Oedipus Rex

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Ancient Athens of the fifth century B.C saw evolutionary developments in philosophy, science and the dramatic arts which provided citizens a very different perspective of life as it was. It was a patriarchal society which has been ruled by an Aristocratic system for hundreds of years which centred their ideals and beliefs not on individualism, but utterly the power of the gods. However in the Periclean Age , society’s devotion towards piety began to diminish as humanity started to examine the power of man’s achievements; an unorthodox movement led by the Sophists . It was thus the role of dominant Greek powers to re-establish the traditional pious values of their society. As a conservative with high status, Sophocles wrote with the intention to reinforce these dominant values in his renowned play Oedipus Rex (c. 429BC). The ancient play tells the story of Oedipus the king who in the attempt to save his city from a plague inadvertently discovers his true identity and thus fulfilling a foretold prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother. Sophocles intentionally manipulates features of tragedy to address the questioning nature of his time by ultimately emphasising the horrendous consequences befalling Oedipus. The tragic structure reinstates the conventional understanding of fate and free will, reaffirming the power of the gods and functions of conservative Athenian society, while showing the challenges to ‘new ways of thinking’ posed to the status quo. Fate and free will became elusive concepts in the Golden Age which conservative society would have accepted unquestioningly: that everything was predestined by the gods. The Sophistic movement presented ideas which challenged this pious belief. Sophocles has ingeniou... ... middle of paper ... ...mately the power of the gods, his cursed fate and the conservative philosophy and beliefs that overruled all the sophistic qualities which audiences may have admired in the play. With the motive to restore the conservative way of life, Sophocles’ important manipulation of characters, events and use of tragic devices is seen to facilitate his expression of these conservative ideas. Using this strategy, he further reinforces the importance of traditional values by implicating a contemporary humanist understanding of patriarchy and its influence on his time. This ultimately subverts citizens ‘false’ attitude towards traditional practices. It is Sophocles’ development of these conservative responses through his manipulation of tragic conventions that makes contemporary audiences remember and appreciate the fundamental values which foregrounded the Athenian way of life.

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