Oedipus Trilogy Essay

Oedipus Rex, or Oedipus Tyrannus as it is in Latin, could be what we call today
a Freudian work of literature. The Oedipus Trilogy was originally written by
Sophocles and is meant to be told in a story-telling fashion. But this Grecian
tragedy was revised and translated into English by Paul Roche and put into a
novel form. The Oedipus Trilogy is a novel that deals with destiny and fate. The
reader is shown a series of events plotted out from which Oedipus cannot escape.

When we begin to read this story, we must remember that Greek society was based
around myths and legends. They, much like today’s society, had the need to
explain everything. Their myths were a way of explaining such things. They had a
series of gods and muses and fates to explain why things happened the way it
happened. They believed in a force greater than their own controlling their
every move. Sophocles took their beliefs and used the Oedipus Trilogy to explore
the irony of how the Fates work more closely. The Oedipus plays are separated
into three main plays: Oedipus Rex (The King), Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone.

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The story starts in Oedipus Rex, and the city of Thebes in which he is ruler is
in plague. The city calls upon the ruler Oedipus to find a way to stop the
plague. At this point in time, it is 15 years after the prophecy given to him by
the Oracle of Delphi of his father dying and him marrying his mother. When he
hears of this he promises never to return so he may outsmart the fates. He
eventually ends up in Thebes through his travels and gets into an argument with
an old man. He ends up killing the old man in a brawl. Little does he know that
this old man is King Laius, his father. He goes to Thebes where a Sphynx is
harassing it’s people for an answer to it’s riddle. Oedipus solves the
riddle and the Sphynx throws itself from its perch upon a rock outside the city.

Its people make Oedipus the new King. Now he is faced with another challenge, to
find the killer and banish him from the city to rid them of the plague. We are
faced with an interesting plot indeed. When Oedipus pledges to find the
murderers, he puts himself in the ironic position of having to hunt himself
down. The story shows Oedipus following his own tracks until he finds the
shepherd who gave the infant Oedipus to the king of Corinth, from King Laius.

Once the story becomes clear, Jocasta, his wife, kills herself in a bloody rage
and Oedipus stabs his eyes out. Oedipus has Creon, brother to Jocasta, tend to
his last affairs and assume kingship of Thebes. When we go to Oedipus at Colonus,
the whole story then goes to the eminent defeat of Thebes by whomever holds
Oedipus’s tomb. Oedipus promises the knowledge of his tomb only to the kings
of Athens. The story of Antigone is of how Oedipus’ daughter defies the will
of Creon and gives Polynices. When a person is faced with the possibility of
committing an unfavorable deed, a person will take whatever steps necessary to
prevent them from committing the act. It is a basic human instinct to prevent
ones self from committing the act. And the basic overall theme of the Oedipus
trilogy is defiance. We see the attempt to defy throughout the whole trilogy.

Oedipus tries to defy the Fates by avoiding his destiny. Creon tries to avoid
the will of the Fates by getting Oedipus to come back to Thebes so he can save
it from being taken. And Antigone defies the will of Creon by burying Polynices
against his will. What they all learned by the end of their stories was that
they could not escape their chosen fate. All throughout the story we see
attempts to defy the will of others. Oedipus staying in the sanctuary is one
example. His resistance to go back to Thebes is another. It all points back to
defiance of fate. The entire trilogy is done from a third person omniscient
point of view. This gives it the flexibility to move easily between the three
different stories without having to explain each setting in length. Each
character in Oedipus’ line all seems to have one thing in common, their
stubbornness. Creon seems to be a man of distinction and honor in the story.

Tiresias, as the seer, symbolizes knowledge and reason. Jocasta acts as the
mediator between Oedipus and the rest of the world. The two daughters are quiet
and obedient to only their family and to what makes sense. The sons are the
symbol of the everlasting conflict in the line of Oedipus. Of course the setting
takes a major role in the play. It takes place in ancient Greece, naturally,
where tragedies and stories of misfortune are known to happen. And as such there
are many symbols used throughout the trilogy. The chorus is one of the main
symbols continually used in the story, singing their strophies and antistrophies.

Their importance is to show what the people of the time would feel about what
was happening. They are sort of a mild version of critics in the story. Tiresias,
the seer, is another great symbol in the story. Though he is blind, he is proved
in the story to have seen things more clearly than the stubborn Oedipus would
have. The irony of it is that Oedipus himself later became that seer in the
story of Colonus, with Antigone as his own hand-girl. The plays of Oedipus also
use a great range of picturesque speech to make a point. We see it in the very
first lines of Oedipus the king when Oedipus asks his beloved people, “what is
the meaning of this thronging round my feet- this holding out of olive branches
wreathed in woe?” (Roche 23). By this sentence Sophocles is showing that his
people are crying at his feet for an answer to their sickness. Little did
Oedipus know that he had his own much larger problem on his hands. The plays of
Oedipus have long been some of the most enlightening and teaching of stories.

This story sparked the study of much psychological debate and theories
pertaining to the love of ones mother and ones own sanity. It was used in
Ancient Greece to tell of the twisted ways that Fate worked and how you can do
something you may not want to out of pure ignorance. This story is a truly
remarkable one for those who would read it for pleasure, and yet it is a plague
of its own for many a student. And it is still used today so that we may study
how an ancient culture thought. Much of Greco-Roman myths are centered on the
subject of Fate. Homers epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey are two such examples.

We can see that their societies were greatly concerned with Fate, as much of
their writing reflects that. Every society has its own needs and concerns, and
literature is always the best way to reflect them.


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