Oedipus the King: A Painful Path to Wisdom

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Oedipus: The Painful Path to Wisdom Through the character of Oedipus, Sophocles shows the futility and consequences of defying the divine order. Oedipus served Thebes as a great ruler, loved by his subjects; but it is his one tragic flaw, hubris, which dooms his existence, regardless of the character attributes that make him such a beloved king. From the opening dialogue we sense the character of Oedipus. When confronted by his subjects praying for relief of the plague he reacts kingly and graciously, saying, “I am king, I had to come....How can I help?...Ask me anything. Anything at all.” He obviously cares for the people in his kingdom, but he goes on to say how he pities “these poor shattered people of [his].” The pity he feels is rooted not only in his love and sympathy, but his arrogance as well. Perhaps this attitude is duly deserved, for Oedipus had solved the Sphinx’s riddle, an apparently heroic feat, and was seen to be “greater than any man”, but the leader that he had become still possessed the hubristic tendencies which doomed him from the time he fled Corinth. It is impossible to speculate what may have happened to Oedipus had he stayed in Corinth, but it is the attempt to avoid his fate that dooms him to not only to fulfill the prophecy, but to suffer yet greater consequences. To think that he himself has the power to circumvent the prediction from the Oracle of Apollo, shows that he did not feel humbled before Apollo. Punishment for this lack of faith takes the form of the plague which Apollo imposes on Thebes, an eventual consequence of Oedipus’s defiance and hubris towards the him. (The death of Laios at the crossroads, was caused, in part at least, because Oedipus left Corinth. Speculation as to whether Oedipus would have killed him anyway is futile.) The punishment of all of Thebes is infinitely worse than the original prophecy, which involved only Oedipus’ family members. For the years between the destruction of the Sphinx, and the present time we are left to assume that Oedipus served his kingdom well, however we still see the essence of his original self-righteousness. When Teiresias is brought to him to help for the search for Laios’ killers this proud arrogance misleads him to contrive a scenario in which Kreon desires to assume the throne.

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