A King’s Downfall

The play, “Oedipus the King,” is written by Sophocles and centers on how pride leads to the demise of a king. During the opening of the play, the residents of Thebes plead for Oedipus to solve the plague that is destroying the city. Oedipus says that he sent Creon, his brother-in-law, to speak to the oracle on solving their situation.

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When Creon returns, he reveals that the plague will end when the killer of King Laius is found. Oedipus, the current king of Thebes vows to find the former king’s murderer and begins to investigate. As he begins to investigate the past, he begins to realize that he was the murderer. In the end, he ends up blinding himself and begs for Creon to kill him. Because of Oedipus’s pride, he ends up fulfilling the prophecy that he wanted to escape from. His attempts to escape his destiny only end up with him completing the prophecy. Therefore, Oedipus cannot hinder or escape his future since it is predetermined by the gods.

In Greek mythologies, it is believed that the fates of individuals are controlled by the gods. According to Hill in his article, “The Three Fates: Destiny’s Deities of Ancient Greece and Rome,” the Greeks believed that “many aspects of a person’s life were determined by the three mythical women known as Fates.” The Fates were the known as the goddesses that created children’s destiny when they were born. The three Fates were responsible for weaving the fate of individuals through a thread. Despite this, they could not dictate all of the individual’s destiny. An individual whose fate is predetermined by the gods could still do what they want on any day. To counter this, the gods would intervene in their lives to guide people along the way.

Just like any other man, Oedipus had a destiny that he was designed to fulfill. Laius, the King of Thebes, was told by an oracle that his child would slay him and marry his own mother. When a baby was born to Laius and Jocasta, they tied the baby’s feet together and left him for dead on Mount Cithaeron. Miraculously, a shepherd had stumbled upon him and saved him. This event, ironically, leads his life into ruin. It is believed that the shepherd had been sent by the gods to intervene with Oedipus’s life since many infants that are left for dead typically do not survive. Thus, it is believed that the gods saved Oedipus so that he can fulfill his fate. This also reinforces the fact that he cannot escape his destiny.

Evidently, Oedipus’s main flaw is his pride. This characteristic of pride eventually gets the best of him. According to an online article named “What Was the Crime of Hubris in Greek Tragedy and Law,” the author writes that hubris is a popular theme in Greek tragedies. Hubris is defined as the extreme pride that leads to downfall and this lead to many consequences in Greek plays. Oedipus displays hubris when he decides to fight against his future and tries to escape it. His hubris is also evident when he first introduces himself in the first act of the play. Oedipus states “Children, it were not meet that I should learn. From others, and am hither come, myself, I Oedipus, your world-renowned king.” (6-9). The way he introduces himself gives us an idea of how prideful he actually is.

Another instance of his hubris can be seen when he is speaking to the seer, Teiresias. During this conversation, Teiresias states, “And yet this very greatness proved thy bane.” (442). He points out that his pride will lead to his demise and hints that he has fulfilled the prophecy without realizing the consequences of his actions. Teiresias reveals that Oedipus was King Laius’s murderer. Angered by the accusations, Oedipus does not believe the seer and disregards his words. He is then led to the conclusion that Creon has bribed the seer to make these claims and charges him with treason. Fortunately, Jocasta convinces Oedipus to rethink his actions and he relents.

Throughout the play, Oedipus is also shown to be quick to anger, especially when insulted. Combined with his pride, he is shown to make rash decisions in this state of mind. An example of this is present when it is revealed that he killed Laius over an argument. Although Oedipus did not know that he had killed his father, this action led him down the path that would lead to his downfall. Oedipus states that, “Yet was I quits with him and more; one stroke of my good staff sufficed to fling him clean. Out of the chariot seat and laid him prone. And so I slew them every one.” (807-810). After realizing that he might have killed Laius, he fears what will become of him. He begins to hope that the eyewitness to the murder will confirm that he did was not the murderer.

The last example of pride that Oedipus is exhibits is persisting with investigating the death of Laius. Jocasta, his wife, pleads for him to leave the past alone and to stop his investigation. Oedipus does not heed her words and decides that he will find the truth no matter how ugly it may be. This proves to be the last straw as he finally finds out the ugly truth. By digging even deeper into the past, he eventually realizes that Laius is actually his biological father and that he ended up marrying his mother. It turns out that, Polybus and Merope were not his real parents and that he was actually delivered to them by a messenger. Shocked by the outcome he seeks out Jocasta only to find that she had committed suicide. Anguished, he takes the golden brooches from her dress and then proceeded to gouge his eyes out. As he gouges his eyes out, he utters, “’No more shall ye behold such sights of woe, deeds I have suffered and myself have wrought; henceforward quenched in darkness shall ye see those ye should ne’er have seen; now blind to those whom, when I saw, vainly yearned to know.” (1269-173). He blinds himself as punishment for his actions. As penance for his deeds, he states that he should no longer be able to see for he had caused such vile happenings to occur.

Oedipus’s pride or hubris is the leading factor in his downfall. As a result of his pride, he ends up fulfilling the prophecy that he tries desperately to escape from. Not only did he kill his father and marry his mother, but he also caused his mother to commit suicide due to the fact that he wanted to reveal the ugly truth. Oedipus’s actions lead the audience to realize that the predetermined destiny foretold by the gods cannot be easily escaped and that trying to escape such fate will only lead to misery. To conclude, Oedipus could not flee from his future despite his attempt at doing so because his future was already set in stone. Lastly, because of his prideful personality he ends up sealing his fate, blinded and exiled from the kingdom.

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