"Oedipus the King," Vocabulary from the play

"Oedipus the King" by Sophocles recounts the mythic tale of a man who, regardless of how powerful he is, cannot escape the fate that has been decided for him.

As you read the Theban plays of Sophocles (etext found here), learn these word lists for the plays: Oedipus the King and Antigone.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. suppliant
    one praying humbly for something
    My children, latest born to Cadmus old,
    Why sit ye here as suppliants, in your hands
    Branches of olive filleted with wool?
  2. venerable
    impressive by reason of age
    Ho! aged sire, whose venerable locks
    Proclaim thee spokesman of this company,
    Explain your mood and purport.
    Another definition of "venerable" is "profoundly honored"--this would also be a fitting description of the priest's status among everyone praying, but Oedipus picks the priest out of the crowd because of his age and white hair, which are assumed to be connected to wisdom and worthy of respect.
  3. obdurate
    showing unfeeling resistance to tender feelings
    Ruthless indeed were I and obdurate
    If such petitioners as you I spurned.
  4. welter
    toss, roll, or rise and fall in an uncontrolled way
    For, as thou seest thyself, our ship of State,
    Sore buffeted, can no more lift her head,
    Foundered beneath a weltering surge of blood.
    The priest uses the image of a sinking ship to describe the state of the kingdom--it is "sore buffeted" (pounded repeatedly by storms) and foundering beneath wild waves of blood (from plague and hunger).
  5. blight
    a state or condition being devastated or run-down
    A blight is on our harvest in the ear,
    A blight upon the grazing flocks and herds,
    A blight on wives in travail;
    The kingdom is in serious trouble because the list of blights includes not only the devastation of the food supply but also the deaths of women and babies during childbirth.
  6. beseech
    ask for or request earnestly
    All we thy votaries beseech thee, find
    Some succor, whether by a voice from heaven
    Whispered, or haply known by human wit.
  7. sluggard
    an idle slothful person
    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.
  8. extirpate
    destroy completely, as if down to the roots
    King Phoebus bids us straitly extirpate
    A fell pollution that infests the land,
    And no more harbor an inveterate sore.
    Creon uses agricultural images to describe what must be done to save the kingdom--the deeply-rooted sore that must be extirpated because it's polluting the land is the unpunished murderer of the rightful king.
  9. expiation
    the act of atoning for sin or wrongdoing
    What expiation means he? What's amiss?
    At this point in the play, Oedipus does not know all the details of the sins that need to be expiated, but once he does, he recognizes that "no gallows could atone."
  10. suborn
    incite to commit a crime or an evil deed
    Did any bandit dare so bold a stroke,
    Unless indeed he were suborned from Thebes?
  11. unscathed
    not injured
    And if he shrinks, let him reflect that thus
    Confessing he shall 'scape the capital charge;
    For the worst penalty that shall befall him
    Is banishment— unscathed he shall depart.
  12. recompense
    payment or reward, as for service rendered
    But if an alien from a foreign land
    Be known to any as the murderer,
    Let him who knows speak out, and he shall have
    Due recompense from me and thanks to boot.
  13. teeming
    abundantly filled with especially living things
    And for the disobedient thus I pray:
    May the gods send them neither timely fruits
    Of earth, nor teeming increase of the womb,
    But may they waste and pine, as now they waste,
    Aye and worse stricken;
  14. blanch
    turn pale, as if in fear
    Words scare not him who blenches not at deeds.
    "Blench" is an alternate version of "blanch"--Oedipus is responding to the chorus of old men's suggestion that the murderer of Laius might have run away because of the curse.
  15. adjure
    ask for or request earnestly
    Oh speak,
    Withhold not, I adjure thee, if thou know'st,
    Thy knowledge. We are all thy suppliants.
    "Adjure" also means "command solemnly"--both definitions seem to fit the situation because Oedipus is the king, but Teiresias is a respected prophet. Thus Oedipus starts his speech with two commands "Speak" and "Withhold not" but he ends with the acknowledgement that he and the rest of the kingdom are all praying for Teiresias to save them with his knowledge.
  16. taciturnity
    the trait of being uncommunicative
    Monster! thy silence would incense a flint.
    Will nothing loose thy tongue? Can nothing melt thee,
    Or shake thy dogged taciturnity?
  17. flout
    treat with contemptuous disregard
    And who could stay his choler when he heard
    How insolently thou dost flout the State?
  18. stint
    supply sparingly and with restricted quantities
    Yea, I am wroth, and will not stint my words,
    but speak my whole mind.
    Teiresias's status in Thebes gives him some freedom in his speech (and silence). But Oedipus's wrath and choler are getting the better of him (this same angry nature is what led him to murder the travelers). No longer able to stint his words, Oedipus accuses Teiresias of being the mastermind behind the murder of Laius. This actually succeeds in provoking Teiresias to throw the truthful accusation back at Oedipus.
  19. calumny
    a false accusation of an offense
    Thou shalt rue it
    Twice to repeat so gross a calumny.
  20. charlatan
    a flamboyant deceiver
    for this crown
    The trusty Creon, my familiar friend,
    Hath lain in wait to oust me and suborned
    This mountebank, this juggling charlatan,
    This tricksy beggar-priest, for gain alone
    Keen-eyed, but in his proper art stone-blind.
    "Charlatan," "mountebank," and "tricksy beggar-priest" are all the same insult. Angry that Teiresias should dare accuse him of being the cause of the kingdom's troubles, Oedipus accuses Teiresias not only of being a false prophet for profit, but also of conspiring with Creon to take his throne.
  21. reverberate
    ring or echo with sound
    Ah whither shall thy bitter cry not reach,
    What crag in all Cithaeron but shall then
    Reverberate thy wail, when thou hast found
    With what a hymeneal thou wast borne
    Home, but to no fair haven, on the gale!
    Oedipus gets a huge hint here that there's something seriously wrong with his marriage (a hymeneal is a wedding march) that would make his cries reverberate off mountains. But he is so angry that he does not see the truth and believes instead that Teiresias is just being foolishly rude.
  22. petulance
    an irritable feeling
    This taunt, it well may be, was blurted out
    In petulance, not spoken advisedly.
  23. glib
    artfully persuasive in speech
    Thou art glib of tongue, but I am slow to learn
    Of thee; I know too well thy venomous hate.
  24. repose
    freedom from activity
    First, I bid thee think,
    Would any mortal choose a troubled reign
    Of terrors rather than secure repose,
    If the same power were given him?
  25. stealthy
    marked by quiet and caution and secrecy
    When with swift strides the stealthy plotter stalks
    I must be quick too with my counterplot.
    To wait his onset passively, for him
    Is sure success, for me assured defeat.
  26. probity
    complete and confirmed integrity
    Respect a man whose probity and troth
    Are known to all and now confirmed by oath.
  27. truculent
    defiantly aggressive
    Thou art as sullen in thy yielding mood
    As in thine anger thou wast truculent.
  28. mitigate
    lessen or to try to lessen the seriousness or extent of
    Strange counsel, friend! I know thou mean'st me well,
    And yet would'st mitigate and blunt my zeal.
  29. unrelenting
    not to be placated or appeased or moved by entreaty
    Let me too, I adjure thee, know, O king,
    What cause has stirred this unrelenting wrath.
  30. roisterer
    an especially noisy and unrestrained merrymaker
    A roisterer at some banquet, flown with wine,
    Shouted "Thou art not true son of thy sire."
  31. suffice
    be adequate, either in quality or quantity
    Yet was I quits with him and more; one stroke
    Of my good staff sufficed to fling him clean
    Out of the chariot seat and laid him prone.
    And so I slew them every one.
  32. ethereal
    of heaven or the spirit
    My lot be still to lead
    The life of innocence and fly
    Irreverence in word or deed,
    To follow still those laws ordained on high
    Whose birthplace is the bright ethereal sky
  33. emulous
    eager to surpass others
    But O may Heaven the true patriot keep
    Who burns with emulous zeal to serve the State.
  34. impious
    lacking piety or reverence for a god
    Perdition seize his vain imaginings,
    If, urged by greed profane,
    He grasps at ill-got gain,
    And lays an impious hand on holiest things.
  35. overwrought
    deeply agitated especially from emotion
    I had a mind to visit the high shrines,
    For Oedipus is overwrought, alarmed
    With terrors manifold.
  36. rebuke
    censure severely or angrily
    Softly, old man, rebuke him not; thy words
    Are more deserving chastisement than his.
    "Rebuke" and "chastise" are synonyms that Oedipus is using to shame the herdsman into speaking the truth. The herdsman doesn't want to reveal the truth because he knows it would hurt Oedipus (and would also hurt himself, since he'd played a role in fulfilling the prophecy), so when the messenger blurts it out, he yells at him for having a "wanton tongue," which prompts Oedipus's rebuke.
  37. prevaricate
    be deliberately ambiguous or unclear
    The knave methinks will still prevaricate.
  38. shroud
    cover as if with a burial garment
    Not Ister nor all Phasis' flood, I ween,
    Could wash away the blood-stains from this house,
    The ills it shrouds or soon will bring to light,
    Ills wrought of malice, not unwittingly.
  39. sanguine
    a blood-red color
    Such was the burden of his moan, whereto,
    Not once but oft, he struck with his hand uplift
    His eyes, and at each stroke the ensanguined orbs
    Bedewed his beard, not oozing drop by drop,
    But one black gory downpour, thick as hail.
  40. respite
    a relief from harm or discomfort
    But hath he still no respite from his pain?
    Another definition of "respite" is "postponing punishment"--in that sense, Oedipus enjoyed years of respite for the murders of Laius and his traveling party, during which time he became a king and fathered four children. But the question is coming from a concerned Chorus, who just heard that Oedipus, on discovering what his murderous acts led to, was so emotionally pained that he poked his own eyes into a bloody, blind mess.
  41. fetter
    a shackle for the ankles or feet
    My curse on him whoe'er unrived
    The waif's fell fetters and my life revived!
    He meant me well, yet had he left me there,
    He had saved my friends and me a world of care.
  42. defile
    spot, stain, or pollute
    The monstrous offspring of a womb defiled,
    Co-mate of him who gendered me, and child.
    Was ever man before afflicted thus,
    Like Oedipus.
  43. abject
    most unfortunate or miserable
    Come hither, deign to touch an abject wretch;
    Draw near and fear not; I myself must bear
    The load of guilt that none but I can share.
    "Abject" also means "of the most contemptible kind" (Oedipus killed his father, married his mother, and fathered his own brothers and sisters), "showing utter resignation or hopelessness" (he begs to be exiled or killed), and "showing humiliation or submissiveness" (he recognizes that both Apollo and he are responsible for his miseries).
  44. rancorous
    showing deep-seated resentment
    Ah me! what words to accost him can I find?
    What cause has he to trust me? In the past
    I have been proved his rancorous enemy.
  45. derision
    the act of treating with contempt
    Not in derision, Oedipus, I come
    Nor to upbraid thee with thy past misdeeds.
  46. providence
    the guardianship and control exercised by a deity
    May Providence deal with thee kindlier
    Than it has dealt with me!
    Although this play takes place chronologically before Antigone, Sophocles wrote it about fifteen years later. Thus, the Greek audiences who knew the myths and had seen the production of Antigone would know that Oedipus's wish does not come true: Creon, because of his pride, anger, and disrespect to the gods, also brings on the destruction of his family.
  47. abashed
    feeling or caused to feel uneasy and self-conscious
    Where'er ye go to feast or festival,
    No merrymaking will it prove for you,
    But oft abashed in tears ye will return.
  48. disrepute
    the state of being held in low esteem
    And when ye come to marriageable years,
    Where's the bold wooers who will jeopardize
    To take unto himself such disrepute
    As to my children's children still must cling,
    For what of infamy is lacking here?
  49. destitute
    poor enough to need help from others
    O leave them not to wander poor, unwed,
    Thy kin, nor let them share my low estate.
    O pity them so young, and but for thee
    All destitute.
  50. overwhelm
    overcome by superior force
    Look ye, countrymen and Thebans, this is Oedipus the great,
    He who knew the Sphinx's riddle and was mightiest in our state.
    Who of all our townsmen gazed not on his fame with envious eyes?
    Now, in what a sea of troubles sunk and overwhelmed he lies!
    The superior force that overwhelmed Oedipus is Fate. Upon discovering that he actually did fulfill the oracle's predictions (which he thought had been carefully avoided), Oedipus is overwhelmed by grief, shame, and horror.

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