The Dichotomy of Sight in Oedipus at Colonus
A simple process formed the backbone of most Greek philosophy. The ancients thought that by combining two equally valid but opposite ideas, the thesis and the antithesis, a new, higher truth could be achieved. That truth is called the synthesis. This tactic of integrating two seemingly opposite halves into a greater whole was a tremendous advance in human logic. This practice is illustrated throughout Oedipus at Colonus in regard to Sophocles’ portrayal of vision, sight, and the eye. In Colonus, there are many and varied descriptions of the aspects of the eye, whether the eye be human or divine. To Sophocles, the eye must have been a synthesis, both physical and spiritual, yet something apart from both.
In Colonus, the blind see and the seeing are blinded. Perfect irony. A prime example of the blind seeing is Oedipus, the “tragic hero.” Though physically blinded, he discerns things that others ignore. By relying on the aid of Antigone, he learns compassion and humility. “Friend, my daughter’s eyes serve for my own.” (83) While some men are able to view the outside world, their own pride blinds them to the reality of what they are seeing. But through the horrible blindness that Oedipus endures, he is finally able to let go of his arrogance and rely on others, an image that recalls Tiresias and his wisdom. “Stranger: ‘What service can a blind man render him?’ Oedipus: ‘All I say will be clear-sighted indeed.’” (86). But all humans endure an intangible blindness, to a greater or lesser degree.
Human emotion often clouds the judgment. When Polyneices came praying for mercy, Antigone reported to Oedipus, “And no man is with him, father; but his eyes Swollen w...
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... human sight for many days. This is a serious play, and its purpose is to teach and inform. The dichotomy of sight is the contrast of disparate elements: the physical and mental, the divine and human. Sophocles is trying to make a statement through his extensive examination of the basis of sight. He is calling the Greeks to a higher standard, calling them back to their roots, evoking images and themes of the Odyssey and the other epics. This play’s main focus has to be sight and divine irony, and its message in the end is that a person can look beneath the surface, for all people are dichotomies in a sense. We are the combination of the mundane and the unworldly; each is a part of us, and yet we are neither.
Sophocles. The Oedipus Cycle. Trans. Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Harvest/HBJ-Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1939.