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The Tragic Outcome Of Intemperance In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex Essay, Research Paper

Brilliantly conceived and written, Sophocles Oedipus Rex (429 BC) dramatises the self-discovery and tragic downfall of Oedipus, the King of Thebes. Because of his concern for the welfare of Thebes, Oedipus continues to pursue the truth impulsively and rashly, facing the terrible consequences of his deeds. He finds out, as foreordained by the Oracle at Delphi, that he has killed his own father (Laius), married his own mother (Jocasta) and thereby brought down a plague on his beloved Thebes. Undaunted, however, by his terrible predicament, he faces the horrible results of his actions unflinchingly; in agonized expiation, he even blinds and exiles himself. As Oedipus relentlessly seeks out the truth, it is apparent that though he has wisdom, justice and courage, his intemperate words and actions, which issue out of his hubris (pride), lead him to his inevitable nemesis.

Out of the four cardinal virtues of Greek heroes, Oedipus possesses wisdom, justice and courage, but lacks temperance. He displays wisdom, for instance, upon his arrival at Thebes, when he successfully answers the riddle of the Sphinx and saves the city from oppression. Oedipus has a strong sense of justice too; he proclaims valiantly that he will find and exile the murderer of Laius, the former king of Thebes. When he finds out ironically that he himself is the perpetrator of the crime, he blinds himself in agony and willingly accepts his own banishment as just punishment. Finally, Oedipus has immense courage; even when he realizes the horrific nature of his past, he continues to pursue the truth bravely, in the hope that he may save Thebes from the plague. His good traits of wisdom, justice and courage enhance his stature while he persists in his heroic course of self-discovery, though it is flawed by his hot temper and impulsiveness.

To his great credit, Oedipus does not give up his pursuit of the truth and the identity of Lauis murderer, despite the accumulation of events that weigh against him. In fact, when Oedipus first encounters the blind seer and prophet Teiresias, who refuses to divulge the truth he knows, Oedipus becomes angry and reveals his intemperance. Teiresias attempts to be civil, but Oedipus is impatient and responds with caustic accusations against him. Though Teiresias tries to warn him gently, Oedipus does not want anything withheld from him and becomes ever more heated in his demands. Eventually, Teiresias spits out the truth in disgust and leaves Oedipus with a curse. Thus, even while he is seeking the truth, he falls a victim to rash thinking and intemperate actions.

After Teiresias leaves him, Oedipus continues to make crucial decisions blindly, out of anger and spite. He jumps to the conclusion that Teiresias is conspiring with Creon, Jocasta s brother. He maintains his stance with irrational vehemence, never bothering to prove Creon s guilt before ordering that he should be hanged. Fortunately for Creon, before Oedipus command is carried out, Oedipus precipitates his own tragedy.

Upon learning from Jocasta that Laius was murdered by robbers at the meeting place of three roads, Oedipus recollects his own intemperate actions. When Oedipus had first left Corinth, he had encountered an old man in a chariot at the crossroads near Phocis, quarrelled with him bitterly, and killed him in a fit of rage. Still, Oedipus is not completely aware that the old man he had killed was his own father Laius and through that rash act Oedipus himself had brought down the plague upon Thebes. In vowing to find the murderer of Laius and exile him, therefore, Oedipus unconsciously and impulsively pronounces judgement on himself. Thus, through his lack of temperance, which ultimately issues out his pride (hubris), Oedipus brings about his own downfall.

Later, Oedipus continues to make rash decisions and slander even the gods without forethought. Upon learning that Polybus, his surrogate father in Corinth had died of natural causes, Oedipus is quick to dismiss the prophecy of the Delphic oracle and mock the gods with sarcasm.

In spite of his intemperance, however, Oedipus conducts himself courageously. In the midst of his suffering and self revelation, he does not submit passively to his fate or blame the gods for his suffering. Instead, he blinds himself in a rage of remorse, accepting total responsibility for the sins he has committed.

Every act of Oedipus is performed in rashness, from his hot-tempered killing of Laius and his relentless seeking of the murderer, to his violent blinding of himself and voluntary embracing of exile. His lack of temperance leads him inevitably to his undoing. Paradoxically, however, his shortcoming also results in the magnificent metamorphosis of the arrogant Oedipus the King into the humbled Oedipus the man. Thus, even while Oedipus the King brings about his material downfall through intemperance, Oedipus the man rises to greater spiritual heights through courage.


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