Morality in Oedipus Tyrannus

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People often confuse the terms “guilt” and “responsibility” for one another. Can these terms be freely intertwined with one another or are they separate entities altogether? However, in this case these terms, regardless of how closely related they are to each other, have different meanings. Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus is a tragic play that revolves around the issues of morality. The question that thus stands is whether Oedipus was guilty and or responsible for patricide and incest. Significant factors such as the lack of knowledge, the importance of riddles, the role of prophecies and his destiny and fate and the issues of free will and choice must be taken into consideration in accounting for Oedipus crimes. Undoubtedly, Oedipus is responsible for his actions, but he is not guilty for his unspeakable crimes.

Oedipus’ failure of knowledge engages him a whirlwind of events. When Oedipus’s identity is in question, Oedipus heads to the Delphic oracle in hopes of finding an answer to his fate. The oracle offers no answer, but provides him with a prophecy, telling him that he will murder his father and sleep with his mother. Understandably so, this is a prophecy in which Oedipus goes to extreme means to avoid. His desire to protect those whom he calls his mother and father proves futile. These people share no blood relation to Oedipus and are out of harm’s way. As the tragic hero makes his way to Thebes, Oedipus comes across a three-way crossroads. A crossroads is a place where a choice has to be made. Consequently, crossroads signify moments where decisions will have imperative meanings but where other choices are still possible. In Oedipus Tyrannus, the crossroads is part of the distant past, dimly remembered, and Oedipus was not aware at the time that he was making a fateful decision. The crossroads symbolizes fate and the power of prophecy rather than freedom and free will. It is here that Laius and Oedipus meet and come to blows at the crossroads, demonstrating a lack of self-control on both their parts. Oedipus recalls the events at the crossroads to Jocasta, and in anger struck the one who pushed me, the driver…A paid him back and more…I killed them all… If Oedipus’ anger was not provoked, perhaps then, Laius might still be alive. The aspect of self-restraint is important since both Oedipus and Laius refused to hold back their anger and instead struck each other. It is here at the crossroads that fate sets Oedipus’ destiny spiraling.

Sophocles’ play is shrouded in riddles. Oedipus’ identity is a riddle itself, for he does not know who he truly is. Upon arriving at Thebes, Oedipus is greeted with the Sphinx’s riddle. Oedipus easily deduces that answer to the Sphinx’s riddle, but he fails to grasp its significance. The riddle implies that humans are all fated to grow old, to forfeit control of their own bodies and eventually die. Although Oedipus relieves Thebes of the Sphinx, its riddle causes the city problems. Oedipus’ cleverness is rewarded with Jocasta’s hand in marriage. The precise moment that Oedipus accepts Jocasta’s hand, the last installment of the prophecy is fulfilled, damning them both to a life of shameful sin. The plague that descends upon Thebes calls for action on the part of Oedipus. The Theban priest pronounces that Thebes is city that now shakes too greatly and cannot raise her head out of the depths above the gory swell. She wastes in blight… The fever god has fallen on the city, and it drives, a most hates pestilence through whom the home of Cadmus is made empty. Black Hades is enriched with wails and groan. Teiresias, the blind seer of the play, is reluctant to speak what he knows. However, the prophet delivers the prophecy because Oedipus attacks him so violently and unexpectedly that he forgets his resolution to keep silent. Enraged, the king unjustly criticizes Teiresias’ powers and insults his blindness. Teiresias may be physically blind, but he holds the power to see the the...
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