Humanimality and Hyper-determination in Sophocles’ Oedipus Plays

  • Giulia Maria Chesi Institut fuer Klassische Philologie Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin


In a discussion of Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Colonus the essential question of Oedipus’ identity remains unanswered. This paper addresses the topic, conceiving Oedipus as a “manimal”, a point of intersection of nature and culture. Oedipus’ humanimality questions his common reception as a hero occupying a liminal space between nature and culture: rather, he seems to fully belong to the wild nature of Cithaeron, and also to the civilized world of Thebes. Born in a human family and raised by step parents, Oedipus is also the child of Cithaeron, which nurtured him like a mother (OT 1091: τροφὸν καὶ ματέρ’) and, according to this double origin of birth, a human puppy but also a nursling animal (θρέμμα: 1143); the mountain does not represent only his place of savage birth, but also the location where he would like to die (1451-4). Yet, despite his wild origins, Oedipus belongs to the city of Thebes more than anyone else. Thebes is not going to find salvation without him, even after acknowledging his incest. The Sphinx oppressing the city was defeated by him; Thebes’ political balance relies upon him, who alone, by returning to Thebes, can prevent his sons’ war. Whereas Oedipus is the citizen that Thebes cannot relinquish, Creon, Eteocles and Polyneices, the men in charge in Thebes, will cause havoc in the city, by waging a war for honour and dynastic power (OC 1416-23). As far as I am aware, the only paper discussing how a Greek play lends itself to the idea of humanimality is Payne (2016). This paper aims to broaden this discussion to other dramatic plays, taking Sophocles’ Oedipus plays as a key-study.

Keywords: humanimality, incest, parricide, Cithaeron, hyper-determination