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Oedipus And Job Essay, Research Paper

Classical literature is filled with stories of capricious deities playing with human lives as if they were only toys. The Greek tradition of tragedy is based upon celebrating this very aspect of the nature of the pantheon of Greek gods. Sophocles finds a perfect example of this celebration of fate, in the tragedy Oedipus the King. Conversely, the Story of Job uses the dramatic tension of a “wager” between God and Satan on the sincerity of Job’s devotion to God. Where Oedipus’ life, regardless of personal choice, is bound up by fated situations and their fated outcomes, Job’s story is one of choice in the midst of supernaturally imposed difficulties. While both strive to teach resignation to the will of God, they each espouse quite different attitudes in resignation.

In Oedipus The King, Sophocles presents a view of life fixed by fate. This fate, predetermined by the gods, is the sole factor in deciding human destiny. Tiresias expresses his understanding of the unchangeable fate of Oedipus, laid out by the gods, as he argues with the King about revealing the truth of all the Theban troubles. When Oedipus, frustrated by the lack of cooperation, insults Tiresias, he responds ”I pity you, flinging at me the very insults / each man here will fling at you so soon.”(322) Even more telling of the fated existence of Sophocles’ characters is Jocasta’s revelation of prophecies given before Oedipus’ birth which foretold all that the gods had in store, which had indeed come to pass (332).

An interesting and important aspect of this Greek notion of fate is the utter helplessness of the human players. No matter the choice made by the people involved in this tragedy, the gods have determined it and it is going to come to pass. This is the ironic twist of fate that defines Oedipus’ tragic existence. In his own words, ”I stand revealed at last — /Cursed in my birth, cursed in marriage/cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands!”(347) Perhaps the most succinct statement of the attitude of resignation to fate and suffering is this simple statement by Tiresias: ”What will come, will come. / Even if I should shroud it all in silence.”(321) This expresses a notion of fated beginnings and fated endings.

The view of fate the book of Job expresses, though similar in that it originates from God, differs in a few important ways. In Job, situations are predetermined to occur, but the personal choices of the people involved determine the outcome of the situation. The story of Job opens with Job’s fate of suffering being planned. Satan presents himself in an audience before God. God makes example of Job, and Satan rebuffs, stating that Job’s constancy is only because of God’s preferential treatment. Satan tells God, ”But put forth thy hand now and touch all he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.”(40). In response, power is given to Satan to torment Job as a test. Job’s life and finally health are viciously mangled and destroyed by Satan. Though Job does not know the reasons behind his great suffering, we are told that “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.”(41), and “In all this did not Job sin with his lips.”(41). Self-pity creeps into Job’s thoughts and words, but there is no disenchanted turn from God. Instead in Job the reader sees a turn to God for relief and answers.

In Job, the reader sees that the end of his situation is dependent upon his choice of whether or not to live a righteous life. Job follows the Lord’s commands after he has suffered long, “And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”(58). This expresses a view quite opposite to the one found in Oedipus; a view of fated beginnings, but endings dependent upon man and his chosen response.

These two works strive to achieve similar goals. They each attempt to explain why there is suffering and instruct the reader or spectator in the proper attitude of resignation to fate determined by god. The paths and the ending attitudes put forth by each, is the point of difference. The reader finds these two characters in two similarly fated situations and responding in very similar attitudes. Oedipus complains, ”…he saved my life for this, this kindness – Curse him, kill him! If I’d died then, I’d never have dragged myself, my loved ones through such hell.”(352) While Job echoes, ”Why died I not from the womb?”(42), and “Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth?”(45).

Both works and both characters pursue resignation to the fate they have been handed as the will of god. Oedipus finds resignation by becoming the judgment hand of the god in completing his sad fate. He gouges out his own eyes and explains, “Apollo, friends, Apollo – He ordained my agonies – these pains on my pains! But the hand that struck my eyes was mine.”(352). Here the reader sees Oedipus resign himself to an unchangeable punishment for his fated actions. On the other hand, of his fate, Job desires to know how long it will last, but seems to indicate feeling unjustly punished for unknown sins, and lament his fallen state; “O that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me…”(51). In this, he relies on the ultimate justice of God

Is not destruction to the wicked? And a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity? Doth not he see my ways, and count all my steps? If I have walked with vanity, or if my foot hath hasted to deceit, let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know my integrity. (53)

The basic difference the reader observes is in the attitude of resignation. Job states “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him. He also shall be my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him.”(50). He resigns himself, because he trusts in the ultimate justice of God. He knows that there is a good purpose for everything God has fated for him, no matter how disastrous the outlook. He has a positive, hopeful resignation. Oedipus, however, has a hopeless, tortured resignation. The gods have been merciless to him for no particular reason, but there is no desire to seek justice or complain. On the contrary, Oedipus desires to be an instrument in the process as he orders, “Quickly, for the love of god, hide me somewhere, kill me, hurl me into the sea where you can never look on me again.”(354). This is vastly different from the attitude Job expresses by saying, “I will say unto God, Do not condemn me; shew me wherefore thou contendest with me.”(47), and finally acknowledging that all God’s plans were just and good, and his duty is to live righteously. Because of choosing righteous behavior and resignation to God’s plans, Job was justified and “…the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning…”(58). Again, the reader sees similar goals in finding resignation, but vastly different paths and attitudes in that resigned state.

The personal choice of a righteous life is taught by Job, while a fated beginning and a fated ending, regardless of human choice, is the sad lot of Oedipus. These two men were given separate fates by separate gods and were forced to live with the outcome. From the beginning Job is given the opportunity to survive. Even in the midst of all his pain and suffering there does exist the opportunity for success. Oedipus on the other hand is fated from the beginning, from birth. The gods decide his fate and there is no escape from the gods. Both of these stories focus on the idea of resignation to the will of a god or gods. However, they leave the reader with two different views of the idea of fate and suffering.

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