Both physical blindness and blindness of the mind are depicted in Oedipus the King. The characters central to these images are Oedipus and Tiresias, the prophet. At the start of the play, Oedipus possesses sight while Tiresias is unable to see. However, as the play unfolds, it becomes evident as to who truly has the ability to see and who remains blind.
When Oedipus first meets Tiresias, the blind prophet reveals under pressure that Oedipus is the cause of the great plague in Thebes and that he is the murderer everyone is seeking. Despite Tiresias’ visual impairment, he can still discern the truth. In contrast, Oedipus is oblivious to it and promptly accuses Tiresias of conspiring with Creon to overthrow him as king. Oedipus insults Tiresias about his blindness, stating, “You have no strength, blind in your ears, your reason and your eyes” (374-375). In response, Tiresias warns Oedipus that the insults he hurls will soon boomerang back at him. Tiresias also informs Oedipus that the very fortune that brought him greatness will lead to his downfall. Tiresias says, “Blind who could see, a beggar who was rich, through foreign lands he’ll go and point before him with a stick” (460), suggesting that although Oedipus can currently see, eventually the truth will blind him and cause him to lose everything.
Oedipus remains oblivious to the truth until it becomes impossible to deny. Once the herdsman testifies, Oedipus realizes without a doubt that he has fulfilled the prophecy by murdering his father and marrying his mother, thus causing great tragedy in Thebes. It is at this moment, when he also discovers Jocasta’s lifeless body, that Oedipus pierces his own eyes with the pins on her garment. He declares that he will no longer bear witness to the sufferings he has endured or inflicted, nor will he continue to see things he should not have seen even in darkness (1280-1282). Through this act, he acknowledges that it was he himself, not Tiresias, who was truly blinded all along and now refuses to confront the misery brought upon his family and city.
Although Oedipus possessed the gift of sight, his mind remained unaware of the truth. In contrast, Tiresias, who was visually impaired, always had perceptive knowledge about matters that Oedipus opted to overlook. These occurrences demonstrate how mental prowess can surpass any physical abilities.