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Oedipus Rex Essay, Research Paper

Was it that the gods were poking at him like a goldfish in a small glass jar? Was Oedipus’s life actually foretold by a prophet before he was ever conceived? Or was it mere happenstance that Oedipus’s life had fallen perfectly in place with the words of that prophet? Did fate play a major role in the life of Oedipus Rex, or was it just coincidence?

Ah, fate and coincidence, destiny of chance, two totally opposite concepts. Yet one may just be the largest determining factor of life. Which one determines the events of Oedipus Rex all depends upon the views of the reader. Both ideas are strongly established as the drama unfolds. The ironic thing about it however is that the evidence which proves one to be present also proves the second to be present, and visa-versa. Meaning, most of the facts which support one of the concepts, are also the facts that support the other concept. For example, before Oedipus was born, a prophet of the god Apollo told King Laius that he and Jocasta would bear a son who would, among other things, marry his mother. Hoping to avert this, the King and Queen asked one of the shepherds to take their son to a mountain and leave the baby to die. Oedipus did, in fact, not die that day. He grew up, and by some strange coincidence, or through fate married the woman who was years ago told by a prophet that she would marry her son child. This child being of course Oedipus. One might assume that the words of that prophet were destiny, they were the unconditional future and nothing could run from them. However, it may also appear that the baby, who was given up to die, survived and by some strange coincidence grew up and found a wife who just happens to be his mother.

This is not the only ironic happening we see in the play. When Jocasta and King Laius were being told of the future they were also told that their first-born son would grow up and kill his father. This is perhaps the main reason they attempted murdering the boy. In order for the reader to understand how coincidental these situations are they must first understand a little of the story’s plot.

When Oedipus is born King Laius tells his wife to kill the boy. Jocasta, not being able to do it herself calls upon a shepherd to do it for her. The shepherd out of pity gives the infant to a slave from the Greek City of Cornith. Oedipus grows up in Cornith believing that he is the son of King Polybus and Queen Merope. One day Oedipus receives a message from a prophet which declared that he will kill his father and marry his mother. In fear of the prophecy he decides to leave Cornith, never to see his parents again. After leaving Cornith Oedipus kills an old man out of rage and continues on his way to Thebes. There he meets the monstrous being known as the sphinx. The Sphinx has a great power over the town of Thebes. This power can only be broken if a tricky riddle is solved. Oedipus solves the riddle and is hailed as savior of the city. He is appointed king and is granted marriage to the former Queen of Thebes. This Queen is the wife of the old man Oedipus killed early in his journey and is also the mother of the boy who was sent to Cornith. Oedipus is that boy, King Laius is the old man, Oedipus’s father, and The Queen is Queen Jocasta, Oedipus’s mother.

After a few golden years as the king of Thebes, Oedipus must again save the city’s people from a deadly plague. He believes that the solution or cure to this wild fire like affliction is finding the murderer of the former King Laius. Oedipus develops such rage for this killer that he will stop at almost nothing to find him. He states in his proclamation to Thebes:

As for the criminal, I pray to God-

Whether it be a lurking thief, or one of a number-

I pray that that man’s life be consumed in evil and


And as for me, this curse applies no less

If it should turn out that culprit is my guest here,

Sharing my hearth.

Little does he know that this hatred is directed to himself. In his search for the killer he finds the truth. He was told by a blind seer “This day will give you a father, and break your heart.” and it did just that. For when Oedipus finds the truth his life comes to a grim end. His wife and mother can no longer live with herself. After killed her husband by not killing her son and, marring that son who killed her husband, she commits suicide. Oedipus doesn’t know what to do. His life is instantly destroyed. He leaves his two daughters with his brother, and banishes himself from Thebes.

As was shown by that brief summery Oedipus’s life was a long piece of knotted thread, which lay in a figure eight like pattern, overlapping itself numerous times. Weather these situations took place because of fate, coincidence, or the gods just having a little fun is never stated outright. Did Oedipus’s life turn upside down just because he killed a man on a trail in the woods? Did fate play a major role in the life of Oedipus Rex, or was it just coincidence? It is up to the minds of the reader (or the watcher in the case of Oedipus being preformed as a play) to make their own judgment on the solution. Sophocles did a marvelous job at mixing the curse, the prophecies, the riddle, and the hero into one of the greatest tragedies of all times. He stuck a small obstacle in the path like time line of literature by which writers of the future would unknowingly be effected.


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