Dec 13, 2017 in Literature

Oedipus the King

The play Oedipus the King has been regarded by many people as a tragedy par excellence. Indeed, the play is riddled with bits and pieces of evidence that could either qualify it as a tragedy by Aristotelian standards or refute it. Oedipus’ life exemplifies the incessant debate between the antagonistic roles that fate and personal judgment have to play in the happenings of a person’s life. Whether the sad fate that befalls Oedipus is as a result of fate or, a consequence of his own judgment and actions is a debate that this article revisits. Oedipus the play, therefore, as depicted by Sophocles seeks to illustrate Aristotelian philosophy of a tragic hero vis-à-vis personal decision. The play further seeks to answer the question about human nature, their position and the powers that dictate their life. In this context, a tragedy involves a sudden disaster in the end due to unforeseen circumstances. The tragic hero commands respect and honor in the society-Illustrated by the character Oedipus the king. The play thereby depends heavily on a character that makes an erroneous judgment which is the main subject. This article seeks to prove that the play Oedipus by Sophocles epitomizes the Aristotelian concept of a tragic hero. This article will connect the goings-on within the play of Sophocles with the physiognomies of the Aristotelian tragic hero to demonstrate that Oedipus is a tragic hero indeed.

Sophocles’ Oedipus play, a well-known tale is about king Oedipus who unknowingly kills his father, Laius, king of Thebes, and imposes himself as king. Consequently he unknowingly marries his mother queen Jocasta ("tragoed Elements of Tragedy in Oedipus the King (Oedipus Rex).

In view of this Oedipus gradually comes to the realization of his acts which align to a prophecy revealed by Tiresias a blind prophet who foresees the consequences of Oedipus’ action .This borrows heavily on literary symbolism whereby Tiresias is blind yet he ‘sees’ what king Oedipus is clueless about, hence being illustrated in the play as being wise though blind. The blind prophet reiterates Sophocles view of Oedipus as being ‘blind’ instead by arguing with Oedipus  ‘you have your sight and do not see… yea you are ignorant’ (Steiner, 1985).

Aristotle qualifies Oedipus as a tragic hero based on his poetic characteristics exemplifying this literary character to conform to his principle.

Erroneous judgment also called hamartia in Greek translation is explored as one of the characteristics upheld by Aristotelian poetics. Most importantly the cause of the tragic predicament is uncertain. The most popular view of many scholars in this notion involves an intellectual weakness and thereby provides a lead to the question of a tragic predicament. This assumption however must be approached with caution since no tragedy lends itself for easy interpretation since the nature of hamartia is variable and difficult to identify (Kennedy and Gioia). The character in this play does not entirely exhibit explicit pervasiveness in character. However, character flaw is based on in making erroneous judgment that reflects back to the basic character. This character is depicted to precipitate the judgment made by the character. In view of flipping a coin, a literary character has different sides of his character traits. Almost always, an individual’s traits considered desirable outweigh the bad and undesirable character traits. However, when this does not exactly happen, the undesirable aspects outshine the good traits thereby portraying the unpleasant aspects explicitly.

One of the character flaws is ego. Oedipus conceit relates to most related tribulations faced by the literary character. Oedipus is viewed as being too stubborn. He portrays irrational persistence. For instance, he always demanded prophecy from Tiresias the blind prophet but would not want to believe in the prophecy. This clearly shows Oedipus’ ego in denying to agree with a prophecy he asked for. This is exemplified clearly when Oedipus pleads ‘For the love of God does not turn away if you have the knowledge’. For every instance that Oedipus asked for a prophecy from Tiresias, he would not bother believe him for even once yet he insisted on asking for a prophecy. Then why would he exactly ask for a prophecy if he was not going to believe in it. This clarifies that Oedipus is irrationally stubborn. Oedipus thereby denies conforming to open mindedness. (Goff, Barbara, and Michael Simpson, 2008).

Another unpleasant trait of Oedipus is his pride in a way he missuses his power. He reiterates that whoever kills Laius sent away from the kingdom and punished severely. This begs the question, would he have made the same judgment or decision if he knew he would eventually be the victim. Alternatively Oedipus pride is depicted by the fact that Oedipus adamantly denies accepting the fact that he will kill his father. For instance when Tiresias claimed that Oedipus would be a defiler of that land, Oedipus is left is shock and does not exactly believe that Tiresias would make such a statement. Oedipus views this as a quest by Tiresias to benefit himself. He, therefore, rubbishes his claims and lets his ego prevail in this context painting him in bad light in view of personality and character traits of which the author artistically illustrates as pride. Furthermore, when Jocasta discovers the truth about her life, Oedipus does not give up the search. In his view, Oedipus feels he is conceived as inferior and naïve. Although it is clear from Tiresias’ prophecy alike Jocasta’s own findings, Oedipus refutes all these and sees Jocasta’s view as being stereotyped in the direction of Oedipus being a slave as opposed to being from the royal class. All these illustrations depict Oedipus as being so proud that he causes his own predicament. He turns the exploration for the truth to be a quest for his selfish interest and personality. He dint bother about Jocasta’s truth, the prophecy of his peoples interest in realizing the truth.

Rage or temper is the reason behind the killing of his biological father in the standoff that emerges between the two at the crossroads. This anger is the principal cause of his downfall. His anger is also painted clear when he yells at Tiresias for giving him news that however true and factual they are, are generally bad news.

Oedipus is explicitly a story of reversal of fortune. Oedipus is at first viewed as being noble and admirable by many, a character everybody could only dream to be. However, a mere prophetic statement turns this all around. There are many situations in this play in which Oedipus reaction to the prophecy is at least a direct result for his predicament. It is in the quest to evade the events quoted in the prophecy that he plunges himself to the same situation he is evading. This combines Aristotelian principle of peripeteia (viewed in Greek to be reversal of fortune) and coincidentally anargorisi(viewed in Greek as discovery or realization).

When Laius hears of the prophecy that his son will kill him and marry his wife, he assigns a shepherd to take him to the mountains with an intention of letting him die. However, this shepherd is a little empathetic to let the little child die and thereby gives it to another shepherd. Surprisingly takes the baby to the monarch who could not have children. Consequently the monarch offers to raise the baby as their own. This child happens to be Oedipus. Later on a prophet predicts to Oedipus that he will kill his father and marry his father. In a paradox, Oedipus escapes from the kingdom ignorantly trying to avoid killing his father not knowing they were not his parents. In a strange shift of fate, Oedipus ends up in his parent kingdom. He killed a sphinx that was the sole trouble to the kingdom. On his way at the crossroads, a standoff emerges between him and a person he later finds out to be his father. He kills him and proceeds to take over the kingdom. A plague later strikes the kingdom. The people in a quest to appease the gods realize that in order to stop the plague, the mysterious murderer of Laius must be uncovered. Oedipus vows to make Laius’ murderer known and make them expelled and punished severely. However, a prophet points a blaming finger to Oedipus himself. Rational thought is seen to trouble Oedipus soul that he goes in a quest to discover the truth. He gets news that his foster father has died of a natural cause and is overjoyed because he thinks that refutes the prophecy; he is however informed that he had been adopted. All these events are plotted in such a way that Oedipus gradually comes into self-realization and discovery that the prophecy indisputably came to pass. This is in no doubt a reverse of fortune or peripeteia as Aristotle would want to poetically put it (Kennedy and Gioia). Initially Sophocles intentionally depicts Oedipus as a character that leads a noble life and is envy for all; he is a hero, is crowned king and married the queen. However when he realizes the truth all this changes suddenly-Jocasta who is interestingly his wife and mother commits suicide and Oedipus claws out his eyes making him blind. He is forced to leave the kingdom and give up his throne eventually living as an outcast. All these happen due to the action of his father and himself in a quest to prevent these prophecies from taking place. Yet these discoveries and reverse of fortune make the play interesting at the same time conforming it to Aristotelian philosophy of ‘A tragic hero’

With all that brought into light one would still want to argue weather Oedipus predicament is a result of his personal decision or simply fate. Still both notions can be greatly and resourcefully supported. It may be noble to hold the notion that mankind has the free will to make their decision. Therefore suggesting that and individual though their action has the opportunity to decide his life outcome. The greed themselves from who the play is translated believe that an individual’s personality and character thereby affect his life directly. In this notion, it is the personality that guides a person’s free will. A person’s credibility in character determines the success in their life. For instance a wise man will almost always be expected to make the right decisions. Karma thereby takes center stage in this play in portraying Oedipus’ predicament to be due to his own actions not entirely but also due to fate. In the entire play Oedipus coerces information from people like Tiresias, Creon and Jocasta in a bid to explore the truth. His free will seems to be portrayed in his rational thought and quest to uncover the truth. Interestingly though the various individuals do not tell him explicitly the exact events but rather give him concrete clues and leads to the truth. He becomes stubborn and coercive in his bid to find out the truth. Interestingly though he doesn’t believe anything he is told and thereby rubbishes Jocanta’s discovery as well as Tiresia’s prophecy. Throughout this play, Oedipus has a choice to stop his plight but vows to continue in his quest to discover the truth.

Another instance where the prophecy is directly linked to Oedipus choice and free will is the standoff he finds himself and his father at the crossroads. Oedipus displays his bad character of stubbornness in this instance when he is pushed aside. This was routine in ancient times whereby if there was a caravan coming down the road you were pushed aside. Oedipus is however enraged and kills the man. This is a direct result of decision and personality in light which in the case he would have been wise and not killed the man.

When Oedipus defeated the sphinx by solving the riddle, he would have opted not to take the throne. He would also have deferred the thought of marrying the queen who hew later finds out to be his mother. Oedipus accepts everything he is offered of which he had a right to deny. The right to deny would prevent the prophecy from sealing his fate as predicted by Tiresia. The decisions he makes lead to his own demise. His actions can thereby be viewed to be a direct cause of his predicament. His decisions thereby fail to solve the hardest part of the equation.

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