Oedipus Rex: An Exploration of Fate and Human Nature

The classical Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex written by the famous Sophocles is the story of Oedipus, a man trapped by fate to murder his father and marry his mother. In Oedipus Rex the audience does not witness Oedipus kill his father or marry his mother but rather we see the downfall of Oedipus as he realises that by avoiding his destiny he has only brought himself closer to ruin. The downfall of the once great king of Thebes was set off by the gods, however it is Oedipus’ own nature that carries him to the dire conclusion of the story. Before King Oedpius’ past was known, he was regarded in greatness as a leader who was swift to act, confidant in his actions, and sought the truth. At the beginning of the play the audience positioned to admire Oedipus and question “who could behold his greatness without envy?”. This greatness turns against Oedipus and through his own obsessing nature, hubris and rash decision Oedipus becomes great no more.

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Oedipus claimed the throne when he defeated the Sphinx that was terrorising the city. Oedipus was given a riddle by the sphinx which he solved using his talent for finding the turh. When Oedipus learns that the key to stopping the plague is finding the murderer of Laius (the previous king and unbeknownst to Oedipus; his father) he dedicates himself to bringing “his death to light.” This investigation only attracts him more when the riddle of his own life becomes the subject. This is the point where Oedipus’ investigative nature becomes obsessive as he digs through his past despite warnings from Jocasta (his wife) that “tis best to live at random”” Ignoring her advice he does discover the truth, that his father was the man he killed long ago and the previous king of Thebes; Laius which of course also means that Jocasta is his mother. The truth brings no comfort to Oedipus who could have avoided the deadly outcome by slowing down and reasoning with himself over the plague decimating Thebes.

When the citizen’s of Thebes beg Oedipus to consult the gods on the plague he proclaims, “You have not roused me like a man from sleep” and that he has already sent his brother-in-law Creon to consult the priests of Apollo. This swift action is an admirable and fitting for a king. Once again this aspect of Oedipus’ greatness also works to unravel his life. This swiftness of character exhibited by Oedipus often becomes rash such as how he killed Laius over a small misunderstanding. This violent rash decision could have been defused by clam rational thinking. Oedipus unfortunately is also afflicted by another aspect of his nature that prevents him from seeing the fault in his actions; Hubris.

The greatest fault in Oedipus’ character is his hubris. Although we can be empathetic towards Oedipus because of his position where “Pride is the germ of kings”,  hubris is still his defining flaw. Once helpful to Oedipus as confidence, such as quick thinking and investigative behaviour were, they are now his bane. Hubris keeps Oedipus from believing the prophet Teiresias’ prophesy or as the soothsayer says to Oedipus “You have eyes but do not see.” At the beginning of the story our fallen hero states, “The world knows my fame: I am Oedipus” which is still true by the end of the text, but carries more negative connotations.

In the conclusion of the play Teiresias is proven to truly be a prophetic with his prediction that Oedipus’ “very greatness proved thy bane.” Sophocles is poetic in how each of Oedipus’ flaws cooperate with each other to bring him his punishment. His rash decisions, arrogance and obsessive nature are the true elements which shackle Oedipus to fate. Oedipus the swift, the truth seeker and the confidant many- from the audiences perspective- been given a cruel punishment, but a nonetheless deserving one. This is the realisation that Oedipus makes which results in the play’s bloody climax of infamous self multilation and physical blinding. Oedipus sees how he has been foolish, rash, obsessive and that the doesn’t even deserve death but to suffer in darkness for all harm he has caused all the people in his tragic life.

Thanks for reading, feedback is welcome.

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