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September 9, 2007
Universal character traits in _Oedipus the King_
In Sophocles play, _Oedipus the Kin_g, there are many themes universal to all
humans. The main character, Oedipus, exhibits traits that humans possess and covet. We
do not wish to kill our father and marry our mother, but we can relate metaphorically to
his situation. We relate to the broad range of emotions he displays and his reaction in
Oedipus mistakenly thinks he can change his fate by using his intelligence.
Ironically, it is his intelligence that causes him to (literally) blind himself. Oedipus is a
good person who ultimately succumbs to his fate through his temperament, intelligence,
and pride. We can see from the beginning that Oedipus is good person but extremely
proud and also a little vain:
Oh my children, the new blood of ancient Thebes, why are you here?
Huddling at my altar, praying before me, your branches wound in wool.
Our city reeks with the smoke of burning incense, rings with the cries for
the Healer and wailing for the dead. I thought it wrong, my children, to
hear the truth from others, messengers. Here I am myself-you all know me,
the world knows my fame: I am Oedipus. (1-9)
This is a great introduction to Oedipus the _man_. His true character is revealed
right in the opening scene. He loves his people. I picture him standing central to the
crowd. His people are looking upon him with adoration and hope in their eyes. They are
praying to him like a god. Oedipus likes this adoration. He has let it go to his head that
it was _his_ intelligence that saved the city.
It seems Oedipus is being a good leader and a decent man when he decided to
investigate the murder of Laius. When boasting of what he will do, he displays selfish
characteristics. He pointedly tells his people that the end result is merely to serve
himself, "by avenging Laius, I defend myself" (158-159).
When Oedipus confronts Tiresias, many things become apparent.
Tiresias, "this day will bring your birth and destruction"
Oedipus, "riddles-all you can say are riddles, murk, and darkness"
Tiresias, "Ah, but aren't you the best man alive at solving riddles?"
Oedipus, "Mock me for that, go one, and you'll reveal my greatness.
Tiresias, "Your great good fortune, true, it was your ruin" (499-503).
At this point, Oedipus embodies human character traits familiar to us all. He does not
get his way, so to speak, then he becomes insulting and starts bickering with the prophet.
Oedipus is so proud and elevated that he is unable to use his keen mind solve
the final riddle. He has become so self absorbed that he cannot see that he is hunting
himself. Instead of truly judging all as he initially proclaimed:
Now my curse on the murderer. Whoever he is, a lone man unknown in his crime
Or one among many, let that man drag out
His life in agony, step by painful step-
I curse myself as well…if by any chance
He proves to be an intimate of our house,
Here at my hearth, with my full knowledge,
May the curse I just called down on him strike me!
Oedipus is oblivious and instead places blame on Creon and Tiresias.
This is a universal belief that seems to transcend all time and affect all people.
No one thinks the unthinkable could happen to them. When the unthinkable does occur,
the tendency is to shift the blame or flat out deny. Even when Jocasta, discusses the
possibility of Oedipus being her son and Laius' murderer, she refuses to believe
information or the source. She mockingly says, "A prophet? Well, then free yourself of
every charge!"(778-779). She takes another jab at denial when later on she says, "So
much for prophecy. It's neither here nor there. From this day on, I wouldn't look right
Oedipus attempts to project the blame elsewhere, even when he
Cited: Sophocles. "Oedipus the King". The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael
Meyer. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin 's, 2008. 1418-1468.
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