, Research Paper
The play Oedipus Tyrannus, written by Sophocles, is a play filled with symbols and irony involving the aspect of both vision and blindness. This aspect of the novel takes on an important role in the life of Oedipus, the ruler of Thebes. He originally feels as though he knows and sees everything, nevertheless, as the motto of the Oracle at Delphi states, he does not “know thyself,” as he will find out toward the end of the play. The notion of seeing and blindness becomes an important and ironic symbol in the tragic fall of Oedipus, a man who could not escape his lot or moira.
Initially, Oedipus is a confident leader who believes he is educated and knows the truth about himself and the land he presides over, Thebes. This is because he was proclaimed the most famous man alive as a result of his answering the Sphinx?s riddle to save Thebes from a tragic epidemic. However, at the beginning of the play there is another plague causing grief to the members of Thebes, and Oedipus goes so far as to say that he will stop at nothing to rid Thebes of this pollution. He states, “Each of you grieves for himself alone, while my heart must bear the strain of sorrow for all–myself and you and all our city?s people. No I am not blind to it,” (p.4). Yet in essence he is blind to it because he is the indirect cause for the epidemic in Thebes. Oedipus finds out that the cause for the Epidemic is that nobody came forth as an avenger in the murder of King Laius. Oedipus then states, “I shall not cease until I bring the truth to light. Apollo has shown, and you have shown, the duty which we owe the dead,” (p.5). This is ironic in that Oedipus vows to make the truth come to light so that everybody can see it, including himself. Moreover, this is symbolic because Apollo is god of light and vision, the exact characteristics Oedipus believes he has but actually needs.
Another instance in the play where sight and blindness become an issue is when Oedipus sends to see the prophet Teiresias, second only to Apollo. Teiresias is physically blind and Oedipus holds this against Teiresias. He goes so far as to state, “Your ears are deaf, your eyes are blind, your mind?your mind is crippled!” (p.10). This nonetheless is quite ironic for Oedipus is mentally blind. He is unaware of who he is. Oedipus is the murderer of his father, husband and lover to his mother, and brother to his children. Teiresias responds to Oedipus? accusation. “I tell you this, since you mock my blindness. You have eyes, Oedipus, and do not see your own destruction. You have eyes and do not see what lives with you? Then darkness will shroud those eyes that now can see the light,” (p.11). Here Teiresias warns Oedipus of what his mental blindness has hidden from. He warns Oedipus of the doom and suffering in darkness that awaits him in the future. Finally, Teiresias ends the scene saying, “And if you find the words I speak are lies, then say that I am blind,” (p.12). Teiresias knows that his prophet is infallible, and that Oedipus will soon realize who he is. Then, and only then, would Oedipus be aware of his mental blindness.
Oedipus eventually puts the puzzle together and realizes that he truly was blind to the crimes that would ruin his life and the life of his family. “O God! O no! I see it now! All clear! O Light! I will never look on you again! Sin! Sin in my birth! Sin in my marriage! Sin in blood!” (p.28). Oedipus now realizes that he was blind and has accused both Creon and Teiresias wrongly. However, what is even worse is the effect that his sins have on his family. Shortly after his learning of his sins, Jocasta kills herself. This leaves Oedipus on a rampage. “Her gold brooches, her pins?he tore them from her gown and plunged them into his eyes again and again and again and screamed ?No longer shall you see the suffering you have known and caused! You saw what was forbidden to be seen, yet failed to recognize those whom you longed to see! Now you shall see only darkness!?” (p.29) Now, ironically, Oedipus is physically blind, but his mind is clear. Nevertheless, his suffering will last forever.
Once again, sight is an issue when Oedipus must face the citizens of Thebes and receive his punishment from Creon, the sole protector of Thebes. Oedipus approaches the chorus to tell of his sins. The chorus can not stand to look at him. Oedipus symbolically is a “Dread horror for men to see!” (p.29). The sight of Oedipus is blinding to others. Oedipus cannot see the reaction of the chorus, but he knows they are awestruck by the hideous sight of him. Oedipus requests to be cast out to where no man will have to see him. Thus, Creon fulfills his request and expels Oedipus from Thebes, but not before his children, Antigone and Ismene must bear the blinding sight of their father and brother.
Sophocles? use of symbolism and irony is shown in Oedipus Tyrannus through his use of the notion of seeing and blindness. This common motif is extended throughout the play and takes on a great significance in the development of the plot. In an effort to escape his god given prophecy, Oedipus tragically falls into the depths of unthinkable crimes as a result of the mental blindness of his character; thus never escaping his lot.