Sophocles, the great Greek tragedian, presented one of the most delightful literary works, the tragedy “Oedipus Rex” or Oedipus the King. Sophocles reveals before the reader a question of a universal scale: who decides the destiny of the person – Gods do, or the person does? In search of the answer to this eternal question, the protagonist of the tragedy, Oedipus, left his home city, practically dooming himself to certain death. In that regard, this paper analyzes Sophocles’ play, in terms of the way Oedipus can be judged, stating that, although he made mistakes, Oedipus was not a bad person, and he should not be judged based on his blindness. Fate is inevitability, which cannot compete with someone who understands and acknowledges his moral and spiritual essence.
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Oedipus was a good leader, where he took actions for things that he was appraised for. Sophocles started the play with Oedipus in the image of a leader, who is responsible, capable, and sincerely worried about the citizens, whose opinion he was considering. That is the way Oedipus was presented at the beginning of the play. The priest leading the procession of the citizens recalled how Oedipus saved the city before and hopes to find support and salvation in him again.
You are not of the immortal gods, we know;
Yet we have come to you to make our prayer
As to the man surest in mortal ways
And wisest in the ways of God. (DiYanni 961)
Oedipus aspiration to help his people, showed his blindness and unawareness of many aspects. When Creon announces that plague is a punishment of Gods for that, the unavenged killer of the Laius is still in the city, Oedipus damned the killer and started searching for him. At that moment, Oedipus is unaware that he was damning himself, and that he is the reason for the plague. He was sighted and blind at the same time. He was unaware of the real meaning of many events. He receives the first signs of the truth with indignation, when Teiresias says, “You are the murderer whom you seek.” (970) His blindness showed up as he thought that they were intrigues of those who wanted to take away his power. Recalling the events of his youth, when Oedipus killed an unknown traveler in a fight, the anxiety started to crawl into Oedipus’ his mind. The further he goes with his investigation, the clearer it becomes to him that he is the murderer. The process of revelation is put as if he is a blind slowly restoring his sight.
Fate is inevitable in Oedipus story, but it should not be blamed for his actions. The fate is numerously mentioned throughout the play, showing how it accompanied Oedipus in all his steps. To analyze the role of fate and the role of Oedipus, fate can be seen as assistive power. This power gave him everything, a wife, power, children, fame and etc. It accompanied every step Oedipus made, but their own death was brought by Oedipus himself. Every action taken by Oedipus, starting from leaving Corinth, killing his father, and marrying his mother, and up to investigating the death of Laius, was taken by Oedipus himself.
Despite the unawareness of Oedipus, he took full responsibility for what he did, acknowledging his moral stance. Oedipus was the carrier of the tragic fault. Nevertheless, his image was majestic and monumental. The hero suffered a defeat, but he did not look as a pity toy in the hands of fate. Oedipus confirmed his dignity in the final act of self-punishment. He punished himself for his mistakes, where the punishment was severe and at the same time symbolical. The hero puts out his eyes, the eyes that were blind and which did not help him to see the truth in time. Additionally, Oedipus considered it impossible to contemplate those whom he defiled with his crimes:
If I had eyes, I do not know how I could bear the sight
Of my father, when I came to the house of Death,
Or my mother: for I have sinned against them both (996)
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It can be seen that, killing his father and marrying his mother, Oedipus makes a wrong choice and takes punishment for that. Knowing about the prophecies, Oedipus embodies them in real actions owing to his own personality. And fate as if knowing about his action, constantly was looking at him. Oedipus cannot blame fate for his own misfortunes, wherein each case the decision was made by him. That was exactly what Sophocles demonstrated through a character, who exposed himself in the evil deeds he did, and who chose his own punishment for that. In that regard, it can be stated that fate cannot be blamed for lack of vision in own morality, neither is fate capable of defeating someone who understands and acknowledges his moral and spiritual essence. Oedipus was a good ruler, who lacked a vision, and making wrong choices, he took the full responsibility for them.
DiYanni, Robert. Literature : Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama (Compact Edition). 2nd ed. Burr Ridge, IL: McGraw-Hill, 2003.