Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King
Oedipus’ and Socrates’ Road to Truth
The pursuit of truth is like a maze, embedded in a maze and then embedded in another. Only once one solves the primary outer layer is one able to move onto the secondary one and so on towards the center. Each man on the search has a path unique to himself, making wrong turns and retracing steps.
Oedipus and Socrates are two characters on the journey, going their own way to try and find the truth they seek. Oedipus begins his searches for the murderer of Laius on a path of determination, unwavering in his pursuit, commanding the people to “tell everything” or be driven from Thebes. His resolve is the willpower of a king, as a protector of his people, there is no personal connection to the truth other than that it will save his city. When Tiresias claims to tell the truth while Oedipus was ignorant of it, the pursuit become more intensive and personally motivated. In this stage, Oedipus’ arrogance is driving his search, for lack of knowledge of the truth is a flaw to Oedipus, a sign of “cowardice and stupidity”. When he finally comprehends his own role in his hunt, the dynamics change once again and his determination to find truth is guided by necessity to disprove it. Oedipus’s relationship with truth and his desire to find it alters as its pertinence varies. When he is personally unconnected to the quest for truth, Oedipus is firm in his will to uncover it. However, when the relationship changes nature, so does Oedipus’ reactions, abruptly changing from determination to reveal the truth to determination to refute it.
Oedipus’ road to truth is in constant evolution, from external determination as a king, to internal determination as man with fear. Socrates is the reverse, in a constant path of calmness in contrast to Oedipus’ franticness. For Socrates, the search for truth is always about necessity because it is crucial to who he is as a philosopher. Socrates’ whole life is based on his search for wisdom and the beauty of the search for increased wisdom. The process is the beautiful part of truth, the exciting and engaging aspect. While arrogance drives Oedipus, gratification of exploration pushes Socrates. He craves truth and feels that it is needed, is driven by the unknown, and loves what he lacks in knowledge. Socrates believes he knows nothing and therefore has nothing to lose in his hunt and pursuit of the truth.
On the contrary, Oedipus is frustrated by what he lacks and angered when he feels as if he is not the most knowledgeable. He believes that he should know everything and therefore suffers when he does not. Socrates sees truth as essential to his character while for Oedipus it is a threat. Because Oedipus has trouble confronting his ignorance, he tends to search for different kinds of truths in a diverse number of ways. When he believes the truth does not concern himself, Oedipus is calm, collected and in control, following methodical procedures to find truth. In the beginning of his mission to solve the plague, Oedipus does the rational thing and sends Creon to the Delphi oracles to discover the causes of this curse. Then, in an equally logical manner, summons Tiresias, the prophet who will supply him with the truth. However once the search becomes personal and Oedipus realizes he is at its center, he shuns logic and instead obtains a new twist of logic to avoid the truth. First he denies Tiresias’ answer that he himself is the curse by claiming that Creon paid off Tiresias to tell him such “calumnies”. Then he shuns the incriminating evidence that he killed Laius at the crossroads because the oral story is that a group of bandits killed Laius, not a lone man. Oedipus does not comprehend the possibility that the story could be mistaken and it was indeed a single man, himself. He rejects the truth once more as the man he thought was his father dies, and Oedipus, who “never laid a hand on spear against him” is temporarily absolved.
Even in the past, Oedipus has had tendencies to use logic as a way of self-preservation from harmful truths; for when he goes to the oracle at Delphi, even though he knows he was unhonored in what he went to learn, he didn’t persist because it saved him the more painful truth of knowing that his parents were not his biological parents. In the present, he searches for other theories to what is being presented, like the theory that Creon has bribed Tiresias to tell him he is Thebes’ curse. Oedipus then recognizes his flaws and abandons it for one he believes to be stronger, that a group of robbers killed Laius. Oedipus reveals a personal procedure where he calls for the truth, even against the warning of others wiser than him like Jocasta, only to then rebut it by crafting other possible solutions. Oedipus receives the truth almost immediately from Tiresias, but then moves further and further away from it through his perverse logic. These other solutions act as detours in Oedipus’ path to truth, slowing down his journey.
Socrates is the opposite, using a wide range of solutions to push him closer to the truth. Through his use of questioning, Socrates is able to eliminate hypotheses surrounding the subject matter until he finally gets directed to the correct path. His method is similar to the earlier style adopted by Oedipus: logical, rational, and controlled. Socrates is not hasty in his journey to discover the truth, instead taking time and being patient to analyze all concepts and then tear them down through contradictions. Socrates journey for truth has a set method of eliminating other possibilities as a way to set him on the correct true path. Oedipus’ path becomes similar to that of Socrates when he finally overcomes his aversion to notions that do not please him and he finally accepts the worst of possibilities. For Oedipus, the proof is the fact that there are no more other possibilities; he has eliminated the other potentials and now he must finally face what he has been avoiding. For Oedipus it is only accepted once proven undeniable. For a moment, Oedipus takes upon himself the role of a god, a role the Chorus has been both reluctant and eager to allow him to do. Oedipus is so competent in the affairs of men that he comes close to dismissing the gods, although he does not actually blaspheme. At this early moment, we see Oedipus’s dangerous pride, (which explains his willful blindness and, to a certain extent, justifies his downfall). Oedipus sizes up a situation, makes a judgment, and acts, all in an instant. While this confident expedience was laudable in the first section, it is exaggerated to a point of near absurdity in the second. His story shows the inability of humans to escape their fate no matter how hard they try, which ultimately shows the audience that the truth is inevitable. Oedipus learned that he was not above the oracles and that he was susceptible to death, failure and weakness. The duration of the play is focused on Oedipus ignoring the truth based on physical aspects like the death of his non-biological father and the physical bribery of Tiresias. When he finally does receive the power of the truth, he decides to blind himself, removing the tangible distractions that beleaguered him and therefore allowing him to rely on the higher truth as opposed to earthy ones. The ending of the play reverses the dynamic of proof. Senses are concrete to Oedipus prior to his self-blinding. He believes that once man is able to surpass the limitations of physical needs is he able to reach the levels where he acquires true wisdom.
While physical diversions plague Oedipus initially, for Socrates they have never been a barrier, rather a stepping-stone towards the truth. His dialectic method ensures that once he can no longer eradicate a theory, the result is the end and therefore correct. The verification is one of analytical nature, for if it makes sense and cannot be further refuted, then it must be the final stage and truthful in context. This totally contrasts Oedipus, who needs the physical confirmation or disconfirmation in order to accept a truth and once accepted, it is unchangeable. Primarily Oedipus and Socrates seem to differ entirely in their pursuit and reaction to truth. Nonetheless, it seems while Socrates is set in this methods and connection to truth, Oedipus the King is a story about a man’s changing this relationship with truth. Initially his path is the same as that of any humans: fanatical and emotion filled. But as he progresses his path becomes more stable and God like, concerning higher truths and avoiding physical distractions. Oedipus starts as the opposite of Socrates but at the end, Oedipus seems more similar to Socrates, both strategically and mentally. He alters, blinding himself while freeing himself conceptually and recognizing that his previous methods where flawed. Socrates is the goal and Oedipus is on his way to reaching it.
The Tragic Hero Oedipus
I decided to write about the tragic hero topic this week because when reading about Oedipus it made me think a lot about different things that could have gone wrong and right if different decision where made. In the story Oedipus was seen as a hero to the people of Thebes when he killed the Sphinx and was thought to be favored by the gods.
Later in Thebes, a horrible curse plagues the land and the people come to Oedipus to help lift it. He then goes on a quest to figure out how to lift the curse of the land and give it back to the people. He first sends his brother Creon to Apollo for advice on how and Creon is told that the curse will be lifted once the murder of Laius, the previous king of Thebes is found and brought to justice. Oedipus tries to find the murderer so he can save the land for the people but in the end of the story he is the one that brought the curse upon the land. The story ends tragically with Oedipus but it could also be seen as heroically. Once Oedipus killed the Sphinx, the people of Thebes labeled Oedipus as a hero and savior when they said “The sins of the fathers would be visited on the sons, regardless of the character of the sons. But this recompense for a life of suffering may have been granted because Oedipus was a mighty figure, a hero who conquered the Sphinx and saved Thebes.” (Twain). When you think of a hero, it is a person that does great deeds, having received great achievements, and being a savior.
In the play the Priest also shows how heroic Oedipus is when he states in line 40-55, O Oedipus, most powerful of all, as humble suppliants we beg for help. Strengthen us now—either through the inspiration of a god or by human wisdom. I know that the man who has lived most gives the best advice. Come, noblest of men, rescue our city. Come—act—because the whole country calls you its hero since you first saved us. Let your reign not be remembered as starting in triumph but ending in disaster. Save us again and rescue our city. You brought good luck then and good omens— bring equal fortune now. You have power over this land—surely it is better to rule living men. An abandoned ship or the broken walls and towers of an empty city are nothing. Oedipus was asked by his people for the help to find a way to lift the curse and Oedipus showed heroism by his efforts to find the reason for the plague to the land and find the murderer of the former king, Laius.
Oedipus showed heroism when he wanted to save Thebes from the course to give it back to the people and find the murderer of the previous king even if it meant he was dammed in the end. I this story Oedipus is more of a hero than a bad guy to the people. At times it seemed that there was no good intention by Oedipus but showed the heroism in solving the problems the people came a crossed. He showed to the people that he did want to help when he was determined to find the reason of the curse to the land and lift it even if this meant the end to his life.
The Role of the Gods in the Ancient Greek Society
Man always regards gods as all knowing supreme beings, having in mind that gods are present to brighten and better his live. That is, man has always seen gods as a divine creature to whom he can pray whenever something wrong is happening, for they are the only ones having the solutions whenever he cannot handle his problems any longer. To man, gods are synonymous to justice, love, equity, peace and all what is seen as positive. But Sophocles in his play Oedipus the King, tries to defame gods divinity and faultlessness by showing us readers that, although gods could be perfect, they can also be harmful and destructive. Sophocles shows us that gods do have the human nature of causing harm. Readers can clearly see god’s destructiveness as they decide to destroy OEDIPUS’ life and that of his family due to his father’s sins. By having control over Oedipus’ destiny, the gods succeed in their mission.
In deed as said above all the powers of fate and destiny were in the hands of the gods. They were the ones controlling Oedipus’ life and destiny and for that reason, they are the ones responsible for his shameful deeds of killing his father and getting married to his own mother and even having offspring with her. By having destinies in their hands, they destroy Oedipus’ life instead of brightening it as people would always think and hope from them. This helps us to see the cruel and harmful role of the gods, as they maliciously plan Oedipus’ destruction step by step by tracing his fate. The gods had in mind, what Oedipus’ life will be, and to make sure the fate destined for him comes true. They gave him the free will to do what so ever he wanted that could help him escape his destiny, they also granted the power of prophecy to oracles and finally establish a plague in the Theban land, in order to make sure Oedipus’ destruction comes to fulfillment completely and at the end, this is achieved.
The gods, were responsible for Oedipus’ destiny and their first step for the fulfillment of this fate was granting the power of prophecy to oracles, so that they could reveal to people what their future will look like. The gods granted the power of prophecy to oracles so that they could reveal to Laius and Oedipus what their future will be while allowing them with the free will of moving away from it. So when the Apollo oracle of Delphie announces to Laius that he will be killed by his son who will marry JOCASTA, on the one hand, while allowing him the free will to move away from his fate by telling him that horrible prophecy, it pushes him to pin his son’s leg and send him to be abandoned on the hill side. He was actually thinking that by so doing, he will move away from that prophecy. Oedipus on the other hand gets the information that the king and queen of Corinth are not his true parents from a drunk friend in a bar, he decides to move to Apollo’s oracle at DELPHY and instead of giving him the confirmation, the oracle tells him he will kill his father and marry his mother. Hearing this, Oedipus decides to move away from Corinth, at this point, he actually thinks he is moving away from his fate meanwhile he is rather moving towards its fulfillment.
These two instances above show us the malicious plan of the gods, because telling these prophecies to both Laius and Oedipus makes them to move toward the fulfillment of the prophecy without knowing. Firstly, telling the prophecy to Laius makes him to send the child to be killed by the hillside, but out of pity, the child it is handed to a shepherd from Corinth, who hands it to the king and queen, ( Merope and Pollibus) who are unable to have a child.(quote from the text) Oedipus grows up without knowing the identity of his true parents. Secondly telling the prophecy to Oedipus makes him to move away from Corinth with the fear of killing the people he considers as his parents, but just because of the fact that he did not know that Merope and Pollibus are not his true parents, makes him to move toward the fulfillment of the prophecy by killing his father Laius at the place where three roads meet (Quote from the text) and marry his mother. If both of them were not told about their destinies, they won’t have tried to escape from it. Laius won’t have sent for his child to be killed and Oedipus would have grown knowing his true parents to be Laiuse and Jocasta, and he won’t have committed the act of killing his father and marrying his mother. At this point, the gods should be the only ones to blame for Oedipus’ sins, for they push him to commit such evil and he does it in ignorance and blindness.
As if the two sins were not enough, the gods move further on their destruction of Oedipus’s life and family and they decided to strike the land of Thebes with a plague to ensure Oedipus’ destruction is complete. The gods strike the land of Thebes with the plague and they ensure the plague will come to an end once the murderer of Laius is revealed to everyone and Oedipus vows to find the murderer and send him out of Thebes. And in the course of this work, Oedipus comes to the final truth that he was the true murderer of his father fulfilling the prophecy of killing his father and he also comes to realize that he is married to his mother. By sending the dangerous plague on Thebes, the gods wanted to ensure Oedipus’ destruction is complete as he would be banned immediately they discover he is the murderer. In addition, by sending the plague the gods wanted to make sure Oedipus carries out a finding on who is the murderer of Laius by himself, so that by promising to band the murderer from THEBEs, he will band himself. Finally, the very last purpose of sending the plague was to relief Oedipus of his blindness and let him know the truth.
So, the main role of the gods in Oedipus the king was to ruin Oedipus’ life completely. By granting the power of prophecy and striking THEBEs with a plague, the gods made sure Oedipus’ life is completely ruined without him knowing. But since the gods had the fate of Oedipus in their hands, as reader we hold them responsible for Oedipus’ terrible sins, for he did them ignorantly. So from this play, Sophocles wants to show us readers a clear picture of the role of the Greek gods, and to let us know that they were also and could cause harm for no good reason, this is the case of Oedipus they decided to destruct for no good reason and push him to commit evil. Therefor showing us gods also have human trait of damaging with no good reason.
From the above, there is a great lesson that is gain, the fact that man can’t run away from his destiny no matter what. This was the case of Oedipus, Laius and Jocasta. After getting the prophecy, Laius and Jocasta try to avoid it by abandoning their child so that he will die. And Oedipus decide to move away from Corinth when he heard the prophecy. But when both were trying to move away from their fate they were instead moving towards its fulfillment.
We also learn more about gods nature, as they can portray humanistic traits, no doubt it is said man is a creature of god. Gods had control over Oedipus fate and by building up a malicious plan they push him into the sins of killing his father and marry his mother. So we learn gods can be evil and for no good reason they Can destroy someone entire life. These brings us to the conclusion that, indeed the main role of gods in Oedipus the king was to destroy Oedipus entire life and that of his family.
Main Methods and Literary Devices in Oedipus
“Who seeks shall find; Who sits with folded hands or sleeps is blind” by Sophocles. This quote is a remarkable and famous quote from Oedipus Rex, concisely summarizing the controversy within the play in a single sentence. Oedipus, who is blind to the truths around him for the majority of the play, is vigorously seeking the murderer of the previous king so that he can lift the curse that has brought turmoil to Thebes. Littles does Oedipus know that the previous king was actually his father, and that it was Oedipus himself who killed him, and then lay with his own mother. Here, there will be an analyzation of the characters in Oedipus Rex, Oedipus accusing Creon, Jocasta’s suicide, and Oedipus being eyeless at the end of the play, in terms of exposition, rising action, climax, and denouement. In addition to these influential literary devices that should be integrated in any story or play, there will also be an analyzation of how the method of isolation in space was used by Sophocles within Oedipus Rex.
Oedipus is a type of play that makes the reader jump right into the action within the story. In the very beginning of the play, the reader is introduced to a situation where Oedipus is concerned over his people due to a horrible curse that has befallen Thebes, and his relations to others such as Jocasta and Creon are revealed when Oedipus worriedly asks the priest what to do about the situation. The priest is referring to how Creon has gone to Apollo to see if there is indeed a curse on Thebes and if there is, how this curse can be lifted. However, Creon returns with questionable news of how Oedipus must find the killer of King Laius, the king of Thebes prior to Oedipus, to rid Thebes of the evil curse. The exposition ultimately comes to an ending as Oedipus promises to find the killer of Laius and bring an end to the tragedy within his city. All of these mentioned elements create the exposition of a story; the region where all the characters, setting, background information, and important details are revealed to the reader so that the reader can be understanding of the situation presented in the play. Therefore, the exposition bestows clues to the reader as to what is going to happen in the rest of the play. An important thing to note about the exposition and the setting is that the whole play takes place in the same setting, a method used by authors called isolation in space. The method of isolation in space creates tension within show, and accelerates the excitement of the readers.
After it’s been established in the play that Oedipus will be going on a journey to find Laius’ killer, it’s shown how he goes on to interview Teiresias. Teiresias a blind prophet who knows exactly who Laius’ killer is but is unwilling to talk due to the upset it’s going to cause Oedipus. Nonetheless, Oedipus is easily angered and is annoyed with Teiresias for his uncooperative manner and pushes him to tell the truth that he knows, which is that it was Oedipus who killed Laius. Oedipus, even more enraged at this claim, accuses Teiresias and Creon of attempting to frame him and dethrone him for their own personal gains. Like any husband, Oedipus goes to vent to his wife Jocasta, who rejects the plausibility of any prophecy due to her own experiences with prophecies. Jocasta, who used to be married to Laius, had been told a prophecy that she would born a son that would to live to kill his father and marry his mother. However, because Laius and Jocasta killed their child due to this prophecy, Jocasta assumed the prophecy couldn’t be true, and reflected this experience to Oedipus’ prophecy as well. Oedipus’ discussion with Jocasta plants more doubt in him which are demonstrated to be true as the messenger informs Oedipus that King of Corinth and Merope is not truly Oedipus’ father and mother. All of these events sum up the rising action of the play; these events serve to build up the climax of the play and give excitement and curiosity to the reader as to what’s going to take place. Also, it’s critical to note that the rising action took place immediately after the exposition in the play, showing that there is a particular organization to it.
When Jocasta finds out what Oedipus knows, it induces her to realize that her prophecy had become fulfilled a long time ago, and that she was married to her son all along. Oedipus forces the truth out from the old shepherd; however, when he returns to Jocasta, she is already dead; she has killed herself. Oedipus, in despair and in agitation, gauges his eyes out when he sees Jocasta, cursing himself for the way he has been blind to everything around him throughout his life. These exciting and intense moments in the play create the climax, and it’s the highest point of the play; the exposition merely introduced the background information and the rising action built up the events for this climax to take place.
After Oedipus gets rid of his symbolic blindness while embracing his new literal blindness, he doesn’t forget that there is yet another prophecy that still needs to be fulfilled, the prophecy pertaining the curse over Thebes. Since he now knows he is the man who killed King Laius, Oedipus exiles himself from Thebes, and leaves Thebes and his daughters under the watchful care of Creon, who he now thrones as the king. This conclusion and solution to the conflict within the story is coined denouement; after the climax, the highest point, the story’s plot decelerates to the final.
Sophocles, Selfishness in Ancient Times
In some cases, seeing is believing, but in these two play’s it was not conveyed. These play’s both mention many insignificant actions of the kings. They show no mercy against the low living citizens because of their high ranking. The ability to conclude with only your point of view was what these two rulers illustrated. Introverted and self-absorbed, they were very full of them self. Therefore, sight may concern their blindness not physically, but psychologically as Sophocles desired.
During the time of Oedipus the King and Antigone, it was much harder due to how only kings and gods had the power over actions made. They believed more about what they thought over other people’s opinions or idea. Just like sight, they couldn’t get the thought of listening to what others had to say. A somewhat similar example would be how Palau in the 90’s was ruled by the high ranking old men which all other villagers obeyed. Given these points, gives us a more accurate idea of the different era of today and before. The kings were patronizing and this held them down from their own belief. Sight is like a job that if u don’t do your work right, then it could get you fired. In other words, if you don’t see the development of what’s to come, it might be catastrophic. The dramatic meaning of the sight becomes more understandable when appealing to the play and the text itself because of how they responded. For example, both plays had a warning in the beginning with an inside tip of what was going down. Nevertheless, it all transfigured when they denied the chance to listen and filtering what they heard. As shown above, it was a gruesome resolution from plays all together.
Philosophers and other theoreticians were some titled men who were involved in many given calculated outcomes that people didn’t seem to believe. Relatively, like the blind prophet, he could see what others couldn’t even though he was literally blind. From this saying, sight relates not only to the metaphoric meaning but the literal one. The characters evolved from the beginning to the end but eventually it all led to their downfall. Oedipus becoming blind and Creon’s own people turning against him was the result of their bad decisions. In the light of living supremely, they were dethroned from their position. In a webpage from 2015, Maya Pintar stated: ‘Too much arrogance can blind you from reality where life and the world is constantly evolving, and due to that, you can never know exactly what is in the future for you’.
Their conjecture of selfishness and inadequate manner was what created a sad but obvious finale. However, in the end they came to realize the truth. Other than that, it may also be more about their character or their actions. This type of play recreates an important role in enacting scenes of what was shown in ancient times. The characters all had distinctive behaviors that showed more about what and why they acted in this manner. High officials were often doing what they themselves believed, based only on their own self-reliance or title. Also, Creon and Oedipus were very inconsiderate of their family that in the end caused the deaths of their loved ones. Altogether, that’s where introspection becomes very important and that it helps solve the problems of not accepting the truth and not going for what’s best in both worlds. In the long run, we may be able to fulfill others thoughts for a better solution. In fact, all these listed above all point to how they couldn’t uncover the deep relationship between their families. This includes Creon and Oedipus going against their own kind driving the thought of death and pain in their own kingdom.
In order to achieve a better idea of what to do is to see further and think before acting. Sight may be discrete during their time. Also, in this drama, they only heard what they wanted to hear. They didn’t feel how others felt but just went with what they suspected. Their superiority held them down on what could’ve been a better outcome. Generally speaking, in the end when Oedipus became literally blind, he eventually came to his senses. He saw what he didn’t see even when he had functional eyes. It’s better to forsake what you want for what you need. Being able to trust and acquire the sight vision what is right.
Oedipus and Socrates on the Quest for Self-knowledge
Both Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Plato’s Apology explore the limits of human wisdom. Socrates spends times trying to understand the nature of wisdom and whether the people who claim to possess it actually do. This investigation stems from the oracle, who proclaimed that Socrates was the wisest man in Athens. Through this quest, Socrates develops a negative reputation, and this is what leads to his eventual death sentence. Oedipus, on the other hand, is revered by the Thebans. In an attempt to save Thebes from the pollution they are facing, he seeks the truth about the darkness that plagues the city. Yet in his pursuit, Oedipus reveals his identity as the killer of the late King Laius and his involvement in the incestuous relationship with his mother. Through questioning and eventual downfall, both Socrates and Oedipus ultimately adhere to their fate, both coming to the conclusion that human knowledge is futile. Socrates accepts this notion, going gracefully to his death, as he is content in the fact that his soul has been well taken care of. Oedipus, however, ends in ruin, as the knowledge he acquires proves detrimental to his existence.
In Plato’s Apology, Socrates speaks in court about his experience with the Oracle of Delphi. Chaerephon, Socrates’ friend, ventures to the oracle to ask if any man was wiser than Socrates, to which the oracle replied that “no one was wiser”. With this in mind, Socrates begins his journey to find someone to hopefully challenge the oracle’s initial declaration. He goes about this using a technique called elenchus, which is an intense questioning. After interrogating the “public man”. Socrates determines that neither he [the public man] nor Socrates himself were wise, since “he thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas when I do not know, neither do I think I know”. Socrates goes into this encounter believing that those were deemed wise through the lens of society, such as politicians, craftsmen, or poets, will surely be able to prove the oracle wrong. By refuting the notion that these men are enlightened, Socrates displays his understanding of the limitations of human wisdom and seems to be countering the oracle. However, in another sense, Socrates is proving the oracle to be correct. While everyone around him is falsely assuming their own knowledge as being something of higher power, Socrates seems to be the only one who was mindful of the ignorance that all humans possess. Despite the fact that he concludes that he knows nothing, he is not denying the possession of the wisdom, instead he is denying value. “Finally I went to the craftsmen, for I was conscious of knowing practically nothing, and I knew that I would find that they had knowledge of many fine things. In this I was not mistaken” Socrates admits here that humans do hold surface level wisdom, such as craftsmanship or poetry, but he goes on to say that they believe this wisdom translates to “other important pursuits”. This comes as the error in their judgement, as real human wisdom, according to Socrates, includes the fact that they hold ignorance in more divine matters.
Hybris, being an exaggerated sense of self-pride, is evident among those who Socrates questions, the most prominent being Meletus, Socrates’ prosecutor in court. While cross-examining Meletus, Socrates says to the jury, “The man appears to me, men of Athens, highly insolent and uncontrolled. He seems to have made this deposition out of insolence, violence, and youthful zeal”. Hybris often acts as a catalyst for a character’s downfall. Socrates is catching Meletus in a contradiction, as he claims, quite confidently, that Socrates actively does not believe in the gods. Meletus exhibits hybris as he “deals frivolously with serious matters”. Socrates appears incredulous at the remarks of Meletus, as he is providing statements for which he cannot prove. Being a young and unexperienced prosecutor, it is obvious that Meletus is attempting to gain a reputation through this trial and will do so by whatever means necessary. Socrates, a seventy-year-old man, is just in believing that he possesses more wisdom than Meletus, just purely through life experience. He uses this as fuel in the elenchus, as he points out to Meletus that not even he could believe his own accusations against Socrates.
The Greek definition of hybris details a man going against the words of the gods out of pride. Oedipus particularly embodies this trait as, throughout the play, he continuously defies the words of the gods. After being cast away by his birth parents, Oedipus is rescued and raised by the king and queen of Corinth. During this time, he receives the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother, causing him to leave his “home” in hopes to avoid this fate. The fact that Oedipus, a mortal, believes that he can avoid a fate predestined to him by the gods goes to show that he possesses an arrogance that exemplifies hybris. He believes that he has escaped this path and marries the queen of Thebes after his defeat of the Sphinx. A pollution overtakes Thebes, caused by a murder that “blew the plague breath on our city”. Oedipus takes it upon himself to find the murderer of the prior king, Laius, as that is what is causing the city of Thebes to suffer. It is now revealed by the prophet Teiresias that Oedipus is the murderer of the late king. “You are the killer. You bring the pollution upon Thebes”. Oedipus exhibits hybris again after being given this information, as he is vehemently denying the accusation. He is quick to accuse someone else of putting Teiresias up to this, saying ‘you didn’t find this accusation through your art”. Teiresias, as a prophet, is someone who speaks on the behalf of the gods. This instant rebuttal to Teiresias’ claim is an indirect denial of the word of the gods on the part of Oedipus. This can be attributed to Oedipus’ initial dislike of Teiresias, as he is not acting as a subject typically acts towards their king. “You are the king. But I have the right to speak my mind freely. In this too I am king”. Teiresias is subverting the power of Oedipus as a king, which provides a basis for Oedipus’ dislike. He challenges Oedipus’ status, claiming that he is blind to the truth and has no other choice but to listen to him. It is at this point where Oedipus once again exhibits hybris. He is too proud as king to listen to a subject, even though the words spoken are words from the gods.
In the Apology the consequences incurred upon Socrates not cause him suffering, as he believes that his soul has been taken care of. “A good man cannot be harmed in either life or death”. Human wisdom defines death as a permanent cessation of the mind and body. Socrates, however, does not adhere to human knowledge, as he knows that is does not mean much. He speaks only for himself and for the gods, and because of this he does not fear death in the way of humans. “To fear death, gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know”. Socrates explains that to fear death implies that a human knows what is to happen once they die. This sort of wisdom is one that comes only from the gods, so a human possessing the fear of death is claiming they possess divine wisdom. Since Socrates is aware that he doesn’t know what happens after death, he simply cannot fear it. He is conscious of this break in his knowledge, and that is why he is able to go forth in his death with no qualms towards the results of his trial. This pursuit of knowledge that Socrates set forth on has not affected his well being in the long run, as he has approached knowledge in a virtuous way, acknowledging that the wisdom that he does possess means little.
Oedipus, on the other hand, is harmed greatly by the knowledge he seeks out, both physically and spiritually. His approach to wisdom is arrogant, and this ultimately results in his downfall. In his role as king, Oedipus falsely assumes a divine position. “I hear your prayer. Listen to me and I will teach you how to heal”. He is responding to the chorus who is expressing their worry about the pollution that is plaguing Thebes. They pray to the gods that they will find a way out of the darkness, and Oedipus claims that he is the one who can help them. This begins his quest for the true source of the horrors in his city, and his arrogance leads him to encounter the information that destroys his honor and reputation.
The Election of Edipo Or the Self-deuter of the Tiran
Often, misconceptions of reality solicit irrational behaviour and hinder the ability to examine the components required to assess problems. Oedipus’s hubris misguides him to inadvertently fulfill a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother despite his precautions. In Sophocles’s tragic play, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus is an honorable and heroic man, but he chooses to lead a life of both pride and arrogance; his false perception of himself and his paranoid behavior that others are maliciously plotting against him cause him to react rashly to the truth of his background.
With regard to self-perception, Oedipus thinks of himself as a man of action and general concern for his subjects. The people of Thebes are in the grip of a devastating plague that ravishes the city; “I thought it wrong, my children, to hear the truth from others, messengers. “Here I am myself – you all know me, the world knows my fame: I am Oedipus.” Oedipus was praised by the Thebiens as the defeater of the Sphinx; therefore, his subjects appeal to him as an individual that is especially favored by the gods and ask him to lift the plague. As Oedipus steps out of the palace, he is surrounded by a crowd of citizens:
“My children, I pity you. I see – how could I fail to see what longings bring you here? Well I know you are sick to death, all of you, but sick as you are, not one is sick as I. Your pain strikes each of you alone, each in the confines of himself, no other. But my spirit grieves for the city, for myself and all of you.”
Oedipus expresses his sympathy and offers his compassion and concern for the citizens of Thebes. In an effort to end the plague, Oedipus sends Creon to consult the oracle about the cause of the plague in Thebes. Creon returns and instructs them to find the murderer of Laius in order to put an end to the devastating plague. Oedipus consults the blind prophet Tiresias to help end the plague by guiding him to the murderers of King Laius; however, Tiresisas is reluctant to reveal to Oedipus and attempts to leave: “How terrible – to see the truth 360 when the truth is only pain to him who sees! I knew it well, but I put it from my mind”. Tiresias was reluctant to tell the truth of the details surrounding the murderer of Laius because it may do more harm than good. Assuming that discovering the identity of the murder will resolve his issues, Oedipus holds the smug misconception that Tiresias opposition to tell the truth suggests that he may have had involvement in the murder. Although Oedipus demonstrates common leadership skills, it is his misconception of reality that leads to his downfall.
Interesting about Oedipus
Oedipus, in his arrogance, is unwilling to accept the miserable reality of his true identity. Oedipus insists that Tiresias reveals the murderer of the former King. An argument ensues and Oedipus accuses Tiresias of complicity in Laius’s’ murder. Tiresias tells the king the truth, that he himself is the murderer: “Revealed at last, brother and father both to the children he embraces, to his mother son and husband both – he sowed the loins his father sowed, he spilled his father’s blood!” Oedipus is blind in his understanding; nonetheless, he is determined to uncover the absolute truth. Oedipus reckless disregard for the truth makes him uniquely incapable to accept the uncomfortable truth. After hearing rumors that he was not the biological son of King Polybus, Oedipus consults an oracle which foretold would marry his own mother and kill his own father: “You are fated to couple with your mother, you will bring a breed of children into the light no man can bear to see you will kill you father, the one who have you life!”. Desperate to avoid this foretold fate, Oedipus leaves him home in Corinth. Trying to escape his predestined fortune, Oedipus stumbles directly into his terrible destiny despite his precautions. After the story behind Oedpius’s true identity is finally revealed; he curses himself and his tragic destiny and stumbles off: “I am the man no alien, no citizen welcomes to his house, law forbids it – not a word to me in public, driven out of every hearth and home. And all these curses I – no one but I brought down these piling curses on myself!”. Oedipus’ metaphorical blindness to his knowledge of the truth made him oblivious for most of his life; thus, when the inevitable truth is revealed, he struggles to come to terms with it. Oedipus’s conflict between his journey towards self-discovery and his opposing desire to cover up the truth leads to his downfall.
Oedipus’s quest for identity and truth ends somewhat abtruly and tragically. In his farewell address to the people of Thebes, Oedipus offers some brief advice: “Oblivion – what a blessing…for the mind to dwell a world away from pain.” Oedipus is blind to the prophecy in the early stages of his life. Oedipus’s act of blinding himself suggests that oblivion of the truth achieves inner calm and peace of mind. After his quest for the truth comes to an end, Oedipus ultimately recognized that the abhorrent prophecy he tried so desperately to avoid was finally fulfilled: “The blackest things a man can do, I have done them all.”Oedipus acknowledges that his hubris left him blind to the truth. Oedipus is reduced from a proud and heroic king into a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The Chorus, representing the citizens of Thebes, acknowledge that a great man can be denied by fate: “People of Thebes, my countrymen, look on Oedipus. He solved the famous riddle with his brilliance, he rose to power, a man beyond all power. Who could behold his greatness without envy? Now what a black sea of terror has overwhelmed him.”Initially, the citizens of Thebes admire Oedipius for his admirable leadership; however, rather than submit to the cruelty of his community, Oedipus begs to be banished from Thebes.
Consequently, Oedipus role in his community undergoes a transformation from a high ranking member of society to an individual driven by his own guilt.
Although Oedipus exhibits important leadership qualities, his several misconceptions suggest that his unwillingness to accept the truth is a result of both his egotism and arrogance. When faced with threatening information, Oedipus is unable to accept basic aspects of reality. Misconceptions of reality lead people to dismiss evidence; however, denialism of the uncomfortable truth creates irrational behaviour.
The Greek Dramatic Tragedy
The written task is based on the text Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King by Sophocles. The critical essay aims to explore how the text, a classical Greek tragedy conforms to the particular genre of a tragedy. Indeed, Oedipus has been considered the perfect tragedy that Aristotle in his poetics framed the definition of tragedy based on the text. Sophocles was a famous and successful Athenian writer of tragedies in his time. Of his 120 plays, only 7 survived. Oedipus the King, also known as Oedipus Rex or Oedipus Tyrannus was written around 420 BC is not only considered to be one of his best plays but also have portrayed the pure form of Greek tragic drama. It is grim and compelling conflict between free will and fate. To explore how the text Oedipus adheres to the genre of tragedy, we must explore the definition and components of tragedy as explained by Aristotle. The term “tragedy” originated from the Greek word meaning “Goat song”. It is in the first place denoted the ritual sacrifice accompanied by a choral song. Out of this ritual developed Greek dramatic tragedy.
In his poetics, Aristotle defined tragedy as: The imitation of an action that is serious and also as having magnitude, complete in itself, in language with pleasurable accessories, not in a narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis.Oedipus Tyrannusabides by this definition of tragedy with the action that was serious throughout the play and the final scene, the climax of the play arousing immense pity for Oedipus from the audience because of the sole reason that he did not realize he committed such a hideous crime and above all did not have any say in what happened to him. We pity him because he is a good man, a good king, and a good husband and father.
Subsequently Aristotle also spoke about the tragic hero who, as he described, remains the intermediate personage, a man not pre-eminently virtuous and just, whose misfortune however is brought upon him by some error of judgement. This explanation offered by Aristotle for a tragic hero is very apt for Oedipus, classifying him as a tragic hero. Oedipus is a caring king and is also very compassionate. He calls the people of Thebes “my children”. He is also a powerful, confident and strong. He calls himself “here I am you all know me, – the world knows my fame: I am Oedipus”. He is also a trustworthy king as he tells the people of his kingdom ‘You can trust me. I am ready to help’. He is the king that the Thebes look up to.’we do rate you first of men’, ‘you lifted up our lives’ .
However he is a human too, and is exposed to flaws and is imperfect. He is an overconfident person who tends to judge too quickly. He becomes enraged when Tiresias refuses to share the truth and calls him ‘scum of the earth’. He irrationally accuses not only Tiresias but also Creon, his brother in law. He even challenges the gods and hence displays hubris, daring to compare himself to the Gods ‘You pray to the gods? Let me grant your prayers’. He is also reluctant to accept the prophecy of the oracle of Apollo. The tragedy of Oedipus was eventually due to his own temper, his impulsive behaviour, his excessive pride and dare to challenge the gods. His anger makes him too ardent to know the truth from Tiresias. The truth is left uncovered and this is primarily because of his pride. He however is desperate to know the truth and does not let him go without telling him the truth. He also makes the mistake of leaving his adopted parents after knowing about the prophecy – having just been told that he will kill his father and marry his mother, and uncertain who his real parents are, Oedipus impulsively kills an older man, and marries an older woman. Oedipus does not deserve his tragic misfortune as he naively took actions by mistake, unaware of the truth. His crime was not out of wickedness; it was due to his ignorance about his self-identity. He did not know that King Laius was his father and Jocasta was his mother. When Tiresias talks to Oedipus about his family history, he doubts who his father is: ‘Parents-who? Wait…who is my father?’ Oedipus fulfills the definition of the tragic hero. His lively and complex character emotionally bonds the audience; his tragic flaw forces the audience to fear for him, without losing any respect; and his horrific punishment elicits a great sense of pity from the audience. Though Sophocles crafted Oedipus long before Aristotle developed his ideas, Oedipus fits Aristotle’s definition with startling accuracy. He is the tragic hero par excellence and richly deserves the title as ‘the ideal tragic hero.’
Analyzing the Central Questions in Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
Oedipus Rex is a complex work of fiction, interweaving several questions throughout its narrative: if gods are manipulators with ulterior motivations, fate versus agency, the blame to be given in such a complex situation, and the irony of Oedipus’ actions.
The only direct contact the city of Thebes receives from the gods is at the very start of the play in the form of the oracle of delphi’s prophecy, which was given to Creon: Creon: Apollo commands us – he was quite clear – / “Drive the corruption from the land, / dont harbor it any longer, past all cure, / don’t nurse it in your soil – root it out!” (108-111)The only other part the Gods really have to play in the narrative is the characters feelings towards them. The chorus continuously prays in hopes of ending the plague that has befallen them, seeing the gods as benevolent deities: Chorus: O lord of the stormcloud, / you who twirl the lightning, Zeus, Father, / thunder Death to nothing Apollo, lord of the light, I beg you – / whip your longbows golden cord / showering arrows on our enemies-shafts of power / champions strong us before rushing on! /Artemis, Huntress, / torches flaring over the eastern ridges – / ride death down in pain! / God of the headdress gleaming gold, I cry to you – / your name and ours are one, Dionysus – / come with your face aflame with wine / your raving women’s cries / your army on the march! Come with lightning / come with torches blazing, eyes ablaze with glory! / Burn that god of death that all gods hate!
However, we later find that it was due to a prophecy given by Apollo that Laius and Jocasta attempted to kill their son, Oedipus, and it was that same prophecy that led Oedipus down the path toward Thebes. This seems rather contradictory of the benevolent deity the Chorus has made Apollo and his fellows out to be. When taking both of these interpretations into account it is easy to see the truth of the matter regarding the Gods. They are neither benevolent or malevolent, they are ambivalent. They neither help nor harm anyone throughout the entire show. The only argument that can be given against this point is the tragedy that was caused by prophecies given by Apollo and his oracle, but this too points towards ambivalence when you reconsider two seemingly insignificant details. Firstly, it wasn’t the prophecies themselves that caused the great tragedy of this story, but the actions taken by the characters. Second, Oedipus directly sought out his version of the prophecy, if he had not done so he would have never left Corinth. Therefore i feel it is safe to assume that the Gods had no ulterior motives in their actions, or rather inactions, they simply gave a prophecy and left it to the characters to decide what to do from there.
Which brings us to our next question, the idea of fate versus agency. One may think due to the driving force of the plays plot being a prophecy, that Oedipus Rex is a story about fate. However, as stated before the God Apollo simply gave the prophecy . He did not influence the characters actions or motivate them to act selfishly. They befell tragedy due to their own selfish nature, through their own agency.
Let’s speak hypothetically for a moment, if Laius and Jocasta had not attempted to kill Oedipus as a baby, would the prophecy have come true anyway. While there is no way to definitively decide i believe the answer is no. If Oedipus had lived in Thebes his entire life, i feel it is safe to assume a few things. Firstly, he would never have discovered his prophecy, unless he was told by his parents which seems unlikely. The only reason Oedipus seeks out the oracle is because he is confused about the circumstance of his birth: Oedipus: Some man at a banquet who had drunk too much / shouted out – he was far gone, mind you – / that I was not my father’s son. Fighting words! (858 – 860) Oedipus: And so. / unbeknown to mother and father I set out for Delphi, (868 – 869) But even if you believe that Oedipus would seek out the prophecy for a similar reason, or would have been told, his actions after visiting Delphi further proves my point: Oedipus: and the god Apollo spurned me, sent me away / denied the facts i came for, / but first he flashed before my eyes a future / great with pain, terror, disaster – I can hear him cry, / “You are fated to couple with your mother, you will bring / a breed of children into the light that no man can bear to see – / you will kill your father, the one who gave you life.” / I heard all that and ran. I abandoned Corinth, / from that day on i gauged its landfall only / by the stars, running, always running / toward some place where i would never see / the shame of all those oracles come true.
Even if Oedipus had somehow become aware of his ‘fate’ he would have simply left Thebes. Therefore ‘fate’ had nothing to do with the events of this play. If Laius and Jocasta had simply ignored the oracle and raised Oedipus as their own, no matter whether he discovered the prophecy or not they would have been safe. They were all doomed by that initial selfish reaction. That being said, it seems clear that the lion’s share of the blame resides with Laius and Jocasta. As stated above it is my belief that if they had simply taken the time to think through their actions, they could have very easily realized that there is no way a child raised by a loving mother and father, an environment Oedipus found with Polybus and Merope, would ever harm their parents, Oedipus fled Corinth to avoid harming those who raided him. However, does some of the blame still lie with Oedipus? Yes. He is the one who doubted Polybus and Merope. He is the one who actually sought out the oracle. He is the one who made the decision to kill a group of travelers. Although most of these things were done with only the best of intentions, Oedipus still made the decisions that led him down the path of the prophecy. At its very core, Oedipus Rex is a story of irony and tragedy. Let us take a stepback for a moment and think of this story through new eyes.
The true tragedy found in Oedipus rex is not through the father he killed, the mother he wed, or the children he had. It is not found in what he did but rather, but rather in who he was. The story of Oedipus has become so very route that we look past the most basic of basics in analyzing a text, the characters. Oedipus is a good man and a good king, he stands in sharp contrast to many mythical rulers written in this time period. So his tragedy is not that he was human and suffered for his mistakes, it is that he did not make mistakes and suffered anyway. It is that we can never escape the sins made by the ones who came before us. The oracle gave laius a prophecy that any son born of him would kill his father, so when his wife Jocasta gave birth to a son he had the baby’s ankles nailed together and ordered the infant be left to die. Laius made a mistake, he intended to kill his kin who had committed no crime other than being born. The shepherd who was given the baby gives him away instead of leaving him on the mountain. This baby is adopted by King Polybus and Queen Merope where he grows up a devoted son. Laius is left heirless and this is where the curse on his house truly begins. Because the dark cloud over Thebes does not begin when Oedipus becomes king, it begins during his father rule. Oedipus, still living in Corinth hears the rumors about his birth and decides to consult the oracle and is told the same prophecy that was given to Laius. Not realizing that he was adopted, he believes the prophecy is referring to Polybus and MErope. Rather than bring any sort of harm to the parents who he loves, decides to travel far away from Corinth. During his travels Oedipus comes to a crossroads where, unbeknownst to either of them, he meets Laius. The two argue over who should step off the road to let the other pass. It is important to note that it is Laius who attacks first, which results in Oedipus defending himself first from Lius himself and then form Laius’ men. Oedipus kills Laius, not knowing he’s a king or his father, and fulfills the first half of the prophecy. Once again it is Laius’ actions that have caused this to happen, if he had not attacked Oedipus on that road, perhaps he wouldn’t have died. If he hadn’t thrown his son away, Oedipus never would have knowingly killed him, since he was so aghast at the possibility of harming his adopted parents that he ran from his home and his life rather than risk it. Through his actions on the road Oedipus has broken no law, has not acted in hate or anger. Yes Oedipus kills his father, but no sin is committed. Infanticide is a sin, patricide is a sin, defending yourself is not.
So Oedipus continues his travels, eventually ending up at the gates of Thebes where a great Sphinx sits, eating those that cannot answer its riddle. Was the Sphinx there before Laius left? There is no way of knowing. But if it was, Laius had left his city to die by another curse caused by his actions. So Oedipus solves the riddle, and the Sphinx leaves. Oedipus is a man who is strong enough to kill a king, and clever enough to defeat a sphinx. He has not harmed any who did not first try to harm him, and was so against committing harm against innocents that he would leave his life behind. Oedipus so far has shown no fatal flaw, no poor judgment. Creon, who was acting as an interim ruler, had said any man who could defeat the Sphinx would be named king and given his sister Jocastas hand in marriage. Oedipus had not known about this before solving the riddle, and had no reason to do so other than out of the kindness of his heart. So now Oedipus, now king, is given Jocastas hand, and the prophecy is complete. He has wed his mother and father’s children with her.
However, this only happens because of how honorable and kind Oedipus is to begin with. Jocasta is at least in her forties, she is not a young woman by any means. Yet there is no tell of the young Oedipus being unfaithful or cruel towards her. If Oedipus had rejected the widowed queen so much pain would have been spared, but he is not a cruel man so he dedicates himself to her instead.
Many years after this marriage, a plague comes to Thebes. Why is not clear, because if it were due to the gods taking offense at this incestuous union, surely it would have come before they were able to bear four children. No matter the cause a plague arrives, and the oracle says the only way to lift it is to bring Laius’ killer to justice. (And we see yet again how Laius is at the center of all of this.) Of course, just and honorable King Oedipus vows to bring the murderer to light and have them exiled. Exiled and not executed, a merciful punishment from a merciful king. This is where things begin to fall apart. A messenger comes from Corinth bringing the news of Polybus’ natural death and Oedipus is relieved. Not through any malice, but because now this means that he will not die by Oedipus’ hand as had been foretold. Yet he still refuses to return home to take up his rightful crown, as Merope is still there and he does not want to harm her. When the messenger reveals that Oedipus has nothing to fear since he was adopted Jocasta realizes what had happened. She realizes that her husband is her son who has killed his father, yet she still tries to shield him from the truth. Jocasta must believe he is deserving of the throne, he must have shown her great kindness if she is still so desperate to protect him, even at the expense of the wellbeing of Thebes. However, Oedipus does not listen, after all they are so close to uncovering the truth why should he stop now. This is when he discovers the truth of his life: he is the son of Laius and Jocasta, Laius is the man he killed at the crossroads, he has killed his father and married his mother, his prophecy has come true. Jocasta has killed herself and Oedipus has blinded himself with her pins, unable to bear the sight of all the suffering he has caused. He is exiled with only his daughter Antigone to guide him. Oedipus was an honorable ruler of Thebes, a kind husband to Jocasta, and a good father to his children.
So Oedipus Rex is a tragedy, because it’s not fair. Kind, clever, merciful people can do their best, but in the end it won’t be able to save them from the actions of those who came before them.
A Tragic Hero of Oedipus
Sometimes no matter how hard you try, things do not work out in your favor. This statement is the unfortunate truth for several characters in the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. Oedipus lives most of his life oblivious to the horrible things he’s done, and the shocking truth thrusts Oedipus into reality. However, the way in which Oedipus acts in the face of suffering is what reveals his true character. E.R. Dodd’s quotation “Oedipus is a play about human greatness,” is true because despite the fact that Oedipus is aware that he could lose everything in his pursuit of the truth, he still pushes on to solve the murder of Laïos. When Oedipus realizes that he has unknowingly been living his worst nightmare, he responds to his horrific fate with humility and exhibits deep regret for his actions. But his response to severe hardship is ultimately what reveals his greatness and the reason why his story is so lamentable.
What truly makes Oedipus a tragic hero is that he always seems to have pure intentions. When Oedipus learned of the prophecy in Delphi, which said that he was destined to kill his father and sleep with his mother, he fled from Corinth and decided never to return even though he yearned for his adoptive parents. This sacrifice is shown when he says, “For all these years/I have kept clear of Corinth, and no harm has/come- though it would have been sweet to see my parents/again” (52). Unfortunately for Oedipus, fleeing from Corinth led him to cross paths with his birth father, King Laïos, and he ended up murdering the king after engaging in an altercation. The awful irony in this situation is that Oedipus genuinely believed that he was avoiding parricide by fleeing from Corinth, but he ended up fulfilling the prophecy and unknowingly killing his father while trying to protect his adoptive father. He never meant to cause any harm to his family and was only doing what he felt was necessary to protect the ones whom he loved. It was due to this innocent goal that makes Oedipus’s fate so tragic to the reader. How can someone with such honest intentions end up in such a horrible predicament? Oedipus himself wonders this when he enquires, “Who could deny the savagery of God?” (44). Oedipus realizes that the Gods were not fair in fating him to commit such terrible deeds. Clearly, even the chorus considers this question and they pity Oedipus when they say, “Child by Laïos doomed to die, /Then doomed to lose that fortunate little death, /Would God you never took that breath in this air” (66). The chorus seems to be admitting that the Gods were ruthless towards Oedipus and they are claiming that Oedipus’ fate was not a result of his own actions. It is very difficult to argue that Oedipus deserved his downfall because both Oedipus and the chorus realize that his fate was delivered by divine intervention and Oedipus’s good intentions were doomed to result in failure.
His situation becomes even more tragic when you consider the way in which he learned that he had fulfilled the disturbing prophecy. Oedipus’s determination to solve King Laïos’ murder in order to save his people and lift the plague from his city is another example of good intentions that ended in utter chaos. No one could question Oedipus’s willpower when he says, “And as for me, this curse applies no less/If it should turn out that the culprit is my guest/here, Sharing my hearth. You have heard the penalty” (14). It is clear that nothing will stop Oedipus in his attempt to find the murderer, and even when he realizes that there are dire consequences facing him in the search for truth, Oedipus pushes on. He starts to realize that he might have committed the murder and is aware that he could possibly be exiled or executed. There is no doubt that Oedipus could have lived in ignorant bliss, but he is ready to bear the weight of his heavy burden and says, “Of all men, I alone can bear this guilt” (75). Oedipus shows his courage by paying for crimes, which he did not commit on purpose. In fact, any of Oedipus’ sinful actions in this play were not committed out of malice or spite, but with genuine hopes. Oedipus takes responsibility for all of his crimes, and ultimately accepts his fate, even though he is uncertain as to why he deserved such a horrible destiny.
Oddly enough, Oedipus’ greatness is what contributed to his downfall. His story is best defined by the Greek word hamartia, which is defined as “a lack of some important insight, or some blindness that results from one’s own strength and abilities” (Wheeler). Oedipus gained fame and glory by solving the riddle of the sphinx and saving Thebes. When Apollo sent the plague, Oedipus hoped to once again save his people by solving the mystery surrounding the death of King Laïos. Oedipus and his subjects believed that he had the ability to solve this murder without a single clue, since he had shown in the past that he was capable by unraveling the riddle of the sphinx. He takes on this task knowing that he has the qualifications to solve this crime, and although he does acquire the truth, it results in his downfall. Even after Oedipus is condemned for his crime, Creon still remembers Oedipus’ accomplishment when he says, “This is the king who solved the famous riddle/And towered up, most powerful of men” (80-81). It is obvious that Oedipus is a great man, who was unfortunately doomed to fall according to the prophecy. Creon himself talks about how difficult it is to be king when he says, “Would any sane man prefer/Power, with all a king’s anxieties, /To the same power and the grace of sleep?” (31). This confession on behalf of Creon is crucial to understanding the role that Oedipus played in society. The truth is that Oedipus is not a perfect guy. He has a temper, and he has committed murder but those flaws don’t take away from his status as a great ruler and a respectable man. When the people were unaware of his past, they honored him as a king. And whenever they needed him, he stepped up. The worst part is that the horrible things that destroyed Oedipus were not done consciously on his behalf. But the factor that makes Oedipus truly admirable is that he is ready to take responsibilities for the things that he has done and thus reveals his humility.
When he finally achieves anagnorisis, defined as tragic recognition by Wheeler, Oedipus would rather stay alive and suffer than relieve his pain by killing himself. Instead of taking the coward’s way out Oedipus chooses a far worse punishment for himself by choosing to live in agony and pay for the sins that he has committed. He says, “For I have sinned against them both/So vilely that I could not make my peace by strangling my own life” (73). In contrast, Iocaste does not have the same mindset as Oedipus. She is not strong enough to bear the burden of the shame and guilt that now lies on her shoulders, and takes her own life. Therefore proving that Oedipus’s decision to live with his humiliation was not an easy choice and that it will haunt him for the rest of his life. His choice also proves that throughout the course of the play he has matured into a man who is trying to deal with his mistakes and ignominy. Oedipus does not try to run from it, as opposed to when he tried to run from the prophecy. This is a drastic change from the beginning of the play, when Oedipus very quick to toss the blame of murder onto two innocent men, Creon and Teiresias. He was tenacious in his beliefs and ignorant to the facts that had been placed before him. But at the end of the play it is evident that Oedipus has changed his arrogant ways when he says, “What right have I/To beg his courtesy who I have deeply wronged?” (75). This was his attempt to apologize for his actions towards Creon and was a display of his humility. Those were the words of a man who has just lost everything. The ability of a man to apologize and suffer for crimes that he did not commit on purpose is very courageous and shows his maturity. He finally accepted his fate and all the consequences that came with it, and Oedipus endured the horrible quest for truth and managed to walk out of the land of Thebes. Some people may not have seen him as a hero since he committed such serious crimes; nevertheless, his actions can only be described as tragically heroic.
Oedipus never had a choice in his faith and was destined to tragedy from birth. This may have seemed like a catastrophic outcome, but E.R. Dodd was right when he said that Oedipus Rex is a play about human greatness. Oedipus had the power to bear his burden in spite of his innocent intentions. He tried to scrape up whatever pieces of dignity he had left, and thought about the consequences of his actions on the people that he loved. Oedipus will forever live with the shame and regret of his actions, but the manner in which he chose to accept his dreadful prophecy will always be commendable to anyone who understands that sometimes the truth is the most painful thing of all. Sophocles teaches us that it’s not about what you walk away from that matters, it all depends on what you walk away with.