Oedipus in Corona

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By GUSTAVO BONES*

The vaccine for the Theban plague was to invent the Oedipus complex. Our cure must be as gruesome – and obvious – as was that of the Theban people. Oedipus is naked

I want you to imagine yourself in the city of Thebes, in Greece long before Christ. In that city there is a royal palace and at each door of that palace there is an altar before which people kneel. At the beginning of the play, a terrible plague ravages the city. Groaning and dirges are heard all over Thebes… The king arrives and asks what is happening. His name is Oedipus.

An old priest of Zeus explains: "Thebes is in the midst of a calamity and cannot raise its head from an abyss of blood." Seeds don't germinate, herds die in the pastures, pregnant women are losing their babies, and he says, "The evil god of plague is ravaging the city." The old man asks the king for help to consult the gods and find out why Thebes was cursed, but Oedipus had already sent his brother-in-law to the oracle of Delphi to find out how to rid the city of the scourge of the plague. Then Creon returns and, in the crowded square, tells what he heard: “Thebes is being punished with the plague because the murderer of Laius (the previous king), the murderer of the king is in the city and has never been punished”. Revolted, Oedipus the King promises the people to banish the criminal, cursed forever.

The tragedy occurs because the murderer is Oedipus himself, the current king who killed the previous king without knowing he was the king. And even worse, he also didn't know that Laius was actually his biological father, which means that the Dowager Queen Oedipus married and had children with is his own mother. Upon learning of this, Jocasta hangs herself. Hallucinated, the king/husband/son releases her from the rope and pierces his eyes with the gold brooches of his beloved mother/queen/wife. Blind, he keeps his word by condemning himself to exile.

To rid the city of the plague, Oedipus finally punished Laius' murderer: he pierced his eyes and became a wanderer, always supported by his daughter Antigone. Blind, old and exiled, he senses that he will soon die as he approaches the forests of Colono. The land that welcomes you becomes sacred. This is the story of the man who killed his real father and married his own mother. The vaccine for the Theban plague was to invent the Oedipus complex. Our cure must be as gruesome – and obvious – as was that of the Theban people. Oedipus is naked.

* from the episode “What movies and books about epidemics teach us in times of coronavirus” from the Expresso Ilustrada podcast.

*Gustavo Bones is an artist and theater teacher. Founder of the group Espanca and activist of the Movimento Nova Cena in Belo Horizonte.

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