Oedipus Rex as a Tragic Hero

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Greek stories such as Greek tragedies are plays that intended to strengthen religious values, like ancient Greece society. Greek tragedies aren’t specifically meant to be characters of study, but to create strategies to connect with audience. In this Greek tragedy, Oedipus is a tragic hero that has some character traits that can also identify him as an epic hero. In the Greek tragedy, Oedipus is a loyal ruler to his kingdom but finds out the truth of lies he receives from his family and friends. Oedipus Rex a Greek tragedy story, The king of Thebes, Oedipus sends his brother in law Creon to find the cause of the mysterious plague that has taken over the city. What Creon reveals is that the plague will be gone if the man who killed the former King confesses to his wrongdoings. Oedipus not knowing that he is the murder of his father confronts his wife Quee Jocasta also not knowing Jocasta was his mom.

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Because of Jocasta not taking the word of Tiresias when he said that Oedipus was the murder because she did not believe Tiresias because of an oracle that once told her her husband would be killed by their child. This led Jocasta to leave baby Oedipus to die on the side of the road to stop her child from killing her husband. Leading up this made Oedipus have a feeling that he was the baby abandoned on the side of the road, when he made his first trip to Thebes, meeting a man by the name of Lauis and killed him where the three roads met, turning out to be his father. Oedipus soon met and married Jocasta, without knowing she was his mother. Oedipus getting suspicious asks a servant and messenger to confirm that the tale is true causing Jocasta to kill her self out of shame and guilt, also leading to Oedipus death using pins of Jocasta’s brooches as a tool to stab his own eyes. Oedipus is an honorable man in the standing as a “tragic hero” since he carries the traits and qualities of the people of his land as a King. As Oedipus tried to do the right thing for Thebes which eventually causes the death of his dad Lauis and his mother/wife Jocasta. Oedipus was a tragic hero because he was a person of noble birth and contained potential heroic qualities.

This greek tragic hero was was hated by the gods. Oedipus was look downed upon by the gods because of his actions. But this epic hero so-called Oedipus struggles hard against his fate and wins the audience affection. In this story, Oedipus carries traits that could possibly make him an epic hero. There are 8 characteristics of an epic hero. Champion of freedom, these characteristics support the idea that heroes are fighting with the forces of evil. Courage when the hero continues the task or journey after they show signs of fear. Super strength, this is more of a physical trait that would portray this trial when he or she would take any risk to be on top of everyone else. Loyalty, a hero will show this trait when they stay loyal to their path or task no matter what obstacle comes in the way.

Love of glory is the sixth trait of an epic hero when they are obsessed with rewards of their journey such as glory, fame, or praise. Justice is the seventh trait that an epic hero displays when they portray the ability to keep doing the right thing no matter what changes around them. Last but not least the last characteristic of an epic hero is the weakness, also known as “tragic flaw”, this trait gives the hero human characteristics. For example, Gilgamesh was a Mesopotamian hero and Oedipus was a Greek epic hero who shares similarities and differences. Out of both heroes, Gilgamesh was braver than Oedipus, Gilgamesh was caring for others, risking his life several times when he was with his friend Enkidu. On the other hand, Oedipus was selfish and believed he could do anything. The fearless Gilgamesh would fight or kill anyone who claimed to conquer over him, While Oedipus would be a weakling and run the opposite way.

Although the characteristics that Oedipus carries that possibly make him an “epic hero” are loyalty and devotion. Loyalty because of his journey and knowing that the prophecy wanted him to do and he carried out the task no matter how hard the obstacle was that blocked his way. Even though lies were thrown his way and the fact he killed his father and married his mother to stop the plague that was killing innocent of his people. Devotion is another characteristic that would qualify him to be an “epic hero.” Also in comparison Odysseus and Oedipus can relate, Odysseus as a Greek epic hero also like Oedipus also as a Greek epic hero, similar in both tragedies both epic heroes go through a hard time, for example, Oedipus trying to defeat the plague and prophecy, and Odysseus fighting the Trojan war and fighting to return home. Even though both epic heroes battle their faith, Oedipus and Odysseus fought to save or return to their kingdom and family.

Also, both epic heroes have differences such as in Homers Illiad Odysseus would be known as brave, loyal, strong, and honest because even though he was a battle for 10 years plus 9 years to return home to Ithica for his wife, son, and kingdom to rule. And on the other hand Oedipus was more of a Stuck up king, anger management issues, and scared of the truth, for example finding out how he was the murder of his blood father, and how he married his own blood mother, made him weak because Oedipus choose to blind him self to die and leave family and friends behind and his reign. Still, Oedipus and Odysseus have there differences and similarities but the character is what separates the man from a boy. The lesson I’ve learned behind this Greek Tragedy/play is cannot escape fate, one can try as hard as they want but karma will come right back around. Jocasta and Laius thought by leaving their son on the side of the road they would escape the fear of their son killing their father. Oedipus is the son of Polybos, who would never imagine being the one killing his biological father not knowing Laius was his biological father. Everyone is horrified by the actions he had taken an equally terrified when they learned that fate had succeeded in completely carrying out the prophecy’s goal by having Oedipus marry and have children with his mother, to end up dying a shame. 


To determine if Oedipus Rex fits Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero, we must first define or attempt to define what a tragic hero is. A tragic hero as defined by Aristotle is, “a person who must evoke a sense of pity and fear in the audience. He is considered a man of misfortune that comes to him through error of judgment.” This tragic hero in drama has several characteristics which collectively make up what we call a tragic hero. First of all, the tragic hero is typically a man of nobility. Typically those heroes in a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy is either a prince or a king. They are good, not perfect and their fall from grace stems from hamartia. Hamartia is defined as a, “tragic flaw, inherent defect or shortcoming in the hero of a tragedy, who is in other respects a superior being” (Brittanica Academic). Another characteristic of a tragic hero is that their downfall is of their own doing. Sometimes their bad fortune is not entirely deserved. The heroes tragic fall is not just their death, but includes a change from ignorance to knowledge. Finally, the tragic hero causes us to feel emotion. Aristotle senses that humans chase happiness, which cannot be destroyed except by, “great and numerous outward calamities.” (Barstow, page 1) Oedipus is the quintessential tragic hero because he, “is a man who fails to attain happiness, and fails in such a way that his career excites, not blame, but fear and pity in the highest degree”. (Barstow, page 1)

Oedipus As A Tragic Hero

Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex was first performed somewhere around 429 BC. Having been written so long ago, one could assume this makes him one of the first tragic heroes. While also exhibiting positive qualities, Oedipus is quite arrogant and impulsive. He lets his pride gets in his way and he is unable to see through to the truth. Oedipus also refuses to listen to what Tiresias is predicting, which is that he has killed his father, King Laius. Proclaiming Oedipus’ignorance, Teiresias (line 398-399) says, “Listen to me. You mock my blindness, do you? But I say that you, with both your eyes, are blind.” Soon after, Teiresias goes into more detail, giving us more insight into who the killer of King Laius is. Teiresias (lines 435-445) says, “The man you have been looking for all this time, the damned man, the murderer of Laios, That man is in Thebes. To your mind he is foreign-born, but it will soon be shown that he is a Theban, a revelation that will fail to please. A blind man, who has his eyes now; a penniless man, who is rich now; and he will go tapping the strange earth with his staff. To the children with whom he lives now he will be brother and father- the very same; to her who bore him, son and husband- the very same who came to his father’s bed, wet with his father’s blood.”

Examining the characteristics of a tragic hero above, we can see that Oedipus has most if not all of these characteristics. As told in the play, Oedipus is the king which meets the first requirement (normally a king or prince). Secondly, he is good, but not perfect. An example of this is that he was known to act swiftly, without knowing all of the facts. Almost all characters in a book, play or what have you are imperfect. Oedipus’ downfall was most definitely his own doing. Once the question of who had killed King Laius had been raised, Oedipus started losing control of his emotions. An example of Oedipus’ downfall not being completely his own doing is not that he was a bad king or even a tyrant, but rather that he was cursed by the prophecy that he was to kill his father, wed his mother and bear her children.

Later, Oedipus comes to realize that he in fact did murder his father as told in the prophecy. “It was true. All the prophesies! I, Oedipus, Oedipus, damned in his birth, in his marriage damned, damned in the blood he shed with his own hand.” (Oedipus, lines 1118-1123) “The moment at which Oedipus discovers his true identity in Sophocles’Oedipus Tyrannus receives Aristotle’s admiration as the finest example of self-recognition in Greek tragedy.” (Danze, 2016) Oedipus also does not die at the end, contrary to the definition of more modern drama, but he has to live with the knowledge of what he has done for the rest of his life. Whether Oedipus killing Laius had any effect on the prophecy since he was not actually his father, we will never know for sure.

If we look to someone other than Oedipus to blame for his downfall, we have to look no further than the god Apollo. On page 94 (Van Nortwick) Oedipus states, “it was Apollo, my friends, Apollo who brought about these terrible woes of mine.” Apollo is alluded to early in the play when Oedipus says, “And I have adopted it: I have sent Kreon, son of Menoikeus, brother of the queen, to Delphi, Apollo’s place of revelation, to learn there, if he can, what act or pledge of mine may save the city.” (lines 71-75) Throughout the play, Oedipus and Apollo are playing what amounts to a chess match in the fact that, “All of Oedipus’ moves in this game are freely chosen, and no one, not even Apollo, can predetermine the hero’s next move. Yet grand master Apollo can beat Oedipus easily; indeed, he can confidently predict the result of the match beforehand, insofar as he is able to lead the play in the direction he wants without his opponent (Oedipus) being able to guard against such an eventuality.” (Van Nortwick, p. 95)

Additional Points

In some ways Oedipus not only meets, but also refutes Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero. “He has no clear vision which enables him to examine every side of a matter with unclouded eyes, and to see all things in due perspective.” (Barstow, page 2) For example, Oedipus sees only one side of a things, often the wrong one. One could also look at Oedipus from the viewpoint that he kills his own father and is simply a murderer. “I say that you are the murderer whom you seek.” (Teiresias, line 347) After he comes to accept that he indeed did kill his father, Oedipus has the shepherd to whom he was given brought to him to explain where he came from. He says that if only the shepherd hadn’t rescued him when his parents abandoned him, the whole murder prophecy would have never come true. When asked why he had been saved, the Shepherd told Oedipus (lines 1112-1115), “I pitied the baby, my king, and I thought that this man would take him far away to his own country.” A tragic hero is still intrinsically good. If you are able to look at Oedipus as a helpless victim of his own fate, he becomes less of a tragic hero and more of a pathetic one since pathetic characters suffering is more or less undeserved. Oedipus goes about trying to prevent the prophecy from taking place by never going home to Delphi.


King Oedipus exemplifies the qualities of a tragic hero because he attains greatness as king, yet his reign falls to pieces once he realizes that he killed his father, King Laius.

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Oedipus Rex as a Tragic Hero. (2021, Mar 23). Retrieved February 3, 2023 , from

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