Classics Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus
P. J. Finglass
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0293


Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus is the last of his seven plays which survive in full. First produced in 401 by Sophocles’ homonymous grandson, after Sophocles’ death in 405, it portrays the arrival of Oedipus, a blind, wandering beggar, at Colonus outside Athens, accompanied by his devoted daughter Antigone. He has been wandering Greece ever since his exile from Thebes after the discovery of his parricide and incest; but now he has reached his final destination, the grove of the Eumenides (Furies). The play depicts his conflict with Creon, ruler of Thebes, who attempts first through deceit, then through violence, to bring him back, in the knowledge that the city who possesses Oedipus’s corpse will gain power from it; but Theseus, ruler of Athens, gives Oedipus his protection. Oedipus’s son Polynices attempts to gain his father’s support for his invasion of Thebes, which is aimed at wresting the city from his brother’s control; but he is met only by the old man’s solemn curse. At the close, Oedipus is called by the gods to his death in an ending of solemn mystery. The dramatic tension and careful construction of both the speeches and choral odes show that the ninety-year-old Sophocles at the end of his life suffered no diminution in his creative powers.

Editions and Commentaries

The edition of the drama that sees the most use is Lloyd-Jones and Wilson 1992, of which Lloyd-Jones 1998 is largely a reprint with slimmed down apparatus and a facing translation. Dawe 1996 is another critical edition of note, although fonder of rather radical emendations. Dain 1960 is excessively conservative, and chiefly valuable today for its translation. Texts accompanied by commentaries include Jebb 1900 (with a translation, and excellent commentary that retains its value today) and Avezzù and Guidorizzi 2008 (a fairly conservative text with translation and detailed apparatus and commentary); Kamerbeek 1984, a commentary without text, is rarely of use. The most recently discovered manuscript of the play was published by Yuan and Henry 2014, too late for any of these editions to use. The schola (fragments of ancient commentaries) to the play are expertly edited by Xenis 2017.

  • Avezzù, G., and G. Guidorizzi. 2008. Sofocle. Edipo a Colono. Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore.

    Conservative text, with detailed apparatus, by Avezzù; commentary by Guidorizzi on matters of text and interpretation.

  • Dain, A. 1960. Sophocle. Tome III. Philoctète – Oedipe à Colone. Texte établi par Alphonse Dain et traduit par Paul Mazon. Paris: Société d’édition “Les Belles Lettres”.

    Excessively conservative text, but with a particularly helpful translation.

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

    Prone to excessive emendation, but with a useful apparatus criticus.

  • Jebb, R. C. 1900. Sophocles. The Plays and Fragments. Part II. The Oedipus Coloneus. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Out of date in many respects, but still an essential guide to the play thanks to the editor’s judicious good sense and excellent knowledge of Greek. Reprinted as Sophocles. Plays. Oedipus Coloneus (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2004). Edited by P. E. Easterling. Introduction by R. Rehm.

  • Kamerbeek, J. C. 1984. The plays of Sophocles: Commentaries. Vol. 7. The Oedipus Coloneus. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    The most recent commentary in English, but much less helpful than Jebb; narrowly linguistic in its focus, and textually conservative to a fault.

  • Lloyd-Jones, H. 1998. Sophocles. Antigone. The Women of Trachis. Philoctetes. Oedipus at Colonus. Loeb Classical Library 21. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Almost identical text to that of Lloyd-Jones and Wilson 1992, but with facing translation. Corrected revision of 1994 impression.

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

    The current standard text, although with many excessively bold emendations and a frequently inaccurate apparatus. Corrected revision of 1990 impression.

  • Xenis, G. A. 2017. Scholia vetera in Sophoclis Oedipum Coloneum. Sammlung griechischer und lateinischer Grammatiker 18. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter.

    Fully up-to-date edition of the ancient commentators on Sophocles’ play.

  • Yuan, J., and W. B. Henry. 2014. 5195. Sophocles, Oedipus Coloneus 189–201, 204–211, 243–247. The Oxyrhynchus Papyri 79:89–93.

    Edition of a recent papyrus (fragment of an ancient manuscript) of the play, too recent to be taken account of in any of the editions above.

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