Oedipus The King (1083 words) Essay

Oedipus the KingOedipus the King
The events in Oedipus the King, written
by Sophocles, show an underlying relationship of man’s free will existing
within the cosmic order or fate which the Greeks believed guided the universe
in a harmonious purpose. Man was free to choose and was ultimately held
responsible for his own actions. Both the concept of fate and free will
played an itregal part in Oedipus’ destruction. Although he was a victim
of fate, he was not controlled by it. Oedipus was destined from birth to
someday marry his mother and to murder his father. This prophecy, as warned
by the oracle of Apollo at Delphi was unconditional and inevitably would
come to pass, no matter what he may have done to avoid it. His past actions
were determined by fate, but what he did in Thebes, he did so of his own

From the beginning of this tragedy, Oedipus
took many actions leading to his own downfall. Oedipus could have waited
for the plague to end, but out of compassion for his suffering people,
he had Creon go to Delphi. When he learned of Apollo’s word, he could have
calmly investigated the murder of the former King Laius, but in his hastiness,
he passionately curses the murderer, and in so, unknowingly curses himself.

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“Upon the murderer I invoke this curse- whether he is one man and all unknown,
or one of many- may he wear out his life in misery or doom! If with my
knowledge he lives at my hearth, I pray that I myself may feel my curse.”
(pg. 438; lines 266-271)
In order for Sophecles’ Greek audience
to relate to the tragic figure, he had to have some type of flaws or an
error of ways. This brought the character down to a human level, invoking
in them the fear that “it could happen to them.” And Oedipus certainly
is not one without flaws. His pride, ingnorance, insolence and disbelief
in the gods, and unrelenting quest for the truth ultimately contributed
to his destuction. When Oedipus was told (after threatening Teiresias),
that he was responsible for the murder of Laius, he became enraged and
calls the old oracle a liar. He ran away from his home, Corinth, in hopes
of outsmarting the gods divine will. Like his father, Oedipus also sought
ways to escape the horrible destiny told by the oracle of Apollo. The chorus
warns us of man’s need to have reverence for the gods, and the dangers
of too much pride. “If a man walks with haughtiness of hand or word and
gives no heed to Justice and the shrines of Gods despises- may an evil
doom smite him for his ill- starred pride of heart!- if he reaps gains
without justice and will not hold from impiety and his fingers itch for
untouchable things. When such things are done, what man shall contrive
to shield his soul from the shafts of the God?” (pg. 452; 975-984)
Oedipus’ unyielding desire to uncover the
truth about Laius’ murder and the mystery surrounding his own birth, led
him to the tragic realization of his horrific deeds. Teiresias, Jocasta
and the herdsman tried to stop him from pursuing the truth. Take for example
a part of the last conversation between Jocasta and Oedipus. After realizing
that the prophecy had came true, Jacasta begs him to just let the mystery
go unsolved for once. “I beg you- do not hunt this out- I beg you, if you
have any care for your own life. What I am suffering is enough.” (pg. 461;
1158-1161) Oedipus replies, “I will not be persuaded to let chance of finding
out the whole thing clearly.” (pg. 461; 1166-1167) He is unable to stop
his quest for the truth, even under his wife’s pleading. For it is in his
own vain that he must solve the final riddle, the riddle of his own life.

Upon discovery of the truth of his birth
from the herdsman, Oedipus cries, “I who first saw the light bred of a
match accursed, and accursed in my living with them, cursed in my killing.”
(pg. 465; 1300-1303) Oedipus knew that his fate had indeed come to pass
and feels cursed by it. The chorus then sings an ode on the sorrow of life
and the tragic fate to which even the most honored, like Oedipus are ultimately
subject. “What man, what man on earth wins more happiness than a seeming
and after that turning away? Oedipus you are my pattern of this, Oedipus
you and your fate! Luckless Oedipus, whom of all men I envied not at all.

(pg. 465; 1305-1311)
At the end of this tragic story, when Oedipus
gouges out his eyes, the chorus asks him what god urged him to blind himself.

Oedipus replied, “It was Apollo, friends, Apollo, that brought this bitter
bitterness, my sorrows to completion. But was the hand that struck me was
none but my own.” (pg. 467; 1450-1453) He claimed full responsibility for
his actions. Oedipus was guilty of killing his father and marrying his
mother, but perhaps the true sin lay in his overzealous attempt to raise
himself to the level of the gods by trying to escape his fate. The chorus
chants about how in prosperity, he was envied by all men, he was honored
highest above all honors, and how he won happiness by pride (by slaughtering
the Sphinx, and by trying to deceive the god’s will.) But, how ultimately,
Odipus was judged for it, causing a reversal of fortune in his prosperous

The fact that Oedpius’ motives for killing
his father, Laius, and wedding his mother, Jocasta, it does not take away
from the horrific nature of the crimes. When he tears at his eyes with
his Jocasta’s broach, Oedipus is accepting the full burden of his acts
and knew that he must be punished for his sins. Therefore the last act
of destruction was caused by Oedipus’ free will, but his tragic fate came
about because of the nature of the cosmic order ( that every sin must be
punished) and role of the gods in human affairs.

The chorus concludes this tragedy by warning
the Greeks, that the only way to happiness is through humility and respect
towards the gods, (qualities which Oedipus lacked, and ultimately led to
his destruction.) They also warn not to take anything for granted, or suffer
a fate like that of Oedipus. ” You live in my ancestral Thebes, behold
this Oedipus,- him who knew the famous riddle and was a man most masterful,-
not a citizen who did not look with envy on his lot- see him now and see
the breakers of misfortune swall him! Look upon that last day always. Count
no mortal happy till he has passed the final limit of his life secure from
pain.” (pg. 470; 1643-1670)


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