Aristotle made a considerable contribution when he conceptualized the notion of a tragic hero. According to the ancient thinker, a tragic hero should possess five major qualities. The Ancient Greek philosopher used Oedipus as a prototype for his tragic hero. Based on the major concepts of Aristotle, Oedipus can be seen as a perfect tragic hero who is characterized by all five features of such a hero.
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First, Oedipus is a decent person, which cannot be questioned due to his will to find the truth and live a righteous life. Being a king, he is polite and wise when addressing his people using such words as “My poor children” (Sophocles 2). He expresses empathy and tells about his attempts to solve the issues that his country has to face (Sophocles 3). He has a wife and children and treats everyone well. Even when he is angry and may want to commit unjust deeds (such as kill a messenger who has brought bad news), he regains control over himself and does the right things.
His quick temper is his hamartia, making him a human and a perfect tragic hero. Oedipus loses his temper on the road and kills the people who offend him. He could have been more patient and reasonable and could have tried to teach the offenders another lesson. Oedipus hit the man in the carriage that attacked him, but he could have stopped at that point. Instead, he “killed them all” (Sophocles 21). The tragic hero committed a crime that led to a series of other crimes and, eventually, sorrows for the citizens of his home city.
The punishment the king has to endure also shows that he is a tragic hero. Oedipus killed several men who started a fight, so, in a sense, it was self-defense as he was trying to protect his life. He married his own mother, but he did not know that the woman he loved was his mother. The punishment was excessively severe, as instead of several people, it involved thousands of people suffered because of the plague. Oedipus personal punishment was also unfairly harsh. He acknowledged that he committed horrible crimes, which was hard for such a decent person with high moral standards. He imposes punishment onto himself as well and admits, “But the hand / which stabbed out my eyes was mine alone” (Sophocles 35). Hence, the punishment imposed by others and by himself is truly excessive, making Oedipus a tragic hero.
The high position of the protagonist of the famous play is undoubtful, which is another feature of a tragic hero. Oedipus becomes a king who has been loved and respected by his people who have seen him as “the first of men” (Sophocles 2). Any position can hardly be higher than Oedipus’s status and his glory. When the truth is revealed and the punishment is imposed, Oedipus is a blind wretched recluse living far from his people. So, the change in his status also makes him a perfect tragic hero.
Finally, just like the perfect tragic hero, Oedipus acknowledges the highest truth and admits that he was blind for his whole life as he was unaware of his sins. He also understands that his quick temper and arrogance in some cases made him blind. He has to pay a high price for his enlightenment, but he finally sees clearly what is right and what is wrong.
In conclusion, it is possible to state that Oedipus is a perfect tragic hero as he is characterized by all the five major features of a tragic hero mentioned by Aristotle. Oedipus is decent but quick-tempered, and he has a high position that he loses. He also suffers an excessive punishment and, eventually comes to the point of recognition. Oedipus is an illustration of a highly moral wise person who has to go through a long way to his wisdom.
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Sophocles. “Oedipus the King.” Web.