Everything Happens For a Reason
Both The Odyssey by Homer and Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, were based in the context of ancient Greek culture but each was written during different time periods. The Gods played an enormously influential role in the lives of the Ancient Greeks. The Odyssey was written during the Greek Heroic Age (1500-1100 B.C.E.) and Oedipus Rex was estimated to be written around the 430s B.C.E. during the Age of Pericles when Athens was at its height of political and cultural power. The Odyssey and Oedipus Rex share the common idea of a fixed and pre-determined fate. The difference is that in The Odyssey, the Gods have a more flexible control over the humans, than in Oedipus Rex where humans have a set life planned out for them to follow. In The Odyssey, the Gods and mortals have a more direct relationship that involves communication between the two, whereas in Oedipus Rex, the Gods do not communicate with mortals and therefore they are not ultimately sure of their divine existence. It is important to understand each author's perception of the Gods because it reflects the same Greek culture and religion at two different time periods in history. Oedipus Rex was written during a period in Greek history where Sophists were trying to introduce new ideas to the Greek culture. The play is a rhetorical debate in which the author is trying to reinforce the traditional religious beliefs in the Gods. The belief that the Gods were real and had a large impact on the outcome of your daily life was slowly slipping as outside influences made their way into the Greek culture. Sophocles was trying to remind his audience of the power and importance of the Greek gods. In Oedipus Rex, the entire story is based around a prophecy. The mortals in this story have no control over their fate and are powerless against the will of the Gods. The prophecy that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother is given before Oedipus was born and plays out exactly as planned regardless of the actions that are taken by the humans to avoid the tragedy. The way in which the author states the message from the prophet sets the scene for what is to come, "If we make enquiry, we may touch things that otherwise escape us (Sophocles 903)." Along with informing the Thebans of the need to revenge Laios' murder, he is also foreshadowing the fact that knowing too much information will lead to another tragedy all in itself. The idea of dangerous knowledge is also seen in another quote said by Teiresias, "How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be when there's no help in truth! I knew this well, but made myself forget. I should not have come (Sophocles 909)." The Gods are toying with the mortals with this; they knew what the mortals would do with the prophecy and all of the efforts that would go into avoiding it. Teiresias is the blind prophet who ironically is the only mortal who truly "sees" the truth of the matter. The gods see that Oedipus has no idea that he had indeed fulfilled his destiny and that the only missing piece in the story was the knowledge of his tragic fate. Sophocles shows the audience that fate is so rigidly instilled, that even praying to the gods won't have an impact on their fate. The chorus says, "Let me pray to Athene, the immortal daughter of Zeus, and to Artemis her sister who keeps her famous throne in the market ring, and to Apollo, bowman at the far butts of heaven- Oh gods descend! Like three streams leap against the fires of our grief, the fires of darkness; be swift to bring us rest (Sophocles 905)!" Although there is no real proof of the gods, the people of Thebes never once doubted their existence. The chorus is directly supplicating the gods even though they know they can never get a direct response back. The author is showing the audience that these prayers are completely useless in changing the fate of the city. No matter how hard or how much these people pray to the gods, the gods will not...
Cited: Dodds, E.R., "On Misunderstanding the ‘Oedipus Rex '".Greece and Rome. 2nd Ser., Vol. 13,
No. 1. (Apr., 1966), pp. 37-49.
The Bedford Anthology of World Literature: The Ancient World, Beginnings-100 C.E.. Boston:
Bedford/ St. Martin 's, 2004.
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