A Survey of Academic Articles Related to the Oedipus Trilogy

Rija Asif
7 min readApr 3, 2021


Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

Sophocles’ Theban trilogy is a collection of classical Greek plays that are still cherished and enjoyed throughout the world because of the wide range of unique topics that they revolve around, such as incest, gender discrimination, revenge, and the fulfilling of prophecies. In fact, many critics have taken their thoughts and opinions that have risen from their reading of Sophocles’ works and formed them into articles that have an academic approach towards the trilogy. The articles being discussed in this essay are, “Gender pride as a tragic flaw in Sophocles’ Antigone”, “Oedipus Crux: Reasonable doubt in Oedipus the king” and “A postmodern interpretation of Oedipus Rex”. Although all three articles provide an insightful discussion of the trilogy, the most interesting article was found to be “Oedipus Crux: Reasonable doubt in Oedipus the king.”

The first article, “Gender pride as a flaw in Sophocles’ Antigone”, focuses on Creon’s arrogance and disregard for the female gender as the main reason of conflict in the play. The first few paragraphs provide evidence as for why Creon’s tussle with Antigone serves as a posthumous revenge towards Oedipus rather than a conflict between a political authority and an individual conscience, which it seems to be from the surface. The second part explains Freud’s theories and psychoanalysis to provide the reader with some background information before these theories are used for an in-depth analysis of the characters and their motives.

The article then moves on to talk about gender roles in the classical Greek society, and mentions how Greek women were unequal to their male counterparts in all matters of existence and were expected to be in their homes where they took care of domestic affairs. This fact is then connected to the gender attitudes of the two female characters in the play: Antigone and Ismene. Evidence is provided for why Antigone is not bothered by the gender constraints and expectations of women provided by society, whereas Ismene is more gender sensitive and withdraws from the same struggle that her sister is willing to go through. The last point mentioned in the article is that of gender pride in Creon’s unconscious and his overblown ego. The author discusses that Creon’s need to defeat Antigone at times seems to be personal and that at stake is not only the order or the state, but in fact his pride and masculinity. The author ends with the concluding statement that Creon would’ve been able to reduce the number of tragic deaths around him, such as that of Antigone, his son Haemon and his wife Queen Eurydice, had he gotten down from his high horse and shifted grounds against his beliefs of the gender order.

The second article, “Oedipus Crux: reasonable doubt in Oedipus the King” talks about the possibility of Oedipus being innocent of the transgressions he is thought to be guilty of in the play. The author’s first concern arises over the fact that Oedipus recalls that the travelling party consisted of three people: a herald, an elderly man and the coachman. In Jocasta’s version of the story, however, she claims that ‘In all there were but five, and among them/ a herald; and one carriage for the king” (730, 753–54). The author then raises the question of how three people can also have been as many as five. Another point mentioned in the essay is why the king would travel so incognito, given that other noble Greek figures such as Achilles and Odysseus both held fine wooden staffs “studded with golden nails” and Agamemnon bore a “royal staff ancestral”. The author further questions why the elderly man whom Oedipus killed seemed to have no royal markings. Moreover, the essay suggests that Oedipus may have inferred the location of the crossroads and simply localized his crime scene’s dimly remembered setting to Jocasta’s specifically narrated site. Furthermore, the timeline of events, such as Laius’ death, Oedipus’ homicide, Oedipus’ crowning and the arrival of a witness do not add up, which further creates doubt. The author concludes that taken together, Creon, Jocasta and Oedipus’ statements, combined with the eyewitness’s testimony, suggest that Oedipus killed another elderly traveler, and that he murdered him well after Laius’s assassination.

The third article, “A postmodern interpretation of Oedipus Rex”, attempts to examine the accepted interpretations of Oedipus the King which consider him to be a guilt-ridden soul responsible of homicide and incest. The author inspects the textual analysis of literary giants such as Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard and Michael Foucault and further talks about Derrida’s labelling of his critique as “grammatology”, Foucault’s statement “knowledge is power” and Baudrilliad’s attitude of skepticism towards each and everything to discuss the myth of Oedipus. Some of the points mentioned in the article are the fact that Sophocles’ opens his play seventeen years after Laius’ death, the murder mystery becomes an identity quest for Oedipus, Sophocles converts Oedipus’ myth into a human-centered tale, the role of Tiresias in the play, and why Oedipus was made the scapegoat for his father’s wrongdoings.

Although the article “Gender pride as a flaw in Sophocles’ Antigone” raises some good points, it is not found to be as interesting as “Oedipus Crux” because it does not have a distinctive approach to the play. After reading the play Antigone, readers are able to identify the characteristics of Antigone and Ismene, and the contrast of how one sister conforms to societal gender expectation whilst the other is determined to do what she thinks is the right thing, regardless of the obstacles she has to face along the way. Moreover, there is no difficulty in being able to decode Creon’s intentions of treating Oedipus’ children irrationally as a method to unleash his revenge against the late Oedipus, as well as his discrimination towards women, from lines in the play such as “Herefore, I hold to the law, / And will never betray it — least of all for a woman. / Better be beaten, if need be, by a man, /than let a woman get the better of us.” (1975: 144) Therefore, the reading of this article is simply a restatement of everything that readers have already been able to infer from the dialogue in the play. It does not raise any new questions or ideas that may be beyond the scope of an average reader’s level of inference.

The essay “A postmodern interpretation of Oedipus Rex” has a number of flaws to it. Firstly, the article does not provide any background information as to who the three ‘literary giants’ are or what they do, but simply jumps into explaining each of their concepts. For readers who are not familiar with who these people are, it creates confusion and lack of context which can put off a reader before even getting into the main arguments of the essay. Secondly, the author does not do an effective job of connecting together the points mentioned in the essay. The topics go from questioning Oedipus’ guilt to the role of Tiresias to Aristotle’s model protagonist with no cohesiveness whatsoever. Furthermore, there is only one direct quote from the essay, which is used to provide an explanation as to why the role of Creon becomes suspicious at one point in the play. This is not enough for an article that is supposed to be relating to the Oedipus trilogy since most essays of this length generally contain at least three direct quotations to enhance the supporting evidence for their argument. Overall, the main points of discussion in this essay were unclear and inconsistent, which created a sense of confusion for the reader.

“Oedipus Crux” is undoubtedly the most interesting academic approach to the Oedipus trilogy because it pushes boundaries and tries to answer a question that completely twists the main plot of the play: What if Oedipus did not actually commit any of the crimes he thinks he has? In most likelihood, readers will not have thought of questioning Oedipus’ guilt since it is the basis of the storyline, and by doing so, the author is bringing forward new and thought-provoking discussions rather than reaffirming ideas that readers have already been able to identify from the play. The article contains plenty of evidence as to why Oedipus may not be Laius’ murderer which readers may have overlooked whilst reading the play. Moreover, the supporting evidence provided by the author is written in an organized manner, with each part of the essay focusing on one point and providing plenty of direct quotations from the play, making it easy to follow along and understand what the author is talking about. Another unique thing about this article is that the author started off by explaining how they got into questioning Oedipus’ guilt in the first place, which as they explain, was a result of many years of teaching this play and realizing that majority of the students believed that what happened to Oedipus was because “it was cruelly fated”. This was a distinctive method of introducing the article, rather than simply stating the thesis and heading straight into the points of evidence like the other two articles.

To reframe the discussion, “Gender pride as a flaw in Sophocles’ Antigone”, “Oedipus Crux” and “A Postmodern Interpretation of Oedipus Rex” all have a different analysis of the Theban trilogy, however “Oedipus Crux” was found to be the most compelling essay out of the three. The components that made it an interesting article to read was the fact that it was based on a unique idea and had an organized structure with writing full of evidence and explanation, whereas what made the other two articles less comparable were their monotonous points of discussion and unorganized, confusing writing style.

Works cited:

Fosso, Kurt. “Oedipus Crux: Reasonable Doubt in Oedipus the King.” N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Owoeye, Omolara Kikelomo. “Gender Pride as Tragic Flaw in Sophocles’ Antigone.” N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Parray, Ashaq Hussain. “A Postmodern Interpretation of Oedipus Rex.” N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.



Rija Asif

An electrical engineering student with a love for writing about tech, society and literature, as well as talking about herself in the third person.