Oedipus Essay

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Tragedy 101
Mrs. Marks
Due Date: March 25, 2004
Date Submitted: March 30, 2004

TO PUNISH, OR NOT TO PUNISH: THAT IS THE THEBAN QUESTION

As a certain English teacher once said, "Justice, to the ancient Greeks, meant reward or punishment based on the consequences of one's actions or inaction. Good intentions were irrelevant if the result was chaos or disaster." The gods expect justice to follow their own set of rules, and those who refuse to comply, must suffer the consequences. A fine example of this can be seen in the Greek tragedy King Oedipus by Sophocles, translated by E.F. Watling. The tragedy explores three different ways that justice can be handed down to the people of Thebes. Some receive poetic justice, others receive a form of civil justice, and the rest are served with rough justice. Justice is fully served in the play, but still manipulated by the gods. Apollo and his Oracle have an influence on every mortal's punishment.

Mortals are easy for the gods to manipulate, and can be made to create the instruments of their own destruction. When Laius and Jocasta first hear the Oracle's prediction that their only son Oedipus will grow up to murder his father and marry his mother, they fear the horrible outcome. The royal couple attempts to prevent the unthinkable from happening by leaving their only son for dead, thereby thwarting the prophecy. The attempt is fruitless, and young Oedipus is kept alive under the watchful eye of the gods. One evening, a drunken man tells Oedipus that he is not his father's son, and the young man's curiosity brings him to the Oracle:

So, without my parents' knowledge, I went to Pytho;
But came back disappointed of any answer
To the question I asked, having instead heard a tale
Of horror and misery: how I must marry my mother,
And become the parent of a misbegotten brood,
An offence to all mankind – and kill my father
At this I fled away, putting the stars
Between me and Corinth, never to see home again,...
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