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“Oedipus Rex” Play: Eyes as Symbolism

Oedipus Rex is the masterpiece of ancient Greek literature attributed to Sophocles. This play is one of seven ones left undamaged, and the work describes Oedipus’s, the king, life path. The author pays considerable attention to the symbolism of different characters eyes and visions throughout the play. It is possible to notice that this theme is significant for understanding distinct figures’ personal attributes and the plot in general. This essay will examine evidence that supports the importance of this imagery, reveals how eyes act as symbolism and foreshadowing, and how it affects the storyline’s development.

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Throughout the play, the author repeatedly emphasizes the process of observing as the one having sacred meaning. Such words as “see,” “vision,” “eyes,” and “blind” indicated the prevalent point, which should be precisely interpreted. In lines 17-18, Prologue, the priest of God says to Oedipus that “You see how all the ages of our people cling to your altar steps.” These words do not imply the king’s physical ability to observe but the metaphorical understanding of an abstract situation, which has a hidden meaning. Therefore, from the beginning of the play, the priest shows to Oedipus that his subordinates are on their knees and need guidance and help.

The other instance of the mentioned theme’s symbolism and its influence on the story’s plot is the conversation between Teiresias, a blind seer, and Oedipus. Once again, Sophocles emphasizes the imagery of eyes, showing the sacred knowledge the holy prophet possesses and his wisdom raised from that. Oedipus tries to obtain a prediction, but Teiresias refuses, saying that “Now it is mine misery; then, it would be yours” in line 112, Parados, Antistrophe 3. The king cruelly mocks the blind seer after he reveals Oedipus’s negative attributes such as bad temper and impatience.

In line 196, the prophet says that “you, with both your eyes, are blind,” implying that the king does not have enough wisdom to anticipate the consequences of his actions. Then, in lines 197-205, Teiresias says that “the double lash of your parents’ curse will whip you out of this land some day.” These words, which are the foreshadowing of what awaits Oedipus in the future, show that despite having no eyes, men are able to possess wisdom. In contrast, the author compares this fact to the arrogance and rage of the one who is not physically but spiritually blind.

The last and most vital instance of what importance the discussed imagery has in the play is the act of Oedipus gouging his eyes out. He realizes that it is too painful to look at his actions consequences after killing his father and sleeping with the mother. In the final scene, Exodos, in lines 40-60, the second messenger from the palace, describes Oedipus’s grief. By showing this situation, Sophocles shapes the structure of the play’s plot and outlines how painful it is for a human being to see the personal tragedy with their eyes. On the other hand, the author shows that blindness mitigates the misery, although it might be late to metaphorically open eyes after physically losing them.

Oedipus Rex is the play where Sophocles pays considerable attention to the symbolism of eyes, which is showed throughout the text. On this theme basis, the author reveals Oedipus’s bad temper, contrasting it to Teiresias’s wisdom. The plot’s development is built around an opportunity to see metaphorically, as the king, despite having a complete physical vision, is mentally blind and does not anticipate his actions consequences. The story ends with him gouging his eyes out in an attempt to deprive himself of the ability to see. The mentioned evidence supports the imagery’s importance and reveals how “blind” sighted people can be.

Work Cited

Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Translated by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald, Harcourt Inc, 1977.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, October 8). “Oedipus Rex” Play: Eyes as Symbolism. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/oedipus-rex-play-eyes-as-symbolism/

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