Oedipus Essay, Research Paper
Oedipus Rex- Quest for knowledge – Was it really worth it?
One of the most memorable and meaningful Socratic quotes applies well when in context of Sophocles’ Theban Trilogy. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” proclaims Socrates. He could have meant many things by this statement, and in relation to the play, the meaning is found to be even more complex. In the situation of Oedipus, king of Thebes, the truth of this statement is in question. Would Oedipus have been better off if he was blind to the knowledge of his birth and the fate which was doomed to someday come true? Truly though, his life would have been a far better and an easier path had he never known about his true origins. His life in Corinth would have been long and prosperous, and Thebes would have lived on under King Laius. In fact, everyone would have been better off in the long run if Oedipus had not ventured out beyond the walls
of Corinth. So is it worth living an examined life?
Socrates had made this statement long after the creation of the Theban Trilogy. In the context of his own time, this was meant to imply that life must be examined and reflected upon, known and discovered by each individual philosopher to better enrich life for all. In Oedipus Rex, Sophocles intent for this quote was portrayed in a different way. The unexamined life was one that was in the dark, unknown as to what fate lied beyond every turn and irony of living. Oedipus, up to the point in which he heard the comment in the tavern in Corinth, lived an unexamined life. To
Socrates, he was an unfulfilled man, one who deserved to know more,
one who not complete. However, in a much lessspiritual sense,
Oedipus’ life was complete, in that he had all that he needed, and was
living a happy and productive life. As the drama progresses, he finds
out more and more, learning exactly what the implications of his birth
was, he suffers the fate for examining his life. So what Socrates
had meant, that the life which was not rich with self exploration and
reflection was not worth living, was different than its use in terms of Oedipus, who’s life was unexamined, yet complete.
The question arises, what would life have been like, if Oedipus had not discovered his true origins? If he had stayed in Corinth, would this have ever happened? Maybe they would be no story, if not for that one comment from the old man which sparked rebellion in the young prince Oedipus. He
ventured out to Delphi, to find knowledge of his background out of it, and to discover if this was the truth, despite the fact that his adopted parents of Corinth had assured him of it falseness. Oedipus leaves Corinth, fulfilling the Socratic idea of the unexamined life. However, he must evaluate the eventual consequences of his actions and the suspicions which they uphold. What becomes of his fateful journey out of Corinth leads to the downfall of an entire city and family line. If he had not murdered King Laius, the Sphinx would have never lowered his attention onThebes, he would have never fulfilled the pophecy, and all would have lived on in peace and tranquillity.
Once examining these aspects of the relationship between the quote and Oedipus Rex, we can come to a final examination of its implications. The question which was addressed, that of the value of the examined life, can be answered. If Oedipus had not ventured beyond the protective walls of his adopted home, would anything such as what occurred in the play ever have happened? If Oedipus had not pursued that answers to the mysteries that plagued him, despite the pleading warnings of Giocasta, in fact his life would have been contented and happy. Instead, he follows the Socratic
method of exploration and discovery, and proceeds down the path of pain and distraught. Was, after it was over, all worth it? I believe that no, it was not. Being content and suited with what he knew of himself would have saved Oedipus and his children/siblings much agony. However, in the typical Greek tragedy, we must see his fall from grace through, which is what happens in the end.
With the shield of his ignorance, much pain and difficulty is prevented. What kind of worries would an ignorant man have? In the case of Oedipus, ignorance would have suited him fine. The Socratic quote “the unexamined life is not worth living” certainly doesn’t hold true in the case of Oedipus Rex. While it may hold importance and a substantial meaning for our own lives, in the case of Oedipus Rex, he would have been better off without it. As a matter of fact, while the unexamined life is poor in a spiratual sense, Oedipus would have truly been fine without it. The unexamined life is a simple one, and he would have lived a long and happy life, never discovering the true nature of his birth, not even caring.