Ensnared by the Gods in Oedipus Rex Essay

Ensnared by the Gods in Oedipus Rex Essay

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Ensnared by the Gods in Oedipus Rex 

 

A citizen of Periclean Athens may not have been familiar with the term entrapment, but he or she would surely have recognized the case of Oedipus as such.  The tragedy of Oedipus is that he was ensnared by the gods.  As Teiresias points out, "I say that with those you love best you live in foulest shame unconsciouslyÖ" (italics mine)  God is continuously indicted for having caused Oedipusí troubles.  The chorus asks, "What evil spirit leaped upon your life to your ill-luckÖ?"  And Oedipus himself is well aware of the source of his troubles:  "It was Apollo, friends, Apollo, that brought this bitter bitterness, my sorrows to completion."  Blinded and humiliated, Oedipus thanks Creon for bringing his daughters to him:  "God bless you for it, Creon, and may God guard you better on your road than he did me!"

The Athenian audience probably did not obsess with the unfairness of it all.  Since the audience would have been well aware of the story and its details, the draw, and the entertainment would have been seeing the storyís lessons portrayed in a way that emphasized  human failings, particularly the illusions that we hold concerning our mastery of affairs.  Oedipus himself is described as "masterful," yet watching his story, which we know so well, we find it dripping with irony at the kingís every proud utterance.  In his argument with Teiresias, Oedipus accuses the seer of being "blind in mind and ears as well as in your eyes."  Teiresias responds that Oedipus is but a "Öpoor wretch to taunt me with the very insults which every one soon will heap upon yourself."

Oedipus is indeed convinced of his own virtue, and why not?  As the play opens, the priest lavishes praise upon the k...


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...ce of men reverence at least the flame that gives all life, our Lord the Sun, and do not show unveiled to him pollution such that neither land nor holy rain nor light of day can welcome."

Oedipus, at the last, seems to concur in this acceptance of Godís will.  When the Chorus suggests he "would be better dead than blind and living," Oedipus replies, "Öitís unfit to say what is unfit to do.  I beg of you in Godís name hide me somewhere outside your country, yes, or kill me, or throw me into the seaÖ"  In other words, Godís will be done.  Whatever our mortal designs, we are caught in a far greater design, or web, which can grab us and pull us down at any time.  As the play concludes, "Count no mortal happy till he has passed the final limit of his life secure from pain."  Or, as a modern ballplayer put it, "Donít look back.  Something might be gaining on you."

 

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