Oedipus: Tragic Hero Or Victim Of Fate

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In his work Nature and Elements of Tragedy, Aristotle outlined the characteristics needed in order to create a compelling tragic hero. He states that this particular character must be "better than we are," a man who is superior to the average man in some way. At the same time, a tragic hero must evoke both pity and fear among the audience, causing each member to experience a feeling of catharsis, or strong emotion. According to Aristotle, the best way to achieve this effect is to accurately portray the protagonist’s imperfections, for a character that constitutes good and evil is more convincing than a character that is purely good. Lastly, a tragic hero can be characterized by his hamartia, a Greek word that can be translated as "tragic flaw," or more simply, "error in judgment." Upon close inspection of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, however, it appears as if Oedipus’ downfall was a result of the will of the gods and not a consequence of his “tragic flaw.” Therefore, in regards to Aristotle’s guidelines, can Oedipus truly be considered a tragic hero?

At the beginning of the play, Oedipus is largely confident, and with good reason. He has recently freed Thebes from the curse of the Sphinx and has achieved royal status as king. In accordance with Aristotle’s view, the audience members would no doubt possess a deep respect for Oedipus as a “larger and better” version of themselves. For one thing, Oedipus was, in fact, the son of Laius and Jocasta. Therefore, he was noble in the simplest sense because his biological parents were indeed royalty. However, Oedipus believes himself to be the son of Polybos and Merope, the king and queen of Corinth, which allows for him to achieve another kind of nobility, even if it is false. Moreover, as pre...

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...h Oedipus was of noble and genuine character, evoked pity from the audience, and possessed a “tragic flaw,” this does not immediately suggest that Oedipus is a tragic hero. Oedipus’ downfall was not a result of his “tragic flaw,” but rather the sole authority of the gods. Upon closer examination, one discovers that even though fate seemed to determine Oedipus’ life, he did have free will. It was this free will, which allowed him to make certain choices in hopes of preventing the ultimate authority of the gods, that eventually led to his suffering and brought the prophecy of the oracle to life.

Works Cited

Sophocles. “Oedipus Rex.” Introduction to Drama. Boston, MA: Pearson Custom

Publishing, 2006.

Aristotle. “On the Nature and Elements of Tragedy.” Introduction to Drama. Boston,

MA: Pearon Custom Publishing, 2006.
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