J. D. Salinger’s eponymous character in Seymour: An Introduction says that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of holy ground to another. The sentiment pleases us, rather speaks to that Seven Story Mountain side of us. Like the sound of children playing hopscotch outside our bedroom window early in the morning, it is oddly reassuring. But it’s not true. It is, rather, what J. D. Salinger, the writer, would like to be true for all of us. As for Seymour himself, he terminates a perfect day for bananafish with a bullet in his brain.
If you believe Carl Jung, the story of Oedipus, like the other stories of Greek mythology, represents an archetype of human nature. We first hear of Oedipus in Homer’s Odyssey crafted three hundred years before Sophocles wrote his Theban plays in the 5th Century BCE. The story of Oedipus must have been around for a long while, for Homer, the blind story teller, was telling it in 800 BCE. Homer’s tales had been passed down through many generations, were of Mycenaeans who lived four hundred years before him.
According to the Oedipus story as Homer tells, it is Oedipus’ mother, Epicaste, whom Odysseus actually sees on the hero’s journey into hell. She is mad from the grief of marrying her son, has hanged herself. But as to her son, Homer leaves us with the scene of him still alive, ruling over Thebes, haunted into madness by this outrage of having married his mother and driven her to suicide. There is nothing of holiness in the seeds of this myth, no holy place attainable by the Oedipus of Homer.
It is Sophocles, the writer, who adapts the oral tradition, takes the story of Oedipus the King—a story of murder and incest and madness and blindness, and fashions in Oedipus at Colonus that holy place, Colonus, to which the arc of Oedipus’ life tends. Colonus, which means hill or holm in Greek and is not the Latin word for farmer, was an actual place, a precinct near Athens and under that city’s dominion, holy to the Eumenides, those goddesses of vengeance who were born of the blood dripping from Zeus’ castration of his father.
According to Sophocles’ version of Oedipus’ story, the one Sophocles fashions from his own vision, Oedipus was not left to rule over Thebes, but was, rather, driven from that city for his crimes. Outcast he wandered wretched from place to place, until at the end of his life through the guidance of his daughters, Antigone and Ismene, he found Colonus. Here Theseus, the king of Athens, relented, decreed an end to the persecution, allowed Oedipus to die in peace, and sanctioned the burial of his body in holy ground.
At the end, then, what Sophocles wishes for Oedipus, and for the Oedipus within us, is the same thing that Salinger wishes for Holden, and that Holden within us—that we each may find a kind of cosmic catcher in the rye, our own personal Theseus. In both writers there is a fond hope that entropy is not the prevailing force in the universe, that Andrè Malraux was wrong when he said: “The greatest mystery is not that we have been flung at random among the profusion of the earth and the galaxies, but that in this prison we can fashion images sufficiently powerful to deny our nothingness.”
Leonardo da Vinci was right when he said that experience is the mistress of all great writing. And Sophocles was right when he said that it is only from the perspective of the night that we can see the beauty of the day, only from that point of holiness where our lives must tend do we know the truth. This new publishing venture, then, is named Colonus after that sacred place where Oedipus found completion.
It is the hope of Colonus Publishing, Inc., to offer to the reader books about the beauty of the day written by writers who have experienced the night, who can share with us those holy places where lives must tend. Our first offering in our Colonus House memoir series is Leaving Parma by Angie Sarich.
Thank you for reading,
Editor, Colonus Publishing, Inc.