As it is known, and has been confirmed by the guilty party himself, Oedipus has unwittingly murdered the king of Thebes, Laius. Most people who bother with this matter would admit that Oedipus committed the crime at his own volition because he had a choice to avoid murder, and thus he must assume the consequences of his actions. Even though his actions are considered to be his said fate, Oedipus is found guilty of slaughtering others, and not just the king. Given his willful act of murder against Laius, Oedipus should receive the punishment of banishment, seeing that he himself had declared himself guilty. Banishment is the punishment in this case since this was the original verdict of the potential killer of Laius before it was confirmed to be Oedipus. Be it fate or an act of free will, Oedipus is to be banished from Thebes due to the choices he made both out of pride and anger.
One may claim that it’s a matter of fate that Oedipus is met with the unfortunate event of unknowingly killing his father. The murder of Laius cannot be supported for several reasons. To say that Oedipus’ fate is determined, a-priori, by forces that his actions and freedom of choice could never alter, a-posteriori, do not apply in this situation by any means. Oedipus could have avoided committing murder but instead settles the score of the humiliation he had received from Laius and his men when he threw Laius out of the carriage by his stick. Oedipus says, “as I passed, he struck me from his carriage, full on the head with his two-pointed goad. But he was paid in full and presently my stick had struck him backwards from the car and he rolled out of it” (Sophocles, line 885-889). Nonetheless, Oedipus did not stop at just this action alone, he killed everyone in the carriage along with the king. It is obvious that he chose to kill the men out of some ill-temperament and conceit. In that, we are led to believe that his inflated pride or ego had contributed to the murder, for it is manifested in Oedipus’ later actions and acts of rage. As for being full of himself, he says in another context, “I Oedipus whom all men call the Great” (Sophocles, line 7). He throws around the entitlement of greatness as one of his attributes, and I believe this point is crucial.
Furthermore, Oedipus’ vanity went as far as to make us believe that it’s his ego that sanctioned the killing of the king when he felt humiliated. He acted unjust by being extremely violent to the extent of allowing himself to resort to murder, not just of the king alone but his company as well. Oedipus’ reactions appear in his behavior as violent and unruly to the extent that he was going to kill his mother in rage to, as has been confirmed by the people around him, upon learning that she knew that he was the killer of Laius. It follows that Oedipus’ disposition and the flaws in his character marred his judgment and clouded his reasoning in a situation where violence to the extent of murder could’ve been avoided. With that being said, Oedipus could have refrained from killing his father, but in the end he still chose to do so.
Oedipus was a good leader, but his temper always got the best of him, and who is to say that he may not react violently again in the future? When Oedipus lashed out at Creon and Teiresias for the news about him being Laius murderer, he again let his anger get the best of him by lashing out at them, even though he was not physically violent in this specific situation. Teiresias even said to him, “You blame my temper, but you do not see your own that lives within you; is it me chide” (Sophocles, line 365). Moreover, banishment would be enough in this case since it is yet another example of Oedipus’ anger and short fuse. In the instructional material, the video said, “Oedipus’ tragic flaw is hubris, or excessive pride and it causes him to attempt to avoid the fate prophesized for him, which makes it happen” (Why Tragedies Are Alluring, David E. Rivas, Ted ED). Oedipus was warned of his fate, but he still believed he could do no wrong, and due to this he made choices that would have a tragic outcome.
In addition, another situation that proves that Oedipus is recklessly violent and a man who takes pride in himself excessively is the fact that he pierced his eyes out as a punishment for himself. Oedipus acted as a judge and a jury for himself, given that he saw himself worthy enough to do so. We could also jump to the conclusion that it is his vanity, again, that pushed him to pierce his eyes out. He could not stand the shame of his crimes. Still, he believed in fate; that is, fate determines his denouement. Oedipus says, “What have you designed, o Zeus, to do with me?” (Sophocles, line 804). Yet, he acted hastily and pierced his eyes out, instead of waiting for fate to unfold his final punishment. He considered himself “the Great” and thus, he could not stand the shame when he was told he killed his biological father. The punishment for humiliating someone is never death, no matter the circumstances. Yet, Oedipus made the choice to kill because of it. The coincidence, or fate, that he killed his biological father does not make the matter worse, given that one should not kill another human just because they are thought to be strangers. If Oedipus had known that Laius was his father and refrained from killing him, and later on killed someone else, a similar punishment would still apply— banishment.
It is clear that in the moment of committing his crime, Oedipus elected to kill Laius by choice, not by the necessity of self-defense. Thus, the killing could’ve been avoided if Oedipus was not so easily angered. Oedipus said, “His power determined my agony, but these eyes were blinded by my own hands. Why have eyes to see my own degradation and misery?” (Oedipus the King, 1:39:46). Oedipus gouging out his eyes could’ve sufficed as his punishment since he took matters into his own hands and couldn’t bear what he had done. Above all, Oedipus faced his downfall, though he must be banished from Thebes due to that being the original verdict of Laius’ killer.
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