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Sophocles "Oedipus the King" is a tragic play which discusses the tragic discovery of Oedipus that he has killed his father and married his mother. The story of Oedipus was well known to the athenian"s. Oedipus is the embodiement of the perfect Athenian. He is self-confident, intelligent, and strong willed. Ironically these are the very traits which bring about his tragic discovery. Oedipus gained the rule of Thebes by answering the riddle of Sphinx. Sophocles used the riddle of the sphinx as a metaphor for the 3 phases of Oedipus" life and to futher characterized him as a tragic man.

The Sphinx posed the following riddle to all who came to obtain the rule of thebes: "What is it that walks on 4 feet and 2 feet and 3 feet and has only one voice, when it walks on most feet it is the weakest?" Oedipus correctly answered "Man" and became the king of Thebes. This riddle is a metaphor for the life of Oedipus. As a child man crawls on his hands and knees this is the four feet to which the Sphinx refers. Also man is at his weakest as a small child. He depends solely on others for his nourishment and well being.

Oedipus was the child of Jocasta and King Laius who was taken to the mountain by a shepard to be killed so the omen of the god apollo that Laius" son would kill him and lay with Jocasta would not come true. Oedipus was the weakest of his life at this point. If it has not been for the shepard spairing his life and giving him to Polybus to raise as his own Oedipus would have died.

Man walks on 2 feet when he has matured. This is a metaphor for Oedipus when he reaches adulthood and leaves Corinth to escape the oracle. Oedipus meets up with a band of travelers and in a rage kills them. Inadvertently Oedipus has killed his own father. Oedipus then answers the riddle of the sphinx and becomes king of Thebes. By becoming king of Thebes he marries Jocasta the Queen of thebes and his own mother. Many years later after bearing children with Jocasta a plague kills many of the inhabitants of Thebes. Oedipus is told by the gods to find the killer of Laius. He is very dilligent in the inquiriy and finally comes to the horrible truth that he himself is the murderer. Jocasta kills herself at the horrible realization that she has layed with her son and Oedipus puts out his eyes at finally seeing the truth. This fulfills the final part of the Sphinx"s riddle for Oedipus will have to walk with a cane for the rest of his life because of his blindness, this will give him the 3 feet which man walks with at the end of his years.

Oedipus used his intellect and diligence to answer the riddle of the Sphinx. Many of the most intelligent young men of thebes has been killed attempting to answer the riddle but Oedipus proved his intelligence superior to theirs. Oedipus uses the same intelligence and perseverence to find the killer of Laius. He does not give up his search even when Jocasta warns him to stop and let the matter rest. He calls the shepard and interrogates him till he discovers the horrifying truth that he is the killer. Oedipus" intelligence was ultimately his flaw. Also, if Oedipus had not had been as coarageous he would have have never ventured to answer the riddle of the Sphinx. Thus even though he had killed his father he would have never become king of Thebes and laid with his mother. In addition, if Oedipus had had the courage but not the intelligence the Spinx would have killed him for answering the riddle incorrectly. Sophocles used this to characterized Oedipus as a tragic man for he came about his tragic discovery not because of an evil act or an evil trait but because of the person he was. Oedipus traits which gave him riches and power ultimately led to his tragic ending. Also, the god apollo did not predestine that Oedipus would kill his father and

marry his mother by the oracle, he only stated what he knew was inevitable because of who Oedipus was.

The sphinx"s riddle was used by Sophocles to characterize Oedipus as a tragic man and as a parallel to his life. The riddle describes the 3 stages which Oedipus went through in his life. Also in answering

the riddle Oedipus inevitable brought about his own tragic ending by a horrible discovery.

Oedipus the King by Sophocles is more than just a plain tragedy. This play is a suspense thriller, where every character involved with Oedipus learned that fate is determined only by the gods. In this specific play, Apollo was deciding god that predicted the fate of every person in the city of Thebes. This book represents a symbol of the lives of many, showing that you can not run away from fate because it decision that will forever remain. It was written in the honor of, the god of theater, Dionysos. Also, for the annual festival where playwrights competed for prizes. It was a major public occasion, with immense attendance expected.

This theatric happening was written in the turning point of the war that saved Greece from a huge Persian invasion. The actual time period when this play was performed was not recorded. But, it was when mythology and tragedy in theatre became very interesting and popular to watch. There were two main settings. A town in main Greece called Thebes and another place called Corinth. At Thebes the play is mainly located in the exterior of Oedipus' palace at Thebes.

The main characters in this book are Oedipus, Tiresias, As the story progresses, however, Oedipus' power and pride are broken down. Some readers imagine a broken, pitiful old man who's been crushed by the avenging gods. From the script, it is clear that Oedipus is apparently handsome and well built. He is described as a "tower of strength," and has a sharp way of looking at people. He is quick-tempered, and often acts recklessly and violently. His followers love him, and consider him a brilliant ruler because he solved the riddle of the Sphinx and brought ease to the city of Thebes as Oedipus became their savior. Oedipus also shows wisdom, love for his children and a reputation for high moral standards. We"ve come to this conclusion because even when the threat, of whoever killed Lauis would suffer, applied to him he still followed through with the punishments. He has a passion for truth, and shows courage in the face of disaster or conflict. These same noble qualities, however, lead to his tragic flaw and brought upon his downfall. His wisdom became hypocritical, and he refused to believe anyone who didn"t agree with him. His love for his children becomes obsessive, and he refuses to see that he's married his own mother. His passion for the truth and high moral standards trapped him into a deadly quest for the murderer of Laius, which resulted in being him. The one trait of Oedipus that did not change in the course of the play, was his strength and courage in the face of disaster. Every step he took to solve the mystery of Laius' murder brings him closer to being revealed, yet he never stops searching for the truth. But his courage and strength help him endure the pain and suffering that come with knowledge of what he has done.

Tiresias is a wise, old man who has supernatural powers to interpret the past and predict the future. The fact that Tiresias is blind makes his imaginary abilities even more mysterious. This may also lead Oedipus to deny Tiresias' ability to "see" the truth. At first Tiresias refuses to answer Oedipus' questions about the prophecy. He appears as a character that was always a messenger for the gods. Therefore, when Oedipus insulted Tiresias, in the first scene, and accused him of being a false prophet. Oedipus, however, did not realize that he was also attacking the gods while he was attacking Tiresias. Although his appearance in the play was short, Tiresias sets the tone of the moral and religious beliefs of the gods. He was interrogated by Oedipus, yet, withheld the important information in which he was not to reveal.

Creon is Oedipus' brother-in-law and a trusted assistant of the king. He is also third in command of Thebes as a political leader. The Chorus mentions that he is an honest man who is reliable, trustworthy, and sensible. When Creon has returned from the oracles at Delphi was when he was first seen in the play. But honor is important to him- he is quick to defend his reputation and protest his innocence.

Jocasta is the wife of Oedipus and his mother. She was first married to Lauis but then her son killed him. Early in Oedipus the King we realized that she was trying to mediate between Oedipus and Creon when they quarreled. She appeared to us to be a kind, gracious, and caring wife. When Laius was murdered she asked her brother, Creon to share her rule of Thebes. Oedipus solved the riddle of the Sphinx and became her second husband.

The second half of the book begins after a priest confronts Oedipus asking for his help. Oedipus needed to help the city from dying. Then, Creon, Jocasta"s brother, appears with a message. The message was an order from Apollo stating that "in order for the city to rid themselves from the plague, they had to punish the beings involved in the murder of King Lauis." Although there is arguing within this matter, Oedipus promises to solve this horrific mystery. Then the question arose, who could the murderer be?

Oedipus was talking to the chorus and at the same time trying to solve the mystery. Then, Tiresias entered the scene with important information that he withheld. He was insulted by Oedipus and told everyone that they were very ignorant. He knew whom the murderer was but refused to tell. He said that "what will come will come, even if I shroud it in silence" At this moment Oedipus was very frustrated and scorned Tiresias. This resulted in Tiresias yelling out who the murder was. It was Oedipus. But as unenlightened as Oedipus is, he refused to believe Tiresias. They verbally fought back and forth and insulted each other. Then, Creon enters the scene. And as the search continues, Oedipus and Creon get into a disagreement. Oedipus tells Creon that he is a traitor. Oedipus questions the messenger, and found out that the messenger had been herding sheep and had met a shepherd who had found Oedipus, had taken the baby, had taken the pin out of his ankles, and had given him to the king and queen of Corinth to raise as their own.

Oedipus says, "It's time to clear this up. Send for the other shepherd." Jocasta realized exactly what has happened. Jocasta begged Oedipus not to pursue the matter of searching for the murderer. Oedipus said he had to know only because the city was relying on him. Jocasta ran out horribly upset. Hours later, the other shepherd was brought in. He had already figured things out of why he was there, but pretended he did not remember a thing. Then, he begged the other messenger to also stay quiet. However, Oedipus insisted on the truth. It was revealed that Oedipus was the murder of Lauis, his father. Oedipus learned that long ago…Jocasta and Laius crippled their baby and put it in the woods to end the prophecy before it began. Now everybody knew the truth. The baby of Jocasta and Lauis was Oedipus. He now realized that Creon and Tiresias were correct in their beliefs. Oedipus rushed out.

The next scene was an extremely graphic anecdote. Jocasta ran into the bedroom, screaming. She locked the door from inside. A few minutes later, Oedipus came in, and broke down the door with what seemed to be supernatural strength. He found Jocasta dead, hanging. Oedipus took the body down, and quickly removed the pin that held up her dress. He stabbed it again and again into his eyes, saying he has looked at his mother's naked body when he shouldn't have, and he has learned what he now wishes he had not. It was said that Oedipus had actually torn the globes from their sockets. Oedipus then begged to be taken out of the city of Thebes to end the plague. Yet he had no strength and no guide. Oedipus comes in. Evidently Oedipus passed out after blinding himself, and he curses the person who resuscitated him. The Chorus asks, "How were you able to rip out your eyeballs?" Oedipus replies, "Apollo gave me the strength to do it." Oedipus felt that any man who committed the crimes of which he commited should suffer greatly or be exiled. As you can see, Oedipus was a victim of fate and Apollo"s prophecy had been solved by the city of Thebes.

Which theme seems most important to you: the dangerous effects of

power, or the need for a nation to reform itself? In all three plays

you are repeatedly asked if Creon is a cruel or a fair ruler, a

cruel or a fair human being.


the plays trace the downfall of Oedipus from a position of wealth

and power to a position of despair and sorrow to a position of inner

peace. In the beginning Oedipus seems to be a child of fortune who

gained a kingdom by solving the riddle of the Sphinx. In the middle he

appears to have been irrevocably doomed by a prophecy before he was

even born. And by the end he has found a sort of contentment as he

dies with his beloved daughter Antigone by his side. Oedipus'

unforeseen reversal of fortune suggests we cannot accurately predict

our future- or escape our past.


The exact nature of fate, the uncontrollable forces that influence

us, is clearly shown in the role that the gods play in revealing the

truth of the oracle's prophecies to Oedipus. Although he does all he

can to live honestly and avoid the crimes prophesied for him,

Oedipus can't escape the relentless fate that pursues him. Creon tries

to manipulate fate in his favor, but he fails. Inevitably the oracle's

prophecies are fulfilled.


Oedipus' downfall symbolizes the spiritual bankruptcy of the

state. Sophocles meant this to pertain not just to the Thebes of the

play, but also to his contemporary Athens. The plague that begins

the play is viewed as a punishment from the gods, and only when the

sins of Oedipus have been punished and purged is Thebes restored-

for a time- to spiritual harmony. The loss of the city's spiritual

faith is seen in Oedipus' denial of Teiresias' power to predict the

future, and in Iocaste's refusal to believe in the ability of prophets

to speak for the gods.


Oedipus and Creon share the same tragic flaw. They refuse to

compromise or to humble themselves before others. They stubbornly

refuse other characters the right to express opinions different from

their own, and they abuse their power to force others to accept

their points of view. Oedipus is so arrogant and self-confident that

he even challenges the will of the gods. This leads directly to his

downfall, and he is harshly punished.


All the characters in the plays search for a final truth of some

kind to guide their lives. The most obvious search for truth is

Oedipus', but even the minor characters are looking for answers to the

meaning of life. The herdsman, for example, has waited many years to

reveal the truth of Laios' murder, and is finally given the chance

to tell his story when Oedipus summons him to Thebes. Even Iocaste

is given the opportunity to discover the truth of Oedipus' early years

before he became king of Thebes. The Chorus, too, is searching for a

truth- the moral lesson to be learned from Oedipus' tragedy. Teiresias

alone stands as a figure who can see truths hidden from all but the



Several characters are willing to sacrifice themselves to save

Thebes from destruction or for what they believe is right and just.

Creon, for example, is ready to die in order to save the city.

Teiresias offers to have himself killed when Oedipus suspects him of

betraying the trust of the sacred city of Delphi. Iocaste hangs

herself to save her honor. Oedipus blinds himself for murdering his

father and marrying his mother, but will not die until he has paid for

his sins, to save the city. Antigone dies because she insists on

giving her brother Polyneices a proper burial.

- Another theme is that suffering leads to wisdom and

self-knowledge. Although the ways of the gods are sometimes harsh

and cruel, Oedipus finally recognizes and accepts the oracle's

prophecy as it was predicted at his birth. You hear the wisdom he

gained from his suffering when he prays to the gods for forgiveness

and humbly asks for mercy at the conclusion of Oedipus the King.

The four themes in this play are religion, geographic influences, economic development, and society. The first of the four is religion. Religion was very substantial to the citizens in Thebes. They believed in many gods, which made them believe in Polytheism. An example of this was that they talked about more than one god in the play. They thought that each god had their own superiority. Like, Apollo, who was the god of the sun, was looked up to by many. People believed his prophecies and respected him. And like Zeus, who was father of the gods, was called upon Oedipus.

In addition to those two themes, the third one is economic development. One big economic deveoplemt was when Creon became king. When Creon became king the plague had vanished since the city had found the murderer of Lauis. This allowed crops and livestock to prosper along with jobs. Hopefully Creon could improve the cities condition and get them back on there two feet.

Last but not least of the four themes was the Society, which was very significant to the city. The society was the most important part because it was made up of gods. From the incident of Oedipus and the wrongdoing of Lauis and Jocasta the society of Thebes learned that fate cannot be maneuvered. They learned this the hard way by suffering the plaugue which was brought by Oedipus but caused by Apollo"s property. They controlled everything along with fate. Society included everyone. The men had the most important role.

Oedipus' search for the truth lead him to the discovery that he was not a "child of luck," but a "man of misfortune." His fate was determined years before his birth, as proven by the prophecy of the oracles. All he could do was live out his destiny, but he did this with such dignity and heroism. Oedipus showed great nobility even in suffering and despair. At the end of Oedipus at Colonus Oedipus pursued the truth to its horrible conclusion. Having blinded himself, Oedipus was a broken and shaken man. But he also became a model for people to imitate. He has shown what it means to endure in the face of defeat. He has shown what it takes to survive in a world that is ruled by unpredictable fate. He has shown the true meaning of suffering and despair. When you think of Oedipus, remember that he suffered for all of us, so that everyone can know the truth about ourselves in a world that will always be hostile and cruel.


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Essay on Sophocles’ Oedipus the King

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Sophocles’ King Oedipus is one of the world’s most famous plays. Aristotle has defined Tragedy in his Poetics,”Tragedy, then, is an imitation of a noble and complete action, having the proper magnitude; it employs language that has been artistically enhanced . . . ; it is presented in dramatic, not narrative form, and achieves, through the representation of pitiable and fearful incidents, the catharsis of such incidents” (Chapter6; Golden11).

He defined Tragic Hero as a person of high or noble character who has a flaw or error; because of which misfortune fall on him resulting in his downfall from high to low position. He recognizes his mistake and results in catharsis or purgation of pity and fear. King Oedipus is the protagonist, the tragic hero of the play.

He holds a high position in society. He is the ruler of Thebes and loved and respected by his country men. But he has a flaw or error of character. His flaw is his ignorance. And in his ignorance, he plays a part in all the events that occur which subsequently results in his downfall.

So from the play it can be inferred that it is destiny which played an important part in his tragedy or downfall. It is true that he had free will to take actions which he did. But It can be well argued that it is destiny which shaped his character and inspired him to take decisions and his later actions.

Sophocles’ play King Oedipus is the story of how the protagonist without his knowledge kills his own father Laius, arrives in Thebes, solves a riddle and saves the people from Sphinx. He becomes the king of Thebes and marries queen Jocasta, his mother. In this way he helps to prove the prophecy of Apollo to be true.

Tragedy struck him and he fell in to such a low position that it arouses pity and fear in us. We feel pity for him because he falls to a very low position from his status of a king and a self-confident man and fear because we identify ourselves with him.

In the play King Oedipus, we find that it is destiny who rules the lives of Jocasta, Laius and Oedipus. From the dialouge of Jocasta, as she expresses her feelings to Oedipus, we find that laius has left their child in the mountains to die when they heard the prophesy of an oracle that (their unborn child will kill his father and marry his mother).

Jocasta says to Oedipus: “ As for the child, it was but three days old, When Laius, its ankles pierced and pinned together, gave it to be cast away by others on the trackless mountain side”, in lines (25-27) Page22. On the other hand, Oedipus, (the child of Jocasta and Laius) was raised by Polybus and Merope, childless king queen of Corinth.

He was told by the oracle of Apollo that he would kill his father and marry his mother. He left Corinth, never to return again so that this prophesy does not come true as he says to Jocasta:“ Forgo the sight of all my dearest ones, And never tread again my native earth; Or else to wed my mother and slay my sire, Polybus, who begat me and upreared?”, in lines (20-22) Page25. But in spite of their efforts and actions, the prophecy of the oracle comes true. It is his fate or it is the wish of god that King Oedipus should meet his tragic end.

If we analyze the character of Oedipus, we find that he is a powerful personality. He is a firm and popular ruler. People acknowledge not only his political power (which they have conferred upon him) but also his pre-eminence among human beings for wisdom and for dealing with things which they don’t understand: “Upraise, O chief of men, upraise our State! Look to thy laurels! for thy zeal of yore Our country’s savior thou art justly hailed: O never may we thus record thy reign:– “He raised us up only to cast us down.” Uplift us, build our city on a rock. Thy happy star ascendant brought us luck, O let it not decline!” lines (20-224) Page2.

Moreover he has immense self-confidence and self-assurance. From the very beginning of the play, we find that he takes full responsibility for any crisis. He takes on the crisis as a personal challenge. Of course the motive behind his taking on the problem is for the benefit of his citizens. His self-confidence is also not unjustified.

People trust him because he has gained their trust. In the past he has solved their problem of the Sphnix with his intellect and in their present crisis, he does not want to let them down. As the play proceeds, we see that he is ready to solve the problem at all cost. Even when he realizes that he can be a part in the murder of King Laius, he doesn’t stop in his investigation.

We also come to the conclusion that he tries to solve the problem in his own terms. He is very confident of his capabilities and investigates the problem in his own way. He believes what is true according to his concept of truth, he is not ready to accept other’s opinion not even Jocasta. This is very much evident from the quarrel scene between Oedipus and Teiresias.

When Teiresias says to him: “the accursed polluter of this land is you”. He is ready to refute him and even goes to the extent of reminding others that it was he who solved the problem in the past not Teiresias. He reacts in this manner with the priest because he is positive, he is clear to himself that he has not played a part in the murder of the king.

When Teiresias says:” Thou the accursed polluter of this land”. Line (16) Page10, Oedipus’s interpretation is clear enough: Teiresias must be lying, and he must have a secret agenda.

In this respect we can visualize him as a Proud or Egoistic person. But his qualities of self-confidence and self-assurance which results in his fall also are the qualities which make him the hero of the play. His ability to step in the front and make decisions and act to meet the crisis are the qualities which helped him to protect the country from the Sphnix and made him great king who he is. In the end of the play we see that he eventually finds the murderer of Laius and cleans the city of plague.

Looking back in to the play, we find that there is a deep connection between the hero’s free choice of action and its inevitable outcome. We find that Oedipus was free to turn in different direction if he wanted; he was not compelled to take the decisions which he took. Oedipus is doomed from the beginning because he is the sort of person he is.

Someone with a very different character would not have suffered Oedipus’s life. He would have compromised his sense of freedom in the name of prudence, custom, politics, or survival. So it can be said that it is destiny which molded him as the person he is and compelled him to take actions which he did and which in the end resulted in his downfall.

His flaw or error as a tragic character is his ignorance. He is ignorant that the man he killed was his father, and in his ignorance he marries his mother. He is also ignorant of the power of god which is powerfully, complex and hostile. Oedipus who lives life in his own terms and who gives full expression to his free will, defies the Almighty( goes against the rule of the cosmos) culminating in his destruction.

Oedipus defies fate. He makes his own decisions and lives with the consequences that brings with it. And he remains the same from the beginning till the end. At the end of the play we find how he suffers and endures a living death (he blinds himself and ask for his exile) for this reason.

The most memorable feature of Oedipus is that he does not bend in face of adversity. When he realizes that he has committed the crime, he punishes himself and endures it. He is a great character not only because he holds a high position in society but also because in spite of his stubbornness and egoist, he is a good person who truly cares for his subject. He is truly a great tragic character who teaches us the power of fortitude.


Dr. Larry A. Brown : Aristotle on Green Tragedy 8 Feb 2007. 10 Feb 2007.

Ian Jhonston wrote on: Fate, Freedom, and the Tragic Experience: An Introductory Lecture on Sophocles’s Oedipus the King . Last revised in August 2004. 8 Feb 2007. 10 Fe b 2007.

Sophocles’ King Oedipus

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