Fosso, “Oedipus Crux: Reasonable Doubt in Oedipus the King”

Under pain of torture, the herdsman reluctantly confirms this point, admitting that he gave the Corinthian shepherd (now messenger) “one of the children / of Laius” (OT 1167).28 Here the reader should be permit- ted a classic double take:“Children?! Laius had more than one child?”What, one wonders, became of the other children?

Using specific translations of the Oedipus Rex, Fosso collects enough textual evidence to raise reasonable doubt that Oedipus is guilty of some, or any, of his fated crimes. However, many of Fosso’s key details are absent in Alan Stanford’s more modernized version, such as the reference to “children” rather than “one son” made by the Corinthian in the quote shown here. Regardless of the translation discrepancies, though, plenty of doubt for Oedipus’ guilt still lies in this version of the text.

For example, the question over whether Jocasta is Oedipus’ birth mother is never fully proved, not counting the fits of passionate speech shared by the duo toward the end. In both Fosso’s and Stanford’s chosen texts, the Theban servant claims Jocasta was the woman who handed over the baby, but never says she was the child’s mother. Therefore, Fosso’s speculation that Oedipus could be a bastard son is still applicable, since historically, ancient patriarchs were known to have concubines.

Also, Stanford’s text corroborates Fosso’s claim about the “one vs. many” murderers of the king. Creon comes back from the oracle with news that the “killers” must be found (Stanford 15). And later, when Oedipus restates that the killer must be found, a chorus member corrects him, “killers” (Stanford 21). Oedipus knows he was the sole attacker of the men he killed, but both the town and the Oracle of Delphi claim that King Laius was killed by many attackers. Although the conflicting details of time aren’t as present in this translation as in Fosso’s, (Stanford attributes the surviving servant’s lagging arrival to the wounds he received in the fight), the mismatched accounts of the number of attackers are still there.

Finally, Fosso’s skepticism of Teiresias holds some weight in this version, too. The conversation does not seem to be as in depth as in the version Fosso consulted (as is the difference between all the scenes from Stanford’s and Fosso’s editions), but Oedipus still spends plenty of time ticking the cantankerous prophet off. Teiresias refuses to answer any of Oedipus’ questions, even refusing to look into the past. Coupled with his disagreeable personality, his avoidance can be construed as proof that he is just an old guy pulling “godly prophecies” out of thin air, and happens to be stuck on ideas for the moment. It is not until Oedipus accuses him of conspiring against King Laius that Teiresias speaks up, and when he does, it is to accuse Oedipus back. Therefore, readers may reasonably infer that the old man is defending himself and his profession with his prophecy about Oedipus, like Fosso states.

Overall, Stanford’s retelling of Oedipus Rex may be easier for modern readers to comprehend, but it loses much of the wordplay and subtext found in the older translations Fosso referred to in his essay. And yet, even with its simpler language and clearer dialogue, Stanford’s version of this infamous tragedy still casts reasonable doubt as to whether Oedipus is truly guilty of the crimes he believes he committed.

Source: Fosso, “Oedipus Crux: Reasonable Doubt in Oedipus the King”

5 thoughts on “Fosso, “Oedipus Crux: Reasonable Doubt in Oedipus the King”

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  2. Rebecca, again awesome job verifying Fosso’s claims using Stanford’s text. I made my post about how Fosso’s discussion about Oedipus’s ankles really wasn’t supported through Stanford’s text. You can check out my post, but basically I mentioned that in Standord’s text does specifically use Oedipus to mention having scars on his ankles in Act II. Fosso’s version describes a swelling of his feet, which would make sense in how he supported the ankle claim. Fosso’s claim regarding the ankle scarring was weak to begin with, so I think backing his claim up with additional translations of the text would make his claims even stronger.

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