Oracles and Seers: a Hero's Inevitable Path to Revelation in Ancient Greek Literature

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  • Topic: Oedipus, Oracle, Croesus
  • Pages : 5 (1950 words )
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  • Published : March 6, 2007
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Oracles and seers are prominent figures in both historical works, such as Herodotus' Croesus and poetic works, such as Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannos. The hero usually asks for an oracle's guidance before he makes a major decision on behalf of his nation, such as going into a war or saving his people from a plague, but he also consults the oracle for personal or familial issues, such as the fate of a son. Oracles' words are taken for granted because they bring a message from the gods, hence they are conceived as the infallible agencies of truth. Yet in both of the aforementioned works, the oracles mislead our heroes, Croesus and Oedipus. This is not due to the oracles' failures though; the heroes misinterpret or avoid their messages. Both Croesus and Oedipus are self-obsessed with their kleos that they choose not to contemplate their telos. They also choose to disregard and, to an extent, decry seers (men of wisdom [sophia]) Solon and Teiresias, who come to warn them of their fates in advance and whose words are complementary to those of oracles. Employment of both oracles and seers in these works is interesting; one can think that oracles bring the message from gods and thus represent the divine law whereas seers think within human limits; and they complement each other in waking the hero to his fate. The distinction is that the oracles, although they are capable of convincing the heroes of the truth, choose not to do so and keep the ambiguity of their messages, whereas the seers, at any cost, warn the heroes of their fate.

To understand how oracles and seers' words lead to the eventual, but not immediate, awakening of the heroes, one should look at what the klea of the heroes are and how blinded they are that they can misinterpret or avoid these words of wisdom. Croesus' kleos is his empire and his treasures. When Solon the Athenian, one of the wisest man of Hellas visits Croesus in Sardis, Croesus shows him his treasures, and asks him who is the most olbios man in the world, expecting the answer to be himself. Solon tells him of people who have reached their telos instead. He reiterates his question but Solon's reply does not change, then he gets angry and he sends Solon away. He is blinded by his treasures to such an extent that he does not bother to give a thought on one of the wisest man's words, he thinks he knows the ultimate truth and those ideas against his are of "despise". He even finds the courage to regard Solon to be "a great fool."(Croesus 33) Immediately following this incident, he sees that his son is going to be murdered in a battle in his dream. Instead of contemplating what might have let to this vision, he tries to prevent his son from getting killed by not letting him fight at battles. What he does not realize, though, is that every person has a telos that needs to be fulfilled anyhow. He then dares to test the oracles to see to what extent they are accurate, and chooses Pythia as the best. Even though he believes he found the best oracle; his obsession with his authority and prosperity leads him to think he is simply invincible, so he greets every message by Pythia to be a promising one. His misinterpretation of oracle's words, caused by his obsessions that hinder his mind from reaching the truth leads to the fate he does not expect. He attacks Cappadocia because of his "desire for land he wished to add to his own territory, but chiefly he trusted in the oracle" (Croesus 73) His misinterpretation of oracle's words, caused by his obsessions that hinder his mind from reaching the truth leads to the fate he does not expect; Cyrus captures him. Only when he is about to be killed he remembers Solon's words, and now that his treasures are lost, he understands what the oracle actually said and confesses that he was mistaken, not the god.

Oedipus goes through a quiet similar sequence of events. When his polis is suffering from a plague, he consults the oracle and learns that he has to kill the slayer of...
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