The play Oedipus The King begins with the king and queen of Thebes, Laius and Jocasta. Laius was warned by an oracle that his own son would kill him and that he would marry his mother, Jocasta. Determined to reverse their fate, Laius pierced and bound his newborn sons feet and sent a servant away with him with strict instructions to leave the child to die on the mountain of Cithaeron. However, the servant felt badly for the infant and gave him to a shepherd who then gave the child to Polybus, king of Corinth, a neighboring realm. Polybus then named the child Oedipus (swollen foot) and raised him as his own son. Oedipus was never told that he was adopted, and when an oracle told him that he would murder his father and marry his mother he fled the city believing that the king and queen of Corinth were his parents. In the course of his travels, he met and killed Laius, thinking that the king and his servants were a band of robbers, and thus unwittingly fulfilled the prophecy.
Oedipus then continued his traveling, and arrived at the kingdom of Thebes, which was plagued by a horrible beast, they called the Sphinx. The frightful creature frequented the roads to the city, asking travelers her riddle then eating them when they could not answer correctly. Oedipus answered the riddle the Sphinx presented him with correctly, saving the city and becoming a hero. Believing that robbers had killed Laius, and grateful to Oedipus for ridding them of the dreadful Sphinx, the Thebans rewarded Oedipus by making him their king and graciously giving Queen Jocasta as his new wife.
The kingdom of Thebes was exultant, and the kingdom prospered under their new ruler, but again a grievous plague fell upon the city. The oracle was consulted to give
an answer on how to rid themselves of the plague. The oracle proclaimed that Laius’s murderer must be punished in order to rid the city of the dreadful plague. Teiresias, a blind prophet was summoned to help the kingdom with their terrible calamity. He revealed that Oedipus was the murderer and that he was sleeping with his own mother. Oedipus did not believe Teiresias at first but slowly began to realize that it was true. In grief and despair of their incestuous life, Jocasta killed herself, and Oedipus, after learning of her death then blinded himself and was banished from Thebes forever, leaving Creon, his brother-in-law as the new king.
“Ever since Aristotle’s high praise regarding its structure and characterization in his Poetics, Oedipus Rex has been considered one of the most outstanding examples of tragic drama” (Drama, 210). In Oedipus The King, Sophocles creates one of the most intricate characters of Greek drama. A tragic hero, Oedipus’s desire for self-discovery and understanding inevitably leads to his tragic downfall. However, self-discovery is not the only characteristic of Oedipus, which contributes to his tragic end. Oedipus’s excessive pride (hubris) combined with his temper also contributed to his demise.
Oedipus’s desire to gain knowledge is evident from the start of the play. When the priest comes to him for help, Oedipus had already begun to search for answers; he has
sent his brother-in-law, Creon to the oracle to find out what should be done. “Well I have sought, and found one remedy; and this I did: the son of Menoeceus, Creon, my brother-
in-law, I sent away unto Apollo’s Pythian halls to find what I might do or say to save the state” (Sophocles, 105). When Creon returned Oedipus began to question him
deeply and proclaimed a search for the murderer. “To all you sons of Cadmus I proclaim whoever of you knows at what man’s hand Laius, the son of Labdacus, met his death, I order him to tell me all” (Sophocles, 106).
Oedipus then demands that Teiresias, a blind prophet come to the palace. Surely a prophet can help him save his kingdom. “O you who ponder all, Teiresias, both what is taught and what cannot be spokensave yourself and the state, save me as well. Save everything polluted by the dead. We are in your hands(Sophocles, 107). Teiresias, however does not want to be there, “Let me go home; it is best for you to bear your burden and mine, if you will heed me” (Sophocles, 107). Oedipus’s temper then begins to show. He is not happy that Teiresias does not want to share his knowledge willingly.
“I shall omit nothing I understand I am so angry. Know that you seem to me creator of the deed and worker too in all short of the slaughter; if you were not blind, I would say this crime was your work alone.” (Sophocles, 107).
By his persistence for the truth, Oedipus shows that he will stop at nothing for it. “His strong belief that the search for the truth will lead to a successful cleansing of Thebes is juxtaposed with the reluctance on the part of the other characters to deliver
their knowledge.” (Drama, 208). And because of his strong drive for the truth, he gets what he wanted, but at a terrible price to him, his family and his kingdom.
The second theme mentioned earlier is that of Oedipus’s tragic flaw, hubris. “Oedipus exhibits a vast amount of pride, which seems to border on sheer arrogance”(geocities, 1). Oedipus was a leader; he thrived on power and thirsted for control. This parade of pride is evident throughout the entire play. In fact, his pride was so great that when he was put on the spot or told something he did not like he turned from a kind and courteous king to a raging tyrant. For example, after he spoke to Teiresias about the murder of Laius and was told that he in fact was the murderer, he flew into a fit of rage and not only took his wraith out on Teiresias, but he also accused his wife’s brother Creon of being a traitor.
“O riches, empire, skill surpassing skill in all the numerous rivalries of life, hoe great a grudge there is stored up against you if for this kingship, which the city gave, their gift, not my request, into my hands- for this, the trusted Creon, my friend from the start desires to creep by stealth and cast me out taking a seer like this, a weaver of wiles, a crooked swindler who has got his eyes on gain alone, but in his art is blind. Come, tell us in what clearly are you a prophet?” (Sophocles, 108). Oedipus was so wrapped up in his perfectionism that he could not even see that he was making no sense and was going so far as to accuse his own family of treachery.
This hubris was finally Oedipus’s undoing. Upon realizing that he was indeed the murderer of Laius and he was having an incestuous relationship with his mother he went into a blinding rage and harmed his own body.
“He tore the golden brooch pins from her clothes, and raised them up and struck his own eyeballs, shouting such words as these “No more shall you behold the evils I have suffered and done. Be dark from now on, since you saw before what you should not, and knew not what you should.””(Sophocles, 117).
But even then Oedipus could not let go of his pride. When again faced with Creon, blind and no longer king, exiled from the city of Thebes, he was allowed to vist his daughters on last time. When Creon ordered that the girls be taken back inside, Oedipus reared his ugly head. ” Do not take them from me.” In which Creon answers, “Wish not to govern all, for what you ruled will not follow you throughout life” (Sophocles, 120).
Throughout the play Oedipus displayed conflicting feelings as to whether he was more concerned for his people, who were going through a terrible time, or concern for his own past and future. In the prologue, when Oedipus first entered the scene he noticed his people were gathered around the alters and spoke to them with concern about what was going on. He acknowledged that the plague had taken its toll on his people and he assured them that he was taking action to remedy the situation. But then he turned it all around that he was bearing most of the burden, not his people, therefore asking for pity and being selfish. In my opinion, I do not believe that Oedipus was as concerned for his people in the end. He was too caught up in finding the truth about himself and then denying what
was told to him. I thou roughly enjoyed this selection. Sophocles was indeed a wonderful playwright. He was able to create a story that will touch everyone in the way that Greek tragedies were supposed to.