Essay on Oedipus Is Not a Tragic Hero

Essay on Oedipus Is Not a Tragic Hero

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“Tragedy is an imitation of an action of high importance . . .” states Aristotle in his book Poetics (as cited in Kennedy & Gioia, 2010). Without a doubt, he observed and analyzed countless plays throughout his life and in Poetics, he writes a broad description of what a tragedy should contain (Kennedy & Gioia). Specifically, to Aristotle, tragedies require a “Tragic Hero.” What makes this literary character unique from the other heroes of literature? The most obvious and central difference is that the hero in question always experiences a disastrous reversal of fortune, which follows the recognition of a previously unknown truth (Kennedy & Gioia). He must be “a man not preeminently virtuous or just” (Poetics part XIII, trans. 1909), yet he still must be a “good person” whom the audience grows to respect and because of this, deeply pities and fears for throughout the play (Poetics part XIII). Despite being a person of high estate and influence, surprisingly, the hero in the Greek tragedy is someone we can relate to in his humanness. Furthermore, his fall “from happiness into misery” is “brought upon him not by vice or depravity but by some error of judgment” (Poetics part XIII)—his hamartia. The Oxford English Dictionary translates this Greek word as, “The fault or error, which entails the destruction of the tragic hero” (Oxford English Dictionary, 1989).

With this in mind, many believe that King Oedipus in Sophocles’ play, Oedipus the King, is the perfect example of Aristotle’s tragic hero. Does he, however, truly fulfill all the “requirements” described in Poetics or is there something we miss in the depths of his fascinating and multi-faceted character that does not fit into Aristotle’s template? Without a doubt, Oe...

... middle of paper ...

... death, a memory without pain” (Oedipus exodus. lines 297-300).

Works Cited

Dodds, E. R., (1966). On misunderstanding Oedipus. In Kennedy, X. J., & Gioia, D., Literature an introduction to fiction, poetry, drama and writing (6th ed.). (pp. 900-901). Boston: Pearson

Error. (n.d.). In Macmillan Dictionary. Retrieved December 14, 2011, from

Hamartia. (1989). In Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved December 10, 2011, from

Kennedy, X. J., & Gioia, D. (2010). Literature an introduction to fiction, poetry, drama and
writing (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson

Knox, B. M. W. (1998). Oedipus at Thebes: Sophocles tragic hero and his time. Retrieved from

Pride. (2007). In Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved December 10, 2011, from

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