Oedipus Rex: Arrogance is Blindness

These short, twisted, tragic plays really are brilliant. First Medea, then Oedipus The King. After a meandering doctrine such as Plato’s, I sometimes feel like I get just as much (albeit very differently) from Sophocles, in less than 100 pages.

Although Oedipus Rex is it’s own distinct play, i’ve started to notice a number of similar themes running through the Greek tragedies. I suppose this is not too surprising, considering the way in which all these playwrights had convened under similar laws and times. However it’s still interesting to note recurring ideas. They all seem to gain a more worldy significance. Anyway, a prominent one is the dramatic shift from greatness to pitiful shame and general awfulness. Just like Medea or Jason, Oedipus begins as a self regarding person, in this case a king, with a history of pride and power. (killing a whole caravan because one fellow hit him with a staff.) He presents himself as caring about his citizens and willing to do anything for their well-being. When blamed for a murder, however, he is quick to put fault on anyone else. Even though he doesn’t know his crime, he runs on the assumption that he cannot, could not ever be wrong. It must be somebody else.

Like Medea, and like a vast amount of other stories, there is also some clever commentary on the state of mankind. There is a line on page 215 that I read over more than once. “What should a man fear? It’s all chance, chance rules our lives… better to live ate random.” This connotes to the cliche, modern day saying of “things happen”, but something about this play being written in the 400’s BC gives it some added weight. This develops into what was my favorite part of the play: grappling with the idea of fate and destiny. Part of the play seems to be saying you can’t escape it. Despite out best intentions, fate will play out just as it has been prophesized. But there is something a bit more subtle that is even more interesting. I may be misled, but the ideas of fate and ones own actions, ones free will, seem to be blended together in what I feel is an important way. Oedipus is given choices, and his arrogance drives him to make the “wrong” decisions. These decisions lead to utter ruin. Is Sophocles saying that our arrogance is what, in the end makes us blind? When Oedipus stabbed his eyes out at the end, I think Sophocles was simply making a metaphor real, making sure we really got it. I think Sophocles is saying that arrogance and power can make one “blind.”


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