King Oedipus Essay, Research Paper
“It was you, we remember, a newcomer to Cadmus? town, that broke our bondage to the vile Enchantress. With no foreknowledge or hint that we could give, But, as we truly believe, with the help of God, You gave us back our life. Now, Oedipus great and glorious, we seek your help again.” King Oedipus, the greatest and noblest of all men, is once again being called upon by the Thebans to save the polis from disaster. The Chorus holds Oedipus as the object of universal adoration, but is he really the greatest Theban king ever? Why is it that the chorus neglects to mention any of Oedipus? great contributions to Thebes, except that of defeating the Sphinx. If he were an excellent leader, it seems curious that the only notable thing about his kingship was an act that took place fifteen years and four of his children ago. Was it really Sophocles? intention that we regard Oedipus as a “good” man? Oedipus accuses Tiresias and Creon, two innocent men, of conspiring to dethrone him and take over the country. Would a “good” man do this, lacking any evidence but his own suspicions? Would a “good” man wish his own brother-in-law dead when no one could even testify to his guilt? Would a “good” man threaten a timid shepherd with pain and death merely because he was hesitant to reveal the harsh realities of Oedipus? life? Oedipus? tale of meeting Laius is another troubling point. In Colonus he states in plain terms that King Laius would have murdered him had he not killed Laius. In his initial speech to Jocasta on Laius? death he tells a different story. It sounds as though he provoked, or at least escalated, the attack on him, striking the first real blow instead of going off the road, which was all Laius? party really wanted him to do. His earlier speech is not at all a recall of killing in self-defense. Oedipus is, rather, quite hotheaded and possibly even bloodthirsty.
Oedipus does not unselfishly seek out the truth even though he knows it will be painful for him, rather, he has no idea what the outcome of his search will be, denies the truth at every turn, and threatens those who speak it. Many people may paint Oedipus as a great man, pointing out that he pursues the truth at whatever personal cost and has the strength to accept and endure it when found. They admire that Oedipus was willing to bring himself down in his lust to find his true identity. However, the driving force of Oedipus? fact-finding mission is an attempt to end the disease that plagues his city. He doesn?t realize the personal consequences his hunt will have for him, and his loyalty to the truth is based on his ignorance of it. In fact, if we examine his “quest for identity”, it becomes apparent that the sequence of events are quite coincidental. First, he summons Tiresias to name the killer, who Oedipus does not at the time believe to be himself. Second, a messenger arrives from Corinth, not summoned by the king, revealing that Oedipus is not truly Polybus? son. Finally, the shepherd reveals all of Oedipus? past, after having been called for the purpose of providing more information about Laius? death. The coincidental nature of these events contradicts this vision of Oedipus as a sort of Greek private-eye who relentlessly digs out clues in a self-destructive search for his parents. Yes, Oedipus is eager to find the truth, but the most important witnesses for the true story of his birth either come to him of their own will, or a called by Oedipus in the hopes that they will tell him something entirely different. In the end, he resigns himself to the truth which would have been clear much earlier (as it was to Jocasta: “white with terror” p.55), had he just been open to accepting it. But at the time he searches, he does not even consider the truth, as told by Tiresias and the Corinthian drunk, a possiblilty. It seems as if he is looking for a story that he finds tolerable, instead of thoroughly investigating all of the possibilities. When Tiresias confronts Oedipus with the truth, Oedipus snaps, “Had I known what madness I was to listen to, I would have spared myself the trouble” p.38). In other words, had he known the story Tiresias was going to tell, he would have supresssed him and the truth.
Oedipus is a person of great importance: in fact, the security and health of Thebes depend upon him. At first, he is a person who acts decisively and who is celebrated for doing so. He is a famous man because his excellence consists of his ability to make decisions and act upon them, in a way that no one else in the polis can do. Oedipus has a heroic confidence in his own abilities, and has good reason for such confidence, both from his own sense of past achievement and from the very high regard everyone has of the achievements. He is conscious of himself as a great man. As his situation gets more complicated and things don?t work out as he has imagined they might, he doesn?t adapt, change, or learn. He becomes more and more determined to see things through on his own terms and becomes increasingly unflexible. Having accepted the responsibilty for saving Thebes before, he will on his own see the matter through, without compromise, without lies, without help. Anyone who suggests that he ought to do it differently is simply an obstacle who must be overcome. This is where you can see that Oedipus demands that life answers to him and must conform to his vision of what it should be. Throughout the play, he is seeking to impose his will upon events. People around him are always urging caution and even abandonment of his quest. To Oedipus, acting on such advise would be a denial of what he is. And, as he repeatedly states, he would rather suffer anything than to compromise his sense of who he is and how he must conduct himself. That attitude, as we know, leads to the most horrible conclusion.
(3) The tragic hero Oedipus emerges as anything but a social person. He may begin that way, motivated by a genuine desire to help the people, but what emerges throughout is different. It becomes plain to see that Oedipus is actually, deep down where it really counts, far more concerned with his own sense of self and demands for justice on his terms, than in compromising his desires like any other true leader would. This tragedy reminds us that even the bravest, those known throughout the world for their knowledge, are doomed if they set themselves up against the mystery of life itself, and if they try to force life to answer them, they are going to self-destruct.