Two Faces of Jocasta

While ancient Athens is often regarded as a place of flourishing art and life, it must also be remembered that the only lives regarded as worthy and of value were those of adult, male citizens. Women, slaves, children and foreigners would have been regarded as of a lower class;  they would not be able to vote and voice opinions in society.

Jocasta, despite being a queen, initially serves as the docile, supportive wife to Oedipus that would have been typical (and expected) of wives at the time. As Oedipus asks for the “shepherd [to be] summoned” and tells Jocasta to “do it now,” she acts as what a ‘good wife’ would have done in that time and age (62, 1101). She agrees to “send for [the shepherd] immediately,” stating that her “only wish is to please [Oedipus]” (62, 1103-1104). Such an example shows that as she only knows herself to be his wife, she works to ensure that she is a good one.

After her realization that she is also the mother to the King, a change in her character and action is evident. She exhibits what is often interpreted as denial towards the truth of the prophecy, a change from her earlier skepticism. This skepticism can be interpreted as a motherly love: Jocasta is no longer the submissive wife, but rather a protective mother. She begins to speak in commands, telling Oedipus to stop searching for the truth. She says to him,  “Oedipus, you must stop.” and tells him to ask “No more questions” (71 1345, 1337). To me, this appears to be extremely crucial to the theme of knowledge in the play and the inevitable changes it can bring to ones life: as Jocasta learns she is a mother, she cannot help but become protective and act exactly as a motherly figure would.

From this perspective, Jocasta’s switch from skepticism to denial appears to be as much a commentary on knowledge as religion. Once she learns the truth, she is unable to avoid acting according to this newfound information, switching from one role into another. It appears that the Queen discovers she cannot evade her fate, she also finds that she cannot escape her past.

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