The Functions Of The Chorus In Oedipus

The King Essay, Research Paper

In many Greek tragedies, the Chorus serves an important role. It is used for many things, such as clarifying the feelings of the characters and to establish and point out the significance of facts in the story. In Oedipus the King, the Chorus serves these functions, as well as to give the reader insight into the beliefs of the ancient Greeks.

The functions of the Chorus are not just for dramatic purposes. The Chorus was first used in Greek tragedies for the sake of the audience. In ancient Greece, plays were performed in large amphitheaters that would seat around ten thousand people. The actors had no way of projecting their voices, so a group of actors would read the lines together. This made it easier for the whole audience to hear what was being said (Wat).

As playwrights developed the concepts of individual actors, the role of the Chorus was reduced. However, they still had an important role in the play. The playwrights used the Chorus to establish facts in the play, to clarify certain events, to reflect the society’s outlook, to give insight into a character’s emotions, and to point out important events as they occur (Wat).

This is especially evident in Oedipus the King. On page nine, the Chorus has its first speaking part in the play (which is known as the parados), and it is invoking the Gods and asking them for help. A plague befell the city of Thebes in which their crops and people were dying. The Oracle of Delphi said that the plague would only end when the killer of Laius (the former king of Thebes) was found. Here, the Chorus is giving the reader insight into Greek culture:

O Prophecy of Jove, whose words are sweet,

With what doom art thou sent

To glorious Thebes, from Pytho’s gilded seat?

I am distraught with fearful wonderment,

I thrill with terror, and wait reverently

Yea, Io Paean, Delian lord, on thee!

The Chorus is referring to the Prophecy of Jove, or Zeus. It is wondering why the Gods chose to send a plague to their city. The Chorus is reflecting the society’s feelings about the plague, because it says that it is “distraught with fearful wonderment” and “thrill with terror.” This indicates that the Greeks believe in the authority of their Gods, and respect their decisions. This passage also gives insight into Greek beliefs by making references to some of the Greek gods and goddesses like Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon, and Phoebus, the God of the Sun.

After Tiresias, the blind prophet, tells Oedipus that he is the one who killed Laius, he is furious. He refuses to believe Tiresias and makes accusations against him and Creon, his own brother-in-law (and uncle). On page twenty-seven, the Chorus reacts to what just took place:

True, Zeus indeed, and Apollo are wise,

And knowers of what concerns mankind;

But that word of a seer, a man like me,

Weighs more than mine, for a man to prize,

Is all unsure.

In this passage, the Chorus says that even though Tiresias is a prophet, he is still a mortal man. He may be able to see what is going to happen in the future and his word may “weigh more” than that of a common man, but he does not have the power of the Gods. Even though Tiresias’ word weighs more than a normal man’s does, it is still not as believable as the word of the Gods. Sophocles could be doing this to distinctly separate the powers of the Gods from that of a mortal man. He could also be doing this to build suspense in the play.

On page forty-seven of the text, the Chorus is talking about Oedipus’ flaw. It is obvious to the reader that Oedipus has certain flaws, such as pride, a quick temper, etc. Oedipus’ pride is especially evident, because he talks about how he solved the Riddle of the Sphinx and saved Thebes from her. He often referred to this and was proud of that and the fact that he became the king of Thebes. The Chorus refers to Oedipus’ pride on page forty-seven:

Pride is the germ of kings;

Pride, when puffed up, vainly, with many


Unreasonable, unfitting, mounts the wall,

Only to hurry to that fatal fall,

Where feet are vain to serve her.

When the Chorus says that “pride is the germ of kings,” it is giving its opinion on Oedipus’ character. While the other characters in the play do not give a direct opinion of Oedipus, the Chorus does. Its opinion of Oedipus gives insight into his character and may influence a reader’s opinion of him.

The functions of the Chorus in Greek tragedy are very important. Without the Chorus, the play would not have as much clarity and additional information to help the reader understand what is going on. Overall, the Chorus helps to add more drama and meaning to the play.