“Oedipus the King” by Sophocles Literature Review Essay
The play “Oedipus the King” written by Sophocles is an example of classic ancient Greek tragedy, which includes all the key elements of its genre. The play is designed to trigger compassion and sadness in the audience. Traditionally the tragic plays by Ancient Greek authors depicted upper class and royalty in order to show the downfall of the characters that belong to higher society.
The play “Oedipus the King” raises an eternal question about the existence of human destiny and the inevitability of fate. The characters face prophecies and mystical circumstances, fall under the influences and end up wrapped up into the tragic and irreparable experiences.
The main characters of the play are the members of a royal family, the rulers of the city of Thebes, King Oedipus and his wife Jocasta. The king receives complaints from his citizens about their sufferings caused by the spreading plague. The play was written by the Ancient Greek author, this is why the participation of gods in it is essential.
The gods are sending the sickness to the city because they are unhappy about what happened to the previous king of Thebes. King Laius was murdered, yet no one performed an investigation of this crime. In order to protect his city from the plague and please the gods, king Oedipus decides to find “the trace of this ancient crime” (128-129) and punish the murderer whoever that person is.
Eventually, a chain of evidence and several witnesses help the king to conduct the investigation, but the information he uncovers is horrifying. Oedipus turns out to be the son of Lauis and Jocasta, the murderer of his own father, who married his mother and had children with her. Jocasta hangs herself after hearing this awful truth and Oedipus blinds himself and leaves the city of Thebes.
There are several views on the events unwrapping in the play. King Oedipus is viewed as a victim of circumstances, who could not predict or control his actions. The murder of Laius was a result of a severe argument and Oedipus’ survival instinct. Then Oedipus became the king of Thebes because he saved its people from sphinx’s curse. He married the woman he liked. All of these were the deeds based on better intentions and reasonable decisions.
There is no way Oedipus could expect that he was making a series of horrible mistakes. According to the second opinion, Oedipus was in charge of his own solutions and led himself into trouble. Truly, the murder of a stranger and marriage with the older lady are arguable decisions, and they could be avoided if only Oedipus knew what the outcome would be.
This is why the third opinion states that Oedipus’ flawed character is the reason of his tragedy; his impulsive solutions lead to very bad consequences. The fourth point of view explores the question of bad luck happening to Oedipus, which certainly does not feel like bad luck to him in the beginning, because he is loved and idealized by the people of Thebes, “the city celebrates him as its savior” (56).
The theme of free will and fate has been argued about for centuries, although, we can see from the play that the Ancient Greek society had a very strong opinion about people’s destinies. The words “curse”, “prophesy”, “fate” and “destiny” are frequent in the play. Deeper analysis shows that the name “Oedipus” can be translated as “the one who knows about feet”.
The king’s name is the key to his destiny, the pattern of the mystery of the feet follows him though his life time. As a baby, he had his feet pierced because of the prophecy; this is what Ancient Greeks did to all the “monstrous” or sinful children, which is exactly what Oedipus was predicted to become (Miller, 232).
Besides, Oedipus takes the throne of Thebes because he solves the sphinx’s riddle about feet. The ghost of fate follows the man and eventually leads him to his downfall. There is no place for the concept of free will in the Ancient Greek point of view about this tragedy.
Today we are not very convinced that there are such things as fate or destiny, yet some of us would like to believe in them. This is why popular entertainment industry keeps generating products with main characters, which are meant for some great deeds. Examples of such products are superhero movies, where the main character discovers having a special mission in life.
The theme of the chosen one is familiar to us from films like “The Matrix” or books like “Lord of the Rings”. From the scientific point of view, there is a chance that genetically people that share the same DNA may have similar characters, which makes them predisposed to making certain choices.
It also is a well-known fact that the surroundings and society influence and shape the behavior and mentality of individuals. This is how the time and place of birth may determine a person’s future.
The factors that impact and direct people’s lives are multiple. The examples of individuals untypical for their environments are existent but very rare. To my mind, humans have a certain deal of control over their own lives and all of it is hidden deep inside of their mentality and the perception of the world around.
Miller , Patrick Lee. “Oedipus Rex Revisited”. Modern Psychoanalysis 31.1 (2006): 229-250.
Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Trans. Johnston, I. n. d. Web 22 Jun. 2014. <https://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/sophocles/oedipustheking.htm>
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