Oedipus: A Tragic Hero
Oedipus Rex, or Oedipus the King is Sophocless first play of The Theban Cycle. It tells the story of a king that tries to escape his fate, but by doing so he only brings about his downfall. Oedipus is a classic example of the Aristotelian definition of a tragic hero. Aristotle defines a tragic hero as a basically good and noble person who causes his own downfall due to a flaw in his character.
Oedipus is a man of noble blood; his parents, who raised him as a child, were King Polybus and Queen Merope of Corinth. Oedipus also becomes a king himself when he solves the Sphinxs riddle, thus saving Thebes and taking over the throne of the late King Laius. Oedipus then marries Jocasta, Laiuss widow, and they have children together. Though he is a very fair and understanding husband, Oedipuss main concern is always the city of Thebes. When a plague strikes the city, Oedipus refused sleep until he finds the cause, and he, sent Creon,To Delphi, Apollos place of revelation, To learn there, if he can, What act or pledge of mine may save the city (Sophocles 1257). Oedipus then vows to find who killed King Laius after Creon reveals that Laiuss death must be avenged so that the plague will be dispersed.
Oedipus, a great and noble king was flawed by his hubris, or spiritual pride. Oedipus believes that he could avoid what the oracle told him long ago: he would kill his father and then marry his mother. Instead of returning to his home of Corinth, Oedipus wandered the lands until he came upon Thebes. The city was in turmoil after the sudden death of King Laius, and the Sphinx was killing dozens of citizens each day, and would only stop if her riddle was solved. Oedipus was clever enough to solve the riddle, and then took on the throne of Thebes. When he began ruling Thebes, Oedipus thought that he had beaten his fate; he thought that his father would live and that he would not marry his mother. Instead, it is revealed to Oedipus that he is really the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta. When Oedipus was a baby, Laius went to the oracle and his future was revealed to him; his son who would later marry his mother would kill Laius. Perturbed by this, Laius ordered the death of his son, so a shepherd took the baby to a mountain to dispose of the baby, but he couldnt do it. Instead he gave the baby to a messenger of King Polybus. Oedipus, while trying to avoid his future kills King Laius in self-defense, and then takes on the throne of Thebes. Inadvertently, Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother.
Oedipus causes his own downfall through his arrogance. He thinks that Teiresias is falsely accusing him of murdering Laius when Teiresias says, you are the murderer whom you seek (Sophocles 1264). Teiresias then tells Oedipus that the man who he seeks will be brother and father to his children and husband and son to his wife. Oedipuss hubris is also a major cause of his downfall. Because he tries to escape what fate has in store for him, he ends up falling right into what was planned for him. He finds out that he is the son of Laius and Jocasta, and he is the highwayman that killed Laius.
Oedipus, doing what he feels is right for Thebes, blinds himself with Jocastas brooch after he discovers her body swaying from a cord. Oedipus then sends himself into self-exile, doomed to walk the lands blindly until he finds, Life, at his death, a memory without pain (Sophocles 1294). Oedipus, the classic tragic hero, was a good and noble king who brought about his downfall by trying to avoid his fate.
Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama.
7th ed. Eds. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Longman, 1999. 1254-
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