As we saw in the previous essay in this series, Oedipus Rex presents the riddle of man without offering any solution. It seems to beg innumerable questions on the nature of man and on the mystery of suffering without giving any answers. It would, however, be a gross and grotesque error to conclude from the moral inconclusiveness of Oedipus Rex that Sophocles lacked the answers to the questions he poses in the second of his Three Theban Plays. In the final play, Oedipus at Colonus, he solves the riddle of man and the mystery of suffering through the moral lessons that Oedipus has learned from the tragic experiences recounted in the earlier play.
Oedipus at Colonus begins several years after the tragic events that brought down the curtain on Oedipus Rex. Oedipus is a broken, blind old man, clad in filthy rags. He is led by his daughter, Antigone, who had been a child at the conclusion of the previous play but is now a young woman.
In his opening speech, Oedipus answers the riddle that the previous play had presented. He reminds Antigone that “acceptance is the great lesson that suffering teaches,” explaining that the fruit of such acceptance is “nobility.” These words of wisdom, rooted in the humble acceptance of his plight, sets the tone and theme for all that follows.