, Research Paper
The story of a tragic hero is a tale of a hero that comprises his goodness and superiority, but which are overshadowed by a tragic flaw in which the hero makes fatal errors in judgement that ultimately leads to the downfall and a final tragic realization of the hero. It is at this time in which the hero understands how he has unwittingly helped bring about his own destruction and absence of freewill. In Sophocles?s tragedy of Oedipus the King, Oedipus falls under the common description of a tragic hero. There are many examples that define Oedipus as such, but there are three that stand out the most. First, he is a man that believes there is a purpose to what he does, yet his actions lead to pain and disaster. Second, he is able to learn from suffering and have a deeper understanding of himself, as is a common characteristic of a tragic hero. And finally, there are times Oedipus understands and believes the differences between right and wrong, yet he discovers that his good is often evil and that morality produces immoral results.
Oedipus is a just, compassionate and sympathetic ruler who is beloved by all his people. When the priests of Thebes approach him, pleading for help on behalf of the people who were suffering from plague and famine, Oedipus, as the leader of Thebes, immediately agrees and feels that he alone is the main sufferer of this catastrophe, he states,
?Oh my piteous children, known, well known to me are the desires wherewith ye have come: well wot I that ye suffer all; yet, sufferers as ye are, there is not one of you whose suffering is as mine? (123).
He promises the priests to fully defeat the problem of the plague that has been put on the city by the Gods as a way to find the murderer of Laius. Oedipus feels it?s his sworn duty as king to do everything possible to protect the city, and therefore acknowledges that he will discover who murdered Laius and bring him to justice. This shows that he is a man that believes in his duties and that there is a purpose to what he does. In addition to being a good rule Oedipus was also a filial son. When he first was informed about the prophecy in Corinth that he would kill his father and marry his mother, he was unwilling to stay and left immediately, in case any circumstances would ever lead him to kill the King and marry the Queen of Corinth, whom he had then thought of as his natural parents. Unknowingly, it is his strong admiration for his people and purpose as king and his fidelity as a son that lead to his downfall.
Oedipus is blind to the fact that his attempt to escape the very prophecy that he knew would destroy his life in Corinth, ended up being fulfilled in Thebes with his natural born parents. Because of the prophecies dictated by the God Apollo, Oedipus had no freewill. Everything he does is already predicted and set in stone. Ironically, it is both Oedipus and Laius and Jocasta?s fears of the oracles prediction and their resolve to maintain the prophecy from not occurring that ultimately lead to the fulfilment of the prophecy. King Laius and Jocasta decide to abandon Oedipus on the mountainside and leave him to die when he was but a few weeks old to insure that he would not grow up to kill his father. However, fate intervened and Oedipus found himself being adopted by the King and Queen of Corinth. As Oedipus became older he too became aware of the prophecy of Apollo and left the land of Corinth in order to protect both his ?parents? and himself from allowing the prophecy to be fulfilled.
After leaving Corinth he solved the Sphinx?s riddle and became the successor of King Laius as the King of Thebes and married his widow, Jacosta. When the gods could no longer stand for Oedipus? acts, they punished the city by sending plague and famine upon the city. When approached by the priests, Oedipus could only promise them his help, which started off the chain of events that leads to his persistent search for the truth and eventually ends at the knowledge of his sins and his downfall. The tragic end of the royal family ends in disarray, Jacosta is dead and Oedipus stabs his own eyes proclaiming that
? …no, dark though I am, yet know I thy voice full well… but the hand that struck the eyes was none save mine, wretched that I am! Why was I to see, when sight could show me nothing sweet?? (175).
The main irony in this tragedy is that before when Oedipus had his vision he was blind to the knowledge of his past, but now that he is truly blind he has never seen things more clearly. Oedipus is able to learn the unholy acts in which he fathered incestuous children and killed his own father. Yet, he is able to learn from his suffering and the suffering of others and take full responsibility of his choices and does not condemn the oracle prophecies as the reason he committed such acts.
Finally, there are times Oedipus understands and believes the differences between right and wrong, yet he discovers that his good is often evil and that morality produces immoral results. Oedipus is driven by his resolve to determine who his actual birth parents are, but what he does not know is that by trying to simply find out the truth about his past he will open unwanted doors of the evil and wrong that he has done in his past and the actions that have resulted from those actions. Even his own wife tells him to stop, as she realizes the answers to his questions would lead to disaster. Jocasta is distraught by what she has discovered, even going at lengths to tell Oedipus that ?if thou hast any care for thine own life, forbear this search! My anguish is enough? (164). Once she knows the truth herself she still tries to protect Oedipus from finding the truth, however, despite her pleading Oedipus just does not listen, which leads to the suicide of Jocasta and the self mutilation of Oedipus. He understood that is was the right thing to find the murderer of Laius in order to save his kingdom of Thebes. Ironically, it is his good that leads to his fall from grace.
From tragic stories, mainly from Oedipus the King by Sophocles, the famous Greek philosopher and critique Aristotle derived his famous definition of the tragic hero. He stated a tragic hero is ?a man who is highly renowned and prosperous, but one who is not pre-eminently virtuous and just, whose misfortune, however, is brought upon him not by vice and depravity but by some error of judgment or frailty.? Oedipus is a perfect example of what Aristotle meant by a tragic Hero. It is a story about a man who has no say in what path his life would take, a man who once had everything and is left with nothing. He was a king, a good husband and father, a man very content with his life, however, by plays end he had lost his status, wife, children and home. He evokes sympathy simply because he was not evil or foolish, just human and fallible.