It was uncanny returning to this choral ode after reading the whole play. You are right, I think, about its significance re: the rest of the play. The line that sticks out the most to me is 873: ὕβρις φυτεύει τύραννον (“Outrage produces kings”). Indeed, outrage (killing his father, marrying his mother) is what makes Oedipus a king. The chorus connects the general thoughts in the ode to Oedipus and his murdering Laius through imagery: ἔνθ᾽ οὐ ποδὶ χρησίμῳ (“where feet are useless,” l. 879) is an allusion to Oedipus’ name and condition and the mountain imagery of ll. 876-878 recalls Oedipus’ exposure on Mt. Cithaeron. 

The ode presents an interesting religious problem: if the prophecies are not true, why serve the gods? If people stop believing in prophecies, then the whole edifice of Greek paganism is in danger of collapsing. Oedipus is faced with a horrible choice: accepting the truth of the prophecies and realizing what he has done OR denying the gods. Both of these are unimaginably terrible. The former is rejecting everything he knows about himself and living with the worst shame; the latter is rejecting everything he knows about the cosmos.

The choral ode does not say any of this explicitly, but it’s all there implicitly. Sophocles manages to put so much in such a small number of lines.

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov on Prayer

Do not delight in visible nature; do not contemplate its beauty; do not waste precious time and your inner strength acquiring the knowledge given by human sciences. Use your strength and time to acquire prayer, serving God in the depths of your inner cell. There, inside yourself, prayer will reveal such a vista that will absorb all your attention; prayer will give you knowledge that the world itself will not be able to fit, the existence of which it does not even have the slightest idea.

The feelings that arise from prayer and repentance consist of a clean conscience, a calm soul, peace with all your near ones and contentment with the circumstances of life, mercy and cosuffering toward all men, abstinence from all passions, coldness toward the world, submission to God, and strength during the fight with sinful thoughts and inclinations. With such feelings, in which one can foretaste salvation, you should be content. Do not seek exalted spiritual states or prayerful ecstasy before their time. They are not as you imagine them to be—the activity of the Holy Spirit, who gives high states of prayer, is not comprehensible to a worldly mind.

Bring to God quiet and humble prayers, not fiery and passionate ones. When you will become a mystical priest serving at the altar of prayer, then you will be able to enter God’s sanctuary, and from there you will fill the censer of prayer with divine fire. Impure fire—the blind, fleshly warmth of the blood—is forbidden as an offering to the all-holy God.

Do not search for exalted experiences in prayer—they are not proper to a sinner. Even the desire of a sinner to feel exalted is already delusion.


Dear Rivkah,

It is not a coincidence that the revolutionary, the journalist, and the cop find themselves in the same places again and again. Each thinks the others parasitic, and he is half right. They all need each other. The riot is their consummate event.

If there is a heuristic of action for us, it has to be: go where the revolutionary, the journalist, and the cop do not go; read what they do not read; say what they do not say; pay attention to what they do not pay attention to. Alas, this negative heuristic ties us to them just as they are tied to each other. We have to habituate ourselves to arrive at the heuristic without thinking or noticing, as if by intuition or chance.

I’m thinking of translating Sophocles.