Oedipus curses the light, which has finally dawned on him.”

This came from a very bright (pardon the pun) student, and my assumption then and now is that the pun in the statement is intentional and witty. It capitalizes on the fact that words can carry literal and figurative meanings. Noam Chomsky would be proud of the use to which the student put this potentially confusing linguistic fact.

The “light” Oedipus curses is the natural light, the light that shows us the things around us. That light, in the form of the sun, can “dawn”—or rather, “dawn” names the moment when the sun’s light begins to be perceivable in the sky, begins to show us the things around us. In this sense, arguably, the sun “dawns.” And that’s how the student turns the sentence, from an external light to an internal “light.” The light that “dawns on” people, in the general run of events, is a descriptor for perception, realization—He saw the light. The truth dawned on him. In this way, particularly by inserting “finally,” my bright student has encapsulated almost the entirety of the play Oedipus the King. Intentionally. I think so, anyway.

In less skilled (or less lucky) hands, that “which” can be a sense-killer, though. Almost all modifiers are high-risk implements. I have a lot in my collection, and I look forward to showing them to the world.

But today, now that the (electric) light (and all that that entails, including restored computer use) has dawned IN my house after 36+ hours, I really just wanted to look at this wonderful “light” sentence.

Of course I can’t resist two much less fortunate statements on the subject of this tragic king:

“Oedipus had to answer the riddle of the Sphinx, a lady monster….”

Failure to visualize? Inappropriate tone? Inappropriate word choice? Simplistic thinking? All of the above.

The second is certainly simplistic thinking too,  but a lesson for us all just the same:

 Q: What is the main theme of Oedipus the King? A: Incest can be bad.

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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