Oedipus Rex By Sophocles I c 496

Oedipus Rex By Sophocles I (c. 496 – 406 B.C.) Essay, Research Paper

It would be hard to find a play that has

been more universally praised than Oedipus Rex (”King Oedipus”). Aristotle

considered it the model tragedy, and that opinion has been widely held

to the present day. No drama before or since has managed to so successfully

combine a rapid, compelling plot, superb characterization, and elegant

poetry into such a tight bundle.

The tragedy of Oedipus Rex is not so much

that Oedipus commits two horrible crimes; after all, he was fated to do

so, and committed them unknowingly. It is, rather, that he, like his doomed

parents before him, ran headlong into the destiny he was trying to defy,

and then compounded his evils by his imperious refusal to believe the prophet’s

declaration of his guilt. Pride was his downfall. The Greeks had a distinct

word for this: “Hubris,” a heroically foolish defiance; the feeling that

one is beyond the reaches of authority or convention.

Oedipus Rex is notable for its use of dramatic

irony: everybody in the audience knows from the start that Oedipus himself

is the guilty party he seeks out for punishment. The viewers’ enjoyment

comes as they see and hear the facts accumulate, bit by bit, until it suddenly

dawns on Oedipus that he is his father’s murderer. The irony is heightened

by blind Teiresias’ many tauntings and the chorus’ musical references to

“seeing the light” Oedipus, though his physical eyes can see, is blind

to the truth; and when he finally does come to see the truth, ironically,

he blinds himself.

The first and final – and most tragic and

triumphant – irony, however, lies in the implicit acknowledgment that the

very quality of Hubris (Oedipus’ arrogance in defying cosmic and priestly

authority, fate and prophecy) is the same quality that enabled him to earlier

confront and defeat the Sphinx and to save an oppressed city. Oedipus,

then, is a hero who pits his pride against both gods and fate in the mold

of Prometheus (whose downfall was caused by his sharing the gift of fire

with man) and another heroine, Cassandra, who was cursed with the blessing

of prophecy. And indeed, most Greek dramas carry this theme of human paradox.

Perhaps the symbolism of the Sphinx, who

haunts the background of Oedipus Rex with her simple yet terrible riddle,

says all that is necessary: The true enigma of the universe lies not in

any exotic intergalactic phenomenon; the greatest mystery begins and ends

with man.


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