Oedipus Rex

– Bliss Is Ignorance Essay, Research Paper One of the most memorable and meaningful Socratic quotes applies well when in context of Sophocles’ Theban Trilogy. “The

– Bliss Is Ignorance Essay, Research Paper

One of the most memorable and meaningful Socratic quotes

applies well when in context of Sophocles’ Theban Trilogy. “The

unexamined life is not worth living,” proclaims Socrates. He could

have meant many things by this statement, and in relation to the play,

the meaning is found to be even more complex. Indeed, the situation

of Oedipus, king of Thebes, the truth of this statement is in

question. Would Oedipus have been better off if he was blind to the

knowledge of his birthing and the fate which was foretold to someday

befall him? Truly though, his life would have been a far better and

easier path had he never known about his true origins. His life in

Corinth would have been long and prosperous, and Thebes would have

lived on under King Laius. In fact, everyone would have been better

off in the long run if Oedipus had not ventured out beyond the walls

of Corinth. So is it worth living an examined life?

Socrates had made this statement long after the creation of

the Theban Trilogy. In the context of his own time, this was meant to

imply that life must be examined and reflected upon, known and

discovered by each individual philosopher to better enrich life for

all. Yet in terms of Sophoclean drama, specifically Oedipus Rex, this

was meant in a vastly different way. The unexamined life was one that

was in the dark, unknown as to what fate lied beyond every turn and

irony of living. Oedipus, up to the point in which he heard the

comment in the tavern in Corinth, lived an unexamined life. To

Socrates, he was an unfulfilled man, one who deserved to know more,

one who not complete. However, in a much less metaphysical sense,

Oedipus’ life was complete, in that he had all that he needed, and was

living a happy and fruitful life. As the drama progresses, he finds

out more and more, learning exactly what the implications of his birth

was, he suffers the fate for examining his life. So what Socrates

had meant, that the life which was not rich with self exploration and

reflection was not worth living, was indeed different than its

application in terms of Oedipus, who’s life was unexamined, yet


The question arises, what would life have been like, if

Oedipus had not discovered his true origins? If he had stayed in

Corinth, would this have ever happened? We find that indeed, we would

have had no story, if not for that lone comment of a drunkard which

sparked the fire of rebellion in the young prince Oedipus. He

ventured out to Delphi, to pry knowledge of his background out of it,

and to discover if this was indeed the truth, despite the fact that

his adopted parents of Corinth had assured him of it falseness.

Oedipus leaves Corinth, fulfilling the Socratic idea of the unexamined

life. However, we must evaluate the eventual consequences of his

actions and the implications which they possess. What becomes of his

fateful journey out of Corinth leads to the downfall of an entire city

and family line. If he had not murdered King Laius, the Sphinx would

have never descended upon Thebes, he would have never fulfilled the

prophecy, and all would have lived on in a relative peace and


Once examining these aspects of the relationship between the

quote and Oedipus Rex, we can come to a final examination of its

implications. The question which was addressed, that of the value of

the examined life, can be answered. Indeed, if Oedipus had not

ventured beyond the protective walls of his adopted home, would

anything such as what occurred in the play ever have transpired? If

Oedipus had not pursued that answers to the mysteries that plagued

him, despite the pleading warnings of I?casta, in fact his life would

have been contented and happy. Instead, he follows the Socratic

method of exploration and discovery, and proceeds down the path of

pain and distraught. Was, after it was over, all worth it? We find

that no, it was not. Being content and suited with what he knew of

himself would have saved Oedipus and his children/siblings much agony.

However, in the typical Greek tragedy, we must see his fall from

grace through, which is indeed what happens.

In the bliss of ignorance, much pain and difficulty is

averted. For what worries does the ignorant man have? In the case of

Oedipus, ignorance would have suited him fine. The Socratic quote

“the unexamined life is not worth living” certainly doesn’t hold true

in the case of Oedipus Rex. While it may hold importance and a

substantial meaning for our own lives, in the case of Oedipus Rex, he

would have been better off without it. Indeed, for while the

unexamined life is poor in a metaphysical sense, Oedipus would have

truly been fine without it. For the unexamined life is a simple one,

and he would have lived a long and happy life, never discovering the

true nature of his birth, nor even caring.