Tag Archives: Seeing and Knowing

Oedipus Rex; a story adored and preserved by the perverse and the decadent

Homo sapiens is, as far as the mountain of evidence given to us by history suggests, a species of animal that quickly and easily becomes bored. Like a great many of the lesser creatures that we share our world with, when bored we either seek entertainment or become destructive; and in some extreme and famous cases (think Bonaparte), both. Which brings us to the point; Oedipus was not guilty of anything more than being prophesied to do exactly what he did, before he was even a twinkle in his father’s eye.  Whether right, wrong, or otherwise, his exact fate was foretold and none of his vain attempts to escape it did anything more than draw it closer. The problem therein lies in that we, as a species, gravitate most to stories that could be told of ourselves; images and words that we can vicariously live through to escape the dull, humdrum drudgery of our lives.

What, then, would the story of Oedipus say to a prospective patricide or mother-plougher?

Put into, say, the shoes of Emperor Nero a half-millennium later. Nero, as the adopted son of an Emperor, was taught the Greek Classics in word and theater from childhood and enjoyed the luxury of being the proprietor of the Imperial Box in the Colosseum,  Circus Maximus, and Grand Amphitheater (we do know, according to Pliny the Younger, that he would often take month-long trips what is now Nimes simply to watch his favourite troupes of actors congregate and perform for several days). He would, of course, have watched such a grand classic as Oedipus several, if not multitudes of times. Nero, of course, stood idly by as his mother poisoned his adopted father (and his brother Britannicus, the prior heir-apparent) and made frequent visits to her bed thereafter. Eventually, he grew tired of Agrippina’s intrigues and had her killed, drowning his soul ever deeper into the abyss. Yet, he remained mostly sane and hale for another decade, free of guilt in his words and deeds according to Pliny the Elder. Could he simply have interpreted, through the story of Oedipus, that his own actions were the will of Jupiter no matter how heinous they were, or might have been? That he was not at fault for succumbing to the leys and paths of fate? Nero, like many others, simply took the story of Oedipus a tad too seriously.

And let us examine another great patricidal name of history: Karadorde Petrovic of Serbia, the first Balkan-born man since Skanderbeg to defeat the Ottomans in pitched battle, and the inventor, one might say, of the concept of a free, independent Serbia. Fearing his father might betray him (a fleeing fugitive, guilty of murdering an Ottoman Aga who looked at his wife suggestively) to Ottoman authorities as they fled to Austria, he simply murdered Old Man Petrovic as he slept. No qualms, no regrets. Patricide, pure and simple, an action that Karadorde never let blemish his cause as he emulated Skanderbeg and fought both for and against the Ottomans over the course of his storied life. Replying to accusations of willful patricide to a defeated Dahi at the height of his uprising, he said: “Deus eam voluit.” God willed it. Fate, as it were, willed it. To a great extent, much the same argument put forth by Nero in reasoning his actions to others: I am a tool of fate, no more. My actions are not my own, no more so than Oedipus chose to happen upon his father at a crossroads and engaged in a deadly scuffle with the man. Right, wrong… who but Zeus, Jupiter, or God might make that judgement?

These are but two examples; how many decadent aristocrats have fallen into the Oedipal trap of callous apathy, of putting aside their morals by reasoning that their fate is simply what some deity hath laid down as their prophesied path? Macedonia, Sparta, Athens, Carthage, Rome, Ming China, Byzantium, The Holy Roman Empire, Portugal, Spain, France, The Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, Germany, the Soviet Union… the great hegemonic powers of the world all began and ended their decline into decadence when the aristocracy, the one-percenters of the imperium began wasting away in bloodthirsty, beastial excess. Excess, I say, that is fueled by stories such as Oedipus Tyrannus – or Oedipus Rex, one might equally argue – being recounted in body and word, era upon era upon generation upon generation, for simple entertainment. One must needs remember, after all, that the stories we read often and easily influence our character. And our character, in a vicious cycle, shapes what stories we tell of ourselves with our very deeds. Oedipus Tyrannus fa Rex is a story that exonerates patricide and incest as a thing of simple, uncontrollable fate; would people in latter times drawn to such things have not found considerable relief in that proposition? I say yes, yes they did. And still do, in some cases, today. Ave.

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