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The play opens in front of Oedipus' palace at Thebes. A plague besets the city, and Oedipus enters to find a priest and crowd of children praying to the gods to free them from the curse. A blight, the priest tells Oedipus, has destroyed their crops and livestock - and even rendered their women sterile, unable to have children. The priest implores Oedipus to save the city: “Raise up our city, save it and raise it up” (51). Oedipus tells the collected crowd that even though he knows they are sick, none is as sick and devastated as he: thus clearly identifying himself with Thebes.
Oedipus tells the priest that he has sent Creon to the temple of Apollo to glean from the gods how the city might be saved. Creon then arrives and announces the command from the Oracle: “Drive out a pollution…. Grown ingrained within the land” (98-9) - namely the murderer of Laius.
“Where would a trace / of this old crime be found?” Oedipus asks – Laius was murdered many years ago (108-9). Creon speaks with a messenger who fled in terror from the roadside where Laius was killed. This messenger, in turn, reveals that
…the robbers they encountered
were many and the hands that did the murder
were many; it was no man’s single power.
Oedipus swears to solve the murder, both as part of his duty as king as well as for the good of the city: ‘So helping the dead king I help myself’ (141).