This paper will examine the special case of Oedipus’ two fathers and its consequences for our interpretation of the Oedipus Tyrannus. Sophocles often articulates the conflict between heroic individualism and communal obligations through his depiction of father-son relationships, whose well defined norms offer a suitable background for heroic transgression. In the Oedipus Tyrannus this model is complicated by Oedipus’ possession of two ‘fathers’, Polybus and Laius, who respectively represent the ideal, selfless, father and its antithesis. Sophocles invites us to consider the actions which lead to Oedipus’ downfall, most of which involve his interaction with his two fathers, in terms of the normal relations expected between fathers and sons. This approach opens up richly suggestive avenues of exploration regarding Oedipus’ complicated identity, motivations and values, shedding fresh light on the perennial question of his culpability. Oedipus exhibits a double personality, with seemingly selfless and altruistic behaviour underpinned by self-serving solipsism, mirroring his two fathers’ traits. Additionally, this reading offers a fascinating parallel with Oedipus’ conduct as king, a position frequently conceived of as a ‘political’ father. Understanding Oedipus’ actions in terms of socially normative father-son relations, and the analogy between this and political conduct, unlocks fresh perspectives on the text.
This event is part of the Work in Progress Seminar Series.