The Fall of Oedipus Essay

The Fall of Oedipus “Thebes is tossed in a murdering sea,” cries out the priest towards the beginning of the play. Thebes is enwrapped in darkness, the houses are cursed, children are dying at birth, fruit is growing unhealthily, and no one can put an end to it. Creon enters with the message that the plague is a result of the fact that the murderer of Laius, the former ruler of Thebes, is in the city; he must be exiled in order for the plague to end.

After hearing the news, Oedipus vows to find Laius’s murderer. Through Oedipus’s actions and responses towards the message, it is revealed that he is compelled to solve the mystery; however, it is this very compulsion that is incorporated with Oedipus’s pride and overconfidence that leads to his ultimate downfall and the destruction of his family. In Jennifer Lewin’s “An overview of Oedipus Rex,” Lewin takes a different approach in analyzing Oedipus.

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Lewin portrays Oedipus as: “[Oedipus] is to be admired for many reasons, and especially for demonstrating, as a responsible leader, his desire for honesty and directness in approaching the problem of Thebes’s plague” (1); which can be supported with the immediate vow Oedipus makes against the murderer of Laius. He vows to avenge the city no matter the consequence, for he clearly curses the murderer’s life, then states “…as for me, this curse applies no less. ” This illustrates that no matter who the murderer is, he will not discriminate; for the punishment will be certain.

He is also to be admired for the fact that he loves the people of Thebes. This can be proven from the scene where Creon enters with a message from Delphi and asks Oedipus to enter away from the people of Thebes; Oedipus, unhesitant, responds: “Let them all hear it. It is for them I suffer, more than myself. ” Clearly, Oedipus is not a self-centered leader. While exemplifying Oedipus’s intellectual abilities, Lewin reflects on Rebecca Bushnells “Prophesying Tragedy: Sight and Voice in Sophocles’ Theban Plays. Lewin quotes: “Oedipus shows fearlessness in the face of turmoil and his unstoppable quest for public utterance of the truth of the oracle leads him, tragically, to the knowledge that he has fulfilled its terms” (1). In other words, no matter the consequences, Oedipus was compelled to find every clue to unravel the mystery of Thebes. This idea can also be supported with Oedipus’s excessive questioning to Creon after arriving to inform Oedipus about the message of Delphi. Oedipus’s greatness is illustrated in F. H. Letters’ “The Oedipus Tyrannus. Letters is an advocate of the belief that Oedipus was always an admirable ruler (2). This can be supported by the incident where the Messenger of Corinth came with the message of the death of the king. The messenger stated, “the word is that the people of Isthmus intend to call Oedipus to be their king. ” This proves that, as in Thebes, Oedipus is respected by the people which he rules. Considering this, one may safely conclude that he was not a selfish, tyrannical leader, but rather one who works for the benefit of his people.

Lewin also reflects on Oedipus’s greatness; she concludes that Oedipus was a great man because he not only had the strength to find the answer at any consequence, but also because he had the strength to accept it (2). One might argue that he was weak because he blinded himself. However, Oedipus cries out, “Do not counsel me anymore. This punishment I have laid upon myself is just. If I had eyes, I do not know how I could bear the sight…. how could I look men frankly in the eyes? This proves that Oedipus did so not because of the fact that he was afraid of life, but because he was ashamed of looking at men with the guilt he possessed. It is not Oedipus’s reputation that is an issue nor is it his integrity, for he was driven by a stronger force: pride. After solving the riddle of the Sphinx, he felt as though he had the intellectual ability to solve any problem. He even felt as though he was more knowledgeable than the prophet Tiresias and more beneficial than the gods.

He even went as far as to insult the prophet, knowing little that the prophet, after insisting that it would result in his downfall, was revealing the answer to him. Oedipus is informed that the mystery of the murderer of Lauis has been deferred during the curse of the Sphinx. Although Oedipus revives the case, he does not use every clue given to him to solve the mystery. For example, Oedipus eagerly asks while Creon was withholding a statement he ruled to be useless: “what was that one thing? One may be the key to everything, if we resolve to use it. However, during the quarrel between Oedipus and Tiresias, Tiresias clearly gave him the answer to the mystery, “you, yourself are the pollution of this country. ” Clearly, If Oedipus really “resolved to use” every clue, he would have analyzed the words, remembered the incident where he killed the men on the way to Thebes, and concluded that he was the murderer of Lauis. However, Oedipus, knowing that he solved the riddle and is now the savior of Thebes, could not have thought of the idea that the one he killed might be the king.

Oedipus’s actions and responses towards the great prophet Tiresias should not be the responses of a leader who is seeking to solve his city’s mystery. Oedipus, at first, begs Tiresias for the information, after being told that it will lead to his misery; he cries out, “In God’s name, we all beg you…” However, after a few responses, he insults Tiresias shouting, “you sightless, witless, senseless, mad old man. ” Oedipus contradicts himself by at first praising Tiresias’s intelligence and knowledge, then insulting him because Tiresias reveals a message that Oedipus is uncomfortable hearing.

Logically speaking, this is an ad hominem where Oedipus attacks Tiresias’s eyesight and age instead of taking the content of his message into account. Oedipus later announces that he refuses to accept to hear him anymore while carelessly stating: “Say what you will. Whatever you say is worthless. ” Another incident where Tiresias reveals the answer to Oedipus was while Tiresias was leaving. While he was being led by the page, he prophesized about the murderer, “To your mind, he is foreign-born…a blind man who has his eyes now; a penniless man who is rich now…. rother and father, the very same; to her who bore him, son and husband…” For one who has the slightest ability to use any clue would have been able to notice that he himself was foreign-born (in his own beliefs) and the wealth was given to him (therefore was not rich). He should have been able to realize that the prophet was referring to him; his position, however, as a problem solver, exposed much pride and eliminated the thought of him ever being the “pollution of the city. Before the arrival of Tiresias, the chorus were praying to the Gods for help in resolving the mystery of Thebes. Hearing the prayer, Oedipus enters with pride answering, “Is this your prayer? It may be answered. ” In doing so, he places himself as a God. This view may be reinforced by another response made by Oedipus while quarrelling with Tiresias: “What good were they? Or the gods, for the matter of that? ” He goes on by stating that he solved the riddle of Sphinx without the help of anyone, not even the gods.

It was also the insisting constantly made by Oedipus that had a major affect on the outcome of the play. Even after being told that the answer will harm him, Oedipus insisted to Tiresias and also to the Shepherd who resisted in telling Oedipus about his true origin. Even after gaining the knowledge of the king of Corinth’s death (who is believed by Oedipus to be his father, proving that the prophesy is untrue), Oedipus immediately thought referring to the prophesy of sleeping with his mother, “must I not fear my mother’s bed. This shows that Oedipus was always unnecessarily insistent for useless facts, while ignoring the important ones. Oedipus is well known to be intelligent, brave, and unselfish. He always insisted on knowing the answers to help the people of Thebes rid the curse on the city; he was respected for his intelligence for solving the riddle of the Sphinx; and insisted on informing his citizens of any news regarding the progress of the mystery. These points, however, worked against him in the sense that he eliminated himself from the equation of the problem.

He did not take into account that he might have been the murderer of Laius. He also was never content with the information he possessed nor did he analyze it enough. If he did not place himself higher than Tiresias, he would have been able to solve the mystery, exile himself ridding Thebes of the plague, and not have endured through the humiliation, and destroying his family. The truth is, as Creon has stated to Oedipus: “you served your own destruction. ” Works Cited Letters, F. J. H. “The Oedipus Tyrannus. ” The Life and Work of Sophocles.

London: Sheed and Ward, 1953. 201-230. Rpt. in Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism. Ed. Jelena O. Krstovic. Vol. 86. Detroit: Gale, 2006. 201-230. Literature Resources from Gale. Gale. CCLA, Hillsborough Comm College. 23 Nov. 2009 <http://go. galegroup. com/ps/start. do? p=LitRG&u=lincclin_hcc>. Lewin, Jennifer. “An overview of Oedipus Rex. ” Drama for Students. Detroit: Gale. Literature Resources from Gale. Gale. CCLA, Hillsborough Comm College. 23 Nov. 2009 <http://go. galegroup. com/ps/start. do? p=LitRG&u=lincclin_hcc>.


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