Sophocles' Oedipus Rex as Modern Tragedy

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Oedipus Rex and Tragedy

Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is, in short, the story of a man who unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. It certainly sounds like a tragedy, doesn’t it? But the classification and definition of ‘tragedy’ are one of the many things widely disputed in the realm of literary studies. So, for the purposes here we’ll use Aristotle’s five criteria of a tragedy: a tragic hero of noble birth, a tragic flaw or mistake, a fall from grace, a moment of remorse, and catharsis. By any standard, Oedipus Rex clearly meets these five criteria. In The Poetics, Aristotle uses Oedipus to illustrate the ideal tragedy. Aristotle writes Oedipus is a model tragic hero because he is a man of high standing, but not perfect (he is guilty of excessive pride and self righteousness), and makes mistakes (‘hamartia’) that lead to his own downfall. In other words, Oedipus is a man with heroic qualities socially (King of Thebes), intellectually (he is the great solver of riddles), and morally (he is determined to find the murderer and end the plague on his people), who commits an error of judgment because of his flaws and who then must suffer the consequences of his actions in the result of a catastrophic end. Further, he must learn a lesson from his mistakes and become an example to the audience of what happens when one falls from greatness due to a particular flaw.

Oedipus is the epitome of a tragic hero because he possesses characteristics that would ultimately follow that of a hero. His nobility is the most important when determining his title of tragic hero. He was born son of Polybus, king of Corinth. But because of the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother, he was left for dead. Eventually, he becomes king of Thebes because of his intellect. Either way, he could not escape being noble. The other act that set Oedipus as the tragic hero is his heroic efforts to free Thebes from the Sphinx; “You saved us from the...
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