In Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex, first performed sometime in the 430s B. C. E, the scene opens in front of the palace of Oedipus, King of Thebes. As Oedipus enters, he finds many children and priests praying to the gods. Oedipus questions the oldest of the priests as to why they are praying. The priest tells him that there is a plague of sorts that has befallen on the city of Thebes causing the destruction of crops and livestock and also caused the women of the city not to be able to bear children.
Oedipus, being concerned for his people, sends his brother-in-law Creon to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi to learn from the gods what might be done to save the city. When Creon returns he tells Oedipus along with the crowd assembled that “The god commands us to expel from the land of Thebes / An old defilement we are sheltering” (99, 100). Upon further explanation Creon says that revenge must be taken upon the murderer of the former King of Thebes, Laios, before the plague will be lifted from the city, because Apollo has told him “It was / Murder that brought the plague-wind on the city (104, 105).
The investigation that ensues uncovers horrible truths of a prophecy that Oedipus has been running from for years, but because of his tragic flaws have all come to pass anyway. Oedipus’ first tragic flaw that he shows is his excessive pride. When Oedipus firsts finds out about the plague on the city and the reasons for the plague, he immediately vows to find the killer and free his city of this atrocity. Oedipus identifies the city of Thebes as himself, in some part to his first act when arriving at the city by solving the riddle of the Sphinx, which by doing so enabled him to marry the widowed Queen Jocasta and claim the throne of Thebes.
Oedipus puts himself on a level at or above the gods with his pride which is proven when he states “What good were they? or the gods, for the matter of that? / But I came by, / Oedipus, the simple man” (381, 382, 383). Creon tells Oedipus that they had not hunted down the supposed killers because of the Sphinx’s song that encapsulated the men of Thebes. Oedipus’ pride again reveals itself as he states “Then once more I must bring what is dark to light” (134). Oedipus feels that whoever killed Laios might also want to kill him, so Oedipus was even more anxious to get o the bottom of the mystery not only to save his city, but also to save his own hide. Irony comes about quickly in the play when Oedipus states “I say I take the son’s part, just as though / I were his son, to press the fight for him” (251, 252). Of course this is ironic in the fact that Oedipus is actually Laios’ son. Oedipus, as a child, was supposed to have been left to die to keep the prophecy from coming true, yet his flaws brought him to fulfill them. The shepherd who saved Oedipus as a child and gave him to the neighboring shepherd later told Oedipus that “He saved him – but for what a fate” (1117).
Soon Oedipus reveals that he is very arrogant and quick to anger, bringing to light more of his own tragic flaws, when he summons the blind seer Teiresias to question about his knowledge on the mystery of the killer. When Teiresias tells Oedipus that “there’s no help in truth” and to “Bear your own fate, and I’ll / Bear mine” (305, 308, 309), Oedipus immediately becomes insulted, and his anger shows. Oedipus is furious that Teiresias knows something of the problem the city is facing, and yet against the seer’s advice, he continues to insult him and demand that he tell him what he knows.
When Teiresias continues to refuse to answer, Oedipus’ anger increases, and he begins to accuse Teiresias of conspiring the murder of Laios. At that point Teiresias seemed to be tired of Oedipus’ anger and arrogance and tells him that he is “the pollution of this country” (338). That comment just fuels Oedipus’ fire and anger, and he continues to berate Teiresias unknowingly bringing forth a truth that causes his ultimate suffering. Oedipus’ anger and insulting manner towards Teiresias has influenced the seer to bring out all that Oedipus has done in his anger and blindness to the truth.
It is because of these so called accusations, which later makes Oedipus think of what the truth really is with his life, and start to question his path. One of the last things that Teiresias says to Oedipus is “the children with whom he lives now he will be / Bother and father – the very same; to her / Who bore him, son and husband – the very same / Who came to his father’s bed, wet with his father’s blood (442, 443, 444, 445). Probably the most costly of all of Oedipus’ tragic flaws is his arrogance.
Oedipus’ arrogance along with his anger truly reveals itself in his downfall and fulfillment of his prophecy when he leaves the city of Corinth to escape the prophecy, that he heard himself from the shrine at Delphi. The God stated that he should “lie with my own mother, breed / Children from whom all men would turn their eyes; / And that I should be my father’s murderer” (750, 751, 752). By leaving Corinth, thinking he would be avoiding this atrocity, he was following a path that would lead him to carry out what he feared so much.
When Oedipus came to a place where three roads met and encountered the horse drawn carriage carrying an old man, instead of heading way his arrogance to keep his path lead the groom leading the horses to force him off the road. With his arrogance and anger he then started down the path which brought him to fulfill his prophecy. As Oedipus told Iocaste “I struck him in my rage. The old man saw me / And brought his double goad down upon my head / As I came abreast. / He was paid back and more! / I killed him. I killed them all” (767, 768, 769, 770, 773, 774). This action of arrogance is the first tragic flaw he commits that will lead to his ultimate suffering. Oedipus’ tragic flaws of arrogance, anger, and excessive pride take him down the very path he tried to avoid by leaving Corinth. These flaws started his downfall and also brought about the truth. After knowing what he had done, Oedipus jabbed out his eyes so that he should no more “look on the misery about me, / The horrors of my own doing” (1223, 1224).
In the beginning, Oedipus has physical sight but lacks self-knowledge, he was blind to the truth of his own identity. In the end Oedipus lacks physical sight but gains self knowledge. Oedipus has gained this knowledge through much suffering and that suffering was caused by his tragic flaws, which ironically, lead him to fulfill a prophecy he thought he was avoiding.
Sophacles. “Oedipus Rex. ” The Bedford Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Karen S. Henry. Book 1. Boston: Bedford / St. Martin’s, 2004. 899-951