Buena Vista De Oedipus Essay, Research Paper
Buena Vista de “Oedipus The King”
Do you have a great understanding of “Oedipus the King”? The understanding
provoked by reading this story is not accidental but intentional. Sophocles
wants the reader to walk away with condemnation and regret. The reader can
not help but to walk away from the book with a better understanding of fate.
The knowledge gained is going to be different for each reader. To
understand the story, an eye examination must take place. A diagnosis of
each character’s function and true self must be performed. Unless, the
reader puts on his or her lenses of interpretation they will suffer from
First, the main character, Oedipus according to the story is the greatest of
men and the solver of riddles. Well, Oedipus can only solve the riddle of
his own origins by revealing a truth too awful to bear. Knowledge is power
but the insight gained from the knowledge is painful. Oedipus is the
perfect example of this philosophy. Oedipus’ strive to see everything
blinded him but even in his blindness he still searched for answers.
Christopher Nassaar writes, “Oedipus is thus the patron saint of
philosophers, scientists, poets and artists – of all truth-seekers. Like
Mulder and Scully in the X Files, Oedipus knows ‘the truth is out there’,
but unlike them, he doesn’t expect to have his eyesight restored for next
week’s episode”(187)! Nassaar also writes, “Oedipus is an inspiration for
mankind: he must find out the truth at whatever cost, and then accept the
full responsibility for the knowledge he has discovered. Knowledge plus pain
is better than Ignorance plus bliss” (187). Is Oedipus fate predetermined?
No, all the choices made are by Oedipus. He chose to send Creon to Delphi,
to listen to the priest, to ask for Teiresias, to have the Old Shepherd
fetched. And his blinding was freely chosen, not unchosen. Sophocles needed
Oedipus to appear as a wise person. In order to do this he had him solve
the riddle of the Sphinx. During this time period only the wise and divine
knew the answer to riddles.
Secondly, Jocasta, the wife and mother of Oedipus is the perfect character
for the blame of the whole mess.
“Jocasta is a victim in Oedipus Rex, but not as much as she is a catalyst
for Oedipus’ own victimization. She keeps her faith throughout and tries to
relieve Oedipus of his. Because of this, readers may in turn pity her and
loathe her. But the gods tested the king of Thebes through her – the main
goal of the play – and both he and she failed.”(Boyer, “Jocasta The Pawn…”
Throughout the play, Jocasta tested the beliefs of those around her by
feigning disbelief in the gods herself. At the beginning of the play she
can be seen carrying garlands and incense to the altar and tries to appeal
to Apollo to purify the city. Later, she denies her belief in the gods
totally. “While her faith remains strong, her task from the gods is to test
the faiths of others, especially that of Oedipus, which she does” (Boyer,
“Jocasta The Pawn…” 57). Boyer also writes, “Why, then, would Jocasta be
forced to perform such a dubious task for the gods? It is because she tried
to avoid an earlier prophecy. By tying her child’s feet together and casting
him out, she attempted to defeat the gods, and this of course angered them.
Her punishment, then, was to test the beliefs of the very child she cast
out”(“Jocasta the Pawn…” 57). All in all Jocasta is the perfect suspect for
the outcome of everyone’s fate.
Thirdly, Creon, is the bother-in-law of Oedipus. He is the perfect example
that the first will be last and the last first. At the beginning of the
story Creon is a messenger who is sent to Oracle at Delphi for an answer.
Sophocles uses Creon as a pawn to block the king’s path. As a pawn, he is
only used to spark a flame of angry inside of Oedipus. Creon is very
successful in putting Oedipus in checkmate. In the end he has taken the
throne and now sits in rule. Creon now has the power to send Oedipus as a
messenger to find the truth.
Teiresias who is beckon upon by Oedipus sets the action in motion.
Teiresias should be seen as a defensive chess piece in favor of Oedipus. In
Oedipus’ eyes Teiresias is just a blind beggar who knows nothing. The truth
is that even though he is blind, he sees and knows all. Putting too much
emphasis on Tiersias is not important because he only used as a pendulum to
set the clock in motion and to keep it moving.
In this game of chess, the shepherd would be recognized as the queens piece
because he is free to move all over the board and is very vital to the
winning of the game.
“Who ever really thinks about the Old Shepherd in this play? His part in
the story is extremely vital though. He took the three-day old baby from
Jocasta, who had told him to kill it. He claimed he couldn’t bear to kill
it, and gave it instead to his fellow shepherd from Corinth, from the other
side of Mount Cithaeron. He was one of King Laius’ escorts when he went on
his fateful visit to the oracle at Delphi, and witnessed the killing of his
master by Oedipus. He spread the story that a gang of thieves (and told
Creon and Jocasta this story) killed King Laius. He realized that the new
king of Thebes was the killer of the previous one and asked Jocasta if he
could be sent away from the palace. ‘He was a good slave – he deserved that
favor and much more.’ (Of course he did, she knew how helpful he’d been in
disposing of her unwanted child!) When forced to, he confessed to Oedipus
that he had failed to kill him as a baby, and given him to the Corinthian
instead” (Morwitz, “On the Road to Boeotia” 15).
Morwitz also writes, “But the more you think about him, the more wretched he
seems – a miserable little man too squeamish to carry out the orders to kill
the baby” (15). –Morwitz holds the perfect stance on the characterization
of the old shepherd.
The Choragos play a minor role in the story. They only question what is
going on. For example the Choragos asks Oedipus, “Doer of horror, how did
you bear to quench your vision? What divinity raised your hand” (Sophocles,
“Oedipus the King” 1272)? Sophocles used this character as a way to
emphasize the importance of what was going on during that time.
Lowell Edmund writes, “Why didn’t the Thebans simply shoot the sphinx with
arrows rather than stand by and see their fellow citizens devoured?
Ridiculous” (“The Sphinx…” 72) The Sphinx was used by Sophocles’ as an
attacker so that Thebes could be saved. A Sphinx is a rather large
creature, giving it the image of terror. Therefore setting in motion the
events to come. Sophocles needed a scapegoat for this action so he chose to
use the Sphinx. Had this story been written in medieval times, a dragon
would probably have been used.
Sophocles constructed these characters modeling them after real humans. So
the understanding that the reader grasp becomes different for each reader.
A reader must put on his or her lenses of interpretation in order to see
straight. The reader must understand that sight is not always great and
that being blind really opens you eyes to the truth with in oneself. A
diagnosis of each character will help the reader better deal with the
Oedipus that lives within them.
Boyer, Anthony. “Jocasta the Pawn: a look at the role of Jocasta in
‘Oedipus Rex’” Parabola, Fall 1993 v18 n3 57.
Edmonds, Lowell. “The Sphinx in the Oedipus Legend” 1981 Comparative
Literature Studies, Winter 1997 v34 n1 71-72.
Mortwitz, Ernest “On the Road to Boeotia” Classical Philology, April 1996
V91 n2 15.
Nassaar, Christopher S. “Sophocles’ Oedipus The King” The Explicator,
Summer 1997 v55 n4 187.
Sophocles. “Oedipus the King” Rpt. In Literature and Ourselves: A Thematic
Introduction for Readers and Writers 2nd ed. Gloria Henderson, Bill Day,
and Sandra Waller. New York: Longman, 1997 1237-1277.