In Regnum Incidi : Disability and Exile in Seneca's Oedipus
Krissy A. Ionta
University of Southern California
From his first words in the Senecan tragedy that bears his name, Oedipus, the conqueror of the Sphinx and king of Thebes, proves uncomfortable in his role: Quisquam regno gaudet? (l. 6), he wonders aloud. Curis solutus exul intrepidus vagans/ (caelum deosque testor) in regnum incidi (ll. 13-4). Just as "exile" (exul) is placed at the center of its line in the Latin, being exiled from his family is likewise at the core of Oedipus's conflict and the catalyst for his sinful, tragic behavior. He "has fallen into kingship," and consequently onto a path to self-destruction, precisely because he is unaware of his first experience of exile as an exposed infant. In his last lines, the blind Oedipus returns to exile for the third time in his life, now full of cares and in a hurry: Ingredere praeceps, lubricos ponens gradus,/ i profuge vade- siste, ne in matrem incidas (ll. 1050-1). Even after his parents are deceased, the lame Oedipus fears he might trip into more danger, "fall[ing] onto mother." Thus, Jocasta's death does not stabilize Oedipus; he still must steady himself: siste (l. 1051).
Oedipus is repeatedly viewed by other characters as burdened rather than blameworthy. He has been handicapped physically and psychologically by the parents who have abandoned him, a fact made more significant because disability and deformity are marked throughout the text as worse than death. While Oedipus's guilt is questionable, his father's ghost does his best to hide his "shamefaced head" (pudibundum caput) (ll. 619-20). His mother (and wife) Jocasta commits suicide by specifically destroying her "high-capacity womb" (uterum capacem) with a sword (l. 1039). Yet, Oedipus's broken body must survive to drag his burden down a lonely road once again.
This paper considers the "falls" that Oedipus takes as the product of his isolation from his kin (whether real or perceived) and the safety family is meant to provide, from his accidental survival as an infant to his accidental fulfillment of the fate he labors to avoid. The fractured family contributes not only to Oedipus's fractured body, but also to the fractured state. The Theban royal house implodes as the self-protection and isolation of one generation are replaced with the love and devotion to family and country of the next. Could the disabled Oedipus have done anything but kill Thebes with kindness?
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