Sight and Blindness in Oedipus the King

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The Irony of Sight and Knowledge in Oedipus the King

People equate ‘seeing’ to gaining knowledge. Expressions such as “I see” and “seeing truth” are used to express understanding of something, but is seeing really the same as knowing? In Oedipus the King, Oedipus’s inability to grasp the truth is despite the fact that he is physically able to see contrasts Teiresias’s knowledge of the truth even though he is blind. The irony of the blind man being knowledgeable, and the seer becoming blind to the truth suggests that the idea that knowledge is not related to physical sight. In the beginning of the play, Oedipus is able to see but does not know the truth about who killed Laius. At the conclusion of the play, Oedipus is physically blind but knows the truth, which is how Teiresius was throughout the play.

The irony of Oedipus’s blindness begins on the opening pages of the play, when says, “I never saw the man myself,” (4) while speaking about King Laius. Oedipus’s ignorance is evident because he killed Laius, and Laius was his father, neither of which he knew. He however, states that he wants to correct this, and declares, “I must know it all, must see the truth at last” (34). Here he uses the phrase “see the truth” again as if the physical means of sight will enable him to solve the mystery of who killed his father. This creates dramatic irony as Sophocles tries to foreshadow what will come and present the idea of physically seeing vs. understanding. Oedipus possesses the physical means to see, yet remains ignorant to the truth. Whilst fighting with the prophet Teiresias, he is naïve enough to disregard himself as the possible murderer, and fights against Teiresias until Teiresias admits that it was Oedipus who killed King Laius. This is ironic and Sophocles is trying to foreshadow what is to come and expose the reader to a world of seeing vs. understanding and being blindness vs. sight.

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