tragoed Oedipus the King (Oedipus Rex) as Ideal Tragic Hero

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Oedipus Rex as the Ideal Tragic Hero

If we give ourselves up to a full sympathy with the hero, there is no question that the Oedipus Rex fulfills the function of a tragedy, and arouses fear and pity in the highest degree. But the modern reader, coming to the classic drama not entirely for the purpose of enjoyment, will not always surrender himself to the emotional effect. He is apt to worry about Greek fatalism and the justice of the downfall of Oedipus, and, finding no satisfactory solution for these intellectual difficulties, loses half the pleasure that the drama was intended to produce. Perhaps we trouble ourselves too much concerning the Greek notions of fate in human life. We are inclined to regard them with a lively antiquarian interest, as if they were something remote and peculiar; yet in reality the essential difference between these notions and the more familiar ideas of a later time is so slight that it need not concern the naive and sympathetic reader. After all, the fundamental aim of the poet is not to teach us about these matters. but to construct a tragedy which shall completely fulfill its proper function. Nevertheless, for the student of literature who feels bound to solve the twofold problem, How is the tragedy of Oedipus to be reconciled with a rational conception of life? and How does Oedipus himself comply with the Aristotelian requirements for a tragic hero? there is a simple answer in the ethical teaching of the great philosopher in whose eyes the Oedipus Rex appears to have been well-nigh a perfect tragedy. In other words, let us compare the ideal of the Ethics with the ideal of the Poetics.

Aristotle finds the end of human endeavor to be happiness, that is, an unhampered activity of the soul i...

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... in accordance with reason. In the Oedipus Rex Sophocles had already shown the reverse. The man who sees but one side of a matter, and straightway, driven on by his uncontrolled emotions, acts in accordance with that imperfect vision, meets a fate most pitiful and terrible, in accordance with the great laws which the gods have made.

This philosophy of Aristotle and Sophocles is clearly expressed in the drama itself. "May destiny still find me," sings the Chorus, "winning the praise of reverent purity in all words and deeds sanctioned by those laws of range sublime, called into life throughout the high, clear heaven, whose father is Olympus alone; their parent was no race of mortal men, no, nor shall oblivion ever lay them to sleep: the god is might in them and grows not old."

Works Cited:

Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1991.

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