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Tragic Flaws in Oedipus the King

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Oedipus the King, Sophocles’ classical Greek tragedy, presents tragic flaw(s) as the cause of the near-total destruction of the life of the protagonist. This essay examines that flaw.

In his essay “Sophoclean Tragedy” Friedrich Nietzsche agrees that there is an “error” within the protagonist, but refrains from specifying exactly what it is:

The most pathetic figure of the Greek theatre, the unfortunate Oedipus, Sophocles takes to be a noble man called to error and alienation in spite of his wisdom, yet called too, in the end, through monstrous suffering, to radiate a magic power rich in a blessing which works even after he passes on. . . . these very actions attract a higher, magical circle of influences which ground a new world upon the rubble of the old (16-17).

Not all critics believe that there was “error” within the protagonist. Some critics, like Herbert J. Muller in his essay “How Sophocles Viewed and Portrayed the Gods,” believe that Oedipus had no tragic flaw, that he was an innocent victim of the gods:

Nor is there in Oedipus the King the deep sense of outrage that modern readers may feel. None of the characters, including the chorus, complains that Thebans are suffering for no fault of their own, in this plague sent by the gods; they simply assume that Thebes must be properly purified of its defilement. Although technically innocent, Oedipus accepts his “guilt”. . . .(56)

This reader, however, disagrees with the above critic, and agrees with Aristotle’s analysis. In his essay “On Misunderstanding the Oedipus the King,” E. R. Dodds takes the reader back to Aristotle in his consideration of this question of the flaw:

I shall take Aristotle as my starting point. . . . From the thirteenth chapter of...

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...clean Tragedy.” In Sophocles: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Thomas Woodard. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “Sophoclean Tragedy.” In Sophocles: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Thomas Woodard. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.

Segal, Charles. Oedipus Tyrannus: Tragic Heroism and the Limits of Knowledge. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993.

“Sophocles” In Literature of the Western World, edited by Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. NewYork: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1984.

Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Transl. by F. Storr. no pag.

http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/browse-mixed new?tag=public&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&part=0&id=SopOedi

Van Nortwick, Thomas. Oedipus: The Meaning of a Masculine Life. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
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