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Oedipus

Oedipus In Sopohocles’ tragedy “Oedipus the King”, Oedipus proclaims ” it was I who have pronounced these curses on myself” (Madden 37). With this announcement, Oedipus is aware that his pursuit for order has led to a life of chaos. The central thesis is that the presumption of order establishes physical, intellectual, and spiritual chaos. The text’s reference to the sphinx, Oedipus, and Tiresias creates this notion. These three literal signifiers are the metaphoric symbolizers of physical, intellectual, and spiritual chaos.

The concept of physical chaos is first introduced during the first speech of the priest when reference is made to the “harsh singer” (Madden 37), the sphinx. In greek mythology, the sphinx is recognised as a hybrid creature with a woman’s head, a lion’s body, an eagle’s wings, and a serpent’s tail. In reality, “the virgin with the crooked talons” (Madden 48), is a unique archetype for many things in one single being. The sphinx is an epitome of destruction and chaos who establishes “the tax [they] had to pay [her]” (Madden 17) because she devourers all who fail to answer her riddle. Her domination of Thebes causes havoc and melancholic responses that are directly related to the degree of her physical chaos.

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The confrontation between Oedipus and the sphinx ends with the latter destroying herself, “the winged maiden came against him: he was seen then to be skilled” (Madden 29), due to Oedipus answering her riddle. By destroying herself, the sphinx makes it possible for the oracles to come true. With her reign of terror at an end, the sphinx makes it possible for Oedipus to continue with his life in pursuit of order. Chaos is established because of the opportunity for the prophecies to become an actuality. The physical appearance of the sphinx and her self- destruction foreshadow chaos for Oedipus in the near future. As the sphinx is the measure of highest physical chaos, so Oedipus is a measure of utmost intellectual chaos.

Oedipus, being the king of Thebes, portrays qualities that signify intelligence, fortitude, and freedom from doubt. Oedipus’ intelligence is prominent upon knowledge of his ill faith; Oedipus, in his present state of mind, interprets the prophecies made to him literally. This course of action assists in the accomplishment of the oracles. “[Phoebus] said [Oedipus] would be [his] mother’s lover, show offspring to mankind [that] they could not look at, and be his [father’s] murderer. When [Oedipus] heard this, and ever since, [he] gauged the way to Corinth by the stars alone, running to a place where [he] would never see the disgrace in the oracle’s words come true.” (Madden 37). By trying to set down a systematic life, Oedipus ironically commits the “wretched horrors” (Madden 37) he intends to avoid, thus coming to the realization that “[he] struck them with his hand”(Madden 52).

Oedipus answers the riddle of the sphinx “and stopped her-by using thought” (Madden 26). By doing so, Oedipus’ reward for freeing Thebes was the throne and the hand in marriage of the widowed Jocasta. His intelligence-driven fulfilment of the prophecies induced chaos because “[her] riddle wasn’t for a man chancing by to interpret, prophetic art was needed” (Madden 26). The realization that “[he has] pronounced these curses on [himself]” (Madden 37) depicts how Oedipus establishes intellectual chaos because the choices he makes to secure order in his life strangely enough provoke a chaotic time to come. The mention of Tiresias in the play signifies spiritual chaos.

He is a blind but wise prophet who “sees more [..] than Lord Phoebus” (Madden 24). Tiresias knows the truth about Oedipus and states: “he’ll be shown a father who is also brother; to the one who bore him, son and husband; to his father, his seed-fellow and killer” (Madden 28). Tiresias has “the strength of the truth” (Madden 25) and chaos evolves when he does not speak of the truth he knows. With this, Oedipus accuses him of being “[part] of [the] plot [to murder Laius]” (Madden 26), when in reality, “[Oedipus is the] enemy” (Madden 27). Tiresias is blind due to natural causes, but when Oedipus tries to achieve his level of wisdom, all that is obtained is chaos.

“[H]e snatched the pins [..] and struck [them] into [his eyeballs]” (Madden 50) in attempt to see spiritually. Tiresias deceives Oedipus unintentionally into believing that wisdom can be achieved by blindness; Tiresias says: “since you have thrown my blindness at me: Your eyes can’t see the evil to which you’ve come” (Madden 27). This incident depicts how Tiresias’ order establishes chaos for Oedipus. Acquiring order cannot exist without the concept of chaos. The realization that order leads to chaos manifests man’s pursuit for an unreachable end. The challenge to accomplish a life of order involves smart decision making, and this process is essential for physical, intellectual and spiritual chaos.

Oedipus

Oedipus: flawed by his own devices
The best way to teach anyone a moral is to tell him or her a story about it. It leaves the reader or listener with a better feel for the issue portrayed in the story. Perhaps the first use of this in writing is Sophocles’s classical drama Oedipus Rex. Oedipus, the tragic hero, falls prey to his own weaknesses. Pride sets him up for a hard fall, when he makes many self-incriminating events public. Persistence causes him to pursue his own destruction, even when many warn him to stop. Finally, uncontrollable rage is the underlying factor in many of the tragic events in the play.

Oedipus’s pride forces him to make everything a public event that makes himself look better, but unfortunately these public appearances lead to his downfall. Even in the very beginning of the play, Oedipus comes before the crowd and says, quote. I deemed it unmeet, my children, for you to hear these things at the mouths of others, and have come here myself, I, Oedipus renowned of all.quote pg77. This proclamation leads up to the detailing of a plague, something all of the residents know about. Oedipus is making big shows out of small topics, something he will regret later. No news of how to stop the plague is even mentioned until Creon comes. Oedipus again makes more incriminating evidence public when he tells Creon, quote. Speak before all. The sorrow, which I bear, is for these more than for my own life. quote pg79 The notoriety Oedipus gives Creon’s speech brings more problems simply because of the details in the speech. Creon tells of a defiling thing that roams the local land. Again, Oedipus does the nobler thing, and decrees that whosoever should come forward to claim responsibility would only be forced into exile. However, if that person hides and does not come forward, then the punishment will be death. In the end though, Oedipus turns out to be the defiling thing, and his own proclamation forces him into exile from Thebes. From these facts, it is apparent that Oedipus’s downfall is due, in part, to his egotistical ways.

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Oedipus’s persistent quest to find information about his birth, even when others counsel him not to, leads him to his dreadful ruin. Teiresias, a blind prophet, goes to Oedipus. He tells Oedipus that he is the defiling thing, but does not make his declaration entirely public, giving Oedipus a chance to escape his first tragic flaw. Oedipus does not comprehend the seer’s warning, and accuses him of treason. His first chance now gone, his second presents itself when Jocasta comes down to interrupt Creon and Oedipus who are feuding over the matter Teiresias brings up. Jocasta questions the two, but the chorus interrupts her with the timely advice, quote Enough, surely enough, when our land is already vexed, that the matter should rest where it ceased. quote pg94 With these lines, the chorus is suggesting that the matter be left alone. Oedipus is becoming distraught with all of the events by this time. Nonetheless, his stubborn mind blocks it out, and he continues. The last and final admonition comes from Jocasta. She has already discovered for herself that she is both mother and wife to Oedipus. In her distress she pleads with him saying, quote For the gods’ sakefor your own life, forbear this search! My anguish is enough. quote pg103 This last and final chance to escape doom ends tragically, for when he forsakes Jocasta’s advice, she realizes there is no use. With her final lamentation, she disappears, never to be seen alive by Oedipus again. This proves once and for all that the counsel of others, when falling on Oedipus’s ears, does no good, and by holding his own ears deaf, Oedipus leads himself to ruin with reigns of his own stubbornness.

Rage is the underlying emotion in Oedipus that causes the tragic events to take place. Hints of this violent and vengeful behavior begin to show through in the middle of the play. The way in which Oedipus verbally attacks Creon after the prophet Teiresias gives Oedipus bad news is just one example of his very violent tendencies. Oedipus goes so far as to accuse Creon, an innocent man, of treason without any evidence. As it turns out, it is his violent course of action that is the cause of his distress. When Jocasta questions him on his arrival to Thebes he tells of, perhaps the first incidence of road rage, in which he lashes out against a traveling band that force him off the road. As the audience would soon find out, that band of travelers held with it his father, Laius. This story proves that he is responsible for the murders. When in the end Oedipus realizes his luckless existence, he becomes tormented mentally. A messenger brings the bad tidings and quotes Oedipus’s last decipherable words before Oedipus, quote smote full on his own eyeballsnot once alone but oft he strucktoday lamentation, ruin, death, shame, all earthly ills that can be namedall are theirs. quote pg108 Now that Oedipus is blind, and Jocasta is dead, the play ends. The tragic events mold Oedipus into a pathetic blind beggar, and his reversal is certainly pitiful. It is unfortunate that anyone should slump to such a low point in his or her life, especially after having achieved such a high one. This disastrous chain of events further emphasizes the part fury plays in Oedipus’s undoing.

Undoubtedly Oedipus falls prey to his own personal flaws. His prideful ways cause him to look dishonorable in the public eye. His over zealous pursuit of his origin brings his own ruin. Most assuredly, his rage is his ultimate undoing, forcing him to violent ends. The pathetic figure that Oedipus becomes at the end of the play is a message to the audience. A moral perhaps, or warning, of the bad things that these imperfections bring. It is important for the audience to appreciate these flaws so they do not repeat them in their own lives.

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