One of the most enduring misconceptions about Sophocles’ Oedipus the King is that it is a tragedy of fate. While it is true that the play does deal with the theme of fate, it is not a tragedy of fate. Rather, it is a tragedy of character.
The story of Oedipus is well known. He was born to King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes. However, before he was born, an oracle prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother. In order to prevent this from happening, Laius abandoned Oedipus on a mountainside. Fortunately, he was found and raised by another king and queen who were unaware of his true identity.
Oedipus grew up thinking that his adoptive parents were his real parents. He had no knowledge of the prophecy or of his true parentage. Everything changed, however, when he reached adulthood and learned the truth. Oedipus became determined to find out who his real parents were and to prevent the prophecy from coming true.
In the process, Oedipus discovered that he had indeed killed his father and married his mother. The horrific realization that he had fulfilled the prophecy caused him to blind himself and go into exile.
While it is easy to see how this story could be interpreted as a tragedy of fate, it is important to remember that Oedipus was not a victim of fate. He was a victim of his own character flaws.
First and foremost, Oedipus was guilty of hubris. He was so confident in his own ability to outsmart fate that he didn’t even bother to try to avoid the prophecy. Instead, he went out of his way to find out who his real parents were and to prevent the prophecy from coming true.
Oedipus also had a problem with temperance. When he learned the truth about his parentage, he became so angry that he blinded himself and exiled himself from Thebes. If he had been able to control his emotions, he might have been able to find a way to deal with the situation without causing so much destruction.
The tragedy of Oedipus the King is not a tragedy of fate. It is a tragedy of character. Oedipus was not a victim of fate. He was a victim of his own hubris and lack of temperance. These character flaws ultimately led to his downfall.
In many plays, a character may have a misunderstanding of himself or his/her surroundings. When an individual’s misconception is debunked, it can be a significant turning point in the narrative. “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles is one such tale.
In the story Oedipus has such a misconception where he thinks he has a good life, but really his life is morally wrong. This contributes to the theme or themes of the play when they serve as the defining climax of the story. When the misconception is stopped Oedipus sees that you cannot escape or change your past, but you can still do great things even if you have been evil or immoral in your life.
One specific misconception that Oedipus has is that he believes he is a great and mighty king. He has done many good things for his city and thinks highly of himself. However, what he does not know is that he killed his father and married his mother. This makes him morally corrupt and evil in the eyes of the gods. When this is revealed to him it shatters his image of himself and changes the way he sees the world.
This misconception is important to the story because it serves as the climax. All of the events leading up to this point have been building towards this moment. It is also important because it shows how Oedipus’ actions have consequences, even if he did not mean to do them. It also teaches us that we cannot escape our past, no matter how hard we try. Even if we have done great things, if we have done something evil in our past it will always come back to haunt us.
Oedipus was predicted to kill his father and marry his mother when he was born. His father, naturally, was concerned about this, and so he sent a shepherd to take the boy out and murder him when he was still a youngster. The kind old shepherd couldn’t bring himself to kill an innocent little boy, therefore he gave him to a passing messenger to take as his own.
When Oedipus was older, he discovered the oracle’s prediction and fled his family because he thought his foster father was his biological father. He saw a coach on the road ahead of him as he journeyed down a route later. It carried King Laios of Thebes and his bodyguards, as well as Oedipus’ real father.
Laios ordered Oedipus off the road so he could pass. Oedipus being young and rash refused to move. A fight broke out between the two men and Oedipus unknowingly killed Laios.
Oedipus continued on to Thebes where he saved the city from the Sphinx who had been terrorizing it. For this he was made king and married the queen, Jocasta, who just happened to be his mother. (Although neither of them knew it at the time.) A few years later a plague came over Thebes and Oedipus sent his brother-in-law, Creon, to seek advice from the prophet, Apollo. Apollo told Creon that the plague was because of King Laios’ murderer. Oedipus did everything he could to find the murderer but no one would tell him who it was.
Jocasta, not wanting her husband to know that he had killed his father, hung herself. Oedipus, upon learning what she had done, gouged out his own eyes in despair and left Thebes. He was found by his daughters later on and taken in by Athens where he died in old age.
Oedipus Rex is a story of a man who tries to escape his fate but only ends up fulfilling it due to a series of misunderstandings. Oedipus is not guilty of parricide or incest, but he is guilty of hubris. He thinks he can outsmart the gods and escape his fate, but he is only mortal. The gods are always going to be one step ahead of him. This story is a cautionary tale about hubris and the dangers of trying to defy the gods.
When Oedipus ran them over, he fatally wounded the bodyguards and his father, mistakenly thinking they were highway robbers, and thus unwittingly fulfilled the prediction. When he learns of this, he is mortified. This adds to the theme that you can’t get away from your own past. The fact that he murdered a king and his father, not to mention himself, is a significant reason for his subsequent banishment.
Oedipus is also guilty of a misconception when he accuses Creon of being the one who killed Laius. He does this because he is angry and wants to believe that someone other than himself is responsible for the crime. Of course, later it is revealed that Oedipus himself killed Laius.
Thus, we see that Oedipus is plagued by misconceptions, which ultimately lead to his downfall. Even though he did not intentionally kill his father or marry his mother, the fact that he did so due to misunderstandings and false beliefs ultimately leads to his ruin.
Oedipus is shown to be a hero in the prologue because he chose not to flee, despite being aware of his lineage. When he finds out that King Laios was his real father, he thinks that by not fleeing, the whole disaster could have been avoided. This just goes to show that looking backwards is always 20/20; Oedipus recognized his mistake after seeing this. The fact that he understands that he cannot return and change his life adds another dimension to his emotional collapse later on in the narrative.
Oedipus also made the mistake of thinking that he could outsmart the gods. In his case he was wrong and it led to his downfall. It is interesting to note that Oedipus is not the only one in the story with misconceptions. Nearly every character has them.
Jocasta believes that if she keeps the truth about her son’s birth a secret, it will never come out. Of course we know that is not true and the truth eventually comes out, leading to her suicide. Teiresias, the blind prophet, believes that Oedipus is responsible for the death of King Laios even though he doesn’t know who killed him.
He is eventually proven wrong when Oedipus finds out that he was the one who killed Laios. Even Creon, who is Oedipus’ brother-in-law and adviser, has a misconception. He believes that Oedipus is responsible for the death of Jocasta and wants him to be punished. We know that Oedipus did not kill Jocasta, she killed herself.
Even though Sophocles’ play is over two thousand years old, it is still relevant today. People still have misconceptions and they still lead to problems. If we can learn anything from Oedipus it is to try to see things clearly and not let our misconceptions cloud our judgement.