“Oedipus is punished not for any fault in himself, but for his ignorance. Not knowing his family history, unable to recognize his parents on sight, he is blameless; and in slaying his father and marrying his mother, he behaves as any sensible person might behave in the same circumstances.” I agree with the above interpretation.
This is because were it not been for his ignorance about his family history, Oedipus would have known his family. As such, he is blameless on account of his ignorance. I would therefore not be so quick as to blame Oedipus because if I were in his shoes, I would probably have acted in the same way. Although the death of his father signifies his own downfall, nonetheless, one could argue that Oedipus acted in self-defense, in that he was attacked unexpectedly while travelling alone and out of fear of losing his life, he kills them all but one.
These were violent times and as such, a man was expected to defend himself in case of an attack, and more so while travelling alone in far off lands. Any sensible man would have done the same, under the circumstances. The punishment that Oedipus receives largely stems from his ignorance.
Oedipus should have been wiser enough to heed the warnings of Teiresias. We can therefore say that Oedipus somehow pursued his own death. For example, he had been warned a couple of times to desist from attacking people who were ready to surrender but he could hear none of it, for his desire to be a man.
Although Oedipus was a brave, wise man who sought the truth relentlessly, of sound judgement and had the capacity to “see beyond the obvious” (Regal 19), nonetheless, all these assets proved worthless as he fell victim to a heinous fate-he killed his own father without his knowledge and later on married his mother.
Despite the many dimensions taken by the play, it has a central moral dilemma in which we are called to question whether we are in a position to shrug off the responsibility bestowed upon us when short-sightedness and avoidable ignorance forces us to do great harm.
For someone who little knowledge about the play, there is the possibility of presuming that Oedipus had improper lust. However, he did not kill his father out of lust for his mother. He was brought up by foster parents, the queen and king of Corinth. He never knew that he was an adopted child, or that his true biological parents were Jocasat and Laius.
A lot of stigma was attached to patricide and incest in the culture where Oedipus lived and when the truth dawned on him, he was extremely distraught. All this time, however, Oedipus was innocent. One might argue that he portrayed unacceptable motives but on the basis of the Judeo-Christian moral standards, he was morally innocent because he was not aware that the men on the road were the king (his biological father) and his aides.
To him, they were nothing more than a band of rude, ordinary men, and he had to defend himself. Even if we assume that Oedipus’ actions were morally innocent, can we also assume that he was also blameless for our practical purposes? One might argue that Oedipus could and should have done better. This is because he had received warning on several occasions. It had been prophesied that Oedipus would kill his own father and that he would later on marry his mother.
Oedipus chose to ignore the prophecy. Instead, he fled to Corinth as a way of escaping the predicted misdeeds. Even while escaping, Corinth thought that the King and queen of Corinth were his birth parents. In a way, he was uprooting his life from the culture he was used to, to that of Corinth.
On his way to Corinth, he encountered with and killed his own father, against his knowledge. If Oedipus had taken the prophecy seriously, he could also have wished to question his own view of reality and this might have prompted him to further interpret the unfolding events. He even ignored the prophecy of Teiresias, the esteemed blind prophet whose revelation had indicated that Oedipus would indeed kill Laius, his real father, and then marry his mother.
Although he acted violently by killing his own father, among the Greeks, the most admired heroes were expected to put on a brave face even when facing death in the eye. According to the description provided regarding the killing, neither party could be accused of being strictly guilty of the brawl that ensured, in which Oedipus murdered his father.
Oedipus is not a damned, stupid, cursed, or afflicted man, and neither did he have a complex. He was nothing more than an ordinary man blessed with an extraordinary passion to know the truth. He was also caught in an inherently deceptive and intricate situation in which an exceptional ability and good intentions to see through riddles were not enough to overcome an increase in misdeeds.
Regal, Philip. The anatomy of judgment. Minnesota, Canada: University of Minnesota Press, 1990, Print.
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