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Oedipus Rex Essay, Research Paper
Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King” is a tragic play which discusses
the tragic discovery of Oedipus that he has killed his father and
married his mother. The story of Oedipus was well known to the
athenian’s. Oedipus is the embodiement of the perfect Athenian. He is
self-confident, intelligent, and strong willed. Ironically these are
the very traits which bring about his tragic discovery. Oedipus gained
the rule of Thebes by answering the riddle of Sphinx. Sophocles used
the riddle of the sphinx as a metaphor for the 3 phases of Oedipus’
life and to futher characterized him as a tragic man.
The Sphinx posed the following riddle to all who came to obtain
the rule of thebes: “What is it that walks on 4 feet and 2 feet
and 3 feet and has only one voice, when it walks on most feet it is
the weakest?” Oedipus correctly answered “Man” and became the king of
Thebes. This riddle is a metaphor for the life of Oedipus. As a child
man crawls on his hands and knees this is the four feet to which the
Sphinx refers. Also man is at his weakest as a small child. He depends
solely on others for his nourishment and well being. Oedipus was the
child of Jocasta and King Laius who was taken to the mountain by a
shepard to be killed so the omen of the god apollo that Laius’ son
would kill him and lay with Jocasta would not come true. Oedipus was
the weakest of his life at this point. If it has not been for the
shepard spairing his life and giving him to Polybus to raise as his
own Oedipus would have died.
Man walks on 2 feet when he has matured. This is a metaphor for
Oedipus when he reaches adulthood and leaves Corinth to escape the
oracle. Oedipus meets up with a band of travelers and in a rage kills
them. Inadvertently Oedipus has killed his own father. Oedipus then
answers the riddle of the sphinx and becomes king of Thebes. By
becoming king of Thebes he marries Jocasta the Queen of thebes and his
own mother. Many years later after bearing children with Jocasta a
plague kills many of the inhabitants of Thebes. Oedipus is told by the
gods to find the killer of Laius. He is very dilligent in the inquiriy
and finally comes to the horrible truth that he himself is the
murderer. Jocasta kills herself at the horrible realization that she
has layed with her son and Oedipus puts out his eyes at finally seeing
the truth. This fulfills the final part of the Sphinx’s riddle for
Oedipus will have to walk with a cane for the rest of his life because
of his blindness, this will give him the 3 feet which man walks with
at the end of his years.
Oedipus used his intellect and diligence to answer the riddle of
the Sphinx. Many of the most intelligent young men of thebes has been
killed attempting to answer the riddle but Oedipus proved his
intelligence superior to theirs. Oedipus uses the same intelligence
and perseverence to find the killer of Laius. He does not give up his
search even when Jocasta warns him to stop and let the matter rest. He
calls the shepard and interrogates him till he discovers the
horrifying truth that he is the killer. Oedipus’ intelligence was
ultimately his flaw. Also, if Oedipus had not had been as coarageous
he would have have never ventured to answer the riddle of the Sphinx.
Thus even though he had killed his father he would have never become
king of Thebes and laid with his mother. In addition, if Oedipus had
had the courage but not the intelligence the Spinx would have killed
him for answering the riddle incorrectly. Sophocles used this to
characterized Oedipus as a tragic man for he came about his tragic
discovery not because of an evil act or an evil trait but because of
the person he was. Oedipus traits which gave him riches and power
ultimately led to his tragic ending. Also, the god apollo did not
predestine that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother by
the oracle, he only stated what he knew was inevitable because of who
The sphinx’s riddle was used by Sophocles to characterize Oedipus
as a tragic man and as a parallel to his life. The riddle describes
the 3 stages which Oedipus went through in his life. Also in answering
the riddle Oedipus inevitable brought about his own tragic ending by a
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