Moral Lessons

In Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, the author conveys numerous lessons that teach the reader about the nature of living. In spite of the fact that the book was written over 2000 years ago, golden instructions about life that are still applicable in today’s society are embedded in it. Throughout the play, Sophocles effectively stresses the theme of Karma.

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At first, he teaches the reader that life is like a circle and it that should not be taken for granted. Everything given in life comes back in some measure and thus he passes the point that life should be lived in a righteous manner across. He proceeds to educate the reader that all of one’s deeds will be revealed at some point in one’s life, whether good or bad. At the beginning of the play, Jocasta and Laius in an attempt to avoid the horrendous fate pronounced on them by the gods, decide to get rid of their baby Oedipus. The following events in the play lead to the fulfillment of the prophecy and the revelation of this evil deed by Laius and Jocasta, leading to Jocasta taking her life out of guilt and shame. Oedipus after finding out the truth surrounding his identity laments,

Lost! Ah lost! At last it’s blazing clear.

Light of my days, go dark. I want to gaze no more.

My birth all sprung revealed from those it never should,

Myself entwined with those I never could.

And I the killer of those I never would (Sophocles 67)

The dramatic events in the play support the point that all secrets will be revealed at some point in one’s life and one should think and act wisely at all times. The author uses this medium to draw the reader into an array of deep thinking and reflection, laying down the lesson of the importance of moral righteousness. Following up on this point, Sophocles introduced the idea of taking responsibility for one’s actions. While it is much better avoiding terrible deeds, taking responsibility for them and atoning displays maturity. In the play, there is a contrast in mental maturity between the characters Oedipus and Jocasta. After Jocasta’s hideous crime is revealed, she decides to take her life as a way to rid herself of the shame and guilt she suffers. Oedipus on the other hand, decides to gouge out his eyes as a means of atonement for his sins. Oedipus in agony after gouging his eyes cries out,

Wicked, wicked eyes!

You shall not see me nor my crime,

not see my present shame.

Go dark for all time blind

to what you never should have seen, and blind

to the love this heart has cried to see (Sophocles, 70).

Oedipus’s realisation of his mistakes and his ensuing penance reveals a lot about his character and this is one of the reasons why he is considered a great man at the end of the play. This character set is what the author encourages the reader to emulate and this supports the idea of taking responsibility for one’s actions rather than running away from them. Another vital, and perhaps the most important lesson the author expresses through the play is the importance of the virtue humility. Throughout the play, there are several moments when the characters display Hubris, a term used to denote arrogance usually directed towards the gods. A prime example of a character that displays Hubris is Oedipus. Oedipus in a bid to find a solution to the plague befalling Thebes, sends for Tiresias, an old seer, asking him to get to the root of the problems in the land. Tiresias, aware that Oedipus is the cause of the plague, is reluctant. However, Oedipus unwittingly insults the seer and the seer angrily declares that Oedipus is the root of the problems. In response, Oedipus argues that Tiresias had conspired with Creon, Oedipus’s brother-in-law in an attempt to overthrow him. Oedipus feels betrayed and in a flash of anger, demonstrates Hubris. Oedipus reacting to Tiresias’s statement states,

…Tell me,

when did you ever play the prophet straight?

Or why when the bitch-dog Sphinx of riddles sang,

you never spoke a thing to break the spell?

And yet her riddle called for insight trained-

no traveler’s guess-

which you plainly showed you did not have

either from theology or birds. But I, the Oedipus who stumbled here without a hint, could snuff her out by human wit,

not taking cues from birds … (Sophocles, 23) .

In doing so, Oedipus defies the gods as he implies that he did all these things by his own wit and intelligence. Oedipus commits other acts of Hubris throughout the play and these are thought to have contributed to his downfall. As displayed in the play, no matter how elevated one is, only a single moment is needed for one to come crumbling down, and this backs up the point that pride is a disease that should not be present in one’s life. Sophocles uses this tool to instruct the reader to live a life of humility. In summary, Oedipus Rex is a play that circles around some of the most important “Do’s and Don’ts” in life. Sophocles encourages one to life a life of moral uprightness, to be accountable for one’s errors and to live a humble life. Abiding by these universal lessons will enable one to enjoy life and live in the best manner possible.

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