I’ve had a massive, geeky crush on Voltaire ever since I read Candide in my AP European History and Literature class when I was fifteen. So when we arrived at the Classical era I was very glad. Voltaire was a magnificent writer and philosopher. He wrote novels, essays, poems, plays and more. His works were satirical, witty, and almost always ruffled somebody’s feathers. He was exiled twice from France, which actually gave him the opportunity to meet a lot of great writers from outside the country. After his first exile (during which he stayed in Great Britain), he came back to France only to publish a collection of essays called Philosophical Letters on the English. This book praised the English government for being more just and developed than the French government, and it caused such a stir that he had to leave the country again. Voltaire was never afraid to say what he wanted to say, and this is why I admire him.
Voltaire was born November 21st, 1694, and he completed Oedipe at the young age of nineteen during his imprisonment in the Bastille. It was put into production five years later, which was just as big a deal back then as it would be now. How many twenty four year olds do you know that have had their works put on stage?
Oedipe, which is French for Oedipus, was a tragedy adapted from the Athenian story Oedipus the King. For those who haven’t read or heard of Oedipus, he was a mythical Greek king who was prophesied to one day kill his father and marry his mother. Because of this, his parents, the king and queen of Thebes send him away at birth to be left to die on a mountain. But the servant feels bad for the infant, and eventually Oedipus is adopted by another couple, the king and queen of Corinth. One day he finds out about the prophecy, but thinking that the Corinthians are his real parents, he resolves to avoid fulfilling the prophecy by running away to Thebes…you can see where this is going.
The story of Oedipe is a great, if incestuous and gory, read. I highly recommend Voltaire’s telling of the story because it takes some of the focus off of the incest and adds a subplot of another character being in love with Jocasta, the queen of Thebes. Since it’s so old, the whole work is now public domain, so while I couldn’t find any youtube videos of it being performed, Oedipe is free to read and download on a number of web sites! Just pay attention to which language it’s in, as most of his works were originally written in French.