What do you know about the Delphic Oracle? What function
does it do in King Oedipus?
Ans. Delphi is the site of the ancient temple and oracle of Apollo in Greece. It is located on the slopes of Mount Pamassus. It was the centre of the world in ancient Greek religion. According to legend, the oracle was originally sacred to Gaea, and Apollo acquired it by slaying her child, the serpent Python. From 582 BC Delphi was the site of Pythian games. The oracle was consulted not only on private matters but also on affairs of state.
Oracle of Apollo was the source of divine communication delivered in response to a petitioner’s request. Ancient Greece and Rome had many oracles. The most famous was that of Apollo at Delphi. There the medium was a woman over 50 called the Phythia. After bathing in the Castalian spring, she would apparently descend into a basement cell, mount a sacred tripod, and chew the leaves of the laurel, sacred to Apollo. Her utteranaces were often highly ambiguous; they were interpreted by priests.
The Delphic oracle plays a very important role in King Oed4rns. It controls the action of the play almost at every step. It is indeed the foundat on of the whole play. The drama is based upon a myth which has its origin in the Delphic oracle. During the time of Sophocles the Delphic oracle enjoyed a high prestige and authority, and the belief in it was regarded as an essential part of religion.
In the drama King Oedipus the Delphic oracle sets the plot in motion. Creon brings the news that the sufferings of the Theban people will be relieved only if the murderer of the late King, Laius, is traced and expelled from the city or put to death. Oedipus immediately announces his resolve to obey the oracle. The opening .words of the chorus refer to the message of the Delphic oracle, “From the Pythian house of gold, the gracious voice of heaven is heard.”
Thus it is evident that everybody concerned has full faith in the words of the Delphic oracle. The message of the Delphic oracle is the motivating force behind Oedipus’s undertaking to find out and punish the criminal — the undertaking which is the main substance of the play.
Jocasta mocks the divinations of the oracle when she hears of the natural death of King Polybus of Corinth; he was to have been killed by his son, Oedipus, according to the oracle. But her mocking proves to be a tragic irony when the real truth is discovered at the end that Oedipus was not the son of Polybus.
Earlier, King Lalus, was told by the oracle that a son born to Jocasta would kill his father and marry his mother. In order to avoid fulfilment of this prophecy, whenOedipus was born, Laius riveted his ankles, and handed him over to a servant whom he instructed to leave the child on a mountain to die there from exposure. The servant, out of compassion, handed the child over to a Corinthian shepherd who gave the child to King Polybus of Corinth who was childless. Oedipus was brought up as the prince of Corinth but suspicion was created in Oedipus’s mind when a drunken man once suddenly remarked that he did not seem to be the son of Polybus. Oedipus again consulted the oracle which repeated the same prophecy. So, Oedipus left Corinth in order to avoid killing his (supposed) father Polybus, but all in vain. Through an intricate process the prophecies of the oracle that Laius would be killed by his own son, that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother, and beget brother sons and daughters.
The Delphic oracle thus plays a very vital role in King Oedipus.