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Oedipus the King: Light vs. Dark

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Light vs. Dark in Oedipus


Throughout Oedipus the King, Sophocles employs one continuous metaphor: light vs. darkness, and sight vs. blindness.  A reference to this metaphor occurs early in the play, when Oedipus falsely accuses Tiresias and Creon of conspiracy: Creon, the soul of trust, my loyal friend from the start steals against me... so hungry to overthrow me he sets this wizard on me, this scheming quack, this fortune-teller peddling lies, eyes peeled for his own profit—seer blind in his craft!

Tiresias responds by using the same metaphor: So, you mock my blindness? Let me tell you this.  You with your precious eyes, you're blind to the corruption of your life, to the house you live in, those you live with—who are your parents? Do you know? All unknowing you are the scourge of your own flesh and blood, the dead below the earth and the living here above, and the double lash of your mother and your father's curse will whip you from this land one day, their footfall treading you down in terror, darkness shrouding your eyes that now can see the light!

Though at this point the reader cannot be sure which character is right, eventually Tiresias comes out the winner.  This is revealed as Oedipus learns his tragic fate, saying, O god—all come true, all burst to light! O light—now let me look my last on you! I stand revealed at last—cursed in my birth, cursed in marriage, cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands! Here again, the metaphor of light, which represents truth and knowledge, is present. 

Ironically, this causes the king to gouge out his eyes, which have been blind to the truth for so long.  He screams, You, you'll see no more the pain I suffered, all the pain I caused! Too long you looked on the ones you never should have seen, blind to the ones you longed to see, to know! Blind from this hour on! Blind in the darkness—blind! Oedipus furthers Sophocles' sight metaphor when he defends his decision to humble himself through blindness: "What good were eyes to me? Nothing I could see could bring me joy."

Thus the idea of sight is critical in Oedipus the King.  Though Tiresias is physically blind, he sees the truth from the beginning, while Oedipus, who has physical eyesight, is blind to his fate.  By the end, Oedipus makes his eyes blind when he learns the truth and finally sees

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