Oedipus: A Tragic Hero Essay, Research Paper
According to Aristotle Oedipus from the play ?Oedipus Rex? by Sophocles is the ideal model of a classic tragic hero. A tragic hero is unable to escape his misfortune of destruction and downfall that is destined to happen. As seen, no one can outrun his or her own fate. Looking at Aristotle?s definition of a tragic hero, Oedipus is a hero because he causes his own downfall because of his blindness and anger; his life falls apart when he finds out his life story. Oedipus?s fate is not deserved.
The play ?Oedipus Rex? is seen as a tragedy. In the century after Sophocles the philosopher Aristotle analyzed tragedy and included it in his book called ?Poetics.? His definition, ?Tragedy, then, is a process of imitating an action which has serious implication to complete, and possesses magnitude; by means of language which has been made seriously attractive, with each of its varieties found separately in parts; enacted by the persons themselves and not presented through narrative; through a course of pity and fear completing the purification of tragic emotional characteristics? (Else 25). Basically, translated a tragedy is a play that portrays a conflict between human beings and some overwhelming force; it ends sorrowfully and disastrously, and this outcome seems inevitable. ?To Aristotle Oedipus is an excellent subject for tragedy, because he is preeminently great and glorious without being preeminently just and virtuous, and just because he falls through a fault but not a criminal fault? (Ferguson 195).
In a tragedy, the main character is viewed as a tragic hero. The Greek hero is strong and mighty while his wit and intelligence are highly valued. A Greek hero follows his fate, making serious mistakes and having a fairly simple life. Using Oedipus as an ideal model, Aristotle says that a tragic hero must be an important or influential man who makes an error in judgement, and who must then suffer the consequences of his actions. The consequences of these errors in judgement are known as tragic flaws. A tragic flaw is better described as ?hamartia? (Easterling 181) meaning errors and weakness in judgement, and ?hubris? (Easterling 181) meaning excess pride leading to overconfidence. Both of these characteristics are the main reason of destruction and downfall in mankind and the tragic hero in this play, Oedipus.
The first incident where Oedipus shows an error in judgement is when Oedipus forces Teiresias to reveal his destiny and his father?s name. When Teiresias tries to warn him by saying ?This day will give you parents and destroy you? (Sophocles), Oedipus does not care and proceeds with his questioning. He is too hardheaded to even listen to what Teiresias has to say to him. In doing this, he creates his own downfall. He disregards all the information given to him because he believes he knows his own destiny, he believes he has done everything in his power to change his misfortune.
Another incident where there is an error in judgement is when the Herdsman tells Oedipus who his mother is, and Oedipus replies ?Oh, oh, then everything has come out true. Light, I shall not look on you Again. I have been born where I should not be born, I have been married where I should not marry, I have killed whom I should not kill; now all is clear? (Sophocles). Oedipus?s decision to pursue his questioning is wrong; his attitude blinded him and, therefore, his fate is not deserved, but it is far beyond his control. Certainly Oedipus does not choose to deliberately kill his father and marry his mother, even though unknowingly everything doesleads to this end. As seen throughout the play, nothing Oedipus does will make him escape his fate and destiny.
A third incident where Oedipus shows error in judgement, is when Oedipus runs from his homeland including his mother and father. He is trying to escape his fate. The gods above him told Oedipus that he would, in the future, kill his father and marry his mother. By moving somewhere else, he believes the gods will be unable to touch him. Although we know that Oedipus is unable to escape the gods by the plaque that is caused in the beginning of the play. Like his father, Oedipus also sought ways to escape the horrible destiny told by the oracle of Apollo. The chorus warns us of man’s need to have reverence for the gods, and the dangers of too much pride. “But if a man tread the ways of arrogance; fear not justice, honour not the gods enshrined; evil take him! Ruin be the prize of his fatal pride!? (Sophocles).
A moment in Oedipus?s behavior where hubris can be seen is when he the scene where he is talking to Teiresias. Not with what he says but how he says it. He treats the man with such disrespect and acts as if the man is inflicted with some sort of horrible disease. He also acts as though he is on a different level then him. To him, Tieresias has no feelings and is ignorant to the city. He is also blind and is unable to see the city with his own two eyes. Appearance to Oedipus is very important.
Then, does Oedipus deserve to suffer for his actions if fate and his blindness caused them? Two reasons can be thought of. First, the flaw in Oedipus?s character, hubris (pride and stubbornness), is insisting on discovering who he is and the anger he shows in the process bring about the final disastrous revelation. In this way the tragic flaws, or weaknesses, in his character overcome his good points and destroy him. Second, the message of the play may, perhaps be in that there are some aspects of existence beyond our understanding, aspects that operate by principles outside our range of experience; Destiny. Our lives are ruled by fate.
The play seems to be sending a universal message and that is not to tamper with the predetermined destiny that the ?gods? set us. However in Oedipus?s case it is his arrogance that gets him into the mess. He blinds himself, proceeds on the mission to find Laius? killer, and chooses to ignore the warnings of anyone that attempts to stand between him and the truth.
Throughout this play, characteristics of character and fate are what bring the destruction and downfall to the main character and tragic hero. Oedipus is a good-natured person who has bad judgement and is frail. He is too proud to see any truths, and he refuses to believe that he could have been responsible for such a horrible crime. He makes a few fatal decisions and is condemned to suffering because of his tragic flaws, his very own actions, and his inability to change his own destiny. He learns a lesson about life and how there is more to it than just one person?s fate.