Oedipus Rex Book Summary - Oedipus Rex Book explained in key points
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Oedipus Rex summary


The Jaw-dropping Tragedy That Shocked Ancient Greece

4.7 (252 ratings)
20 mins

Brief summary

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is a Greek tragedy about a man who unknowingly fulfills a prophecy by killing his father and marrying his mother. It explores themes of fate, free will, and the consequences of unchecked pride.

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    Oedipus Rex
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    Key idea 1 of 4

    King Oedipus must find a murderer and banish him

    There’s a terrible plague in the city of Thebes. The streets are filling up with bodies. The king of Thebes, Oedipus, is determined to end the suffering. He’s sent his brother-in-law, Creon, to visit the oracle at Delphi to ask the gods for guidance.

    When Creon returns, he tells Oedipus what he’s learned from the oracle. To end the plague, and save the city, they must find the man who killed King Laius years ago and banish him. Oedipus vows to track down this man, whoever he is. Perhaps the blind prophet Tiresias can help him find the killer.

    Oedipus summons Tiresias to the palace. The prophet is initially reluctant to speak, but Oedipus insists. He has to know: Who killed Laius?

    At last, Tiresias gives his answer. “It’s you,” says Tiresias. “You’re the murderer.” Oedipus is outraged. How dare Tiresias accuse him? After a heated argument, the prophet leaves the palace.


    Oedipus is the hero of the tragedy. And because it’s a tragedy, we know from the beginning that he’s going to suffer a downfall. In fact, audiences in ancient Greece would have known even more. When Sophocles’s play was first performed, the story of Oedipus was already a well-known myth. The audience probably knew a lot more about Oedipus than he knew himself.

    So, throughout the play, there’s dramatic irony. It can feel uncomfortable at times, watching the hero move toward his doom without realizing it. Especially as, in many ways, he seems like an admirable character. Sophocles portrays Oedipus as a man of action, and a strong, compassionate leader. He’s moved by the suffering of his people, and he urgently wants to identify Laius’s murderer.

    At times, Oedipus even seems like a detective, interrogating other characters in his quest for the truth. But his interrogation of the prophet Tiresias leads to an unexpected response – that Oedipus himself is the murderer. In the angry confrontation that follows, Oedipus mocks Tiresias for his blindness, which, as we’ll see later, is deeply ironic. Actually, it’s Oedipus who’s blind to the truth. He just doesn’t realize it yet.

    Before we move on, let’s look at another important theme – oracles and prophecies. Oracles were priests or priestesses who were considered portals to the gods. In ancient Greece, it was standard practice to consult them for advice. In Oedipus Rex, the recommendation to find and banish the murderer comes from an oracle, and Oedipus takes it seriously. Of course, he’ll do whatever the oracle suggests. But when another spokesperson for the gods – the prophet Tiresias – shares his knowledge, Oedipus doesn’t want to listen.

    So, to sum up, Oedipus is inconsistent in his attitude toward divine messages. He wants to follow the oracle’s advice, but he doesn’t want to believe the prophet who tells him that he’s a murderer. It’s understandable. Of course, no one wants to be told they’re a killer, and the cause of a plague. And humans often are inconsistent in their beliefs or prone to biases. On a psychological level, Oedipus’s behavior is believable. This is one of the strengths of Sophocles’s play. Even if parts of the plot seem implausible, we believe in Oedipus and his reactions. Perhaps we can even identify with him.

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    What is Oedipus Rex about?

    Oedipus Rex (fifth century BCE) is a tragedy based on the myth of King Oedipus. While investigating a murder, Oedipus learns shocking truths about his life.

    Oedipus Rex Review

    Oedipus Rex (429 BC) is a classic Greek tragedy that explores themes of fate, free will, and the consequences of unchecked pride. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Delving into one of the most famous stories in literature, it examines the complexity of human nature and the power of destiny with profound insight.
    • Sophocles' skillful use of dramatic irony creates a sense of suspense and emotional depth, keeping readers captivated from beginning to end.
    • The play's exploration of universal themes such as truth, identity, and the limitations of the human condition make it a thought-provoking and timeless piece of literature.

    Who should read Oedipus Rex?

    • Fans of Greek mythology
    • People who enjoy dark, dramatic stories
    • Anyone interested in one of the greatest plays of all time

    About the Author

    Sophocles was a popular, influential playwright who lived in Greece in the fifth century BCE. He’s best known for the tragedies Oedipus Rex and Antigone.

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    Oedipus Rex FAQs 

    What is the main message of Oedipus Rex?

    The main message of Oedipus Rex is the devastating consequences of unchecked pride and the power of fate.

    How long does it take to read Oedipus Rex?

    The reading time for Oedipus Rex depends on the reader, but it typically takes a few hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Oedipus Rex a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Oedipus Rex is a timeless tragedy that explores complex themes and offers thought-provoking insights into human nature and the role of fate.

    Who is the author of Oedipus Rex?

    Sophocles is the author of Oedipus Rex.

    What to read after Oedipus Rex?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Oedipus Rex, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein
    • Being and Time by Martin Heidegger
    • How to Think Like a Philosopher by Peter Cave
    • Electra by Sophocles
    • The Compass of Pleasure by David J. Linden
    • Antigone by Sophocles
    • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
    • A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton
    • Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
    • The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper