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Blindness and Sight

Blindness and sight: The effects of these contrasting themes help emphasize the impetus of many stories. In Sophocles? Oedipus Rex, blindness and sight can be seen as a central theme. Blindness and sight are referred to by the characters in the story many times, and are shown to be quite contradictory. Although being blind means that someone cannot see something physically, it can also mean that the person cannot see something rationally. Oedipus Rex and Teiresias (the wise man) are the two examples of how the central theme contradicts in the story. Blindness and sight are also synonymous with the ignorance and knowledge that these characters of the story possess.

In this play, Oedipus, who has full use of his eyes, is considered by the people of Thebes to be a very intelligent person who can see his way through problematic situations with relative ease. He obtains this reputation through historic happenstance and victory over the notorious Sphinx of Thebes. The Sphinx, a terror to the city, is a half-human, half-lion, teller of a certain riddle, which no one can answer. Those who are unable to answer the riddle correctly, face certain death. Oedipus crosses paths with this Sphinx, and is asked the famous riddle, ?What creature stands on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and finally in the evening walks on two legs with the aid of a third?? Oedipus, believing the riddle to be a metaphor to the life and stages of a man, correctly answers: ?A man.? The Sphinx, unable to swallow its pride and shamed because a man had answered the riddle correctly, threw itself to its own death. Thebes no longer had to endure the fear of the Sphinx, and Oedipus was declared its new ruler. From hereon in Oedipus was considered a man of great intelligence.

Teiresias, on the other hand, is a blind man; but he possesses experience, wisdom and perspicuity of thought enabling him to see and understand what others do not. The quest that Oedipus had chosen to pursue (his fate/destiny) is to find the evil or ?pollution?(page 14) of Thebes. Apollo explains that this ?pollution? is the murderer of Laius, the late King of Thebes. Oedipus sends away for Teiresias for his insight on the issue. Teiresias arrives and Oedipus asks what knowledge he has of the murder. Oedipus is puzzled and upset because Teiresias voices his reluctance to answer Oedipus? question. Oedipus becomes very inquisitive and forces Teiresias to disclose the truth. Teiresias answers, ?You have eyes but see not where you are in sin, not where you live, nor whom you live with?This man, this murderer ? he is here. In name he is a stranger among citizens but soon he will be shown to be a citizen true native Theban, and he?ll have no joy of the discovery: ?blindness for sight and beggary for riches his exchange?. He shall be proved father and brother both to his won children in his house; to her that gave him birth, a son and husband both; a fellow sower in his father?s bed with that same father that he murdered.? (Pages 28,30) These quoted words are implying that throughout Oedipus? life, he has been living a blind life, because he did not see the truth of his life. Oedipus murdered his father and married his mother and he had fathered children that he was also a brother to. ?Blindness for sight and beggary for riches? (page 30) is the way Oedipus will live the rest of his life. He will no longer be metaphorically blind, because he will have discovered the truth about himself. He will exchange riches for beggary, because he will soon renounce all his riches, and become a penniless traveler with no use of his eyes to see the world.

From riches to rags, physical sight to blindness and from ignorance of his genealogy to erudition ? is the destiny of Oedipus. Blindness and sight is clearly the theme to this story, and can be related to vision, change in social status, experience (like Teiresias?) and the consequences of destined learning from curiosity. Oedipus is left with the ironic trade-off of no physical sight, but instead educated with the insight of his own existence.

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