Obscene Oedipus? New Cover Causing A Stir

The new Oedipus Rex book cover

The new Oedipus Rex book cover

The new Oedipus Rex book cover

Hannah Goins, Staff Writer

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Oedipus Rex tells the story of a child who is disowned by his parents, and is ultimately reunited with them. He unknowingly weds his own mother and kills his father. As punishment, he gouges out his own eyes. As startling as this play is, somehow, the folks at Dover Publications found a way to make this story even more shocking.
Highland High School language arts teacher Rebecca Blommer was in for quite the shock with the new books she ordered. She sent down her students to retrieve them from the book room, unaware that her students would be bringing back a bit of a surprise.
The cover of the book depicts two figures: a man and a sphinx, the latter held close. The man, Oedipus, is adorned in nothing but a haphazardly placed cloth. The back paw of the sphinx is the only thing that prevents him from being exposed, while the chest of the winged creature is out without shame.
Blommer’s class was the first to check out the new book.
“During term one, every sophomore is required to read Oedipus Rex by Sophocles,” Blommer explains. “We did not have enough books. Like, 150-books-short-not-enough books.”
Students studied the work by reading from photo-copied packets, which Blommer says is an ineffective method for analyzing literature.

After speaking with Highland principal Chris Jenson, the English department received the money to place an order.
Once the copies were received, they were given bar codes and ready for the students to check out. That’s when they made it to Blommer’s room.
“After laughing about it, I immediately start to scream, ‘Get that box and gather them all in!’” Blommer said.
While it didn’t appear to be that big of a deal as students giggled over the obscenity, it does raise the question of how the publisher decided to appeal to their audience.
The books came from Dover Publications, a company that makes copies of literary classics available especially when schools need to purchase copies in large amounts. They cover a wide variety of books, from literary classics to coloring books.
Knowing that the intended audience is made up of teenagers, the cover could be out of place, Blommer argues.
“They [Dover] are usually fine, but I think they did a poor job appealing to their intended audience,” Blommer said.
Oedipus Rex is a text commonly read by high school students, and sometimes an even younger audience. But fellow Highland language arts teacher Kevin Smith does not see the problem.
“Obviously, that cover comes from a piece of fine art, and there are people comfortable with the human body, and those people are artists,” Smith said. “You could go and see that in a museum and you wouldn’t blink, right?”
The cover is a painting: Oedipus and the Sphinx by Gustave Moreau. Oedipus Rex is also a Greek tragedy based in a time period where nudity and the human body were viewed as less vulgar.
“Art is in our society all the time. Why are we so uncomfortable with it?” Smith said.
In today’s world, the line between nudity and pornography is blurred. Exposure to more mature themes has become more common for younger viewers, especially with streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu trying to lure this demographic.
But teachers often worry about how students and especially parents will view such items if they are handed out at school, even if it is considered art. Students in high school do study fairly mature texts. Pieces of work that deal with the darker aspects of life: death, social class dynamics, adultery, suicide, etc.
“I think at the very minimum I would have received a call from a parent, asking why I’m giving their child a book with this cover, and I wouldn’t have a rationale for it,” Blommer said. “I mean it is art, but if I’m going to give any text to a high school student, it needs to be age appropriate. And this is not.”
The potential fiasco did not spread far. The books did not escape past a few sophomores and the hysteria has died down.
“It was a good laugh,” Blommer said.
The books will likely be used in the future, but at least Blommer now knows to warn students and parents before handing them out.

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Obscene Oedipus? New Cover Causing A Stir