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The Oedipus of this play.

The Oedipus whom we find at Colonus utters not a word of self-reproach, except on one point; he regrets the excess of the former self-reproach which stung him into blinding himself. He has done nothing else that calls for repentance; he has been the passive instrument of destiny. It would be a mistake to aim at bringing the play more into harmony with modern sentiment by suffusing it in a mild and almost Christian radiance, as though Oedipus had been softened, chastened, morally purified by suffering. Suffering has, indeed, taught him endurance (στέργειν), and some degree of caution; he is also exalted in mind by a new sense of power; but he has not been softened. Anger, (855)"which was ever his bane"”, blazes up in him as fiercely as ever; Creon rebukes him for it; his friends are only too painfully conscious of it. The unrestrained anger of an old man may easily be a very pitiful and deplorable spectacle; in order to be that, it need only be lost to justice and to generosity, to reason and to taste; but it requires the touch of a powerful dramatist to deal successfully with a subject so dangerously near to comedy, and to make a choleric old man tragic; Shakspeare has done it, with pathos of incomparable grasp and range; Sophocles, in a more limited way, has done it too. Throughout the scene with Polyneices there is a malign sublimity in the anger of the aged Oedipus; it is profoundly in the spirit of the antique, and we imply a different standard if we condemn it as vindictive. The Erinys has no mercy for sins against kindred; the man cannot pardon, because the Erinys acts through him. Oedipus at Colonus is a sacred person, but this character depends on his relation to the gods, and not on any inward holiness developed in him by a discipline of pain. Probably the chief danger which the Oedipus Coloneus runs with modern readers is from the sense of repulsion apt to be excited by this inexorable resentment of Oedipus towards his sons. It is not so when Lear cries— “No, you unnatural hags,
I will have such revenges on you both,
That all the world shall—I will do such things,—
What they are yet, I know not; but they shall be
The terrors of the earth. You think I'll weep;
No, I'll not weep.

Sophocles has left it possible for us to abhor the implacable father more than the heartless children. The ancient Greek spectator, however, would have been less likely to experience such a revulsion of sympathy. Nearer to the conditions imagined, he would more quickly feel all that was implied in the attitude of the sons at the moment when Oedipus was expelled from Thebes; his religious sense would demand a nemesis, while his ethical code would not require forgiveness of wrongs; and, lastly, he would feel that the implacability of Oedipus was itself a manifestation of the Fury which pursued the house.

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