Oedipus Essay, Research Paper
In the play Oedipus the King by Sophocles, Oedipus is a classic tragic hero. There are a number of characteristics that identify a tragic hero. Although a tragic hero causes his own downfall, his fate is usually not deserved, and his punishment is much worse than his crime. A tragic hero is usually someone of importance or power who has a tragic flaw that affects his judgement, and must then suffer the consequences. At the same time, the tragic hero arouses sympathy in the audience because their punishment is so great and could happen to anyone. All of the above characteristics make Oedipus a tragic hero and one can see how these attributes cause his fall from a mighty king to a blind outcast. In Oedipus the King, Oedipus has been a king for years after solving the riddle of the Sphinx and ridding the land of a horrible blight. From the very beginning, we see his tragic flaw, hubris, although it takes different forms. The play begins with a plea by a priest to save Thebes a second time from a plague that has cursed the land. With this, he announces that he has already sent Creon to the Oracle to ask what to do and proclaims that ?I shall be a traitor if I do not do what the god reveals? (76-77). Creon returns with the prophecy from the oracle and wishes to tell Oedipus privately, but Oedipus tells Kreon, “Speak out to us all! The grief that burdens me concerns these men more than it does my life? (94-95). Creon announces that the death of the
previous king must be avenged, and Oedipus, without hesitation, takes up the cause; “Not on behalf of distant kinships, it?s for myself I will dispel this stain. Whoever murdered him may also wish to punish me- and with the selfsame hand” (137-140). Oedipus wishes himself to be seen as deeply caring for his country, while at the same time looking out for himself, but his pride in his
abilities and his determination not to look weak in front of his people leads him to blindly pursue the identity of the murderer, even when he is warned off by Tiresias and his wife. Oedipus took great pride in saving people and being seen a hero so he would not relent in his search for the murderer. He wanted the death of Laius to be avenged and he had to be the one to find the murderer and punish him. ?I?ll fight for him, I?ll leave no means untried, to catch the one who did it with his hand? (270-271). This determination and stubbornness was his downfall. Oedipus?s encounter with the blind prophet Tiresias is another example of Oedipus?s hubris and a foreshadowing of his downfall. Oedipus sends for Tiresias who refuses to tell Oedipus who killed Laius until Oedipus accuses him of being part of the plot to kill Laius, only then, does Tiresias reveal that Oedipus was the murderer. Oedipus is outraged by the accusation and throws insults at the prophet because of his blindness. In reality, it was Oedipus who was could not see because his pride and confidence did not want to hear what Tiresias had to say. Because he can think of no other reason for Tiresias to accuse him of this, he thinks that this is a plot by Creon to seize the throne. In the end, he sends him away with a curse after begging him to tell all that he knew. ?Am I to listen to such things from him! May you be damned! Get out of here at once! Turn around and go!? (434-436). When Creon confronts him about the accusation and he denies it, Oedipus is not persuaded. Again, Oedipus?s hubris shows. He will not be persuaded; no matter how much sense Creon makes. He is insistent that Creon is plotting against him, even after Jocasta intervenes and Creon makes an oath to the gods that he did not do what Oedipus accuses. After Jocasta calms Oedipus down, she tells him what she knows about Laius?s death. That is when he first suspects that he might actually be the murderer because the place where Laius was slain was the same place where he killed a man before he came to Thebes. The story of Laius?s murder describes his encounter with a man who he killed many years ago, except for one detail; Laius was said to have been killed by many, while Oedipus had been alone when he killed the man. When a messenger comes with the news that Oedipus?s father Polybus is dead, Oedipus believes that he has beaten the prophecy that he would kill his father and sleep with his mother. He thinks that he has beaten the gods but he is wrong. The messenger is told
that Oedipus will not go to Corinth because he fears the second part of the prophecy about his mother, but the messenger tells him that Polybus and Merope are not his parents. Hearing this, he is determined to find out who his parents really are. By this time, Jocasta knows the truth about Oedipus, and she tries to persuade him to give up his search before it is too late. Oedipus,
thinking that she worried that he is not of noble birth dismisses her protests and calls for the shepherd. At first the shepherd refuses to tell of Oedipus?s birth but Oedipus is persistent and threatens him with torture. Because he does not heed the warnings of others and is so stubborn, his punishment is the knowledge that the prophecy is fulfilled. Jocasta kills herself and Oedipus
blinds himself in agony. The irony is that now that he cannot physically see, he can now see the truth of the prophecy. He is finally at his lowest.
And so, the tragic hero Oedipus learns a lesson from his errors in judgment and becomes an example to the audience of what happens when great men fall from their lofty positions. Oedipus loses his sight, but gains the truth and learns humility. He was once great, but because of his hubris he came to fall, and his punishment was to live the rest of his life with the knowledge of what he had