Oedipus the King by Sophocles is a Greek play that tells of the tragedy of King Oedipus. The king obliviously killed his father and married his mother. The play is the second of three works of literature by Sophocles from around 428 BCE. Oedipus was the king of Thebes. The play recounts the life of Oedipus and how fate controlled his actions until the death of his mother and his ultimate self-inflicted blindness.
King Laius, Oedipus’s father, learned from an ancient oracle that he was meant to die in his land. He learned about his fate shortly after Oedipus was born and acted out of anger ordering Jocasta, his wife to kill their infant son, Oedipus (Finglass, 2018). Laius, his wife, and all their servants did not have the courage to kill Oedipus, and so they abandoned him to be killed by natural agents such as weather or animals. However, Oedipus was rescued by a shepherd who raised him until he was taken by King Polybus of Corinth and raised in the King’s court. King Polybus of Corinth was childless and kind, and he treated Oedipus as a son of his own.
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Oedipus heard rumors that King Polybus was not his biological father. He consulted an oracle that prophesied that he would kill his father and enter a marital union with his biological mother. Oedipus left Corinth and headed to Thebes to prevent the prophecy from coming to pass. However, he met Laius on his way, the two quarreled, and Oedipus killed his father without knowing. The actions fulfilled part of the prophecy. Oedipus later solved the riddle of the Sphinx and freed the land of Thebes from the Sphinx curse. The person who solved the riddle was meant to marry the queen of Thebes. Oedipus thus proceeded to take the queens hand in marriage oblivious that she was his mother leading to the fulfillment of the oracle’s prophecy. Later, a plague hit Thebes and Oedipus sent his brother in law, Creon to Delphi to consult an oracle. Creon reported that the plague would only end when the killer of Laius was brought to book. Oedipus was convinced that he was not the killer and thus proceeded with the investigation amid cries by Tiresias to call off the pursuit since it would cause more pain. Tiresias later recounted the encounter that led to the death of Laius and Oedipus remembered that he was responsible. The shepherd who had raised Oedipus later confirmed that the king of Corinth, Polybus was dead and that he had raised Oedipus from recovering him from the wild. Oedipus was enraged by the unfolding of events and the coming true of the prophecy. He pierced his eyes with pins and became blind with a final request to be exiled from the land of Thebes (Thomson & Patillo, 2016).
Oedipus the King contains five episodes each with a cause and effect clause. The five are tied together by their theme of prophecy and investigation into past events (Finglass, 2018). Additionally, each of the episodes starts with a choral ode that relates them to one another. The plot of the play is of particular interest since all the irrational ordeals have already happened and thus the characters cannot alter them. For example, the prophecy already happened and before Oedipus learned of his real parents, he was already fulfilling the prophecy.
Fate and will are significant themes in the play. Oedipus’s life was dictated by fate, and he had no control over the irrational things in his life (Thomson & Patillo, 2016). For example, Oedipus was an innocent child who was abandoned as an infant by his parents. Furthermore, his life was doomed when the oracle revealed that he would marry his mother and kill his father. The two effects of the prophecy were against cultural beliefs and customs of the city of Thebes, yet Oedipus would experience them. The people of Thebes had no power over their will since the oracles dictated the fate of their land. The oracles led to the death of Laius and led to a plague until the killer was brought to justice. Therefore, the people of Thebes had no control over their lives and only lived based on what the oracles stated.
The characterization in the play Oedipus the King lead to the development of the plot and literary skills. Tiresius was a blind prophet in Thebes, and yet he saw the events of Laius death clearer than the prophets with perfect sight (Finglass, 2018). It is ironic that a blind man oversaw the inadvertent crimes by Oedipus yet Oedipus could not see his actions while working to avoid the prophecy. Jocasta and Oedipus show unwillingness to face the truth of their fate. The two are indifferent on the prophecy and show no apparent haste in ascertaining the way forward once the truth about their past came to light. Jocasta finally acted out and hung herself in the bedroom where Oedipus found her and took his eyesight with pins from her clothing. The characters advanced the themes of suffering and lament caused by a higher power, the oracles.
Oedipus the King narrates the life of Oedipus while advancing key themes and the plot. The life of Oedipus was controlled by fate, and the oracle dictated all his life experiences. The play places the oracles at the heart of Greek culture in the 400s BCE. The interactions between the characters develop the setting making Oedipus the King an exciting read.
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