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The ability to perceive and respond to one’s surroundings is a human necessity. I learned that the hard way. Last night I lost my glasses in the bathroom; this essentially made every trip to the bathroom as hazardous as a stroll through a minefield. However, we often tend to approach “sight” and “blindness” from very literal perspective. Whereas Sophocles, in his play Oedipus Rex, approaches the sight-blind dichotomy metaphorically. Sophocles associates sight with possession of prophecy and knowledge while connecting blindness to ignorance, using Tiresius and Oedipus as physical representations of the latter and former. Sophocles uses sight and blindness to establish that humans are natural drawn to the unknown and that insight of the future is detrimental to man, revealing that ignorance of what the future holds is necessary for a satisfying life.
Throughout the course of this play we witness Sophocles’ protagonist undergo a heart-rending course of self-discovery that ultimately leads to his demise. Sophocles’ portrayal of Oedipus paints an image of a man glorified by his peers, described as “first above men and consummate atoner to the powers above” (6). In spite of his extraordinary rise to power, he’s still prone to the allure of the unknown. Oedipus sends for Tiresius who infuriates Oedipus with his unwillingness to talk. In the volatile exchange, Oedipus seethes with rage, proclaiming that “I have ever summoned [him] if I’d known [tiresius] would go foaming at the mouth” (24). However the minute Tiresius insinuates that Oedipus was from different origins, Oedipus’ demeanor changes to one of curiosity, asking “Parents? Wait! Who was I born from after all?” (25). Oedipus’s exchange reveals that the human affinity for answers transcends emotional passions. Sophocles insinuates that humanity is inherently inclined towards acquire knowledge and shedding away ignorance, thus achieving “sight” in a metaphoric sense. Although, knowledge is generally considered benign if not beneficial to possess, knowledge takes on a different significance in this play. In Oedipus Rex, knowledge of the future, prophecy, is essentially a catalyst for self destruction. In the case of Oedipus, it was prophecy that prompted him to leave Corinth in order to “put all heaven in between the land of Corinth and such a damned destiny” (44). Oedipus demonstrates a very infantile understanding of prophecy; he fails to understand the permanence of predestined fate. His reactions to the words of the oracle instigate a chain of events that culminate in the death of his mother and his fall from grace. Because Oedipus possesses conventional sight while he holds a cloudy glimpse into the future, he believes that he’s able to alter his future. Sophocles uses the latter to establish that humanity cannot and should not dwell in the happenings of the future as the latter is divinely ordained and permanent and human understanding is largely constrained to what we can perceive in our immediate surroundings, thus suggesting that ignorance of what the future is more conducive to promoting a fulfilling life.
Although ignorance is often considered a naïve quality that has no positive implications, this play demonstrates the necessity for ignorance. The characters in this play that possess knowledge or “sight” of the future are enslaved by the disastrous occurrences ahead. Expectedly they take drastic measures, Queen Jacosta sends Oedipus to die on a mountain in order to escape a fate ordained by an “oracle, which said that fate would make him meet his end through a son, a son of his and mine” (40). If Jacosta was not aware of the oracle’s divine plans, she would not have been compelled to take such drastic measures. The central assertion that this play has posited is that the future is inevitable; making any human action to prevent what has been preordained useless. However, it’s clear that measures taken in response to prophecy are a direct product of being conscious of prophecy. Without this conscious awareness individuals would never have taken such drastic and terrible measures to escape their fate. Sophocles suggests that ignorance or “blindness” shields individuals from personal harm, establishing that humans must be either willing to accept the future or be oblivious to it in order to avoid immediate self demise.
For most of the characters in this play the latter is the only viable option, however, Tiresius is an exception. Sophocles contrasts physical awareness with prophetic insight by introducing Tiresius who serves as Oedipus’ foil. He serves as a physical representation of both divine authority and prophecy. Unlike Oedipus and Jacosta who are able to perceive their immediate surroundings, Tiresius is blind. Instead the “sight” that he possesses is a remarkable ability to see the future. Due to his literal blindness, he is unable to take physical recourse to alter the prophecies he sees. Because he’s unable to act against prophecy, Tiresius demonstrates a willingness to accept the future. Furthermore, because fate is the ultimate deciding factor in an individual’s life decided by celestial authorities, Tiresius isn’t scared of anything. Tiresius calmly states “Yes Safe, For Truth has made me strong” (20) in response to Oedipus impassioned threats. Furthermore, Tiresias’ understanding of fate compels him to avoid divulging information about the future. He begs Oedipus to “send [him] home… [because] it is better so” (18) instead of telling Oedipus the prophecy. Unlike the other characters, Tiresius understands that humans are naturally drawn to what the future holds and aware of the disastrous implications. But ultimately, Tiresius’ preoccupation with the future has a steep price, being blind to the present but aware of the future result in an empty existence. For Tiresius the flow of existence is nothing other than a predetermined chain of events that are attributed to the god Apollo who “casts [one’s] fall…in his able hands” (22). Tiresius essentially absolves himself from taking responsibility of his life as he resigns his existence to the whim of Apollo. Although Oedipus and Jacosta both met their demise through their own actions, they did only what is human to do, to react against the odds. In spite of their tragic fall, they were able to live and die as humans whereas Tiresius lives an empty existence as a bystander. Ultimately, Tiresius’ sight has made him blind to pains and pleasures of living, making him unable to understand what it means to be human.

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