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The play begins with an idiosyncratic juxtaposition: a chorus of children, against the Chorus of the play itself, comprised of old men from Thebes. This contradiction is later played out in the character of Teiresias, an old man (partially male and partially female in myth) led by a young boy. This immediately raises questions of past and future. These questions are especially important, considering that Sophocles’ deliberately begins his play approximately half-way through the Oedipus myth (see ‘The Oedipus Myth’). One of the ways in which of Oedipus’ unknown past is revealed to shape his future involves a continuation of his tragic lineage - his children turn out to be, in bizarre, self-consuming fashion, the same generation as him.
These revelations lead Oedipus to blind himself, leaving him a helpless old man (led around in the Oedipus at Colonos by a child, like Teiresias) exactly in the manner of the riddle of the Sphinx. In one sense, Oedipus ultimately frees himself from blind youth in order to discover painful wisdom. In another sense, Oedipus also goes backward – and realizes he is a child with a mother, as well as a father with a child.
Perhaps the most significant example of dramatic irony in this play, however, involves the frequent reference to eyes, sight, light, and perception throughout. Oedipus, of course, cannot see behind him or in front of him. Unlike blind Teiresias, the seer, he is firmly located in the present. Accordingly, then, Teiresias, as he says early in the play, sees Oedipus as blind. The irony is that sight here means two different things. Oedipus is blessed with the gift of perception; he was the only man who could "see" the answer to the Sphinx's riddle. Yet he cannot see what is right before his eyes, blind to the truth, for all he seeks it. Teiresias's presence in the play, then, is doubly important. As a blind old man, he foreshadows Oedipus's own future, and the more Oedipus mocks his blindness, the more ironic he sounds to the audience. Teiresias is a man who understands the truth without the use of his sight; Oedipus is the opposite, a sighted man who is blind to the truth right before him. Soon Oedipus will switch roles with Teiresias, becoming a man who sees the truth and loses his sense of sight.