Karakantza, Efimia D. 2020. Who Am I? (Mis)Identity and the Polis in Oedipus Tyrannus. Hellenic Studies Series 86. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_KarakantzaED.Who_am_I.2020.
4. Who Am I? A Tragedy of Identity
You saw things differently
when you changed your perspective and location.
All blind spots could be compensated for.
Psychoanalysis, philosophy, and German Idealism (with the subsequent humanistic trend that held sway well into the twentieth century) do not exhaust formulations of the play’s cardinal “meaning.” In the political vein, Oedipus is seen as a tyrant in the polis, or as Pericles, or as the wounded body of the Athenian democracy itself (the date of the play is circa 425 BCE). Of course, the artistic merits of the play have been praised ever since the Poetics of Aristotle and have contributed immensely to the unquestionable popularity the play has enjoyed since its rediscovery in the Renaissance. Furthermore, under the “weight” of the widespread Christian morality of our times a long debate has been waged as to the existence and extent of Oedipus’ guilt for his transgressions. And if guilty, what is he to blame for: intellectual pride, or political arrogance imbued with a disposition for tyranny?
Thus, the “who am Ι?” relates to three major components of the construction and understanding of a person’s identity. First, genealogy and position in the family tree; second, the public (moral) space that determines our orientation to the good; and lastly, the definition of our interlocutors in life, for what we are depended on “to whom we speak and from where”; this constitutes our webs of interlocution, for we become ourselves when we are introduced into language,  and as human beings we are “potential interlocutor[s] in a society of interlocutors.” 
ἄστροις τὸ λοιπὸν τεκμαρούμενος χθόνα
ἔφευγον, ἔνθα μήποτ’ ὀψοίμην κακῶν
χρησμῶν ὀνείδη τῶν ἐμῶν τελούμενα.
Taylor argues that “orientation in moral space turns out again to be similar to orientation in physical space. We know where we are through a mixture of recognition of landmarks before us and a sense of how we have travelled to get here … .”  All the landmarks before the eyes of Oedipus are mistaken; he is confused because, first, he does not know who he is, and, second, because after being struck by terror in Delphi, he forgets that he does not know who he is and he acts as if he does know. How else can we understand why upon hearing the oracle at Delphi he flees Corinth, since it was in Corinth that he first suspected himself to be the bastard son of the king? The uncertainty about his identity vanishes in a split second, although without any rational foundation for his new belief. Oedipus becomes certain once more that his parents are Polybus and Merope, and he entertains this illusionary certainty for the duration of his sojourn in Thebes. The confusion has doubled now, and he has no means of regaining his orientation. The only unmistakable marks of his identity are his pierced and swollen feet, but Oedipus is not yet in a position to read this sign.
4.1 Cithairon: Naming the Baby
τῆς εὖ διδούσης …
τῆς γὰρ πέφυκα μητρός·
Interestingly, in the renowned (if also strongly criticized) analysis of the myths of the family of Oedipus by Lévi-Strauss  the patrilineal line is linked through a serious corporal deficiency or sign. In the fourth column of the grid of his structural analysis, one can read, along the diachronic axis, the thematic thread marking the affinity between three male generations of the Labdacids: Labdacus himself (the grandfather of Oedipus and a descendant of the founder of Thebes, Cadmus); Laius, the father of Oedipus, and Oedipus himself. Of all the four columns of the grid, this last one, which, together with the third column, represents the idea of autochthony in the myth of Oedipus, arouses a certain degree of speculation, relying, as it does, mainly on etymology rather than on narratives related to the history of the family. Of course, one may rightly observe that resorting to etymology is a legitimate means for the structural analyst, for this pays tribute, so to speak, to the “father” of this methodology, Ferdinand de Saussure and his Structural Linguistics. 
The scars, which were inflicted on Oedipus’ body from birth, make visible a “spoiled identity,” marking him as a pariah to be avoided at all costs; he is ritually polluted, as Oedipus himself eloquently elaborates in the long passage on the punishment awaiting the murderer of Laius: no shelter, no food or drink, no admittance to public or private rituals, banishment from all homes, for he is the pollution of the city (ὡς μιάσματος / τοῦδ’ ἡμὶν ὄντος, 241–42). The plague, the horrific backdrop that evokes the doom-ridden ambience from the outset of the play, makes the pollution brought about by Oedipus visible and tangible. He is a social outcast, and his stigmatized feet bear witness to this.
4.2 In the Webs of Interlocution: Delphi, the Crossroads, and the Sphinx
Πυθώδε, καί μ’ ὁ Φοῖβος ὧν μὲν ἱκόμην
ἄτιμον ἐξέπεμψεν, ἄλλα δ’ ἀθλίῳ
καὶ δεινὰ καὶ δύστηνα προὐφάνη λέγων,
ὡς μητρὶ μὲν χρείη με μειχθῆναι, γένος δ’
ἄτλητον ἀνθρώποισι δηλώσοιμ’ ὁρᾶν,
φονεὺς δ’ ἐσοίμην τοῦ φυτεύσαντος πατρός.
I have argued elsewhere that Apollo answers “as if [Oedipus] has asked a completely different question,”  and this is pretty much what Oedipus himself expresses in the play: “ἄλλα δ’[ε]”, “Apollo came out with other things.” I have now reached the point of revising this thesis, and suggest that Apollo’s reply conforms exactly to what he has been asked. It seems that his reply is irrelevant to the question because Oedipus (and the audience for that matter) crucially fails to take a minute to complete Apollo’s deliberately elliptic response: “you [are the person who] will marry your mother and kill your father.” Apollo answers Oedipus’ question precisely and truthfully. However, it is interesting to note the seductive power of the poetic diction here, and how Sophocles can lure us into believing what he wishes us to believe; we are as eager as Oedipus in thinking about what the oracle is about: other things. We share in the panic and confusion besetting Oedipus, failing to rationally process the information the oracle provides, although, as members of the audience or readers of the play, we possess superior knowledge and could easily complete the elliptic sentence.
αὐτός θ’ ὁ πρέσβυς πρὸς βίαν ἠλαυνέτην
Oedipus does not give way to the royal father and keeps walking; and while walking alongside the carriage he strikes the driver who asked him to cede the road. This is how the debate turns into a physical assault, and Laius strikes his son’s head with his double-edged scepter. In retaliation, Oedipus returns the blow with added violence  and kills his father. He completes the assault by massacring the royal party (810–813):
σκήπτρῳ τυπεὶς ἐκ τῆσδε χειρὸς ὕπτιος
μέσης ἀπήνης εὐθὺς ἐκκυλίνδεται·
κτείνω δὲ τοὺς ξύμπαντας.
Turning an attempted dialogue into sheer violence proves the failure of human communication, hence the failure of the linguistic media; and even more so, if we take into account that the Father is the linguistic symbol of the Law that prohibits incest,  and that at this moment in Oedipus’ life the Father and the father are ironically coincident. Oedipus fails to recognize the father (without the clues to do so), and the road to committing incest is now wide open and beckoning.
ἔχων μὲν ἀρχάς, ἃς ἐκεῖνος εἶχε πρίν,
ἔχων δὲ λέκτρα καὶ γυναῖχ’ ὁμόσπορον,
κοινῶν τε παίδων κοίν’ ἄν, εἰ κείνῳ γένος
μὴ ’δυστύχησεν, ἦν ἂν ἐκπεφυκότα –
νῦν δ’ ἐς τὸ κείνου κρᾶτ’ ἐνήλαθ’ ἡ τύχη·
ἀνθ’ ὧν ἐγὼ τάδ’, ὡσπερεὶ τοὐμοῦ πατρὸς
ὑπερμαχοῦμαι κἀπὶ πάντ’ ἀφίξομαι
ζητῶν τὸν αὐτόχειρα τοῦ φόνου λαβεῖν …
Sophocles’ lexical double entendres, lethally loaded with psychological and mental premonitions of what lies ahead, are remarkable. In terms of narratology, this passage is a masterpiece. The underlying meaning, obscured from the speaker, is stronger than the surface meaning and is ominously ever present in the minds of the audience. Γυναῖχ’ ὁμόσπορον (260) = ὁμοίως σπειρομένην, that is, ἣν καὶ ἐκεῖνος ἔσπειρε (literally, the woman who was also “sown” by Laius), is wonderfully fused with the later accusation of Teiresias (459–460): τοῦ πατρὸς / ὁμόσπορος = τὴν αὐτὴν σπείρων γυναῖκα (in the active voice this time).  The second point of convergence is the children, who are born of “one mother and would have made ties between he and me,”  as Oedipus declares. The “obvious sense of κοινά, that is, ‘common to Laius and Oedipus,’ has behind it a second, sinister, sense, in which it hints at a brood who are brothers and sisters of their own sire.”  Paraphrasing slightly Sophocles’ diction, it is as if Oedipus said the following words: “I shall pursue this investigation on the grounds of my strong affinities with Laius (the woman and the children); and I will do it eagerly, immediately, and with great dedication, as if Laius were my father” (ὡσπερεὶ τοὐμοῦ πατρός, 264); this last formulation is an exquisite culmination of Sophocles’ celebrated flickering irony. 
καὶ τρίπον, ἀλλάσσει δὲ φύσιν μόνον ὅσσ’ ἐπὶ γαῖαν
ἑρπετὰ γίνονται καὶ ἀν’ αἰθέρα καὶ κατὰ πόντον·
ἀλλ’ ὁπόταν πλείστοισιν ἐρειδόμενον ποσὶ βαίνῃ,
ἔνθα τάχος γυίοισιν ἀφαυρότατον πέλει αὐτοῦ.
Of all the features of man, the Sphinx focuses on the legs and the ability to walk—a feature pointing directly (albeit not overtly) to the identity of Oedipus himself. Oedipus has no difficulty in understanding and correctly answering the question: the tetrapous, dipous, and tripous creature is a human being similar to him. He misses, however, the strong undercurrent connecting himself and man especially in the tetrapous and tripous phase of a human life: as an infant (the tetrapous phase) he is exposed with pierced feet on Cithairon, the signs of which are still engraved on his body (oidipous); and he will enter the tripous phase not as an old man but prematurely, after blinding himself, condemned to walk with the help of the staff of a blind wanderer; the latter, of course, will be revealed to him in the last act of this drama.
4.3 In the Space of Questions at Thebes: Reconstructing Identity
4.4 Questions with Teiresias: A Preview of Identity
εἰδότες· ἀνδρῶν δ’ ὅτι μάντις πλέον ἢ ’γὼ φέρεται,
κρίσις οὐκ ἔστιν ἀληθής·
Above all, the chorus claims that Oedipus is, in their eyes, innocent of all crimes, for he is their “sweet” king (509–512):
βασάνῳ θ’ ἡδύπολις· τῷ ἀπ’ ἐμᾶς
φρενὸς οὔποτ’ ὀφλήσει κακίαν.
ζητεῖς ἀπειλῶν κἀνακηρύσσων φόνον
τὸν Λαΐειον,  οὗτός ἐστιν ἐνθάδε,
ξένος λόγῳ μέτοικος, εἶτα δ’ ἐγγενὴς
φανήσεται Θηβαῖος, οὐδ’ ἡσθήσεται
τῇ ξυμφορᾷ· τυφλὸς γὰρ ἐκ δεδορκότος
καὶ πτωχὸς ἀντὶ πλουσίου ξένην ἔπι
σκήπτρῳ προδεικνὺς γαῖαν ἐμπορεύσεται.
φανήσεται δὲ παισὶ τοῖς αὑτοῦ ξυνὼν
ἀδελφὸς αὑτὸς καὶ πατήρ, κἀξ ἧς ἔφυ
γυναικὸς υἱὸς καὶ πόσις, καὶ τοῦ πατρὸς
ὁμοσπόρος τε καὶ φονεύς.
The syntactical construction of the beginning of this passage points emphatically to “that man you have long been looking for” (τὸν ἄνδρα τοῦτον, ὃν πάλαι / ζητεῖς). The narrative of Teiresias begins with τὸν ἄνδρα τοῦτον, which is the antecedent prefixed to the relative clause that follows ὃν πάλαι / ζητεῖς … , (attracted also into the case of the relative clause); when thus prefixed, it “marks with greater emphasis the subject of the coming statement”:  οὗτός ἐστιν ἐνθάδε, that man [i.e., the murderer of Laius] is here. What follows are the segments of Oedipus’ life: seemingly a foreigner, but in reality a native Theban; he will become blind from sighted, beggar from rich. The rest of the story is breathtaking in the immensity of the transgressions it depicts: that man shall be found brother and father of his children; son and husband of the woman who bore him; “sowing” the same field as his father and, finally, killer of his father. The conclusion of the narrative marks that man as the agent of the hideous acts in the words ὁμόσπορος and φονεύς; exchanging roles with his father, he actively  “sowed” the same woman, for ὁμόσπορος here is in an active sense, contrary to the earlier use of the word in the play (260). Oedipus sexually usurps the role of the father after having killed him (τοῦ πατρὸς / φονεύς). 
4.5 Questions with Jocasta: Dislocating the Origin (or Jocasta’s Body and Mind)
Wyke’s further remark that bodies are also inscribed with “other interconnected matrices of knowledge and power” points to Foucault’s and Butler’s further refinements of our understanding of the gendered body. Judith Butler, in Bodies that Matter, claims that:
γῄτης ὅπως ἄρουραν ἔκτοπον λαβών,
σπείρων μόνον προσεῖδε κἀξαμῶν ἅπαξ·
In this graphic metaphor, the body of Deianeira has become an objectified external locus of reproduction. Unlike Deianeira, however, who, in a more gendered conventional and socially sanctioned manner, seeks to regain Heracles’ sexual favor and conjugal fidelity, Jocasta defies all this— even if unwillingly, for in her body the distinctions that sustain the sexual economy of patriarchy no longer exist. Her body blurs (and confounds) the confines of kinship: ὁμογενὴς δ’ ἀφ’ ὧν αὐτὸς ἔφυν (1362/3) (literally, “I am of the same genos with the person from whom I was sprung”); and in a more telling manner Oedipus exclaims finally (1403–1408):
ἐφύσαθ’ ἡμᾶς, καὶ φυτεύσαντες πάλιν
ἀνεῖτε ταὐτὸν σπέρμα, κἀπεδείξατε
πατέρας ἀδελφούς, παῖδας αἷμ’ ἐμφύλιον,
νύμφας γυναῖκας μητέρας τε, χὠπόσα
αἴσχιστ’ ἐν ἀνθρώποισιν ἔργα γίγνεται.
The endogamic blood (αἷμ’ ἐμφύλιον) blurs the confines of all the kinship distinctions; renegotiating kinship is one of the most potent female means of resistance against the patriarchal order, as Judith Butler in Antigone’s Claim and Bonnie Honig in Antigone, Interrupted advocate. The awkward moment when Antigone, moments before she dies, limits the cycle of the kin for whom she would sacrifice her life only to her brother puts the whole spectrum of kinship relations in another perspective. Butler claims that Antigone renegotiates the laws of kinship from the standpoint of the less privileged (i.e. women),  and Honig proposes that, through the politics of lamentation and by renegotiating death, Antigone reclaims her political agency,  something she was deprived of by Hegelian and Lacanian readings. 
γλώσσης ἐπήρασθ’; οὐδ’ ἐπαισχύνεσθε γῆς
οὕτω νοσούσης ἴδια κινοῦντες κακά;
οὐκ εἶ σύ τ’ οἴκους σύ τε, Κρέων, κατὰ στέγας,
καὶ μὴ τὸ μηδὲν ἄλγος εἰς μέγ’ οἴσετε;
Jocasta subverts her gendered role regarding two important aspects: first, she uses a politically significant word to describe the quarrel of Oedipus and Creon: stasis, the civil strife that needs to be averted at all costs.  This statement would be expected from someone bearing political authority or who is at least conscious of the political exigencies besetting the city. It is in accordance with the heartfelt concern that Oedipus shows in the beginning of the play to care about the citizens of Thebes, a concern that seems to fall increasingly by the wayside in the course of the play. The second level of subversion concerns the public space that Jocasta comes to dominate. When she emerges from the palace, she authoritatively orders the two men to their homes, ridding the public space of their private quarrel. Jocasta is a suitable candidate for such a political action because in her “a whole new economy of the mechanisms of power”  is inaugurated, for, as claimed earlier, the founding narrative of patriarchy collapses. We have not realized how subversive the character of Jocasta is. Critics tend to think of her as a motherly figure or as a seductress. Lacan, for example, sees her as the polar opposite of the virginal and idealized Antigone.  Of course, Antigone is not a virginal, innocent heroine, nor Jocasta the seductive, empowered mother, as Lacan would have it. On the other hand, critics fall into modern stereotypes, such as the bipolar “motherly preoccupation with avoiding disgrace” and the “wifely ‘survival philosophy,’ ”  as is expressed in the later “easy life” statement (979).
Jocasta defies all this; she sees that her system (comprising Oedipus) survives in a life that defies the binary confines of the gender distinctions. She suggests living, not in the way acceptable for a man or a woman, as Ajax and Deianeira in other plays of Sophocles declare,  but “live at random, live as best one can,”  articulated in the famous “easy life” statement: εἰκῇ κράτιστον ζῆν, ὅπως δύναιτό τις (979).
4.5.1 The cycle of questions
ὥς νιν κατακτείναιεν. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἔτι
λέξει τὸν αὐτὸν ἀριθμόν, οὐκ ἐγὼ ’κτανον·
οὐ γὰρ γένοιτ’ ἂν εἷς γε τοῖς πολλοῖς ἴσος·
εἰ δ’ ἄνδρ’ ἕν’ οἰόζωνον αὐδήσει σαφῶς
τοῦτ’ ἐστὶν ἤδη τοὔργον εἰς ἐμὲ ῥέπον.
We know (as members of the audience and readers of the play), and Oedipus comes to realize at the end of the play, that the incident was one and the same. However, how is this logical inconsistency solved? In fact, the play reaches its denouement without this impossible equation ever being solved, as will be shown in the following section.
4.6 Contesting Human Intelligence: One and the Many
4.7 Intermezzo: Scholarship Thinks Oedipus is a Tyrant
In this fascinating analysis after Lévi-Strauss, the lameness of the Labdacids is linked to the real (that is, historical) tyrants and to all the perverse ways in which abusive power is exercised. It is obvious that the Herodotean narrative incorporates non-historical (that is, mythical or fictional) discursive modules to elaborate on the notions of the tyrant (and his deviations); to a great extent, all those are also detectable in the myth of Oedipus’ family. However, at this point I will raise two questions. First, to what extent does the existence of a mythical/narratological motif predetermine the overall meaning of the new version of the story? That is to say, does the motif of lameness in the myths of the Labdacids necessarily evoke the figure of the tyrant in the new version of the story of Oedipus, as told by Sophocles in this particular tragedy?  Lameness, in any form, in the Sophoclean version is completely suppressed, appearing only in the scarring of the baby as an unmistakable sign of identity. On the other hand, abuse of power is, indeed, one of the salient characteristics of a historical tyrant, and it can take many forms. Does this necessarily entail killing of kin, incest, and confusion of generations? Or if we follow the reverse order: does the killing of kinfolk, incest, and confusion of generations in Oedipus Tyrannus necessarily point to the person of the historical (or else political) tyrant, as the Greeks understood it?
Oedipus, Knox claims, does not present the most egregious features of the characteristics of the tyrant in his person: “he does not defy ancestral laws, outrage women, or put men to death without trial. He does not plunder his subjects, distrust the good and delight in the bad, or live in fear of his people.”  Knox proceeds to elicit affinities between Oedipus and Pericles, the character of the Athenians, and their polis, as drawn by Thucydides. The affinities with Pericles—the “first” citizen, but in reality the πρώτου ἀνδρὸς ἀρχή—are further corroborated by the “hereditary curse on his family through the sacrilegious murder of Cylon by his ancestors.”  What is more interesting, though, are the many parallels drawn between Oedipus and the collective character of the Athenians, as shown mainly in the “Funeral Oration” and the Corinthian speech at the Congress of the Peloponnesian allies in Thucydides’ history. Oedipus’ virtues and defects resemble those of the Athenians: magnificent vigor, faith in action, courage, speed of decision and action, combined with careful reflection, intelligence, self confidence, adaptability and versatility, devotion to the city; on the debit side, one can note the suspicion of a political conspiracy against him and his anger.  In all cases Knox draws a parallel from the contemporary action or decision-making of the Athenian policies during the Peloponnesian War.
In this series of lectures, the social practices, which Foucault saw as engendering a new type of subject and knowledge, were control and supervision [surveillance], which of course fall into his wider engagement with the penal system as a mechanism for turning petty criminals into hardened delinquents, resulting in his great work Surveiller et Punir in 1975. The notions of individuality, normality, and deviation are all politically constructed concepts, enforced by social practices that produce domains of knowledge and types of individuals, “and consequently, relations between man and truth.”  Since in western philosophy the subject is the core of all knowledge, Foucault undermines the very core of this intellectual edifice. His subject, and consequently his knowledge, is not a given, even if influenced by particular conditions at any given place and time, but it is “established and reestablished by history.” 
Foucault then proceeds to lay bare the mechanism of establishing the truth in this investigation, which moves along by the rule of the “halves.” The story of the killer of Laius, which is also the story of the exposed infant Oedipus, is broken into two, and then, in turn, each fragment is further broken into two halves, and so on. Only the god possesses the whole truth, but this is presented in the form of the future.  The fragmented parts are rejoined together (“all these fragments parceled out among different hands”), and it takes the meeting between the god and his seer, Jocasta and Oedipus, and the Corinthian and Theban servants “for all these halves, and the halves of halves to match up, align themselves, and fit together to form the whole pattern of the story.”  The broken and rejoined parts represent the technique of symbolon (the Greek word for “symbol”),  which is the bearer of power—religious and political. At a practical level, the holder of a secret or of power breaks a ceramic and keeps the one half, while entrusting the other to an individual who would share and validate the truth. The symbolon becomes an instrument of power, and its overall configuration, when the separate fragments yield the unique object, is the manifest form of power. The Oedipus story is the fragmenting (and reassembling) of that token. In the handling of the story by Sophocles, the first halves of the story are held by the god and the prophet, the religious (or quasi-magical) world; the next series by Jocasta and Oedipus, the royalty; and the final, and decisive for the enunciation of the truth, by the slaves. The prescriptive type of the divine discourse is taken up by the retrospective, by evidence of the mortal world. Thus this tragedy “establishes a symbolic world in which the memory and the discourse of men are like an empirical margin around the great prophecy of the gods.” 
This special knowledge is the “autocratic knowledge of the tyrant who can govern the city through his own abilities.”  This is the special relation between power-and-knowledge, and knowledge-and-power that Foucault detects in the story of Oedipus: tyrannical power combined with solitary knowledge. “With his tyrannical power, Oedipus could do too much; with his solitary knowledge, he knew too much.”  While establishing “the junction between the prophecy of the gods and the memory of men,” he is also “the man of excess, the man who has too much of everything—in his power, his knowledge, his family, his sexuality. Oedipus, the double man, was excessive with regard to the symbolic transparency of what the shepherds knew and what the gods had said.”  In the end, and this is the important “lesson” of the Sophoclean Oedipus, the form of the political power he stands for, “privileged and exclusive,”  is fundamentally devalorized, and thus contributing to creating the “great myth” of the West, “according to which truth never belongs to political power.”  But this great myth needs to be demolished, for “behind all knowledge [savoir], behind all attainment of knowledge [connaissance], what is involved is a struggle for power.”  In the myth of Oedipus, therefore, one can detect forms of power implemented by forms of knowledge; or to put it slightly differently, knowledge possessed by men in power is used to further their own whims and predilections, to bypass other forms of collective power. Oedipus in this respect is a tyrant; the democratic body and his empirical knowledge demolish the privileged position of power and knowledge exemplified in Oedipus’ person. The people gain “the right to judge, the right to tell the truth, to set the truth against their own masters, to judge those who govern them.” 
If there is a tyrant in Oedipus Tyrannus, I am compelled to accept that this is the tyrant of Foucault. Even if not explicitly stated by the philosopher, or in the same terminology that I have been using throughout this book, the way that power relations are reconsidered and reconfigured in his reading reflects the paradigmatic moment of the creation of radical democracy, which I have been considering as a milestone for the new concept of Athens and the Athenians; the Sophoclean tragedy stands as the “broken” mirror in which this radical moment is reflected.
4.8 Questions with the Corinthian Messenger: The Baby with the Pierced Feet
θῆρε δύω κλονέωσι μελαίνης νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ,
ἐλθόντ’ ἐξαπίνης σημάντορος οὐ παρεόντος,
ὣς ἐφόβηθεν Ἀχαιοὶ ἀνάλκιδες· ἐν γὰρ Ἀπόλλων
ἧκε φόβον, Τρωσὶν δὲ καὶ Ἕκτορι κῦδος ὄπαζεν.
A σημάντωρ signals, indicates, instills coherence, dispels fear, and maintains order. The exhortation to the messenger to become a σημάντωρ encompasses all these meanings so sought after by the troubled mind of Oedipus and the increasingly anxious mind of Jocasta. Both urge the messenger to deliver his message, but in reality they seek signs and guidance to clarify their dire situation. Initially, it is hard to understand why the royal couple resort to this wording, replete with cognates of σημαίνειν, until just before the end of the episode when Oedipus realizes that the various pieces of information given by the messenger are nothing other than signs to aid in discovering his origin (1058–1059):
σημεῖα τοιαῦτ’ οὐ φανῶ τοὐμὸν γένος.
“For the time has come,” Oedipus said to the members of the chorus a little earlier, “to learn who I am. So, please indicate to me [σημήναθ’[ε], 1050] whether you know the shepherd of whom the Corinthian messenger speaks.”  It cannot be coincidental that in this episode the use of the verb σημαίνειν and its cognate σημεῖα converge, for it is in this episode that Jocasta attempts to re-establish communication with Apollo and Oedipus discovers the first indications of his origin. Apollo responds immediately by providing all the signs needed for Jocasta to understand clearly who Oedipus is. By the end of the episode she has killed herself, while the downfall of Oedipus is only minutes away. The λύσιν εὐαγῆ, the “solution to shake off pollution,” for which Jocasta prayed, sustains its double meaning: beneficial for the community, while expunging entirely the sources of the pollution.
τὴν πυθόμαντιν ἑστίαν, ἢ τοὺς ἄνω
κλάζοντας ὄρνεις, ὧν ὑφ’ ἡγητῶν ἐγὼ
κτανεῖν ἔμελλον πατέρα τὸν ἐμόν; ὁ δὲ θανὼν
κεύθει κάτω δὴ γῆς· ἐγὼ δ’ ὅδ’ ἐνθάδε
ἄψαυστος ἔγχους, εἴ τι μὴ τὠμῷ πόθῳ
κατέφθιθ’· οὕτω δ’ ἂν θανὼν εἴη ’ξ ἐμοῦ.
τὰ δ’ οὖν παρόντα συλλαβὼν θεσπίσματα
κεῖται παρ’ Ἅιδῃ Πόλυβος ἄξι’ οὐδενός.
In lieu of insolence in the rejection of oracles, I read an immense feeling of relief experienced by someone who has just been liberated from the fetters of fear. Jocasta described at the beginning of the episode the state of Oedipus’ mind, convulsed with every kind of grief (λύπαισι παντοίαισιν, 915), and how he is carried away by whoever incites fear by what he says (εἰ φόβους λέγει, 917). In cases such as this, a person becomes disoriented: first, he is no longer subject to rational thought: … οὐδ’ ὁποῖ’ ἀνὴρ / ἔννους τὰ καινὰ τοῖς πάλαι τεκμαίρεται, (“… and he is not interpreting new happenings by means of earlier ones like a rational man,” 915–916); and, second, he can seriously undermine the system within which he lives and in which he formerly wholeheartedly believed. Oedipus agrees with Jocasta in her questioning (and rejection) of the oracles (973–974):
ΟΙΔ. ηὔδας· ἐγὼ δὲ τῷ φόβῳ παρηγόμην.
Oedipus is sincere in his desire to see the oracles refuted, but he is neither impious nor insolent, for he has proven his loyalty to the system from the outset of the play; he is merely a person transfixed by fear. With the father dead, the fear for the mother remains; the diction of the passage is replete with words related to fear for both parricide and incest (ὀκνεῖν, 976, 986; φοβοῖτ᾽, 977; φοβοῦ, 980; φόβος, 988; ἐκφοβεῖσθ’, 989; φόβον, 991; ὀκνῶν, 1000; φόβου, 1002; ταρβῶν, 1011; φοβεῖ, 1013; τρέμων, 1014). The Corinthian messenger has come to release him from his fears (1002–1003):
ἐπείπερ εὔνους ἦλθον, ἐξελυσάμην;
Now, these two lines combine everything that matters now in Oedipus Tyrannus, and they seem to be the direct answer to the λύσιν εὐαγῆ of the prayer of Jocasta. There is often a moment of high optimism in the Sophoclean plays when a happy resolution seems within reach; the incipient euphoria it brings only briefly precedes the unfolding of the plot leading to the catastrophic descent into the inevitability of destruction and death. Therefore, the ἐξελυσάμην of the messenger in line 1003, instead of releasing Oedipus from the fetters of fear, becomes ironically a textual sign to initiate the crucial cycle of questions that follow, leading to the gradual reconstruction of Oedipus’ identity. In this episode, Jocasta understands; but for Oedipus a fourth and final cycle of questions is needed (with Laius’ servant) to complete the puzzle of his self.
“But why did he call me his son?” (ἀλλ ἀντὶ τοῦ δὴ παῖδά μ’ ὠνομάζετο; 1021).
“Did you buy me or find me before you gave me to him?” (σὺ δ’ ἐμπολήσας, ἢ τυχών μ’ αὐτῷ δίδως; 1025).
“Why were you travelling in those regions <in Cithaeron>?” (ὡδοιπόρεις δὲ πρὸς τί τούσδε τοὺς τόπους; 1027).
“So you were a shepherd, wandering about in your servitude?” (ποιμὴν γὰρ ἦσθα κἀπὶ θητείᾳ πλάνης; 1029).
“<You said you saved me.> What trouble was I suffering from when you took me in your arms?” (τί δ’ ἄλγος ἴσχοντ’ ἐν χεροῖν με λαμβάνεις; 1031).
“<A servant of Laius?>. The same Laius, who was the king of this land?” (ἦ τοῦ τυράννου τῆσδε γῆς πάλαι ποτέ; 1043).
“Is the shepherd still alive?” (ἦ κἄστ’ ἔτι ζῶν οὗτος … ; 1045).
“Is there one among you who are standing by who knows the shepherd of whom he speaks?” (ἔστιν τις ὑμῶν τῶν παρεστώτων πέλας /ὅστις κάτοιδε τὸν βοτῆρ’ ὃν ἐννέπει, 1047–1048).
“Tell me, since it is time these things were found out!” (σημήναθ, ὡς ὁ καιρὸς ηὑρῆσθαι τάδε, 1050).
σημεῖα τοιαῦτ’ οὐ φανῶ τοὐμὸν γένος.
Now is the moment to uncover “who I am” (1050). Jocasta despairingly tries to dissuade him from the quest of his identity; however, since every quest is a quest for meaning,  Oedipus can no longer prolong his life without discovering the only question that is meaningful to him: “you will never persuade me not to find out the whole truth” (οὐκ ἂν πιθοίμην μὴ οὐ τάδ’ ἐκμαθεῖν σαφῶς, 1065). Not uncovering the truth, not knowing who he is due to his acceptance of mistaken advice, has hurt him for a long time (μ’ ἀλγύνει πάλαι, 1067). Jocasta now knows and wishes only one thing for Oedipus: “that you may never find out who you are” (ὦ δύσποτμ’, εἴθε μήποτε γνοίης ὃς εἶ, 1068).
τῆς εὖ διδούσης οὐκ ἀτιμασθήσομαι.
τῆς γὰρ πέφυκα μητρός· οἱ δὲ συγγενεῖς
μῆνές με μικρὸν καὶ μέγαν διώρισαν.
τοιόσδε δ’ ἐκφὺς οὐκ ἂν ἐξέλθοιμ’ ἔτι
ποτ’ ἄλλος, ὥστε μὴ ’κμαθεῖν τοὐμὸν γένος.
The members of the chorus reiterate the happy speculation about Oedipus’ origin. In the very short choral song that follows (third stasimon), they refer to Cithairon as the mother, nurse, and (most of all) as the fellow-native of Oedipus (1089–1091). Oedipus, the once celebrated king and the father of all the Thebans at the outset of the tragedy (note the very first line of the play, ὦ τέκνα, Κάδμου τοῦ πάλαι νέα τροφή; and again, τέκνα in line 6) has now become an infant bereft of parents (1098–1099): τίς σε, τέκνον, τίς σ’ ἔτι- / κτε (“who bore you, child”)? His paternal and authoritative status has been diminished to an infantile powerlessness. It takes some time to arrive at a conclusion regarding his origin that seems to be both promising and felicitous; and the chorus, now relieved, can reiterate the dances in honor of Apollo that were “interrupted” in the second stasimon (καὶ χορεύεσθαι πρὸς ἡμῶν  vs. τί δεῖ με χορεύειν;  of the second stasimon).
μόνον προσειπεῖν, ἄλλο δ’ οὔποθ’ ὕστερον.
Ah, ah, unhappy one! That is all that I can say to you, and nothing any more!
Communication with Jocasta in this web of interlocution is irrevocably broken.
4.9 Questions with the Servant of Laius: Articulating the Truth
δούς, ὡς ἐμαυτῷ θρέμμα θρεψαίμην ἐγώ;
ΘΕ. τί δ’ ἔστι; πρὸς τί τοῦτο τοὔπος ἱστορεῖς;
ΑΓ. ὅδ’ ἐστίν, ὦ τᾶν, κεῖνος ὃς τότ’ ἦν νέος.
Laius’s servant implores the Corinthian messenger to silence (οὐ σιωπήσας ἔσῃ; 1146). However, silence is no longer an option. The inexorable point has arrived when Oedipus’ understanding of himself and his history will be recast into a new narrative. The whole episode is organized around two narrative modules; the infant (παῖδα, 1150, 1156) and his story (ἔπος / ἐννέπων / ἱστορεῖν, 1144, 1150, 1156, 1165). The fearful reluctance of the servant to become the instrument of reconstructing the last shreds of Oedipus’ life is confronted by the determination of the king to extract this last remaining piece of information, the missing link in his whole story. The central question around which the episode, the entire play, and finally the narrative of Oedipus’ life pivots is now articulated (1156):
The answer is a “one-word admission”;  the single piece of information that Oedipus yearned for is now irrevocably uttered (1157):
A barrage of questions follows in order to clarify this simple statement, since the kinship connection to Laius has yet to be established:
From which of these citizens, and from which house?” (τίνος πολιτῶν τῶνδε κἀκ ποίας στέγης; 1164)
Was it a slave <of the house of Laius>, or one of his family?” (ἦ δοῦλος, ἢ κείνου τις ἐγγενὴς γεγώς; 1168)
ΟΙ. κἄγωγ’ ἀκούειν· ἀλλ’ ὅμως ἀκουστέον.
“Yes, my lord” (μάλιστ’, ἄναξ, 1173)
“For what purpose?” (ὡς πρὸς τί χρείας; 1174)
“So that I could kill it.” (ὡς ἀναλώσαιμί νιν, 1174)
“Her own child, the wretch?” (τεκοῦσα τλήμων; 1175)
“Yes, it was for fear of evil prophecies” (θεσφάτων γ’ ὄκνῳ κακῶν, 1175)
“What prophesies?” (ποίων; 1176)
“It was said that it would kill its parents.” (κτενεῖν νιν τοὺς τεκόντας ἦν λόγος, 1176).