectures.

  • Manuwald, B. 2012. Sophokles. König Ödipus. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter.

    Edition with introduction, facing translation, and commentary. A solid introduction for readers of German.

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