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Sinopsis On Oedipus Essay, Research Paper

Oedipus is first introduced as a savior. A priest, surrounded by a crowd of questioning children and peasants, has come to ask Oedipus what may be done to alleviate the terrible blights which afflict the city of Thebes. He comes to hear their story directly, instead of asking them to explain to a messenger: “I did not think it fit that I should hear/of this from messengers but came myself ? Indeed I’m willing to give all/that you may need; I would be very hard/should I not pity suppliants like these” (p.11, 6-13). This role is an extension of the heroic part that Oedipus plays in rescuing the city from the Sphinx in a riddling contest. His first introduction to Thebes is his use of reason to defeat evil, and the people recognize his abilities and respond accordingly: “we have not come as suppliants to this altar/because we thought of you as a God,/but rather judging you the first of men” (p.12, l.31-33).

Despite their views about his personal humanity, they do not see his wisdom as originating from human means. The people of Thebes blame the pestilence destroying their city upon the gods; so, too, do they credit Oedipus’s foresight and counsel as being of godly origin. Oedipus himself chooses to ignore this popular conception of his power. He responds to this call for godly aid with an account of his own personal attempts to unravel the problem, never once even making an allusion to immortals. He tells them, “my spirit groans/for city and myself and you at once” (p.13, l.64-65), thereby signifying that he has personally taken the problems of Thebes upon himself to solve, disregarding the usefulness of the gods.

It is Creon who introduces the idea of an oracle from Apollo as a viable solution to the epidemic of disasters. Although Oedipus doesn’t ask the gods for help himself, he, like the rest of the population, sees the message from Apollo as factual information ? much the way that a detective investigating a murder case might admit an expert opinion. Oedipus relies more readily on his personal prowess than upon divine aid, but his wish to help his people leads him to admit supernatural options. He wants to save the city again, and his quest for the truth is efficient and just: “so stand I forth a champion of the God/and of the man who died” (p.20, l.244-245). Oedipus is straddling two bridges with this statement. In his person, he unwittingly links divine justice with individual conscience, and the result is a unique character: in his use of reason, his fair-mindedness and his temper, his absolute power, and his doom.

To his great credit, Oedipus doesn’t cease his pursuit of the truth and the old kings murderer, despite the accumulation of events that weigh the scales toward Oedipus himself. In fact, the first instance in which his temper is revealed is when he first encounters Teiresias, a seer who refuses to divulge the truth he admits to knowing. Gently, the blind seer tries to warn Oedipus, “let me/go home. It will be easier for us both/to bear our several destinies to the end/if you will follow my advice” (p.23, l.319-322). But Oedipus doesn’t want anything withheld from him, and he gradually becomes more heated in his wheedling, until the prophet spits out the truth in disgust, and, cursing, takes his leave. An important character trait emerges in Oedipus during this exchange. Teiresias, in his last attempt to be remotely civil, tells Oedipus “it is not fate that I should be your ruin,/Apollo is enough; it is his care/to work this out” (p.27, l.376-378). However, Oedipus’s pride is hurt by this aspersion, and his patience is quite at an end. He responds with a caustic and accusatory speech which angers Teiresias enough to provoke a similar response from the prophet ? and yet, Oedipus is not so much challenging fate as oblivious to it. He prioritizes the truth above his personal well-being, and, by doing so, admits his view of fate as a lesser force in his consciousness than the safety of Thebes.

In Oedipus the King, Oedipus shows sound reasoning, if laced with fantastic anger when provoked. He displays an independence from the culture of polytheism and fate in his unbound manner of problem-solving. He tells the chorus “I account myself a child of fortune” (p.58, l.1080), and he proves through his actions that he is willing to defy even a prophet of Apollo to find the truth for himself and his city. Once the horror is fully understood, he has the strength to follow through on his initial promise ? he saves the city of Thebes a second time by leaving it. The situation has changed in Oedipus at Colonus. Although he makes the statement, “my sufferings have taught me to endure” (p.79, l.7), and disobeys custom by seating himself in the sacred grove of the Eumenides, Oedipus is no longer the controlling force that he appears in Oedipus the King. He is not able to see for himself, and the loss of his eyes represents the more crucial loss of Oedipus’s individual character. Antigone must translate the world to him s it seems to her; there is no opportunity for Oedipus to practice the personal discernment he shows at the start of the previous play. She tells him to follow her unquestioningly, to “do as other citizens do here” (p.86, l.174) and he but rarely offers even a gentle objection to her directions. As the play progresses, Oedipus becomes gradually more frantic. His wise counseling of his daughters and courteous treatment of strangers slowly dissolves as each encounter he makes only worsens his condition. Now, he blames his predicament upon outside forces, unlike the Oedipus of the earlier play, who would have taken all fault upon himself. Creon’s entrance gives Oedipus even more cause to bemoan his existence, and his anger at his old advisor spills over to Polyneices, when the son enters to succor his father.

Creon’s character, as it is portrayed in each play, presents a useful vehicle for the analysis of Oedipus himself. Creon is very much a lesser character in Oedipus the King. However, in the later play, Creon has usurped both of the roles Oedipus formerly filled: as king, and as a character of personal strength. Though Theseus reprimands Creon for excessive use of power, there is no question that his power is real. He dominates scenes the way Oedipus does in the earlier play, without the same personal asceticism. Creon is filling a vacuum left by Oedipus, and the extent to which his character must grow to complete the space Oedipus leaves is a crucial observation in understanding Oedipus’s character change. In Oedipus the King, Oedipus’s personal scope is of an enormity to encompass a city, his personality is the extent of the play: boundless. Oedipus as an individual holds minimal power in the concerns of Oedipus as a ruler. It is the loss of this consciousness in the second play which leads to an acceptance of fate, and therefore an acceptance of himself as a tool of fate. The world of Oedipus at Colonus, while still revolving around Oedipus, has been severely limited. Characters enter and leave the scene of their own volition, where before Oedipus summoned or sought, now he is a passive onlooker. The grove becomes the entirety of Oedipus’s world, which once spanned two cities and the breadth of his own mind.

Oedipus, who in the first play blithely tells the uncooperative Teiresias “I came,/I Oedipus, who knew nothing, and I stopped her./I solved the riddle by my wit alone” (p.27, l.397-399), in Oedipus at Colonus feels compelled to reiterate the tragedy of his life as if he might forget who he is. Jocasta’s exclamation, “O Oedipus, God help you!/God keep you from the knowledge of who you are!” (p.57, l.1067-1068) ? and indeed each warning given to the zealous Oedipus along his path to the truth ? has been proven correct. Oedipus, who attempts to engage fate in a fight for truth, wins the battle only to lose the war. What he thinks is knowledge of himself has become a myth, which he repeats in the futile hope of understanding what has become of his wider world. The gods and fates have truly smashed their unwitting adversary, giving his life an infamy beyond compare. But Oedipus’s bloody story does have a saving grace: his fame is somehow restored in death to its former luster. His fate is once again tied to a city, this time the city of the man who pitied him, Athens. For Oedipus, to chase truth was to destroy his world: his power, accomplishments, and family name are all lost. Perhaps Oedipus’s unique departure from the world signifies a godly recognition of his achievement, and the resurrection of his individual power and scope in his corpse homage to yet another Daedalus whose wings were burnt from flying too close to the sun.


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