Throughout the play, Oedipus the King, Sophocles refers to site and blindness to relate attitudes and knowledge of the past. The irony of sight in this play can be marked by Oedipus’ inability to realize that which is evident to the reader. His extreme pride is his tragic flaw. It blinds him from the truth.
Oedipus blinding himself symbolizes his increase of knowledge, his sensitivity, and gives him the ability to finally “see”. He is now able to see the flaws of his hubris attitude, and the consequences of which his pride brought to him. From the very beginning, Oedipus was blinded by pride. With the city of Thebes dying, Creon comes from the god Apollo to tell how to stop the plaque.
An example of Oedipus’ hubris is shown when he will not go into the palace to converse with Creon. He insists on talking in front of the crowd of citizens. Creon tells that the only way to stop the plaque is to find the killer of Lauis, the previous king. King Oedipus takes this task lightly, for he is the one who solved the riddle of the Sphinx, he surely could find the killer of royalty. This is another example of his tragic flaws, pride. When Oedipus vows to do everything in his power to find Laius’ killer, the leader of the chorus advises Oedipus that no one knows the identity of the murderer, and that the god Apollo should name him to the people.
Oedipus replies “to force the gods to act against their will- no man has the power.”(320) He has called on the blind seer who knows what the god Apollo sees. It is ironic that Tiresias can “see” what Oedipus can not though he suffers of old age and physical blindness. Tiresias, who is able to see the truth of the downfall of Oedipus thorough the oracle’s prophecy even in his own blindness, becomes the comparative image from which Oedipus is judged, both by himself and by others.
Throughout the conversation between Oedipus and Tiresias, he will not divulge the information King Oedipus is longing to hear. “I’d rather not cause pain to you or me. So why thisuseless interrogation? You’ll get nothing from me” (321) Tiresias says. This enrages Oedipus and he blames him for the murder, and then for conspiring with Creon to take his throne. These accusations Oedipus makes are caused by his fear of the truth he is too blind to see. This blame causes an argument between the two.
The play has many references to sight and blindness. These references give a continuous message of good and bad to both. During the argument, Oedipus insults Tiresias’ of his blindness. It is ironic that Oedipus, who is disrespectful to Tiresias because of his blindness, eventually becomes blind himself.
Tiresias comes back denoting Oedipus’ blindness to the truth, but assures him that he will soon be able to see. During the argument, Oedipus also shows his arrogance. He says “when did you ever prove yourself a prophet? When the Sphinx, that chanting Fury kept her deathwatch here, why silent thenI stopped the Sphinx! With no help from the birds, the flight of my own intelligence hit the mark.” (323)
This show that he thinks himself greater than the prophet and in essence greater than the gods, yet another example of his pride. After Oedipus takes his sight he realizes that he is mortal and has flaws. He also sees that he and Tiresias have something in common: they both are blind, yet now are able to see the obvious.
Oedipus also accuses Tiresias of conspiring King Lauis death. “Now I see it all. You helped hatch the plot, you did the work, yes, short of killing him with your own hands- and given eyes I’d say you did the killing single handed!” (322) Tiresias rebuttals by saying “Is that so! I charge you, then, submit to that decree you just laid down: from this day onward speak to no one, not these citizens, not myself. You are the curse, the corruption of the land!” (322)
Oedipus still does not realize that he is the killer. Through out the play, the reader sees that even though Oedipus has physical sight, he is spiritually blinded. Meaning that while Oedipus had the sense of sight, he was blinded by his lack of perception. As for Tiresias, the opposite applies.
Even though he suffers from physical blindness, Tiresias has captured spiritual sight. When he is lead to the King, he comments “How terrible to see the truth when the truth is only pain to him who sees.” (321) This is an example of how Tiresias does see, yet he is blind. It also shows that this spiritual sight has done no good for Tiresias, but one could also say that Oedipus’ physical sight has done no good for him either. Oedipus’ wife, Jocasta is a blinding figure in his life.
When he almost sees the truth of his past, she convinces him that he is wrong, and that it is not possible that he was the killer of her late husband. This happens twice that she keeps him in the dark, and refrains him from seeing the light of his wrongs. When Oedipus confides in Jocasta about his feelings of the situation, he is almost to the point of realization that he killed Laius. She tells him that it could not be possible that he killed King Lauis. She tells him the story of their son, and the prophecy that one day he would grow to kill his father and marry his mother. She also tells him that they rid themselves of such a son.
Even though the god Apollo told Oedipus the same story, that he would one day be the murderer of his father, and take over his fathers place by the side of his mother, he still does not put two and two together to realize the truth. Oedipus also tells Jocasta that Tiresias told him that he was the murderer of Laius. She then replies “Then free yourself of every chargeno human can penetrate the future.” (332)
This may be true. No human can see the future, but Tiresias only sees the truth! But through his own suspicions, and pursuit of knowledge, and his attempts to work against fate, Oedipus is trapped into a course of action that he can not foresee, and that determines the tragic outcome and his own downfall, as well as the death of his wife. When Jocasta flees from the palace, in despair because she too finally realizes that she is married to her son, the leader of the chorus tells Oedipus to go after her for “I’m afraid that from this silence something monstrous may come bursting forth.” (344)
Oedipus once again is blind to the warning and his wife dies in her bed chambers. As seen throughout, Oedipus is oblivious to the knowledge about his past. He does not even pick up on simple clues that link him to his past and future. It is ironic that even the lowly shepherds, that come to give him messages about the death of King Polybus and then he also tells about the child that he gave to the king long ago, know the truth that he can not see.
The first messenger comes to tell Oedipus of the death of his supposed father, King Polybus. He also tells Oedipus that he was given a baby along time ago and that he was that baby. Polybus was not his father and Merope was not his mother. Oedipus may have been told by Apollo that he was going to kill his father and marry his mother, but they were not the ones in danger.
The second messenger is the one that was ordered by Lauis to get rid of the child. He gave the boy, with his ankles pinned together to another shepherd, not thinking that he would ever really kill Laius and marry Jocasta. The second messenger is very old. Oedipus is so determined to find his true identity from this man, that he even speaks of torture to get him to talk. From the way the man speaks to the other shepherd, “Damn you, shut your mouthquite!” (346) You can tell that Oedipus is not going to like what this messenger has to say. He to owns the knowledge that is blinding Oedipus. But he will soon know and the knowledge of himself will set him free, and he will be able to understand his faults.
When Oedipus finally realizes that the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother had came true, he was over come with shame. He goes to Jocasta’s quarters, where she had taken her own life, and gouged out his eyes with the broach that she wore. In the end, Oedipus gains insight into his life, his failings, and the nature of the gods and fate only through his own blindness, only through accepting the truth of his lack of vision, and his inability to impact fate.
Oedipus gains a compassionate, though tragic outlook because of his capacity to envision that which he could never see while he had his physical sight. Through his blindness, Oedipus is finally allowed the ability to see himself, and this is the irony of sight in Sophocles’ play Oedipus the King.