Oedipus and Hercules: Similarities and Differences
Who could forget the story of Hercules? This famous story is about a son of the gods who resides on Earth as a normal human with abnormal strength. In the story, Hercules fights various monsters and is saving his city constantly. However Hercules makes a deal with Hades, god of the underworld, to give away his strength for one day. This same day Hades sets the four titans, whom bring blizzards, rock slides, tornadoes, and volcanoes, upon the city as well as Mt. Olympus, where the gods live. Even though Hercules is helpless physically, he discovers his inner-strength, battles through his struggles, breaks the deal, and in the end saves his girl, his city, and the gods. Like Hercules, Oedipus’ life has a similar pattern. Although Oedipus’ story didn’t have such a happy ending he is nevertheless a hero because he battled through his own struggles, discovered his inner-self and in the end purges Thebes of all sin.
The plague on Thebes was never Oedipus’ fault to begin with. Like the critic questions, “How has man failed, that he should be cursed by the gods with fear of the thing he has created in innocence?” Just weeks after Oedipus was born as an innocent baby the prophets proclaim that he will kill his father and marry his mother. Did baby Oedipus do anything to deserve this tragic fate? No, he was doomed from birth by something that he couldn’t control. When Oedipus gets older and is told his fate, his reaction is to try to evade it. However in attempt to run away from his fate, he runs right into it.
Denial is an inevitable stage when it comes to facing fate. Oedipus goes through this stage when he talks with Teiresias. Oedipus becomes enraged with Teiresias’ news that he is “the land’s pollution” (25) and “the murderer of the king” (26). His tragic flaw of being easily frustrated kicks in. He becomes so angry he places blame on others and yells at Teiresias for being “blind in mind and ears as well as in [his] eyes (26). This is ironic because Oedipus although not disabled is the one who can’t see the “light of day” (24). However in the back of his mind Oedipus always seeks the truth and soon he begins to emerge from the denial river.
Fate is unavoidable. However there are numerous stories of how people try to fight their fate. Such as Odysseus who faked insanity to get out of going to Troy, and Achilles who disguised himself as a woman in order to get out of his fate of dying in Troy. Like Odysseus and Achilles, Oedipus also tries to fight his fate, but what separates Oedipus from other heroes is that in the end he accepts his fate and by doing so, purges his city of sin. Oedipus always hungers for the truth and when he finally discovers it he knows there is only one thing to do. Accept it. He decides to let [his] fate go where it will (73). He even blinds himself which is ironic because when he could see, he was ignorant and now that he knows the truth he can’t see. Lastly he banishes himself from the city and in doing so he cleanses his city from the plague and all evil.
What makes a hero a hero? Today the modern day Superman, Spiderman, and Batman are your so called heroes. However I wouldn’t consider any of these heroes at all. They have no flaws, no tough struggles. In order to be a hero I think you need to have suffered, to have been at your lowest, and to have overcome obstacles. Facing his fate, leaving Thebes and saving an entire city are a much harder task than flying around all day like Superman. As well put by Martin Luther King Jr. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and conveniences, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” I think Oedipus is the ultimate measure of a man and from this story we learn how to face our struggles head on, admit when we are wrong, and do the right thing.
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