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Word Count: 710
Sophocles "Oedipus the King" is a tragic play which discusses the
tragic discovery of Oedipus that he has killed his father and married
his mother. The story of Oedipus was well known to the athenian’s.
Oedipus is the embodiement of the perfect Athenian. He is
self-confident, intelligent, and strong willed. Ironically these are the
very traits which bring about his tragic discovery. Oedipus gained
the rule of Thebes by answering the riddle of Sphinx. Sophocles
used the riddle of the sphinx as a metaphor for the 3 phases of
Oedipus’ life and to futher characterized him as a tragic man.
The Sphinx posed the following riddle to all who came to obtain the
rule of thebes: "What is it that walks on 4 feet and 2 feet and 3 feet
and has only one voice, when it walks on most feet it is the
weakest?" Oedipus correctly answered "Man" and became the king
of Thebes. This riddle is a metaphor for the life of Oedipus. As a
child man crawls on his hands and knees this is the four feet to
which the Sphinx refers. Also man is at his weakest as a small child.
He depends solely on others for his nourishment and well being.
Oedipus was the child of Jocasta and King Laius who was taken to
the mountain by a shepard to be killed so the omen of the god
apollo that Laius’ son would kill him and lay with Jocasta would not
come true. Oedipus was the weakest of his life at this point. If it has
not been for the shepard spairing his life and giving him to Polybus
to raise as his own Oedipus would have died.
Man walks on 2 feet when he has matured. This is a metaphor for
Oedipus when he reaches adulthood and leaves Corinth to escape
the oracle. Oedipus meets up with a band of travelers and in a rage
kills them. Inadvertently Oedipus has killed his own father. Oedipus
then answers the riddle of the sphinx and becomes king of Thebes.
By becoming king of Thebes he marries Jocasta the Queen of thebes
and his own mother. Many years later after bearing children with
Jocasta a plague kills many of the inhabitants of Thebes. Oedipus is
told by the gods to find the killer of Laius. He is very dilligent in the
inquiriy and finally comes to the horrible truth that he himself is the
murderer. Jocasta kills herself at the horrible realization that she has
layed with her son and Oedipus puts out his eyes at finally seeing
the truth. This fulfills the final part of the Sphinx’s riddle for Oedipus
will have to walk with a cane for the rest of his life because of his
blindness, this will give him the 3 feet which man walks with at the
end of his years.
Oedipus used his intellect and diligence to answer the riddle of the
Sphinx. Many of the most intelligent young men of thebes has been
killed attempting to answer the riddle but Oedipus proved his
intelligence superior to theirs. Oedipus uses the same intelligence
and perseverence to find the killer of Laius. He does not give up his
search even when Jocasta warns him to stop and let the matter rest.
He calls the shepard and interrogates him till he discovers the
horrifying truth that he is the killer. Oedipus’ intelligence was
ultimately his flaw. Also, if Oedipus had not had been as
coarageous he would have have never ventured to answer the riddle
of the Sphinx. Thus even though he had killed his father he would
have never become king of Thebes and laid with his mother. In
addition, if Oedipus had had the courage but not the intelligence the
Spinx would have killed him for answering the riddle incorrectly.
Sophocles used this to characterized Oedipus as a tragic man for he
came about his tragic discovery not because of an evil act or an evil
trait but because of the person he was. Oedipus traits which gave
him riches and power ultimately led to his tragic ending. Also, the
god apollo did not predestine that Oedipus would kill his father and
marry his mother by the oracle, he only stated what he knew was
inevitable because of who Oedipus was.
The sphinx’s riddle was used by Sophocles to characterize Oedipus
as a tragic man and as a parallel to his life. The riddle describes the 3
stages which Oedipus went through in his life. Also in answering
the riddle Oedipus inevitable brought about his own tragic ending
by a horrible discovery.
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Greek mythology, Literature, Mythology, Oedipus, Jocasta, Sophocles, Operas, Polybus of Corinth, Laius, Sphinx, The Infernal Machine, dipe
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