In out the advice given to him by

In Sophocles’ Oedipus
the King, Oedipus sends his brother-in-law, Creon, to an oracle to find out
how to end the plague that has befallen his city, Thebes. Creon returns with
the news that the murderer of the previous king, Laius, must be captured and
executed if order is to be restored to the city. Upon discovering the solution,
Oedipus is determined to find the murderer and end the plague. However, blind
prophet Teiresias advises Oedipus not to pursue more information on the matter,
since it will only lead to greater pain and suffering. Oedipus allows no one to
interfere with his pursuit, and because of his pride and stubbornness, he
learns that he has, in fact, killed his own father and slept with his own
mother. The story ends in overall tragedy. Although it seems as if all the
suffering that occurred in Oedipus the King is a direct result of
Oedipus’ hubris, Sophocles argues that fate is ultimately stronger than free
will, and that subjects cannot be entirely to blame for the choices that they
make.

            Throughout Oedipus the King, Oedipus
is constantly allowing his excessive pride to drown out the advice given to him
by those that already know the horrific truth behind the knowledge that he is
seeking. This shows that Oedipus’ tragic flaw is his hubris, which suggests
that his actions are responsible for the numerous tragedies that ensue.
However, it also shows that that he will do anything to make the abominable
truth disappear, and to ultimately escape his fate, which is a notion that
Sophocles deems impossible. One of the first displays of Oedipus’ blatant
hubris occurs when the blind prophet, Teiresias, refuses to tell him the truth:

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Indeed, I am so angry I shall not hold back a
jot of what I think. For I would have you know I think you were complotter of
the deed and doer of the deed save in so far as for the actual killing. Had you
had eyes I would have said alone you murdered him. (Sophocles 391-395)

 

Oedipus is so displeased
with Teiresias’ behavior and disobedience to divulge his knowledge, that he
accuses him of being the murderer of Laius. Although Oedipus is excessively
proud, overcome with anger, and determined to seek the forbidden truth, any of
his actions cannot change what has already been done. Unbeknownst to him at
this time, Oedipus is guilty of both murdering his father and sleeping with his
mother, and no amount of power or pride can reverse his fate, which is
congruent with Sophocles’ argument that fate always overpowers free will. Even
when Teiresias eventually does tell Oedipus about his shameful truth, Oedipus’
hubris still manages to prevent him from processing it. At this point in the
story, he has the answers he has been seeking all along, and he can technically
put an end to the city’s suffering. It is Oedipus’ hamartia that leads to more
catastrophe, as he repeatedly shows that he is more concerned with himself than
he is with anyone else.

            Even within Oedipus’ most intimate relationship- the one
that he shares with his wife, Jocasta- he refuses to set aside his hubris,
accept the person that he is, and deal with the consequences of the shameful
acts he has committed. At first, Jocasta is just as proud and unwilling to take
the advice of the prophecies as Oedipus is. However, after meeting with the
first messenger, many critical clues are revealed, and it is evident that the
pieces are beginning to come together for both Oedipus and Jocasta. Oedipus and
Jocasta are slightly put at ease when they learn that Oedipus’ father in
Corinth, Polybus, is dead by natural causes. But even this is not enough to
satisfy Oedipus, and his desire to go after the forbidden truth intensifies
when he finds out that Polybus is not his biological father. Unfortunately,
Jocasta is no longer foolish enough to want to pursue the matter any further,
and so she warns Oedipus “Why ask of whom he spoke? Don’t give it heed; nor try
to keep in mind what has been said, it will be wasted labor” (Sophocles 1202).
He does not listen, and she humbles herself even more: “I beg you- do not hunt
this out- I beg you, if you have any care for your own life. What I am
suffering is enough” (Sophocles 1206). This moment is crucial, for it expresses
that Jocasta can now see clearly that the greater pain really does come with
the more questions asked. She is no longer blind to the truth, and it damages
her in ways that she cannot live with. Arrogant Oedipus, remaining
tragically-flawed and learning nothing from Jocasta’s reaction, continues the
path to his own downfall. His selfishness distracts him from the fact that fate
will have its way no matter what he does.

            The
last instance in which Oedipus’ hubris inhibits him from doing what is in
everyone’s best interest, reveals itself in the meeting he has with the second
messenger. This is the herdsman Jocasta warned him against, and this pivotal
interaction exemplifies Oedipus’ tragic flaw, while simultaneously proving
Sophocles’ point that fate has the power to overcome free will. After undergoing
Oedipus’ interrogation, the herdsman finally gives in and reveals the last
piece of information, which manages to convince Oedipus of what the prophecies
were telling him all along: “O master, I pitied it, and thought that I could
send it off to another country and this man was from another country. But he
saved it for the most terrible troubles. If you are the man he says you are,
you’re bred to misery” (Sophocles 1360). The herdsman did not want to kill baby
Oedipus, and so he tried to escape fate by sending him off to Corinth. The
significance of this moment lies within the fact that Oedipus is, at last, made
fully aware of the truth he had been avoiding throughout the entire play. His pride
vanishes, and shame and regret arise in its place.

            Sophocles’ Oedipus
the King tells the story of a man, too blinded by his pride to see a
hideous truth that has been presented to him repeatedly. Oedipus’ acts of
selfishness and arrogance throughout the play are followed by an avalanche of
tragic events. However, regardless of the callousness of his actions, his fate
is still unavoidable, and the pitiful acts he has already committed are
irreversible. Therefore, Oedipus can be criticized for his lack of wisdom and
excessive pride, but these traits cannot technically be to blame for the tragic
fate that befalls him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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