Self-Damnation in Oedipus the King Essay

Self-Damnation in Oedipus the King Essay

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Self-Damnation in Oedipus Rex (the King)

     Sophocles' play Oedipus Rex (the King) is a tragic tale of fate and hubris. At first glance, it seems that the terrible fates of the main characters are merely the doings of mischievous or cruel gods. That Laios should die at the hands of his unknowing son, that Jocaste should later marry that son to commit the crime of incest, and that Oedipus, the son, should be the actor in both crimes all seem to be deeds scripted unfairly by the gods for their own pleasure. However, upon examining the evidence in the play, it becomes clear not only that Laios and Jocaste directly cause their own fates by abandoning the infant Oedipus to die on the mountain, but that Oedipus is himself a willing participant in his own crimes.

In choosing to abandon Oedipus upon his birth, Laios and Jocaste try to prevent the fulfillment of Apollo's prophecy: "[Laios'] down at the hands of a son, our son, to be born of our own flesh and blood" (Sophocles 201). They "fastened" the baby's ankles and "had a henchman fling him away on a barren, trackless mountain" (201). This done, the king and queen live their lives believing that they are safe from any danger that the child might pose. It is their cowardly act of attempting to escape fate that seals their doom, however. Not only do they decide to kill their only child, but they are unable to do so in a humane manner. Rather than relieve their son of any misery, they tie his ankles together and abandon him to the harsh elements of nature on a mountain. They are blissfully unaware that a shepherd has taken pity on the royal child and has delivered him to the care of King Polybos of Corinth (218). Clearly, by their self-preserving act of child-abandonment, Lai...

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...renberg, Victor. “Sophoclean Rulers: Oedipus.” In Twentieth Century Interpretations of Oedipus Rex, edited by Michael J. O’Brien. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.


Herodotus.  The Histories. Translated by Aubrey de Selincourt. England: Penguin Books, 1972.


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 Rex. Transl. by F. Storr. new?tag=public&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&part=0&id=SopOedi


Bowra, C. M.  “Sophocles’ Use of Mythology.” In Readings on Sophocles, edited by Don Nardo. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1997.

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