It is said that the truth will set you free, but in the case of Sophocles’ Oedipus, the truth drives a man to imprison himself in a world of darkness by gouging out his eyes. As he scours the city for truth, Oedipus’ ruin is ironically mentioned and foreshadowed in the narrative. With these and other devices Sophocles illuminates the king’s tragic realization and creates a firm emotional bond with the audience.
Oedipus’ quest is revealed to him early on in the play, though it undergoes a number of transformations before he is actually examining his own life and heritage. He begins with the reasonable search for the motive behind the wave of death and destruction that has overcome Thebes. This leads into his search for the man who murdered Laius, and finally to Oedipus questioning his own innocence and origin. The final stage of his search is where he becomes most fervent, regretfully not considering the magnitude of the effect his discovery will have on him. In order to assess Oedipus’ search for truth, one must first look at each transformation separately before tying them together.
Oedipus’ first investigation, as previously mentioned, relates to the terrible condition of Thebes. His attention is brought to this matter by a throng of suppliants praying at his steps. Oedipus characterizes himself as a father figure to his people, addressing them as such: "My children…" (Prologue.1). As father to his people, he sees the importance of relieving their suffering, and thus sends Creon to the Oracle at Delphi. This vague stage of Oedipus’ search quickly loses its cryptic nature, however, with the return of said messenger.
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...of his parents. Had the truth been know to him from the beginning, before he even left Corinth, this suffering could have been avoided.
Sophocles’ Oedipus is the tragedy of tragedies. An honorable king is deceived and manipulated by the gods to the point of his ruination. In the face of ugly consequences Oedipus pursues the truth for the good of his city, finally exiling himself to restore order. Sophocles establishes emotional attachment between the king and the audience, holding them in captivated sympathy as Oedipus draws near his catastrophic discovery. Oedipus draws the audience into a world between a rock and a hard place, where sacrifice must be made for the greater good.
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. trans.
Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald.
Four Stages. eds. J.W. MacDonald
and J.C.W. Saxton. Toronto:
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