Fate chose him to kill his dad, marry his mom, and discover it all in Oedipus Rex, Sophocles’ tragedy. Oedipus was so determined to save Thebes from the plague bestowed on them by Apollo. But little did he know that he was the source of it all. His constant reversal of fortune, neutrality, and suffering make him the perfect example of a classic Greek tragic hero.
One moment, Oedipus is brimming with hope; the next, he’s sure that he is the killer of his father, King Laius. Every time Oedipus thinks that it can’t possibly be him, evidence proves otherwise. His wife, Jocasta, attempts to prove his innocence but “lets out part of the dire secret by her allusion to the ‘triple crossroads’” (Haigh). By attempting to assist Oedipus, she makes matters worse by causing him to remember his terrible assault upon several travelers at that very place. But then, the reversal comes in. Along comes a messenger with news of King Polybus’ death, which gives Oedipus false hope: “…but [Polybus] is dead and buried, / And I am here – I never touched him…” (Oedipus Rex. II. 3. 919-920). He now thinks that he couldn’t have killed his father, because he’s under the assumption that Polybus was his dad, when in reality Laius is his real father. Anyway, with yet another reversal of fortune, he reaches the deciding moment where he breaks down. When the shepherd that saved him from certain death on Mt. Cithaeron many years ago reveals the truth to Oedipus, he can do nothing but completely break down: “Ah God! / It was true! / All the prophecies!” (II. 4. 1119). The man that saved him in the first place dissolves all of Oedipus’ “hope,” as Oedipus comes to the ultimate realization that although he went to such great lengths, he could not avoid fulfilling ...
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In the end, Sophocles pours all of this reversal, neutrality, and suffering into one character, and it works out very nicely. The end result is a perfect tragic hero that ties the whole story together. Oedipus makes the tragedy a great one. From the noble quest of trying to save Thebes from the plague, to the discovery of the truth of his crime: Oedipus took the full journey of the typical tragic hero, and it ended with his ultimate fall.
“A.E. Haigh.” Theatre Database. January 18, 2007
Costas and Switzer, Ellen. Greek Myths: Gods, Heroes and Monsters: Their Sources, Their Stories and Their Meanings. New York City: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1998.
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. World Literature. Writers, Susan Wittig Albert, et al. New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 2001.
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