A POSITION PAPER ON SOPHOCLES’ OEDIPUS REX
THE KING WEARS A SHADES AS THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT WHICH MAKES HIS DAYS DARKER AND DARKER EVERY SINGLE DAY
(with some relations to the Philippine Government and setting as a whole)
A POSITION PAPER ON SOPHOCLES’
REGULANO, Jean Paula Bermudez
HUM 1 X
Oedipus Rex’ knowledge, which served as his gut against the others to be the King of Thebes, is only limited to the information on his people and his environment, excluding the information about himself due to his blindness and innocence on his own identity.
In the midst of the downfall of the City of Thebes, is the entrance of a great leader who will dare to make a change, held the city up despite its fall, which will do his best for his term to be progressive and be full of legacy. What is it that makes this man a King, the kind of king projected in the story of Sophocles, the King who does not know some things behind? How could he achieve his goals for his city in the future if he cannot go back and take a look of what happened in the past?
The city of Thebes, the city of secrets, the city of Gods, the city full of tragic with their King are what consists the play entitles, Oedipus Rex.
What made Oedipus the King of Thebes? It all started with the legend of the Sphinx, a terrible monster in the Ancient Greece, whose body is consist of a lion, with wings of an eagle, and whose head is a head of a woman which had been sent to earth by the Gods to terrorize the land of Thebes to have a revenge on the former King, Laius, who raped a prince from another kingdom. All citizens of the poor city will be asked by the Sphinx by his riddles, a mind blowing riddle, and those who cannot answer, will be sent out of the earth. This had been a continuous process until one day, a man dared to pass a gate and unseemingly, become able to answer the riddle of the Sphinx.
This man is Oedipus. Since the Sphinx’ riddle was answered, that means the fiend will now stop from terrorizing the city of Thebes. With that, people idolized Oedipus, praised him as if he was a God like Zeus and the other great Greek Gods, and then a bit later, he was declared as the new King of Thebes, primarily because of his knowledge and not because of having someone
who will pass the crown and position to him, which what actually happens in the Greek times that is if we are going to put it in the current government, specifically in the Philippine Setting, is what happens with a Political Dynasty.
Painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres depicting Oedipus after he solves the riddle of the Sphinx. The Walters Art Museum.
Therefore, his wisdom is what he used to be able to lead the city in downfall, to be able to be a King, which position is always dreamt by all the citizens because of power hungriness and desire to have a power to do all things for their own and for their family which makes them selfish just like what we have in the Philippine Congress right now, the misuse of the taxpayers’ money, the continuous planning of white elephant projects, misallocation of budget, all becoming part of the politician’s pocket. But, will it really benefit the society if someone like Oedipus will take the lead? Let us examine more who Oedipus is and what it that will and will not is make him a good leader.
FREE WILL VERSUS DETERMINISM
The idea of free will will always settle down in the word free, freedom. Attaining freedom and the word free are extremely big words. This simply means that having our own free will is having our own choices and it is on us to consider such constraints. It is not asking others
of what is best for us, for example, when choosing a dress to wear or shoes to buy. This plays a very important role in our decision making process.
Determinism is also another word that is so hard to define because of its vagueness of use and application. In any way, determinism is what pushes and pulls us to do certain things which actually will lead us to the goal and/or maybe, will give us the answer whether we are up for this or not. This is also a philosophical position, a metaphysical one, which states that for everything that happens, there are conditions such that, given these conditions, nothing else could happen. This describes, simply, a cause and effect relation in variables.
The free will and determinism concepts in the play in one way can be projected in the part where in Oedipus’ leadership was carefully examined. What is really, a hidden agenda of a man to be a King of such a place? All politicians who run for a position, saying or hiding this, have their own agendum of doing so. It would be so scripted for the people or for the mass to say that their only reason for asking a position is to have a better avenue to serve them, provide their basic social needs, to return back to them what they do for their nation as part of the nationbuilding, to offer his life as to bring progress and unite the people of a specific land. Though there are really some whose objective is this, but I wonder if they are placed in position right now.
Oedipus’ is fortunate enough to be able to be the King of the City of Thebes, but, how about his tragic reversal of fortune as the story starts to end? Is it attributed to his own conduct? Or will it more reflect on his fate, which means that what happened is merely because it was planned, that is it was really meant to happen, and that it was not caused by the conduct of Oedipus?
In an audience point of view, what happened towards the end is mainly because of his conduct. The death of Laius is really a big issue and as the one who overtook the position of the King who passed away, Oedipus was expected to give him the justice he deserves. He called on all of the people who may give him the answer of who is the man behind the death of the former King and to somehow diminish the vagueness of the case, but then, after hearing those that were said by the concerned people, Oedipus did not believe what they have just said.
Instead, he continued searching for the truth, but since it all comes back to him, that he is the murdered of the former king, he chose to disagree. If at the first place, he accepted what his people said and searched for more details, the play might have ended in a less tragic moment. If, on the other hand, he did not gave his city a somewhat like an information black out of what is happening to Laius’ case, it might have ended in a better way.
In Oedipus’ point of view, as the play ends, he still chose not to believe on the words of his people which says that it was he who is the man behind the death of the king of Thebes who passed away, used his innocence of what he is, and made it to the point that everything was dictated by fate, first, him, being fortunate enough to be able to answer the riddle and be the King of the city, to have his people listen to him and such. Since he reflects every happening to fate—both the fortunes he received and the unnecessary unfortunate events that comes to life, what happened to him is governed and not related to his conduct as a leader and as a person as well.
Oedipus can have avoided the tragic ending if he chose to lay down in his people’s words regarding the death of Laius. But what Sophocles did, is he chose to give his reader a somewhat heart attack, that as the play progresses, Oedipus kept all the information in him only, because he does not want anybody recognize him as a murderer especially because he is in a position, and it
was an extreme shame for him and to his family as well to be called as one, and because the one that is under investigation is the death of a big man in politics too, the former King of Thebes, Laius.
Man’s behavior in the world should be governed by free will. This is what it should be. But due to many constraints brought by the society, it becomes more governed by determinism as time passes by. What brings about determinism as the one which is responsible in governing people’s behavior?
The social class. The concept of discrimination. The image of religion. The colonization and existence of imperialism. These are some factors which makes man’s behavior be determined. Others have to be slave and others have to be masters. Others have to be the politicians in the Philippine government, while others have to be part of the marginalized, oppressed and powerless. Inequality, it is.
INNOCENCE VERSUS GUILT
Innocence is mainly due to lack of information. This causes lots of vagueness to things which happens to be difficult to understand. It affects people’s decision making and this is detrimental in coming up with something that is relevant, rational and critical. Guilt, on the other hand, is what people feel after doing something which brought something that is bad or is not advantageous to the other. It is more of a kind of reflection people usually does after a sin has been committed. This makes a people better, because as he feels guilty, he becomes more prone in the realization of what he has done and that he should not do it again or any more so as not to affect or hurt his and the other people’s life in any way.
Fig. 2 Oedipus and his wife. Oedipus Killed his father and marry his mother.
One of the moral question of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is that is He (Oedipus) should really be accountable for the death of Laius and for marrying his own mother? Is he innocent or if not, what makes sense?
Some scholarly articles, says answers a firm no on the question of whether Oedipus was innocent on the crimes he did. “Oedipus was ignorant of the true nature of his actions and is therefore morally blameless.” (Carel, 2000) The rationale behind this is that, he cannot be held responsible because the true identity of his mother whom he married and his father who is the former king of Thebes, tragically, at that time, is different than his knowledge. Meaning, these two personas are strangers to him in the first place.
But then, how can an intelligent man, holding accountable for knowing some information regarding his lineage, fail to understand the meaning of his actions towards the end of the play? In an audience point of view, Oedipus’ case of being innocent should no longer be laid under the table. He is not innocent; rather, he keeps his record on his own. As the story progresses, there is his secret that will soon be in the mouth of the public. It will all boil down to him, being regarded as an intelligent man who was able to answer the riddle of the Sphinx which happened to be the turning point of the citizens of Thebes that later gave rise to the declaration of Oedipus as the new King who will take over the term of the old man who died in the crossroad.
Therefore, if he will be regarded as innocent, then the justice for the death of Laius will not be attained, it will forever be a mystery or a case unsolved but is set aside, and it will also be possible to have more cases as such to come, which will make the city more in trouble instead of bringing the light back to them. Therefore, the daughter of Janet Napoles is then innocent for using the fund for the masses for her own stuff because she does not know that her mother is a thief, where in it is not possible for her not to ask her mom of where there billions came from or even realize what her mom does and how come she (Janet) was able to generate hundreds and hundreds of thousands per day.
Another unfair thing, it is.
This scenario significantly explains the importance of knowledge, a full and not partial and biased knowledge, a relevant one. Having a full knowledge on something is very important in a way that it can help himself and even other people when they encounter problems, in such way, looking and formulating solutions will never be that hard. In the story of Oedipus Rex, it is possible for him to avoid the occurrence of what had happened in the end if he just evaluated
very carefully all the things the people who are knowledgeable of what happened. But it happened to be not. It is because he just contained the information that he was able to gather from the people and rejected the fact that it may be really possible to be him who is the man behind the death of the former King of Thebes. In a more clearer perspective, he already had all the resources but then, he just disregarded everything and tried to make his own process in giving the justice that should be obtained by the killed King.
SIGHT VERSUS INSIGHT
Darkness and light. The darkness in the play may be reflected in Oedipus’ blindness, literally and figuratively. Figuratively in a way that he is blinded from his own identity that he did not even know that he was the one who killed his King before his term, that his king happened to be his own father, that he married a women on the age twice as he, that he did not know that it happened to be his mother. There are lots of revelations happened in the play and that made it as tragic as how Sophocles wanted it to be.
This inconsistent argument brings confusion to whether Oedipus should really be held accountable for killing his father and marrying his mother. There is a point that is mentioned in earlier paragraphs that he lacked knowledge that is why, there is a mere possibility that it is really not his intention to render the crimes that had been raised against her towards the end of the play.
On the other hand, light signifies the latter part of the play where in, slowly, every single thing turns to be a much clearer that it is in the earlier part. It is when the vagueness of the story started to diminish, having a brighter view of prediction of what will happen next. In the end, it is really true that no secret can be kept forever. Oedipus is indeed a very intelligent king, that as he received the responsibility of being the King Fig. 3 Blind Oedipus embraces Antigone and Ismene of Thebes whose primarily goal is to raise the city out of the downfall left by the former king who is killed. But then, there is really no perfect creature in the real world, though people might say that this is only a product of Sophocles’ wide imagination. Oedipus Rex’ knowledge is limited like the resources of the species in the world. It is only limited to the information on his environment, not with the information of his lineage, which set him blind from his identity that even his behavior have no a hundred percent hold that it was governed by free will or determinism.
(2010,09) Oedipus Rex: Innocence vs Guilt. StudyMode.com. Retrieved 09, 2010, from http://www.
Carrel, Havi Hannah. 2000. Secrets and Lies: What Oedipus Really Knew. Orani: Culture, Creation and Critique. France.
Rueda, Edward. (n.d).Oedipus Family Circus. Texts for Craig White’s Literature Courses. University of Houston Clear Lake.
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