Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is one of the most well- known tragic plays in existence. Oedipus, the King of Thebes, is the victim of a curse in which he must suffer the tragedy of his own unchangeable fate. The tragic heroism of Oedipus befalls him because of his heroic qualities and his loyalty to his Thebans and to himself. His unchangeable destiny affects so many others throughout the play. These others’ subsequent suffering that Oedipus brings upon them helps contribute to the tragic vision of the work as a whole.
Many provide insight on the fact that the gods or the fates destined Oedipus to kill his father and marry his mother; but, despite such questions, Sophocles answers them by implying that “it is bound to happen (Dodds). ” In other words, Oedipus cannot evade his destiny. In spite of these differences in opinion, “all agree about the essential moral innocence of Oedipus (Dodds). ” The question then is raised that if Oedipus is innocent to his “tragedy of destiny (Dodds),” is he simply a puppet to the gods’ will? The Greeks were predestined to “die on their appointed day (Dodds),” but this did not make them slaves to their destiny. The gods know the future, but they do not order it (Dodds).
” This leads readers to be fascinated by the path of destruction that Oedipus takes of his own free will. Nobody tells him to discover the truth. He has to. He is the king. His fate is sealed from his own “strength and courage, his loyalty to Thebes, and his loyalty to the truth (Dodds). ” This following of loyalty caused others in his path to suffer it. Oedipus, in search of his destiny, kills a man who, unbeknownst to him, happens to be his own father and King of Thebes. This is essential because Oedipus is supposedly innocent to his tragedy of destiny.
One can infer, then, that Laios’ death is of the will of the gods, not his own son. But then, if the gods do not order the future or man’s destiny, is the death of Laios the fault of Oedipus? This precise loyalty to truth leads Oedipus to marry his mother and kill his father, but everyone agrees that Oedipus is innocent. The fact that he does all these things without knowing what his tragic destiny holds in store for him, is tragic in and of itself. Sophocles invokes a certain “ritual expectancy” which prepares his audiences to see his plays as “imitating and celebrating the mystery of human nature and destiny (Fergusson).
A direct view on the theme of the story would reveal the “changing image of human life and action (Fergusson)” in the Festival where Sophocles presents his plays. Unlike some plays whose characters “find no light in their suffering” and are bereft of “any objective moral or cosmic order (Fergusson),” Oedipus Rex illustrates both a literal meaning and a deeper understanding of meaning. By understanding and interpreting the play’s tragic rhythm, its “shifting situation, [and] the changing and developing characters and their reasoned or lyric utterances (Fergusson),” the suffering of the characters that Oedipus affects is revealed.
Both Oedipus and Jocaste become jubilant over the thought that they had beaten Oedipus’ fate, but they are essentially pawns to the oracles that were right all along. The dramatically ironic occurrence of that which they tried to avoid (i. e. Oedipus marrying his mother) is revealed to be futile for one cannot change their tragedy of destiny. They both even show their ironic disbelief in oracles. Jocaste tells Oedipus that the oracles are powerless in order to make him feel better. In later lines, she prays to the very gods she just denounced.
Oedipus becomes joyous when he learns of his pseudo- father’s death because it revealed to him that the gods and oracles were fallible. Despite this, Oedipus will not go back to Corinth just in case the prophecy still came true. Their calm reassurances prove to be not enough to outweigh, As Jocaste says, the horrible workings of fate. Even Oedipus’ intelligence which proved worthy to stand up to the riddles of the Sphinx is the cause of his incest and patricide. Oedipus saved Thebes, but in the process became the scourge that striped its back. Teiresius is considered the foil to Oedipus—he dances the dance with Oedipus as fencers riposte.
While he only appears shortly in a beginning scene of the play, Teiresius reveals his visions of the future and, ironically, the murderer of Laios. The seer is blind but sees more than anyone else is able to. Teiresius can be likened to the Trojan princess Cassandra who was gifted with the power of prophecy, but later punished that nobody would believe her prophecies. Oedipus had good reason to be angry with him because he would not reveal the identity of the king’s killer. Teiresius reveals that it is pointless to reveal the truth because what is going to happen in the future is fated to happen and cannot be changed.
Upon such a revelation, Oedipus is described as having a “wave of darkness” was over him when he discovers the truth, the very tsunamic happening that Teiresius warned him about. Here the soothsayer is revealed to be a symbol of the main enveloping theme in the play. Oedipus is responsible for his own actions but his fate is determined on a basis of his moral innocence and his tragic destiny. Creon was created to stand in stark contrast to all the other characters. He is good in every way and is a model that allows Oedipus to conveniently be based off of.
This modeling reveals Oedipus’ inherent flaws that even a king can have. Creon reveals that he has no desire for Oedipus’ crown and provides a rational explanation as to why. Creon has all the power that he wants and needs and, so, has no desire for the heaviness of a crown which will only give him more headaches. Creon’s position is strengthened even more so when he stated that he would willingly give up the crown to anybody who could best the Sphinx and her riddle. Creon is everything that the readers want Oedipus to be. He is gentle and forgiving and does not mock Oedipus in the slightest for his wrongdoings.
Creon carries the grieving Oedipus inside and even promises to take care of his children. It is not until Oedipus orders Creon to banish him, that he does so. He is unaccusatory toward what Oedipus “said with [an] unflinching eye” when Oedipus comes crawling back blind to his own brashness, his own shame. Oedipus is bold in his accusations of his friend but when he later learns the truth, he cannot bear to settle his eyes upon Creon. When Oedipus later confronts Creon he asks “did you suppose I wanted eyes to see / The plot preparing, wits to counter it? Oedipus’ ironic lack of eyes reveals his inability to “see” what is happening. The more he tries to untangle the mystery and see, the more blind, literally and figuratively, he becomes. The sphinx’s riddle speaks volumes throughout the play. “What is it that goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at midday, and three feet in the evening? ” Oedipus’ reply is a man. Oedipus proves to be that very man that is embodied in the riddle. As a baby and a young man, like the riddle suggests, Oedipus still limps like his old self will with a cane: a foreshadowing of his coming fate.
Oedipus does not just solve the riddle, he’s the answer. The suffering brought upon by Oedipus to Creon, his wife, and many others contributes to the tragic vision of the whole play. Oedipus reveals that man can demonstrate remarkable powers of intellectual depth and insight and have a great capacity for knowledge, but even the wisest human being is inevitably going to err. The desire and quest for an understanding of the mysteries of the universe is a noble one, but should be tempered by an understanding of man’s limitations. Such limitations are what lead Oedipus to his tragedy of destiny and his inherent moral innocence. (1378)