Aristotle’s Tragic Hero: Oedipus Rex
The Athenian tragedy Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles, yields a rare quality of emotional and character depth that is unparalleled and has withstood the arduous test of time. Much of the stimulation derived from Oedipus Rex is in the unraveling of the protagonist’s fate. By the hands of the gods, almighty King Oedipus is prophesized to take his own father’s life and marry his mother. Never has a man stood so tall and fallen so hard. In Poetics, Aristotle describes the tragic hero as “not eminently good and just, not completely under the guidance of true reason, but as falling through some great errors or flaw of character, rather than through vice or depravity.” Oedipus largely embodies the archetype of Aristotle’s tragic hero in the sense that he is an imperfect man with virtuosity, becomes victim to his own tragic flaw, and arouses a sense of pity and fear onto spectators of his fate.
Aware of Oedipus’ predetermined fate, any audience must be wary to trust a man who is destined to kill his father and bed his mother. It is through the natural goodness of his soul and through ardent generosity that one begins to sympathize with Oedipus. Upon his arrival to Thebes, he confronts the Sphinx that has been creating uninhibited havoc. By the flash of quick wit, Oedipus guesses the riddle and assumes the throne as the city’s savior. Then follows a time of prosperity and high spirits for Oedipus, where he must feel a champion of his own destiny; he has defied his fate. A feeling short-lived, crisis again befalls the city of Thebes this time in the form of plague and hunger. High-minded Oedipus, naturally, responds instinctively to the pleas of his people. When Creon brings the message of Apollo, that to remedy the crisis the slayer of Laius must be exiled, Oedipus spells out a curse on the murderer. This epitomizes the nature of Oedipus and the nature of a tragic hero; in an effort of virtue inspired by the loyalty to his people, he has...
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