Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is a classic Greek tragedy that tells the story of a king with an unavoidable fate. Oedipus, the king of Thebes, unknowingly marries his mother and kills his father, thus cursing his kingdom with a terrible famine. The tragedy follows the king’s journey to find the truth and make things right in his kingdom, his actions eventually leading to his downfall. Much controversy surrounds the character of Oedipus, however, as academics cannot decide whether he is a good man burdened with a terrible fate, or if his fate was brought upon him by his actions. Robert Hull takes up the former view in his article, “Hamartia and Heroic Nobility in Oedipus Rex”.
In his article, Hull employs Aristotle’s thoughts on hamartia to support his views of Oedipus Rex. Hull claims that, rather than having a motive of self-preservation, Oedipus’ actions are a result of “a commitment to values,” a desire for the truth. The tragedy, he claims, is “a triumph over nihilism,” as everything is “an illusion from the beginning” (Hull). The author’s reasoning is that Aristotle’s view of Oedipus Rex is not “a sin-and-punishment tragedy” with “hamartia as a moral flaw” (Hull). To put it simply, Oedipus is a good man with a tragic and unavoidable fate.
To support his case, the author defends the king’s character, saying that the treatment of the blind seer Tiresias is just, as “[Oedipus] sees himself as a paternalistic king, as his references to the people of Thebes as his children” and that, in refusing to tell the king what he sees, “Tiresias is failing the people in their direst moment” (Hull). Once Tiresias discloses the information, however, Oedipus reacts in a very extreme manner and claims that the seer is plotting against him. Again, the author supports the king, declaring that his reaction is just, as he has “no idea of the truth of Tiresias’ accusations” (Hull).
Hull’s article has a good perspective on Oedipus, as it gives the protagonist the benefit of the doubt. The King of Thebes, indeed is not a completely rotten character. Although he has a somewhat rocky start, he is repentant once he discovers his wrongdoings and banishes himself from his own kingdom to save the citizens from famine. Some may argue that his motives in discovering the truth are merely those of a self-preservative nature. While this is a possibility, he still takes the time to look into the situation and deals with the consequences, rather than hiding the truth from his people. While Oedipus is not the best king, he has the interest of his people in mind, making him one of the more decent rulers of the day. Another interesting perspective to look at in the story of Oedipus would be that of his wife and mother, Jocasta. A psychoanalysis on her character would be a fascinating subject to study.
Filicide, or child murder, is a surprisingly common theme in fairytales, considering how outraged the public reacts to it. Snow White is “arguably the most well-known” of the fairytales depicting homicide. Most adults and children are familiar with the plot: a beautiful girl is murdered three times by her evil step-mother, but in the end is saved by a handsome prince and lives happily ever after. Despite the widespread knowledge of the fairytale, many are ignorant of the origins of the story. In her article, “The Fact and Fantasy of Filicide in ‘Snow White’”, Michelle Abate discusses the roots of the popular story and the motives for murdering the heroine.
Abate starts off her article by reminding her readers that fairytales were originally intended for an adult audience, thus giving reason for the gruesome and somewhat perverse nature of the stories. She later uses the origin to explain the homicidal nature of the step-mother, claiming that the telling of these stories “serve a function that is as freeing and empowering as it is cathartic and therapeutic” (Abate). The queen’s persecution of Snow White “reveals [that the] mistreatment often comes at the hands of the men and women who are supposed to love, nurture, and protect young people the most: their parents or guardians” (Abate). The author later discusses the reasons for the intense jealousy of the step-mother. Abate’s reasoning is that Snow’s beauty rivals not only the queen’s appearance, but also her power. In a patriarchal society, a woman’s beauty and skillfulness is her only value. Without either, she is useless in a “male- dominated society” (Abate). Her “loss of the title of the fairest one of all constitutes not simply a threat to her ego but also a threat to her influence, agency, and even socioeconomic means of survival” (Abate). In the text, Abate also includes the research of psychologists on filicide, as to prove that homicidal thoughts towards children are not uncommon, but rarely acknowledged because of guilt and shame. What is not normal, however, is acting upon those thoughts, like the queen did. Because of her filicidal actions, which serve as an outlet for the fantasies of the adult audience, there is a dire need for her actions “to be not simply rebuked but horrifically punished” (Abate). The result of this need is being forced to wear hot iron shoes and dance until she dies, a punishment administered by none other than the queen’s victim, Snow White, at her wedding to the prince who saved her. A public humiliation such as this is only fitting for such a heinous crime as murdering children.
Abate’s point of view of the story is an interesting one, as it still depicts the queen as a villain, but also brings light to the normalcy of a desire for filicide in parents. Although the thought is sickening, it is logical that thoughts of filicide would be normal, considering how common a theme it is in fairytales. The author also uses her text to highlight flaws in the societal system in explaining how a patriarchal system could cause competition between women, even to the point of killing a young girl seen as a threat. Looking at the story of Snow White and her homicidal step-mother through a feminist lens is another interesting take on the story, one that I would like to research in more detail.
Abate, Michelle Ann. “You Must Kill Her’: the Fact and Fantasy of Filicide in ‘Snow White.” Marvels & Tales, vol. 26, no. 2, Oct. 2012, p. 178. Literature Resource Center, link.galegroup.com.library.collin.edu/apps/doc/A303756364/GLS?u=txshracd2497&sid=GLS&xid=23e8ccd0. Accessed 22 Oct. 2018.
Hull, Robert. “Hamartia and Heroic Nobility in Oedipus Rex.” Philosophy and Literature, vol. 17 no. 2, 1993, pp. 286-294. Project MUSE, https://muse-jhu-edu.library.collin.edu/article /416112/pdf. Accessed 22 Oct. 2018.
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