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Oedipus

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Oedipus (Yunanca Oidipous, "şişik ayaklı"; Latince Oedipus) veya Œdipus. Thebes'in mitolojik kralı, Laios ve İokaste'nın oğlu. Babasını öldürüp, annesiyle evlenmiştir.

Oedipus'un babası, Laios, Pelops un oğluna tecavüz ettiği için crysispios Pelops tarafından lanetlenir: Laios'un yeni doğan oğlu Oedipus, babasını öldürecektir. Bunun üzerine Laios, oğlunun ayak bileklerini iplerle sardırır (Yunanca oidipous, "şişik ayaklı") ve Oedipus'un, kurtlara ya da kuşlara yem olması için ormana bırakılmasını emreder. Fakat yardımcısı, Laios'a ihanet eder ve küçük 'Edip'i götürüp bir çobana teslim eder. Çoban, Küçük Oedipus'i, çocukları olmayan Corinth kralı Polybos ve kraliçe Merope'ye (veya Periboea) armağan eder. Polybos ve Merope, Oedipus'u kendi öz çocukları gibi sever ve büyütür. Korint Kral ve kraliçesi oğulları Oidipus'la birlikte mutlu yaşarlar ta ki günün birinde bir şölen sırasında oldukça sarhoş bir davetli Oidipus'a "evlatlık" gözüyle bakana dek. Ertesi gün genç adam annesini, babasını sorgular, ikisi de inkar eder. Oidipus yine de kuşku içinde kalır. Bunun üzerine Delphoi'ye yola çıkar. Kahin onu horlayarak başından savar; sorusuna hiç değinmeden iğrenç bir geleceğin haberini verir: Oidipus annesiyle beraber olacak, zina ürünü bir soyu türeyecek ve kendisine hayat vermiş olan babasının katili olacaktır. Dehşete düşen Oidipus nereye gideceğini pek düşünmeden oralardan kaçar; bir daha asla Korint'e dönmeyecektir. Delphoi'den çıkarken dar bir yol ağzında arabaya binmiş, yanında da bir kaç hizmetçi bulunan bilinmedik yaşlı bir adama rastlar. Geçiş önceliği için çekişirler: Oidipus arabanın yanındean geçmekte iken yaşlı adam onun kafasının orta yerine iki kamçı darbesi indirir. Oidipus hemen sert karşılık verir: Sopası ile ihtiyarı yere yıkar, sonra da tanıkları öldürür. Artık yollarda başıboş dolanmaya başlar Thebai'ye varır. Bu şehrin üzerinde bir bela vardır.

"Şehrin dolayında dağlık bir buruna bir canavar, çiğ et yiyen Sfenks yerleşmiştir."
(Aiskhylos)

Sfenks yolcuları gözetleyip, her birine bilmecesini sorar; hiç kimse bilmeceyi çözemez, o da hepsini parçalayıp yer. Thebaililer her gün agoraya toplanarak bilmecenin cevabını bulmaya çalışırlar; kralları yeni öldürülmüş olduğundan kendilerini sfenksten kurtaracak olan kimseye sitenin tahtını da söz verirler. Oidipus oradan geçerken bilmece ona da sorulur:
"O hangi yaratıktır ki bir süre iki ayak üzerinde, bir süre üç, bir süre de dört ayakla yürür ve de, doğa yasalarına aykırı olarak, ayakları en çok olduğu zaman güçsüzdür?"
Oidipus söyle bir düşünür ve yaratığın insan olduğunu söyler: İlk çocukluğunda insan dört ayağı üzerindedir, emekler, daha sonra da iki ayağı üzerinde yürür, nihayet yaşlanınca da bir sopaya dayanır.

Sfenks sorusunun çözülmesiyle intihar eder. Thebaililer kurtarıcılarını alkışlar, onu kral yapar ve kraliçe ile evlendirirler. Şu halde Oidipus, Iokaste ile evlenmiştir. Ondan Eteokles ve Polineikes adlı iki oğlu, Antigone ve Ismene adında iki kızı olur. Sitede herkes onun mutluluğuna hayrandır. Birkaç mutlu yıldan sonra Thebai'da veba salgını yaşanır, artakalan insanlar Oidipus'a tekrar onları kurtarmaları için yalvarır. Oidipus, Delphooi kahinine danışır; kahin ona orada mutluluk içinde yaşamakta olan günahkarı ülkeden kovmasını önerir. Oidipus eski kral Laios'a karşı işlenip cezasız kalmış olan cinayetin söz konusu olduğunu düşünür; suçluyu cezalandırmaya ant içer. Kör kahin Teireisias'a sorar, kahin açığa vurur ki, katil Oidipus'un ta kendisidir, o hem de kendi annesinin kocasıdır. Oidipus araştırır, Laios'un Delphoi'ye giderken öldürüldüğünü öğrenir ve aklına aynı yolda karşılaşıp öldürdüğü yaşlı adam gelir. Eş zamanlı olarak babası Polybos'un ölüm haberini alır ve haberi getiren ulak ona Polybos'un oğlu olmadığını açıklar. Öte yandan Oidipus, Iokaste'dan duyduğu bir öyküyü hatırlar: Iokaste'ın ilk kocasından bir çocuğunun ölmesi için ormana bırakılması. Oidipus ormana bırakılan çocuğun kendisi olduğunu anlar. Kehanet gerçek olmuştur. Günahları yüzünden kan ve kedere gömülen, herkes tarafından terk edilen Oidipus artık sadece kör bir dilencidir. Umarsızlık içinde Iokaste'in altın iğneleri ile gözlerini oyar ve kızı Antigone'un izinde yollara düşer. Iokaste de kendisini odasında asar.
 


CHARACTER ANALYSIS


Major Characters


Oedipus

Oedipus, the protagonist of this classical tragedy, is a character ruled by fate and conflict. Oedipus is destined to kill his father and marry his own mother. As this fact comes to light, his father Laius, the king of Thebes, orders a shepherd to kill the infant. The shepherd instead hands him over to the shepherd of the neighboring kingdom of Corinth. The Corinthian shepherd gives the child to his childless king. The queen and king of Corinth raise Oedipus as their own child.

A young Oedipus hears about his dreadful fate from the Delphic oracle and flees from Corinth. But instead of fleeing from his fate he runs into it when he kills Laius in an altercation at a crossroads. Later he saves Thebes from the riddle of the Sphinx and marries the widowed queen Jocasta who in reality is his own mother.

Oedipus’ character is controlled by his fate yet at the same time his impetuous and short-tempered nature contributes to his fate. Oedipus possesses the impulse and intelligence to unravel and solve every mystery. It is this very impulse which takes him to Delphi to seek the truth about his parentage yet rather than face his fate, he attempts to run from it, thereby defying the Gods. It is also his impetuous and short-tempered nature that lands him in a fight with Laius at the crossroads. The consequence is that he kills Laius. Oedipus has killed his father and the first part of the oracle is fulfilled. Fate has played its trick assisted by the very nature of Oedipus.

The impulse to solve the riddle of Sphinx brings him to Thebes where he ends up marrying the widow queen Jocasta. By marrying his own mother, the second part of the oracle is also fulfilled, aided by Oedipus’ nature.

Apart from his eagerness to solve riddles, Oedipus makes some grave judgmental errors. He very quickly blames Creon for conspiring against him and does not even hesitate in calling the great prophet Tiresias, a traitor. As a result, he fails to heed Tiresias’ advice and warning (Tiresias warns him against the consequences of the investigation.) Oedipus is obsessed with solving this particular riddle, it his nature and he cannot go against it.

Finally, it is the same impulse to solve the mystery of Laius’ death and his own birth which makes Oedipus continue the investigations despite advice from both Tiresias and Jocasta to stop. The result is the ultimate tragedy as Oedipus realizes the truth of his wretched existence.

Oedipus is an intelligent man, an ideal king and a genuinely good human being. He has all the qualities of a great man, but he carries the seeds of his destruction within himself. His impulsive and short-tempered nature along with fate determines his downfall.

Oedipus’ character is typical of the protagonists of Greek tragedies. In Greek tragedies the protagonist was supposed to be a royal person, almost perfect, but the perfection was restricted by hamartia, a character flaw in the protagonist, which determined his downfall. Oedipus is a proud figure who does not take advice well. He is arrogant as when denouncing Tiresias’ prophetic capabilities, but he is also fearless as he does not back down from his quest although he fears the worst. Despite his flaws, Oedipus is a good person who seeks the truth no matter how devastating. With the realization of who he is also comes a newfound acceptance of being fallible and accepting responsibility for his actions. At the end of the play, Oedipus accepts his fate as well as the punishment meted out to him and thereby becomes a greater hero.

Jocasta

Jocasta is the queen of Thebes and wife of Oedipus. She is also Oedipus’ mother but in her ignorance of this fact she marries him and even bears four children.

Jocasta’s character is introduced in the play when there is a confrontation between Oedipus and Creon in the second episode. She rebukes both men for fighting in public and persuades them to act rationally. Thus, from the beginning she comes across as a strong woman. She is a woman who is ready to speak out her mind and attempts to pacify conflict.

Her character is presented as that of a person who does not hesitate to shake off the hold of traditional beliefs. She very openly expresses her disbelief in prophecies and divine oracles. She says that she has not seen any of them fulfilled, therefore she does not trust them. She is the skeptic who brings in a sense of suspicion of the divine oracles. Her character is used by Sophocles to explore the theme of the power of the oracles. Sophocles thought that the cosmos was ruled by a divine order and those who defied its order were condemned to be struck down. In defying the oracles, Jocasta is contributing to the downfall of the ruling family of Thebes. Her actions therefore are partly responsible for Oedipus’ fall.

Jocasta is not as impetuous as Oedipus is. Oedipus lets every situation control him. Jocasta, on the other hand, appears as a person who would rather control the situation. She reveals that she is more mature than Oedipus and even reveals a maternal side towards him. This is evident in the way she tries to stop Oedipus from investigating further into the mystery of his birth. At this point, she has realized the possibility that Oedipus may be her son. She would rather let the dreadful fact remain a mystery then let it ruin their lives.

Jocasta is presented as a good queen, a loving wife and a highly individualistic person yet she too has her flaws. She becomes the victim of a terrible duality. She is a ‘mother-wife’ to Oedipus. This very duality of her situation is the cause of her death. The entwined sheets with which she hangs herself symbolize the double life she has led.

This character, marked by conflict and ultimate tragedy, evokes a deep sympathy from the audience.

Creon

Creon is Jocasta’s brother and a loyal Theban citizen. His character epitomizes the nationalistic and patriotic sentiments of the ancient Greek society. Creon is completely dedicated to his city-state and also to his king Oedipus. He is rational, honest, and logical. These aspects of his character come to light when he has a confrontation with Oedipus. Oedipus blames him on conspiracy to gain kingship and Creon replies,

“A man of sense was never yet a traitor, I have no taste for that, nor could I force Myself to aid another’s treachery.”

This reply also highlights the integrity of his character. In this scene he demonstrates his rational nature. It also depicts his brilliant ability to persuade, which is in sharp contrast to Oedipus’ impulsive and stubborn nature. Thus, Creon serves as an effective foil to the protagonist.

Creon’s profound understanding of statehood and his ideals about a good leadership are revealed in the second section. This lends more credibility to his character as a learned nobleman of Thebes.

He is a fearless citizen, who does not hesitate to question the king’s impulsive allegations. He stands up for himself and argues for it even with the king. He treasures his integrity of character and his loyalty above everything else.

Another important aspect of Creon’s personality is revealed in the last scene of the final episode. He forgives Oedipus, the man who has censured him. When Oedipus pleads that Creon should banish him from Thebes, Creon exhibits his prudence. He says that he is not the type to act on impulse and without the advice of gods. He shows his faith and respect for divine laws. He is kind to Oedipus and thoughtful enough to bring his daughters to him. He is obviously aware of the fact that Oedipus loves them very much and needs them in his hour of extreme distress. Oedipus is touched by Creon’s supreme nature. He trusts him enough to leave his daughters in his charge when he will leave Thebes.

 

Tiresias

Tiresias is a major character in many of Sophocles’ tragedies. He is the old seer of Thebes who has been given immortality. In Oedipus, he is the only man who is aware of the fact that Oedipus has killed his father and married his mother. He is a man of great learning and self-respect. He retorts back in anger when Oedipus calls him a traitor and a villain. He warns Oedipus to be careful, as he himself will be responsible for his own ruin.

In Sophoclean tragedies, Tiresias represents ancient wisdom and knowledge. He is endowed with immortality that symbolizes the eternal nature of wisdom and knowledge. Through him, Sophocles states the point that the individual who fails to recognize this knowledge and respect the wisdom will ultimately come to a tragic end like Oedipus.

Tiresias also represents the people’s faith in divine laws. He is the seer and like the Delphic oracle is viewed skeptically by Jocasta. But ultimately, the faith in him and the oracle is reaffirmed as the tragedy reaches its conclusion.

Tiresias is more than human as he can look into the future. Sophocles uses this character to explore Oedipus’ character flaws. In the dialogue between Tiresias and Oedipus, Oedipus is revealed to be obstinate, short-tempered and impervious to the truth as when Tiresias tells him that “you blame my temper but you do not see that which lives within you.” Throughout this scene, Tiresias reveals the truth of what’s causing the plague and Oedipus refuses to listen. He is only enamored with his own perceptions.


Minor Characters

The Corinthian shepherd and the Theban shepherd are two important minor characters in the play. Both these shepherds are presented as being kindhearted in attempting to shield Oedipus from the truth. Although they save Oedipus in infancy, they also aid in helping bring his fate into being.

Later in the play these very people hold the key to the mystery of Oedipus’ birth and they help the tragedy reach its climax. They are important symbols of Oedipus’ origins and it is through them and not family members that he understands where he has come from.

 

The Dominance of Fate


http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/mythology/themes.html

Fate was of great concern to the Greeks, and its workings resonate through many of their myths and texts. We see countless characters who go to great lengths in attempts to alter fate, even if they know such an aim to be futile. The inability of any mortal or immortal to change prescribed outcomes stems from the three Fates: sisters Clotho, who spins the thread of life; Lachesis, who assigns each person’s destiny; and Atropos, who carries the scissors to snip the thread of life at its end. These three divinities pervade all the stories of Greek myth, whether they be stories of gods, goddesses, demigods, heroes, or mortals and regardless of the exploits recounted. Nothing can be done to alter or prolong the destiny of one’s life, regardless of the number of preparations or precautions taken. This inflexibility applies just as much to Zeus as to the lowliest mortal, as we see in Zeus’s hounding of Prometheus to divulge the name of the woman who will bear the offspring that one day will kill him.

Though this lesson is somewhat consoling—the way of the world cannot be bent to match the whims of those in authority—it is also very disturbing. The prospect of free will seems rather remote, and even acts of great valor and bravery seem completely useless. The myths provide an interesting counterpoint to this uselessness, however. In virtually all the stories in which a character does everything in his power to block a negative fate, and yet falls prey to it, we see that his efforts to subvert fate typically provide exactly the circumstances required for the prescribed fate to arise. In other words, the resisting characers themselves provide the path to fate’s fulfillment.

A perfect example is the king of Thebes, who has learned that his son, Oedipus, will one day kill him. The king takes steps to ensure Oedipus’s death but ends up ensuring only that he and Oedipus fail to recognize each other when they meet on the road many years later. This lack of recognition enables a dispute in which Oedipus slays his father without thinking twice. It is the king’s exercise of free will, then, that ironically binds him even more surely to the thread of destiny. This mysterious, inexplicable twinning between will and fate is visible in many the stories and philosophical treatises of the Greeks.

Bloodshed Begets Bloodshed

Aeschylus’s Oresteia, Sophocles’ Oedipus trilogy, Euripides’ plays, and Homer’s two great epics all demonstrate the irreparable persistence of bloodshed within Greek mythology that leads to death upon death. The royal house of Atreus is most marked in this regard: the house’s ancestor, Tantalus, inexplicably cooks up his child and serves him to the gods, offending the deities and cursing the entire house with the spilling of its blood from generation to generation. We see the curse manifest when Atreus himself kills his brother’s son and serves him up—an act of vengeance for wrong-doing done to him. Atreus’s son, Agamemnon, then sacrifices his own daughter, Iphigenia, as he has been told it will procure good sailing winds for the Greeks to start off to Troy. Rather, this deed leads his wife, Clytemnestra, to kill him on his first night home, with support from his cousin Aegisthus, who is in turn avenging Atreus’s crimes. Last but not least, Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, comes back to kill his mother and Aegisthus. Only two members remain in the House of Atreus: Orestes and his sister Electra. Everyone else has been foully murdered in this bloody chain of events.

Though these characters have brought terrible violence upon those to whom they owed bonds of love and loyalty, they are still not wholly condemnable. Orestes knows that he will incur the wrath of the Furies and the gods in committing matricide. As terrible as matricide is, Orestes would be even more in the wrong if he let his father’s death go unpunished. Clytemnestra no doubt follows a similar rationale, as she cannot allow Agamemnon’s sacrifice of their daughter to stand unavenged. Even this is not the beginning of the chain: Agamemnon felt he had no choice but to sacrifice Iphigenia, since his only other option was to break the oath he made to Menelaus years before. Indeed, the whole line of Atreus is cursed with such irresolvable dilemmas, the outcome of divine anger at Tantalus’s horrific and unprompted sacrifice of his son. In this slippery world of confusing and conflicting ethics, the only certainty is that bloodshed merely begets more bloodshed.

The Danger of Arrogance and Hubris

In many myths, mortals who display arrogance and hubris end up learning, in quite brutal ways, the folly of this overexertion of ego. The Greek concept of hubris refers to the overweening pride of humans who hold themselves up as equals to the gods. Hubris is one of the worst traits one can exhibit in the world of ancient Greece and invariably brings the worst kind of destruction.

The story of Niobe is a prime example of the danger of arrogance. Niobe has the audacity to compare herself to Leto, the mother of Artemis and Apollo, thus elevating herself and her children to the level of the divine. Insulted, the two gods strike all of Niobe’s children dead and turn her into a rock that perpetually weeps. Likewise, young Phaëthon, who pridefully believes he can drive the chariot of his father, the Sun, loses control and burns everything in sight before Zeus knocks him from the sky with a thunderbolt. Similar warnings against hubris are found in the stories of Bellerophon, who bridles the winged Pegasus and tries to ride up to Olympus and join the deities’ revelry, and Arachne, who challenges Athena to a weaving contest and is changed into a spider as punishment. Indeed, any type of hubris or arrogance, no matter the circumstance, is an attitude that no god will leave unpunished.

Reward for Goodness and Retribution for Evil

The Greeks and Romans incorporated aspects of their ethical codes in their myths. In a sense, these stories are manuals of morality, providing models for correct conduct with examples of which behaviors are rewarded and which are punished. The clearest example is the story of Baucis and Philemon, an impoverished old couple who show kindness to the disguised Jupiter and Mercury. Of everyone in the city, only Baucis and Philemon are generous with their humble hospitality. Jupiter and Mercury reward them and destroy all the other inhabitants of the area. The lesson is clear: the gods judge our moral actions and dispense blessings or curses accordingly.

The idea of these myths as moral guides is not unlike the Judeo-Christian morality tales in the Bible. However, while the God of the Bible is an infallible moral authority, the gods who judge good and evil in classical myth harbor their own flaws. They have favorites and enemies, often for vain reasons—Hera’s jealousy, for example, predisposes her against several entirely innocent women—and are capable of switching sides or abandoning their favorites for no clear reason, as Apollo does to Hector just as Hector faces Achilles in combat. Aside from their prejudices, of course, the gods are poor moral judges because they frequently act immorally themselves, philandering, raping, lying, and callously using innocent mortals as pawns.

Motifs

Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.
The Hero’s Quest

The story of a hero with a quest frequently recurs in mythology. Many of these stories are similar: a hero is born, raised in poverty by foster parents or a single mother, and at a certain age ventures forth to reclaim his patrimony. He is charged with some very difficult task and is offered the hand of a noble woman in marriage upon his success. By accomplishing these tasks, the otherwise unknown hero demonstrates his fitness to take on his father’s throne. This framework is subject to some degree of variation, of course, but it holds true for many of the hero stories Hamilton retells in Mythology.

Theseus is the perfect example: though raised far from Athens, he proves himself—from the moment he departs toward his father—a decent and upstanding heir by ridding the highway of bandits. Perseus, Hercules, Achilles, and others offer small variations on this framework of the hero’s quest. Interestingly, however, Odysseus, whose name has come to be synonymous with the hero and quest, offers a notable difference from the archetype. He does not grow up away from his parents, and he is already married and undergoes an arduous journey on his return home after battle. This difference, perhaps, explains why Odysseus strongly resonates as a more modern character relevant to present times.

Beauty

Beauty in all its forms figures prominently in Hamilton’s Mythology, particularly in the Greek myths, which ascribe an immeasurable value to beauty. Though appreciation of beauty is hardly a surprising find, it may seem superficial to see aesthetic and artistic beauty given such a prominent place in myths that also purport to be religious or moral guides.

Nonetheless, the assertion that beautiful is better pervades the myths. It is evident in Zeus’s and Apollo’s philandering, Orpheus’s winning over of Hades with his lovely music, the sparking of the Trojan War over Helen’s legendary loveliness, and Hera’s and Athena’s bitterness at Paris’s preference for Aphrodite’s fairness. With these myths in mind, we see that, in the classical worldview, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but rather a verifiable, objective actuality about which even the gods must agree.

Love

The seemingly indefinable notion of love is an important agent in much of Mythology, the source for many rewards, punishments, motivations, and deceptions. The myths treat love in a way that is different from most of our modern-day ideas of love. In creation myths, love is described as a force, and it is out of love that Earth arises. There are actually very few ordinary love stories, at least in our traditional sense of the word, with a man and woman bonding in romance and living happily ever after. There are, rather, several tragic tales, as those of Pyramus and Thisbe or Ceyx and Alcyone, as well as many stories of unrequited love, such as Polyphemus and Galatea or Echo and Narcissus.

Broadening the myth’s exploration of love and lust are tales of kidnapping and rape, such as Hades and Persephone or Apollo and Creusa. There are instances in which one party—always the woman—loves so strongly and under such false premises that it spells disaster for her. Such are the cases of Medea, Ariadne, and Dido, all of whom give themselves over to love, heart and soul—betraying their own families—only to have the men whom they love heartlessly move on after the women’s usefulness is expended. These tales perhaps imply a cautionary warning that blood is thicker than water and that a bride’s family by marriage is never as trustworthy as her birth family, to whom she truly owes allegiance.

Symbols

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Cannibalism

Cannibalism, eating the flesh of one’s own kind, is disturbingly present in Mythology. While it might seem repulsive to include cannibalistic details within a story, there are a strikingly large number of myths in which people—for the most part children—are sliced, cooked, and eaten. Aside from Tantalus’s inexplicably poor decision to serve his son to the gods, we see several stories in which the cannibalism of one’s children serves as the sweetest revenge—as Atreus exacts it upon his brother, and Procne upon her husband, Tereus. Even Cronus, the father of Zeus and lord of the universe, methodically swallows his children one by one in an attempt to forestall his downfall. Though the prevalence of cannibalism in these myths might lead us to believe that the practice was accepted in classical society, we see that cannibalism is severely punished in each case. Why it occurs so frequently in the first place remains a mystery.

Perhaps the roots of cannibalism lie in human sacrifice, the same source Hamilton identifies in the flower myths of Hyacinth and Adonis. As we see, these sacrifices are unwanted by the gods and typically punished severely, an indictment of both cannibalism and human sacrifice. In this regard, it is interesting to note the one instance in which a god actually does want such a sacrifice: Artemis’s call for the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Significantly, in a later telling of this myth, Artemis miraculously saves the girl instead.

Art

As civilizations prized for their art, it is no wonder that the Greeks and Romans retained a mythology that elevates art to a divine practice or at least one that almost consistently pleases the divine. The most prominent examples of mythological artistry are Pygmalion’s beloved statue Galatea, Arachne’s tapestry, and the poet who is the one person Odysseus spares from death at the end of the Odyssey. Both gods and mortals in the myths understand the power and influence of art almost as they do the unwritten rules of fate.

On a literary level, the symbol of art serves a glorifying purpose, staking a claim for the power of the text itself. This self-glorification is perhaps most obvious in Homer: Odysseus spares the poet, unlike the priest whom he has just dispatched, because he is loath to kill “such a man, taught by the gods to sing divinely.” In a less than subtle way, Homer is hinting that he himself is one such sacred, divinely touched creature. In addition to this self-glorification, art is used to link men with their gods, as the gods not only appreciate art, but actually make it themselves. Apollo is proud of his lyre, Pan of his set of pipes, and Hephaestus of the artisanship of the fine products of his smithy. Art, then, is symbolically and literally a bridge between mortals and gods.


Dramatic Irony


The success of Oedipus Rex as one of the greatest Sophoclean tragedies is largely due to the brilliant interplay of dramatic irony in the play. From the beginning of the play Oedipus is ignorant of the dreadful acts he has committed: the murder of his father and marrying his mother. But the audience watching the play is well aware of these facts. Therefore every word, every reaction of Oedipus’ with regards to the murder lends itself to dramatic irony.

Oedipus’ speech demanding the people to reveal the murderer in the initial part of the play is an important instance of dramatic irony. Little does he realize that in cursing Laius’ murderer to live in wretchedness he is cursing himself. This curse does indeed come true when in the end of the play Oedipus and his family are doomed to a life of pain and suffering.

Another important instance of dramatic irony is a little later in this same section when the old soothsayer visits the king. When Oedipus begins to ridicules Tiresias’ blindness, he in turn predicts an unusual circumstance. The angry prophet warns that while Oedipus can see, he is actually ‘blind’ (that means he will be denied the truth) whereas when he will turn blind (i.e. lose his eyesight) only then will he be able to see (or realize) the truth. It is also ironic that old Tiresias who has no eyesight can perceive reality accurately.

These cases of dramatic irony lend pathos to the entire tragedy and enable the reader of the play or the audience to sympathize with the ignorant and ill-fated protagonist. The effect of the tragedy is therefore more profound and long lasting.

THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS


Major Theme

Fate, divine laws, and pre-ordinance were issues that deeply concerned the ancient Greeks as it was a developing civilization where its faith in the supernatural was constantly examined and re-examined. In the cosmic order of Sophocles’ plays, fate is the overruling order. This does not mean that characters do not have free will but that they cannot go beyond the cosmic order that rules the universe. In defying fate, humans are subjected to being struck down for going beyond their limitations as humans. To accept this order is to be part of the harmony which rules the universe. To go against it means disrupting this order and taking the consequences of one’s actions. In Oedipus Rex, the main theme explored is that fate is character. This becomes clearer with the study of the tragedy of Oedipus, the king of Thebes.

No doubt Oedipus was destined to kill his father and marry his mother, but it is Oedipus’ own character which leads him to perform these acts. An impulsive, hot-headed youth, Oedipus ends up inflicting immortal wounds on his own father after a mere quarrel. He is obviously ignorant of the fact although if he had taken the prophecy seriously, he would have avoided conflicts or interactions with older people. Instead he acts in a rash manner.. Later he successfully solves the riddle of Sphinx. Again, in ignorance, he marries the widow queen of Thebes, Jocasta, his own mother who must have been much older than him. Thus the belief that fate and character are one and the same forms the main theme in Oedipus Rex.

Fate and divine law are explored on various levels in the play. As the play unfolds the importance of prophecies is highlighted. This theme is an extension of the theme of fate. Whereas Jocasta fervently expresses her disbelief in prophecies, she is the one to realize the ultimate truth of the situation and dissuades Oedipus from continuing his venture. Her character also contributes to her eventual downfall. By attempting to divert catastrophe, she has ironically invited it. Also, knowing Oediupus’ nature, Jocasta knows that he will not abandon his inquiry. Both Jocasta and Oedipus reveal an inability to come to terms with their past and an aversion to truth. It is these qualities which bring the ruling family of thebes to ruin. The skepticism they have of the oracles is in fact an avoidance of truth and understanding one’s place in the cosmic order.


Minor Themes

Oedipus’ wish to unravel the mystery of his birth is another theme explored in the play. Who one is and where one comes from are questions which every individual shares, whether king or peasant. Although it is assumed that Oedipus comes from noble birth, the mystery of who he is reveals that this many not be so. It is this what he fears when he begins to question the messenger on hearing that Polybus was not his father. In fact, although the play begins as a murder mystery, it becomes more an investigation of the self. Oedipus can only know his place in the world when his true identity has been revealed. By understanding who he is and taking responsibility for this, Oedipus then possesses the power to save his kingdom from the plague.

This theme gives rise to other minor themes like the ideals of statehood and the attributes of an ideal ruler. As the investigations into Laius’ murder proceed, the audience witnesses Oedipus’ character as an individual and as a king. He certainly conforms to the ancient Greek ideal of a ruler that suffers with the people and in the end of the play, he suffers for the people as it is only through the punishment of the murderer of Laius that Thebes can be restore itself.

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