In Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, destiny persecutes Oedipus as it demonstrates elements such as his hubris that is exemplified through his behavior, his tragic flaws that is hamartia and the reversal of his tragic discovery that leads him to fulfill the prophecy. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, the author depicts Oedipus’ tragic flaw of hubris through his kingship in Thebes. His pride qualifies as Aristotle’s concept of a tragic character.
Aristotle’s tragic character is defined as a character that must occupy a high status and also embody virtues. Aristotle defines Oedipus’ hubris as “his excessive pride that causes the hero to ignore a divine warning break of moral law” (Aristotle 43). Oedipus is confident about solving the murder of king Laius. His character’s self-belief is exemplified through this quote; “by the mouth of messengers, I have myself came hither, Oedipus, known far and wide by name (Sophocles 1)”.
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This demonstrates how Oedipus is confident in his popularity, because he was the one who solved the Sphinx’s riddle and therefore believes that he deserves immediate respect and recognition. Oedipus illustrates himself as being the only intelligent one in all of Thebes, “with [his] readiness to afford all aid; hard hearted must [he] be (Sophocles 1)”. This passage clearly exhibits his arrogance as it also clarifies his hubris, which, in in end, leads to his downfall.
Furthermore, he speaks to people in a pretentious manner; “what you come see is known already – not unknown to me (Sophocles 3)”. This once again acts as an addition to Aristotle’s concept of hubris. Oedipus permits himself to freely behave with a highly conceded attitude that is exemplified through “Come to each singly; by at my once groans for the city, and for myself, and you,” (Sophocles 3). The structure of this quote indicates Oedipus’ high attitude towards the problems that dawn upon Thebes. Instead of showing his audience that his primary concerns re of himself, his focus is the security of the town. In doing so, it displays the tenacity of his pride and thinking he can save the city of Thebes by himself, yet also displaying his dedication, which can be seen as a heroic quality: “I [am] confident, nor prone to fear (Sophocles 4)”. His hubris is once again exemplified when questioning the blind man, Tiresias. This man is known to only speak the truth, and when threatened by Oedipus to express that knowledge about the murder, it leads to a tragedy, rather than enlightenment, in this plot.
Tiresias reveals the truth to Oedipus because of his perseverance in uncovering the truth. As he lets his hubris blurry his sight by believing he was lied to by Tiresisas and Creon because he thinks he is too virtuous to have committed such actions. Oedipus rejects all possibilities of such and rather refers to it as a plan to try and throw him off his reign: “For you would rouse a very stone to wrath – will you not speak out ever but stand thus relentless and persistent (Sophocles 13)”.
This passage shows that there is a lingering fear within the king’s mind. He uses the excuse that they are trying to overthrow him because he was the one who solved the riddle of the sphinx, which potentially means they were jealous of his position. Oedipus believes that by tricking him, they would reign over Thebes. Oedipus’ negligence in accepting responsibility, along with his surplus of pride leads to his refusal in accepting the truth and instead opts to blame others. Tiresias tells him “ you censure; but your own, at home, you see not, and blame me! Sophocles 13)”: this shows that Tiresias has had it with Oedipus’ hubris and him not being able to accept the truth, foreshadowing that Oedipus’ greatness is a tragic harbinger of his fall. Oedipus pushed himself into his fate which destruction is brought upon him through his ruthless means and arrogance. Oedipus’ hubris is portrayed through his thoughts, words and actions which eventually begin to work against him. Oedipus’ egoism leads him to think that he is perfect in everything, however, his superior attitude leads him to what Aristotle defines as one of the key points of a tragedy; hamartia.
Aristotle’s meaning of hamartia is defined as “the change of fortune should be not from bad to good, reversely from good to bad. It should come about as the result not of vice, but of some great error or frailty in a character either such as we have described or better rather than worse (Aristotle 23). In Oedipus’ case, hamarita is seen when he wants to know the truth but also plays a role in leading to his downfall . The notion of hamartia is seen during Oedipus’ discussion with Tiresias: when the blind prophet reveals the truth to him.
Oedipus disagrees with Tiresias’ statement, as he proclaims, “For I shall not be found a murderer (Sophocles 21)”. This passage indicates that he can’t be seen as the man who has killed the former king, although his determined search for the truth will uncover to him that that is exactly what he is. Because of this discussion, Tiresias abandons the scene thereby leaving Oedipus alone in his frustration, “this be the last time I shall gaze on thee, who am revealed to have nee born of those of whom I ought not – to have wedded whom I ought to be – and slain who I might not slay! (Sophocles 42)”.
Oedipus believes he has evaded fate, but ironically he has fulfilled everything the oracle had explained to him, and it is is hamartia, his search for the truth that has pushed him to these realizations. Subsequently, he consults his wife Jocasta by telling her that Tiresias condemned him and revealed his prophecy. Jocasta, already knowing the truth, attempts to persuade him by giving up his search. However, because of his hamartia, Oedipus does not stop his search he continues with his attempts at finding out the truth about the prophecy of him killing his father and sleeping with his mother.
This is seen as Oedipus’ annoyance of the truth, “more miserable than I am? Who on earth could have been born with more of hate from heaven? (Sophocles 29)”. This passage shows Oedipus’ realization that perhaps the prophet was right. “I am at the horror (Sophocles 41)”, indicates that Oedipus, beginning to panic, decides to consult the old man who knows the events. His hamartia is that which compels him to do so. However, the prophet refuses to say anything, so Oedipus says, “tell me the whole truth, or you will come to it! (Sophocles 41)”.
Oedipus is once again arrogant in discovering the truth, but still seeks it. The old man, threatened for his life, begins to tell the tale of the patricide, “…and I hear. But I must hear – no less (Sophocles 41)”. The truth is out there now; Oedipus has uncovered the mystery of the murderer. It is Oedipus’ actions that bring things into motion, but it is his fate, pride and his hamartia, as he relentlessly wants the truth, that lead him to his downfall. Oedipus’ ignorance comes from his fear concerning the appalling horror of the possible truth and its devastating implications.
This falls into the category of Aristotle’s concept in what makes a good tragedy; peripeteia. Aristotle defines it as the “reversal of the situation [which] is a change by which the action veers round to its opposite” (Aristotle 20). This concept is the reversal of a situation, which is the transition from ignorance to knowledge. The situations encompass scenes of suffering and of painful actions. In Oedipus’ case, his downfall is where he finally realizes that his prophecy of “self-slain” (Sophocles 44) was predestined to occur.
Peripeteia, necessary for a complex plot, occurs when he realizes this, as we see in that quote. By this truth being actually understood, all consequences fall into place for Oedipus. First off, Jocasta, Oedipus’ wife and mother, knew the truth about Oedipus all along; she even pierced his tendons when he was younger so he couldn’t run away when she put him in a forest. After she found out that Oedipus discovered the truth, she locked herself in the bedroom alone and hung herself, “for whom it was impossible to watch, the ending of her misery (Sophocles 45)”.
Oedipus is slowly introduced to the miseries of this truth; “say where he could find his wife – no wife, rather the [dead-corpse] of his mother (Sophocles 45)”. With his mother/wife dead, he could no longer handle the outcome of what his life came to be, so he no longer knows how to act, and is compelled to doing the most extreme of actions: “what followed; snatching from her dress gold pins wherewith she was adorned, he lifted them, and smote the nerves of his own eyeballs, saying that they should see no more (Sophocles 45)”.
Oedipus could not put up with the realization; so instead, he opted to remove his sight. He could no longer bear the physical world and chose to focus on the psychological torment that accompanies the contemplation of the truth: “What deity was it that with a leap so great – farther than farthest – sprang on thy sad fate? Woe is me, woe is me for thee – unfortunate! (Sophocles 46)”. As blood is shrieking out of his eyes, he blinds himself in agony, demonstrating that nothing is worse than looking at the miserable truth.
The irony is that even though he no longer has sight; he can now finally see the truth of the prophecy. As said when he was king, whoever the murderer was to be exiled from Thebes, so in order to fulfill this statement, he asks Creon, the new king “lead me to exile straight; Lead me, O my friends, the worst of murderers, or mortals most accurst, yea and to Gods chief object of their hate. (Sophocles 48)”. In addition to the demand of exile, he also asks Creon to take care of his daughters, as he can no longer bear the sight f them: “Knowing what is left of bitter in the life which at men’s hands you needs must henceforth live (Sophocles 53)”.
This shows that Oedipus is talking to his daughters and telling them the truth, which is that no one will want to marry them because they were born from an incestuous marriage and because of this, they will be excluded from this society: the horrors of his actions cease to stop. Oedipus is then exiled from the city, expressing “to Gods, above all men, I am a mark for hat (Sophocles 53)”. Oedipus loses his sight and family, exiled from the city of Thebes, but gains the truth and lives in humility.
Oedipus’ hubris was a mixture of rage and pride that unfortunately was possessed. The Greeks believed that this sin was grave and one of the most dangerous because people with such pride thought that they were above the Gods. Seeing that Oedipus’ arrogance is so strong as a consequent it led to his downfall. Therefore the result of hubris led him to a tragic fate. It is only when Oedipus’ plucks out his eyes that he returns to a human state. Oedipus’ character brings out his hubris, hamartia and recognition that enable it to fit under the concept of Aristotle’s complex plot.
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