Sight In Oedipus Essay, Research Paper
The irony of sight is a prevalent theme in Sophocles Oedipus the King. Both Oedipus and Tiresias are blind in their own respect, Oedipus by his pride, and Tiresias by his fate. They also share a common bond in their intelligence, perception, and in their wit. What makes their indisposition ironic is that Oedipus can see but is blinded by his pride and ignorance, his two preeminent hamartias, and Tiresias though physically blind can see what Oedipus cannot, the truth.
Oedipus was a perceptive man gifted with keen judgement and understanding yet his lack of insight and his pride led to his demise, not destiny. Oedipus forte was deciphering riddles, and unraveling any puzzles with the greatest of ease. He had a talent for looking outward, but unfortunately he had a deficiency of the ability to look inward. This talent of looking outward made him renowned for deciphering riddles and mysteries including that of the sphinx. Nevertheless when Tiresias appears and speaks in riddles, Oedipus cannot solve them because of his lack of insight, he is blind to the truth. He is in a sense spiritually blind. Tiresias on the other hand is full of insight and spirit, and is in no way vain. He represents the truth rejected by a willful and proud king, all but the embodiment of fate itself.
Tiresias riddles are clear in what they state, but Oedipus cannot comprehend them because he doesn’t know himself well enough. In one of Tiresias most blunt statements, he says, You are all ignorant. I will never reveal my dreadful secrets, or rather, yours (21). At this juncture in the play, Oedipus still cannot perceive who the murderer of King Laius is, even though the riddle is unsubtle. As the argument escalates Oedipus insults Tiresias and questions his prophetic powers. He mocks him and asks him where he was when the Sphinx chanted her riddle. He goes on to say,
That riddle was not for anyone who came along to answer it called for prophetic insight. But you didn t come forward, you offered no answer told you by the birds or the gods. No. I came, know-nothing Oedipus, I stopped the Sphinx (27).
Oedipus is so arrogant that he can’t believe that he could possibly have done anything wrong. He suffered from the iniquity of hubris. That is, he was very vain, and conceited. No matter how straightforward Tiresias riddles were, Oedipus pride wouldn’t let him solve them. Finally, Tiresias came right out and said what he meant without a riddle, and Oedipus still couldn’t accept that he did anything wrong. Tiresias simply stated, you are the murderer, you are the unholy defilement of this land (23). Following that remark from Tiresias, Oedipus shielded himself by accusing his brother in law, Creon, of forcing these innuendos from Tiresias. Of course, this wasn’t true, it was just a classic example of Oedipus pride. The arrogance portrayed by Oedipus is further evidence of his blindness to the truth. Furthermore it shows that he thinks himself greater than the prophet, Tiresias, and in essence better than the gods themselves.
Oedipus has the ability to comprehend the riddles, but he will not allow himself to see the truth. When Oedipus saved Thebes from The Sphinx, he answered a difficult puzzle. When the Sphinx demanded the answer to her riddle, Oedipus with his distinguished knack of riddles and having an open mind, replied correctly. The Sphinxs puzzle is far more complex than Tiresias’s elementary riddles, so Oedipus has the ability to solve the riddles but cannot let himself do so, because of his pretentiousness. We see his pretentiousness in action when he mocks Jocasta saying, You have nothing to be afraid of. Even if my mother turns out to be a slave, and I a slave for three generations back, your noble birth will not be called in question (77).
Oedipus demise was caused simply because of his pride and his lack of self-knowledge. He didn’t understand himself well enough. He could figure out any mystery besides his own existence. All of his life Oedipus had solved mysteries and puzzles about subjects other than himself. Now that he was faced with riddles accusing him of something, his own arrogance kept him from the truth. Oedipus would have solved Tiresias’s riddles instantaneously if it weren’t for his pride, and lack of insight Throughout the play Oedipus pride is echoed and manifests itself to the point where it engulfs him. Even when he talks with Jocasta about the truth of his past, he still cannot see the big picture. Jocasta, another blind figure, insists that the prophecy concerning Oedipus and the murder of his father is false. She successfully put his worries to rest assuring him that he could not have been the murderer of her late husband Lauis despite the fact that both of them where told the same prophecy. She tells Oedipus not to pay attention to prophecies. If God seeks or needs anything, he will easily make it clear to us himself (50). Finally, the truth is forced on Oedipus with outstanding evidence, presented by the messenger, the shepherd, and even Jocasta. Oedipus is so determined to find his true identity from the messenger, that he even speaks of torture to get him to talk. From the way the man speaks to the other shepherd, “Damn you! shut your mouth. Keep quiet!” (84), you can tell that Oedipus is not going to like what this messenger has to say. He too owns the knowledge that is blinding Oedipus. Even Jocasta realizes that the prophecy has come true, before it has been confirmed by the messenger, In God s name, if you place any value on your life, don t pursue the search. It is enough that I am sick to death (77). But he will soon know and the knowledge of himself will set him free, and he will be able to understand his faults and finally realize that the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother had come true.