“‘Tragedy is an imitation, not of men, but of action and life, of happiness and misery’” (Milch 12). This statement by Aristotle reflects the ideas portrayed in the play Oedipus Rex. Written by Sophocles, Oedipus Rex is a play which combines tragedy with irony to tell a story of a noble king who falls short of his greatness. The play was written around 430 BC and originally intended for an Athenian audience. They considered Sophocles their most successful playwright and consequently, his works continued to be valued highly throughout the Greek world long after his death. A closer examination of this play is needed to see just why it has been regarded as Sophocles’ masterpiece and the greatest of all Greek tragedies (Milch 16, 36).
In the Prologue, Oedipus exits his palace and encounters a crowd of Thebians. He is told by a priest that the people have gathered to ask Oedipus to rid the city of a terrible plague which has caused much sickness and death. Although Oedipus is not a god, his people have faith in him not only because of his wisdom, intelligence, and wit, but also because he once rid the city from the plague of the Sphinx (a monster with the body of a lion, the wings of a bird, and the face of a woman) (Sophocles 424-425). One priest says,
As to the man surest in mortal ways and wisest in the ways of God. You saved us from the Sphinx, that flinty singer, and the tribute we paid to her so long; yet you were never better informed than we, nor could we teach you: a god’s touch, it seems, enabled you to help us. (Prologue.37)
Kreon, Oedipus’s brother-in-law, is sent to the oracle to find the reason for the plague. Upon returning, Kreon reports that the murder of the former king of Thebes, Laios, h...
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...ity for his actions and pay for them whether or not he can “control or understand the forces which rule his life” (Milch 37). Therefore, regardless of the tribulations that may come, staying humble and open to learning from mistakes can serve to bring about true happiness, prosperity, and worth in life.
Black, John. Oedipus the King. 25 Jan.1999
Carter, Jason. Moral Blindness in Oedipus the King. 9 May 1998
Milch, Robert J. Cliffs Notes on Oedipus The King. Lincoln, Nebraska, 1965.
“Oedipus.” Princeton University Jan. 15 1999 .
Sophocles. “Oedipus Rex.” Responding to Literature. California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1996. 423-465.