Oedipus at Colonus: A Story of Refugee Identity, Space, and Mediating Relationships

Mehra, Ashley, Harrison Undergraduate Research Award, University of Virginia
Mikalson, Jon, Department of Classics, University of Virginia
Strauss-Clay, Jenny, Department of Classics, University of Virginia

I offer a detailed analysis of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus (OC) in order to establish an interpretive framework which, in the concluding chapter, I bring to two additional ‘suppliant’ plays—Aeschylus’ Suppliants and Euripides’ Heraclidae—and develop further in light of the idiosyncrasies of each work.

The body of the work explores how Colonus comes to hold different meanings as Oedipus moves through the deme. I argue that Oedipus’ identity can be understood in three stages, and I track his evolution in the play by dividing Colonus into six different spaces. The three stages of his identity are outcast, metamorphosis, and hero; the six spaces of refuge at Colonus are “unknown,” sacred, inviolable, ritual, burial, and protected.

Ultimately, I connect the literary themes discussed here with my independent field research on the modern refugee experience in spaces of refuge in Athens, Greece. I juxtapose contemporary and classical (5th/4th c.) Athenian approaches to refugee reception in order to illustrate that spaces of refuge have long been the site for a Greek tradition of thought experimenting with, and reflecting on, a multiplicity of refugee-citizen relations.

BA (Bachelor of Arts)
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