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Oedipus Rex Essay, Research Paper

Oedipus Rex

And now of all men ever known

Most pitiful is this man?s story:

His fortunes are most changed, his state

Fallen to a low slave?s

Ground under bitter fate

Oedipus Rex, pg. 64

One of the most commonly seen traits among the characters in Greek mythology is

the violence that envelops their lives. From what we have read so far, few have

experienced such radical changes as Oedipus. He is one of the most touching figures that

we have seen. In, Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus, he fights against himself, in a

battle which he cannot win. He represents the tragedy of a man?s encounter with his own


When Oedipus Rex begins, we find that a plague is consuming Thebes. Oedipus

quickly sends Creon to Delphi to receive the first oracle. Creon explains that a great

crime had been committed. The murderer of king Laios is in their city and until justice is

given the plague will remain. So, brazen Oedipus begins his investigation with a promise,

?I solemnly forbid the people of this country, Where power and throne are mine, ever to

receive that man…And as for me, this curse applies no less?. Oedipus is blind to the true

nature of the situation and himself. He desperately wants to know, to see, but he cannot.

At this point, it is obvious that Oedipus?s action must be to overcome his ?blindness?.

Ironically, into the play is introduced a prophet, Teiresias. He is physically blind

but is a clairvoyant. He does not wish to tell Oedipus the true nature of the situation and


attempts to leave. Only upon insistent badgering does Teiresias reluctantly tell Oedipus

that he is the cause of the city?s misfortune. He even tells him that this man who is

responsible for his father?s murder is also sleeping with his mother. Naturally, Oedipus is

disgusted by the seer?s accusations, after all he left his parents to escape this oracle many

years ago. Oedipus thought that he could outwit his fate and now he is told that he is

knee deep in it. Of course, he throws the seer out of his home and wildly accuses Creon

of treason.

Up to a certain point in the play, Oedipus is completely incapable of realizing what

is happening around him. He is blinded by what he believes to be legitimate: his kingship,

he is savior of the city, and his prize (Iocaste). The first piece of evidence that Oedipus

uncovers is given to him by Iocaste. She relates to him the killing of Laios and he is

stunned. It seems some years before Oedipus had killed a man in much the same way at a

similar place. He quickly puts the whole scenario into affect that Laios is his father that he

killed and Iocaste is his mother that he is laying with. However, Iocaste informs him that

she too received a prophecy many years ago that her son would kill Laios so she quickly

had him removed upon his birth. Again, Oedipus is consoled and closes his eyes to his

frightening reality which envelops him. But this consolation is short – lived since Oedipus

continues on the investigation.

Finally, Oedipus unravels the truth (with the help of a shepherd). He realizes that

his arrogance, escaping his fate, has blinded him during the investigation and throughout

his entire life. This arrogance began when he first learned that he would kill his father and

sleep with his mother. This ?hubris? ultimately leads to his downfall (but he will rise again

as do all tragic heroes). When he discovers the horrifying news that his mother/wife is

dead, he punctures both of his eyes. Only now can he truly see. His blindness is

illuminated by the light of truth. This darkness that he sentenced himself to live in is too


strongly bright for him right now.

Oedipus at Colonus, picks up about twenty years after Oedipus?s revelation. He is

a blind, beggar accompanied only by his daughter, Antigone. He is an outcast from his

city, through his own proclamation, and is forced to wander the countryside. He finally

stops at Colonus and this play begins.

When a stranger tells them that they are on holy ground Oedipus realizes that he is

near his death, ?It was ordained; I recognize it now?. Throughout this play Oedipus is

redeemed. He is no longer portrayed as the brash, arrogant youth escaping his ultimate

destiny. Instead his role is reversed. He has learned to succumb to the will of the gods.

Somehow, through the loss of sight, he has gained immense vision. He now acts as did

Teiresias, knowing the unseen and accepting the will of the gods.

Oedipus knows even before Ismene tells him that whatever city he is buried in will

have immense fortune, ?Then he will come with luck for his own city?. He even tends to

speak in a similar fashion to Teiresias, sometimes giving guidance to Theseus or when he

sentences his sons to death. ?Well, they shall never win me in their fight! Nor will they

profit from the rule of Thebes. I am sure of that.? He even goes on to explain to

Polyneices that he and his brother will fall by the other?s hand and neither shall rule


Finally, Oedipus recognizes the call of his own death, the thunder. He no longer

fights the will of the gods. Instead he prepares himself for death in the place that only he

can find and Theseus knows of. Through his death he is ultimately redeemed beacuse

Athens will rise in the same fashion that he did. His death caused the resurrection of


In these dramas in which Oedipus is the victim, it is only Oedipus who runs the

game. Nothing but his wish to unmask the guilty and know the truth obliges him to take


the investigation to the end. Oedipus goes to the end and against everyone and

everything, Oedipus realizes that he was a pawn of the gods from beginning to end. This

ultimate revelation is the cause for his final redemption.

Now let the weeping cease;

Let no one mourn again.

These things are in the hands of God.

Oedipus at Colonus, pg.170



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