Oedipus the Man

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For the Greeks of ancient times, a source of entertainment was often found in the theaters, where great tragedies were performed. The narratives of these tragedies evoked in the audience feelings of pain and fear that were built up as the plot progressed; but were released as the tragic events transpired. The Greek audience not only obtained pleasure from this catharsis, or purification of emotions, but also acquired gratification from the ability to understand and connect with the hero. In the tragedy, Oedipus the Tyrant, the Greek philosopher Sophocles presents a paradigm of men that people can pity and identify with as he encounters his disastrous fate and experiences immense suffering. The character Oedipus was a tyrant, having seized the power of Thebes by using his intelligence to answer the riddle of the Sphinx. He was symbolic of a man that was ambitious to take control of his surroundings, choose his own destiny, and even become equated with the gods. However, the gods had already determined an ill-fated future for Oedipus, hence he was ultimately defeated. Nevertheless, his heroism is evident when he comes to accept the truth of his existence, recover from his despair, and move on with determination.

When Oedipus is first presented in the play, he is established as a confident, concerned ruler that is esteemed by his subjects. He makes it clear in his opening speech that he is superior, stating “I Oedipus whom all men call the Great” (Oedipus 8). Furthermore, when the chorus comes to ask him if he could help them get rid of the plagues, he exuded the qualities of a knowledgeable king with great leadership attributes such as taking interest in his people’s affairs and accepting responsibility, “…sick though you are, that is as sick as I myself…My spirit groans for city and myself and you at once” (Oedipus 60). Although Oedipus is dedicated to ensuring that what they ask of him is resolved, he talks down to them full of pride, almost as if he was their savoir, “I sent Menoeceus’ son Creon…that he might learn there by what act or word I could save this city” (Oedipus 72). He feels overly confident in his powers and believes that he is capable of doing anything to ameliorate his city’s miseries. Oedipus’ passion and drive for rescuing Thebes will ultimately lead to the fulfillment of his fate because he will stop at nothing and will not let anyone get in the way of his motives.

One of Oedipus’ greatest attributes is shown through his determination and vigorous courage in searching for his identity; he displays a willingness to know the truth despite the consequences. In his quest for the answer of the source of the plague, he sometimes encounters characters that are hesitant to reveal the truth. His first confrontation is with Teiresias, a blind prophet that he seeks for assistance. Teiresias, despite threats and insults from Oedipus, refuses to give him the answer to the mystery of Laius’ death, which is critical to resolving the problem of the plagues. As a result, Oedipus’ temper escalates and his persistence to know the truth drives him to press forward for the answer, which finally leads to a revelation from Teiresias, “I say that with those you love best you live in foulest shame unconsciously and do not see where you are in calamity” (Oedipus 367). The irony of this statement is that at the time it was said, Oedipus is mentally unaware of the circumstances in his life, but physically able to see. By the end of the story when he realizes the plague was brought on by his own misdoings, he carves out his eyes: he then becomes literally blind, but mentally conscious of his situation.

As Oedipus’ weaknesses begin to emerge, his limitations as a human become clear and so does the imminence of his dreadful fate. The play initially foreshadows his shortcomings as a mere mortal when a priest begs the king to rid Thebes from the plagues: “We have not come as suppliants to this altar because we...
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