Whittaker Chambers and Oedipus at Colonus

Not long before he was to die on 9 July 1961, at sixty years of age, Whittaker Chambers unknowingly wrote what was to be his final letter to his friend William F. Buckley. Dated 9 April 1961, this letter of a longsuffering man and courageous public witness to uncomfortable truths was meditative and quite candid about his protracted sufferings and his own growing weariness; and he gave some of the reasons why. (“For it is not sympathy that the mind craves, but understanding of its purposes.”) Thankfully, Chambers has also conveyed to us in this brief, but compact, letter, his final glimpses and brief tastes of peacefulness, and he thus becomes poignantly allusive.

Chambers eloquently alludes to Oedipus’ own protracted sufferings and his final consolations–especially with his two daughters (Antigonê and Ismene) — as Sophocles has so movingly depicted these combined consolations in his own final play, Oedipus at Colonus (416 B.C.). The village of Colonus, located only one mile to the northwest of Athens, was also the village where Sophocles himself was gratefully born and raised. Near the end of his own long life, Sophocles also presents a final homecoming.

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