English 126 Prof McGee November 23, 2013 Proper Punishment and Justice in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex Within Sophocles’ play, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus’ destiny was to marry his biological mother and murder his biological father. Oedipus pointlessly tries to change his fate, but was powerless in changing anything. With no control over his destined fate, unaware of his family history, and unconscious of who his birth parents were, Oedipus is guiltless in killing his father and marrying his very own mother. Justice, which required the revealing and punishment of King Laios’ murderer, was served but was incomplete.
King Oedipus is discovered to be guilty, which leads to his evacuation from the city and his voluntary punishment of blindness. Oedipus’s true intentions were to drive out the murderer and put an end to the plague within the City of Thebes, not to simply find out about his familys history. Therefore, he did not deserve to punish himself at the end of the ‘play because his banishment was all that was necessary. Others may think differently by stating Oedipus may have been punished for his pride and confidence, which led to his very own downfall.
Although he had too much pride and was over confident, he was still unaware and Just as urious as any other human being would be. How can you punish someone who was unwillingly chosen as a victim of fate and only trying to be a good king towards his citizens? As Sophocles’ opens the play, the citizens of Thebes call upon Oedipus to help abolish a deadly plague that has invaded their city. “O mighty power, we turn to you: Find us our safety, find us a remedy. Noblest of men, restore/ Life to our city! “(709), desperately states the priest.
This marks the beginning of Oedipus ‘search for Laios’ murderer. His objective was to eliminate the plague and to do this King Laios murder ad to either be punished or driven off the land. Towards the end of the play, Oedipus ironically discovers that he was the mysterious killer that he was searching for. He miserably states, “Ah God! It was true! All the prophecies! (740). This implies that Oedipus was unaware of his fate and refused to believe others when they informed him about it. As the Gods insisted, Oedipus had to be punished by either death or exile.
He was banned from the City of Thebes forever. Along with this punishment came two others; Oedipus’ voluntary punishment of blindness and the removal of his pride. The second messenger reports, “For the king ripped from her gown the golden brooches/ That were her ornament, and raised them, and plunged them down/ Straight into his eyeballs (743). This reveals that Oedipus stabbed out his eyes with his wife, lokaste’s, dress pins. Oedipus blinded himself out of guilt and as an escape from the faces of the citizens of Thebes.
Crying “No more, No more shall you look on the misery about me” (743), Oedipus was embarrassed to gaze upon the races nls cltlzens wno nave aamlrea ana trusted nlm. From tne Deglnnlng 0T tne play, it is evident that Oedipus is driven off of pride. His pride is what led him to him to psychically abusing himself and finding out he was the actual killer. Finding out the man he murdered, King Laios was his father and the woman he married, lokaste, was his mother destroyed him. His citizens can no longer respect a King who has committed these crimes.
Oedipus, once filled with much pride, has lost this pride and became powerless. Stripping Oedipus’ of his pride would be the cruelest punishment because pride is what he has live his life based on. When considering the reasons as to why Oedipus is being punished, I think Oedipus does not deserve to be punished. As he was destined to, Oedipus murdered King Laios. He committed this murder out of self-defense. Oedipus stated, “There a herald came towards me, and a chariot/ Drawn by horses. The groom leading the horses/ Forced me off the road at his lord’s command”, states Oedipus (730).
It is evident that these men were troubling Oedipus and he had the right to defend himself. Oedipus committed incest, but he was apparently unaware of his actions. He states, Ah Polybos! Corinth, the city that I believed/ The ancient seat of my ancestors: how fair I seemed your child “(747). This indicates that from youth, Oedipus believed that Polybos and Corinth were his parents. He had no idea that the woman he married was his biological mother. So, how can you rightfully punish someone who was not in control of his own actions?
It is also evident that Oedipus’ did not act by his own choice as he states, ” Apollo. Apollo. Apollo. Dear/ Children , the God was Apollo. He brought my sick, sick fate upon me” (745). It was by the acts of God that led him to his actions. As Oedipus speaks to his citizens, he reveals that he had no indication of the situation he was in as well. “Oh never to have come here/ With my father’s blood upon me! Never/ To have been the man they call his father’s husband! ” (746), states Oedipus. This implies that it was not his intention to come to the city of Thebes and find about his familys history.
Knowing that Oedipus had no way of avoiding his fate and absolutely moral intentions, it is biased and unfair to punish him. When it comes to Justice in Oedipus Rex, it can be a complex issue. Justice is an abstract principle because people have different understandings of it. There will always be different opinions. I personally think Justice was served in the play, in terms of satisfying the orders of the Gods. The murderer was revealed, which is Oedipus, and he is forbidden from Thebes. The plague will now be put to an end and the Gods will be gratified. On the other hand, Justice was unfinished.
When Oedipus discovered that it was he who was the mysterious murder, he could not bear the news or the thought of how his image would be destroyed in the city. “For the love of God, conceal me somewhere far from Thebes; or kill me; or hurl me into the sea, away from men’s eyes forever” (747), dreadfully stated Oedipus. It was apparent to him that he has shamed his citizens and because of this he wanted to be out of heir presence as quick as possible. As I stated earlier, Justice required the identification and punishment, by death or exile, of Laios’ killer.
Although Oedipus blinds himself that was not his actual punishment. The actual punishment was exile or death. Kreon, being the one left to take Oedipus place, doesn’t decide between the two until Oedipus begs to be sent away from Thebes. Oedipus states, “l pray you in God’s name, give me what I ask for your good, not for mine. Drive me out of this country as qulcKly as can De to a place wnere no numan voice can ever greet me” (748). True Justice is when all of the possible options are considered and a fair decision is made.
As a true king would have, Kreon should have made his own decision of the proper punishment. Had Kreon made the decision himself, I sense there would have been a different punishment and the play would have ended in another way. One might argue that Oedipus deserved to be punished and Justice was not served at the end of the play. Oedipus was very confident and arrogant. Due to the fact that he had saved his citizens from the Sphinx before, he had no doubt that he couldn’t satisfy his citizens once again. l act for the murdered king in my own interest “(71 1), confidently states Oedipus.
Oedipus confidence led him on this search for the murderer, which led to him exposing his own secrets. Knowing that his citizens were depending on him, Oedipus believed that he could restore Thebes back to normal once again. Some may argue that he brought these actions himself. It is true that he did, but it was out of goodness of his heart. Oedipus was too focused on ending the plague that he voided out anyone he felt was trying to stop him reaching his goal. He was not aware that in doing so, he would be revealed as the killer and ind out his family secrets.
When it comes to Oedipus’s conversation with Teiresias, one may argue that Oedipus was too ignorant to realize the truth that Teiresias was informing him with. “l say that you are the killer you seek “(718), states Teiresias. Had Oedipus been willing to listen to this, he could have found out about his fate long before the end of the play. Oedipus was not previously warned of his fate so to hear this for the first time is puzzling. Therefore, he is innocent. He was also unaware of Teiresias himself, as Chargos states, “But there is one man who may detect the criminal.
This is Teiresias, the holy prophet, in whom, truth was born” (716). Oedipus was recently introduced to this individual. He was confused as to why he should trust a blind man he barely recognizes with such dangerous information. Also, Oedipus is only human Just like us all. We all may have our ignorant ways and can think too highly of ourselves at times. Like any other hum being, Oedipus wanted to find out the truth for himself to make sure the news he was given wasn’t misleading. Therefore, it is evident that Oedipus was oblivious to his actions. He was blind to the truth until it was proven right in front of his face.
Punishing Oedipus would be unjust because he had no way to escape his fate and no control over his actions. Had Oedipus been given the chance to live his life by his free will, the play would be entirely different. Oedipus would not have committed any of these awful acts. Whether unaware of his fate or not, he still committed murder which entitles him to some sort of punishment. So, the proper punishment would be banishment because it not only ends the plague, but fulfills the Gods orders. Also, it does not involve physical pain and gives Oedipus the chance to escape the City of Thebes where all his dark memories remain.