Oedipus the King In Plain and Simple English (Digital Download)
Sophocles was the Aaron Spelling of ancient Greek world--his plays had all the makings of a modern soap! But archaic translations of his ancient work make it almost impossible to see any of the Melrose Place-like plots! BookCaps can help readers who have struggled in the past with Sophocles classic plays with this modern retelling. Oedipus the King, also known by the Latin title Oedipus Rex, is an Athenian tragedy by Sophocles that was first performed c. 429 BCE. It was the second of Sophocles's three Theban plays to be produced, but it comes first in the internal chronology, followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone. Over the centuries, it has come to be regarded by many as the Greek tragedy par excellence. This play is also available as a collection in “The Oedipus Trilogy In Plain and Simple English." The original text is also presented in the book, along with a comparable version of both text.


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Excerpt From Oedipus the King In Plain and Simple English


 To Laius, King of Thebes, an oracle foretold that the child born to him by his queen Jocasta would slay his father and wed his mother. So when in time a son was born the infant's feet were riveted together and he was left to die on Mount Cithaeron. But a shepherd found the babe and tended him, and delivered him to another shepherd who took him to his master, the King of Corinth. Polybus being childless adopted the boy, who grew up believing that he was indeed the King's son. Afterwards doubting his parentage he inquired of the Delphic god and heard himself the weird declared before to Laius. Wherefore he fled from what he deemed his father's house and in his flight he encountered and unwittingly slew his father Laius. Arriving at Thebes he answered the riddle of the Sphinx and the grateful Thebans made their deliverer king. So he reigned in the room of Laius, and espoused the widowed queen. Children were born to them and Thebes prospered under his rule, but again a grievous plague fell upon the city. Again the oracle was consulted and it bade them purge themselves of blood-guiltiness. Oedipus denounces the crime of which he is unaware, and undertakes to track out the criminal. Step by step it is brought home to him that he is the man. The closing scene reveals Jocasta slain by her own hand and Oedipus blinded by his own act and praying for death or exile.


 Laius, King of Thebes, has been told by an oracle that his child with Queen Jocasta will kill his father and marry his mother.  So when the child is born his feet are nailed together and he is left to die on Mount Cithaeron.  But a shepherd found the baby and cared for him and gave him to another shepherd who took him to his master, the King of Corinth, Polybus.  Being childless he adopted the boy, who grew up thinking he was the King’s natural son.  Afterwards, doubting his parentage, he asked the Delphic Oracle and heard the same prediction Laius was given.  He fled what he thought was his father’s house and on his journey met and unknowingly killed his real father, Laius.  When he arrived at Thebes he answered the riddle of the Sphinx and the grateful Thebeans made him king as reward.  So he ruled in Laius’ place and married his widow.  They had children and Thebes prospered, but then a terrible plague fell on the city.  The oracle was consulted again and it told them the city must be cleansed of a blood guilt.  Oedipus announces that the murderer will be executed and that he will catch the criminal.  Bit by bit it is revealed to him that he is the criminal.  In the closing scene Jocasta kills herself and Oedipus, blinded by his own hand, is praying for exile or death.




Scene: Thebes. Before the Palace of Oedipus.   Suppliants of all ages are seated round the altar at the palace doors, at their head a PRIEST OF ZEUS. To them enter OEDIPUS.




 My children, latest born to Cadmus old,

 Why sit ye here as suppliants, in your hands

 Branches of olive filleted with wool?

 What means this reek of incense everywhere,

 And everywhere laments and litanies?

 Children, it were not meet that I should learn

 From others, and am hither come, myself,

 I Oedipus, your world-renowned king.

Ho! aged sire, whose venerable locks

 Proclaim thee spokesman of this company,

 Explain your mood and purport. Is it dread

 Of ill that moves you or a boon ye crave?

 My zeal in your behalf ye cannot doubt;

 Ruthless indeed were I and obdurate

 If such petitioners as you I spurned.


My children, the latest of Cadmus’ line,

Why do you sit here pleading, carrying

Olive branches wrapped in wool?

Why do I smell incense everywhere,

And hear sad prayers?

Children, it would not be right to learn

About these things from others, so I have come myself,

Oedipus, your king, famous throughout the world.

Hello!  Old gentleman, your gray hairs

Show you to be the leader of this group;

Explain your mood and purpose.  Is it fear

Of bad things brings you here, or are you looking for a benefit?

You can be assured I’ll do my best for you;

I’d be really pitiless and hard hearted

If I turned away petitioners like you.




 Yea, Oedipus, my sovereign lord and king,

 Thou seest how both extremes of age besiege

 Thy palace altars--fledglings hardly winged,

 and greybeards bowed with years; priests, as am I

 of Zeus, and these the flower of our youth.

 Meanwhile, the common folk, with wreathed boughs

 Crowd our two market-places, or before

 Both shrines of Pallas congregate, or where

 Ismenus gives his oracles by fire.

 For, as thou seest thyself, our ship of State,

 Sore buffeted, can no more lift her head,

 Foundered beneath a weltering surge of blood.

 A blight is on our harvest in the ear,

 A blight upon the grazing flocks and herds,

 A blight on wives in travail; and withal

 Armed with his blazing torch the god of Plague

 Hath swooped upon our city emptying

 The house of Cadmus, and the murky realm

 Of Pluto is full fed with groans and tears.

 Therefore, O King, here at thy hearth we sit,

 I and these children; not as deeming thee

 A new divinity, but the first of men;

 First in the common accidents of life,

 And first in visitations of the gods.

Art thou not he who coming to the town

 of Cadmus freed us from the tax we paid

 To the fell songstress? Nor hadst thou received

 Prompting from us or been by others schooled;

 No, by a god inspired (so all men deem,

 And testify) didst thou renew our life.

 And now, O Oedipus, our peerless king,

 All we thy votaries beseech thee, find

 Some succor, whether by a voice from heaven

 Whispered, or haply known by human wit.

 Tried counselors, methinks, are aptest found

 To furnish for the future pregnant rede.

 Upraise, O chief of men, upraise our State!

 Look to thy laurels! for thy zeal of yore

 Our country's savior thou art justly hailed:

 O never may we thus record thy reign:--

 "He raised us up only to cast us down."

 Uplift us, build our city on a rock.

 Thy happy star ascendant brought us luck,

 O let it not decline! If thou wouldst rule

 This land, as now thou reignest, better sure

 To rule a peopled than a desert realm.

 Nor battlements nor galleys aught avail,

 If men to man and guards to guard them tail.


Oedipus, my supreme lord and king,

You see how both the young and the old have come

To beg at your palace altars; young ones, hardly more than babies,

And ancient greybeards; priests (I am a priest of Zeus)

And these, the best of our young.

Meanwhile, the common people, with wool wrapped branches,

Crowd our two marketplaces, or gather in

Both temples of Pallas, or where

Ismenus gives predictions looking at burnt sacrifices.

For, as you can see, our ship of State

Is attacked by storms and can hardly keep her head above water,

Sinking beneath a flood of death.

Disease has struck our harvest before it’s picked,

Disease has struck our animals,

A curse strikes women in childbirth; and also

The god of Plague, armed with his blazing torch,

Has swooped down on Thebes and killed

Many of its citizens, and the underworld

Echoes to the sound of their groans and crying.

So, King, we sit here on your doorstep,

These children and I, not thinking you’re a god

But thinking you’re the greatest man:

Greatest in everyday life,

And the first one to be spoken to by gods.

Aren’t you the one who came to Thebes

And freed us from the tax we paid

To the horrible Sphinx?  And you weren’t asked

By us or told to by others;

No, you were inspired by a god (so all men say

And believe) and brought our town back to life.

And now, Oedipus, our matchless king,

All your followers are begging you to find us

Some relief, whether through a god’s intervention

Or using human intelligence.

I think experienced counselors are the best ones

To give advice for the future.

Oh greatest man, lift up our country!

Remember your reputation!  For your courage in the past

You are rightly saluted as out country’s savior;

May we never say this about your reign:

“He lifted us up then threw us down again.”

Lift us up, make our city safe.

Your good luck rubbed off on us,

Don’t let it run out!  If you want to rule

This land as our king, it’s surely better

To be a king over people than an empty land.

Castles and ships will be no use to you

If you don’t have soldiers and sailors to man them.





 Ah! my poor children, known, ah, known too well,

 The quest that brings you hither and your need.

 Ye sicken all, well wot I, yet my pain,

 How great soever yours, outtops it all.

 Your sorrow touches each man severally,

 Him and none other, but I grieve at once

 Both for the general and myself and you.

 Therefore ye rouse no sluggard from day-dreams.

 Many, my children, are the tears I've wept,

 And threaded many a maze of weary thought.

 Thus pondering one clue of hope I caught,

 And tracked it up; I have sent Menoeceus' son,

 Creon, my consort's brother, to inquire

 Of Pythian Phoebus at his Delphic shrine,

 How I might save the State by act or word.

 And now I reckon up the tale of days

 Since he set forth, and marvel how he fares.

 'Tis strange, this endless tarrying, passing strange.

 But when he comes, then I were base indeed,

 If I perform not all the god declares.


Ah, my poor children!  I know all too well

Why you’ve come here and what you want.

I know you are all in pain, but my pain,

Even though yours is great, is greater.

Your sorrow touches you individually,

Just you and no other, but I’m grieving

For everyone, myself and you as well.

So you are not waking up some lazy dreamer.

I have shed many tears, my children,

And racked my brains for hours.

I thought of one thing which might work,

And acted on it: I have sent Menoeceus’ son,

Creon, my wife’s brother, to ask at the Delphic Oracle

How I might save the state with actions or words.

And now, counting the days

Since he set off, I wonder where he is.

This dragging of his feet is very strange,

But when he gets here I’d be worthless

If I don’t do everything the Oracle instructs.




 Thy words are well timed; even as thou speakest

 That shouting tells me Creon is at hand.


Your words are well timed: even as you speak

That shouting tells me Creon is coming.




 O King Apollo! may his joyous looks

 Be presage of the joyous news he brings!


Oh King Apollo!  May the happiness on his face

Be a sign of the happy news he brings!




 As I surmise, 'tis welcome; else his head

 Had scarce been crowned with berry-laden bays.


I’m guessing he has good news, otherwise he

Would hardly be wearing that laurel wreath.




 We soon shall know; he's now in earshot range.


 [Enter CREON]


 My royal cousin, say, Menoeceus' child,

 What message hast thou brought us from the god?


We’ll soon know, he’s within earshot.


[Enter Creon]


My royal cousin, son of Menoeceus,

What message have you brought us from the god?




 Good news, for e'en intolerable ills,

 Finding right issue, tend to naught but good.


Good news, for even the worst ills,

Given the right solution, will turn out for the best.




 How runs the oracle? thus far thy words

 Give me no ground for confidence or fear.


What did the Oracle say?  So far your words

Mean nothing either way to me.




 If thou wouldst hear my message publicly,

 I'll tell thee straight, or with thee pass within.


If you don’t mind hearing the message in public

I’ll tell you now, or come indoors with you.
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