Thebes, Greece in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King

Ruins of Thebes. PHOTO CREDIT: J. Matthew Harrington. This photo is licensed under the the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

“I know too well, you all are sick, yet sick,
not one so as I.
Your pain is single, each to each, it does not breed.
Mine is treble anguish crying out
for the city, for myself, for you.”1

Sophocles’ play Oedipus the King, opens with the eponymous character attempting to save his city of Thebes from a plague that has descended upon its citizens. As he investigates the plague by questioning the Oracle at Delphi, the seer Tiresias, and others who provide pieces of information, he uncovers a horrible truth about himself involving mistaken identity, parricide, and incest. Ultimately for the city to be relieved of its suffering, its king must be banished. Oedipus’ fall continues the tragic mythological history of Thebes, which was originally founded by Cadmus with the help of men who sprung from the ground where he sowed dragon’s teeth.

Thiva, a market town with some ancient ruins, survives where the ancient city of Thebes once stood. In the 2,400 years since Sophocles wrote his play, the city has gone through may transformations. In the decades after the Peloponnesian War, in which Sparta defeated Athens, Thebes enjoyed a short period of dominance from 371 BC to 362 BC. In 335 BC Thebes lost all its power and was almost entirely destroyed by Alexander the Great, who sold its citizens into slavery. The city was reestablished about twenty years later, but never returned to prominence.

Read more about Thebes and the Theban Kings of Greek Mythology on Wikipedia. Find The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles at a local library or on Amazon.

1Sophocles. “Oedipus the King.” The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles. Trans. Paul Roche. New York: Plume, 1986. 7. Print.

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