Free Oedipus the King Essays: Oedipus as the Hero Archetype

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Oedipus as the Hero Archetype

The character Oedipus in Sophocles' Oedipus the King follows a literary pattern known as the hero archetype. The hero archetype is a pattern involved with transformation and redemption. Manifest in three stages called the quest, the initiation, and the sacrifice, Oedipus is transformed from the redeemer of the city to the cause of its downfall. These three stages are clearly revealed and although they are separate entities, each intertwine.

Prior to the opening of the story Oedipus begins the first stage, known as the quest. Oedipus learns from the oracle at Delphi that it is in his fate to kill his father and to marry his mother. To avoid this fate he leaves the only family and home he has ever known. He travels far and arrives at Thebes during a time of great turmoil, the city's men are being devoured by a sphinx who requires a riddle to be solved. Oedipus saves the city by answering this riddle.

Twenty years later we enter the story and find the city under the cloud of a plague. Apollo's oracle has decreed the only way to end the plague is to seek out the murderer of the predecessor to the throne, Laius. Oedipus swears to find this murderer and cause of the pestilence in order to save his city.

Oedipus enters the separation part of the second stage, the initiation, when the blind "seer" Tiresias charges that Oedipus himself is the cause of the pestilence. Oedipus goes through denial and then separates from himself through self-examination. Although warned to refrain from the search by his wife/mother, Jocasta, Oedipus continues to seek out the truth. This truth seeking leads to the transformation where Oedipus realizes that he is responsible. He had killed his father (although at the time he did not know Laius was his father) and married his mother (he did not know this either),thereby causing the plague. This realization was too much for Jocasta to bear and so she committed suicide. At the sight of this event, Oedipus feels immediate and unbearable guilt and blinds himself to the evils he has caused. At this point Oedipus enters the return phase of the initiation and realizes that he must live up to his own decree and banish himself from the city in order to save his people.

The third stage, the sacrifice, is symbolized by Oedipus removing himself from the city.
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