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Oedipus and Socrates

In Platos Five Dialogues and Sophocles Oedipus Rex, mans actions for the greater good of the city-state can lead to horrible consequences for the individual. Both Socrates and Oedipus carry out what they believe to be their duty for their city. Socrates believes that his actions are just and proper, but when viewed by the city-state as a whole his actions are looked at as counter-productive and ill advised to the youth of the society. Oedipus on the other hand hasnt done anything to harm his people. Following his decision making regarding the murder of his father, he ends up as an enemy of the state, ecause he has become an enemy to himself.

Both having to suffer the consequences for their actions, they remain to uphold their loyalty to their respective city-states. Being one of the greatest thinkers in history, Socrates tried to spread his wisdom by supporting the greater good of the city-state, the youth. When questioning Meletus, Socrates tries to justify his expansion of education by referring to horses. Do “all men improve them and one individual corrupts them? Or is quite the contrary true, one individual is able to improve them, or very few, namely horse breeders, whereas the majority, if they have orses and use them, corrupt them? (Plato 30).

Is it possible for one man to work and corrupt all the youth? Is it possible for one man to even reach all of societys youth? It can clearly be established that the teachings of one man cannot harm the city, but only make people greater. There are even more examples of Socrates upholding his beliefs for nothing more then the benefit of the city. While serving as a member of the Council, during the investigation of the ten naval generals, Socrates was the only dissenting member “of the presiding committee to oppose your [the council] doing something contrary to the laws” Plato 36).

For acting in this licit manner he was ready to be prosecuted by the council and accept his consequences. It can easily be seen that Socrates was never looked at as an equal. To make matters only worse, when tried by Meletus his belief in the gods was raised. Meletus brought up the point that Socrates did not believe in gods at all. Although Socrates never completely answers Meletus question he does justify his beliefs. Socrates never directly states that he believes in gods, but he does say that ” he believes in divine beings” and “if divine beings are gods” then he must believe in the gods hemselves (Plato 32).

Another point that Meletus failed to recognize is that Socrates belief in these divine beings motivated his actions and teachings. For Socrates believed that his reason for being put on this planet was to serve as an instrument of the gods and broaden the understanding of knowledge. If indeed Socrates was corrupting the youth then “be sure that this is what the god orders [him] to do” (Plato 35). Socrates had no choice in the life he was leading, because “he was attached to the city by the god” and “there is no greater blessing for the city than [his] service to the god” (Plato 35).

Following the decision to send Socrates to his death, he is not at all upset or surprised at the 501-member jurys decision. Remaining calm in the manner that Socrates is so well regarded, he is still able to pay respect for his city. While being visited in prison by his “old and faithful friend, Crito” Crito proposes the possibility of Socrates escape from prison (Plato 45). Whether it would have been better for Socrates to escape or nor, he raises the point”that one must obey the commands of ones city and country” thus making the ultimate sacrifice to prove his obedience to the citys decision (Plato 3).

When being compared to Socrates, Oedipus actions reflect the same dedication to the state as was seen by those of Socrates. First of all while in the presence of “that hellcat the Sphinx” Oedipus was the only person to rise above the rest and save the city. No bird or even god stood in the way of the Sphinx, yet Oedipus was able to. By this single act alone he shows all the homage and devotion to his city that one should even need to. “Oedipus, the simple man, who knows nothing… thought it out for [him] self” (Sophocles 21) and was able to avoid whatever lied ahead. Now being king Oedipus has many different roles to play.

He is a leader and also a companion to the citizens of his kingdom. Oedipus does not worry about the state in which his citizens see him, since “it is for them [he] suffers, more than for [him] self” (Sophocles 7). Oedipus tries to bury his own emotions and instead shows his empathy for his citizens, but it is too much for him to control. “Poor children… I know that you are deadly sick; and yet, sick as you are, not one is as sick as I. Each of you suffers in himself alone his anguish, not anothers; but my spirit groans or the city, for myself, for you” (Sophocles 5).

These actions of clemency display Oedipus ability as a ruler to care and relate with the masses. Demonstrating his care for the masses and acting as a wise king would Oedipus focused on the need for discovering a solution for the plague. Oedipus “sent Creon, son of Menoikeus, brother of the Queen, to Delphi, Apollos place of revelation, to learn there, if he can, what act or pledge… may save the city” (Sophocles 6). Upon Creons return, Oedipus learns that “Apollo commands us… to take revenge upon whoever killed” our former king Laios (Sophocles 8).

With the penalties of death or exile established for the murderer, Oedipus now knows the course of action that he needs to follow. While having a conversation with his wife Iocaste, Oedipus investigates the series of events surrounding King Laios death. As the conversation proceeds, more and more of the details that only he would know become apparent. Oedipus has killed his own father and now must suffer. “Citizens and alien alike must never shelter me or speak to me- I must be shunned by all. And I myself pronounced this malediction upon myself” (Sophocles 42).

Oedipus now being the killer has to properly execute he sentence, thereby freeing the citizenry of the plague that has been sent upon them by the gods. Similar to Socrates and Critos conversation in Socrates jail cell Iocaste pleads with Oedipus to reconsider his decision. Reacting as Socrates did, Oedipus rejects the suggestion to forego his punishment and has nothing more to say than “I will not listen; the truth must be made known” (Sophocles 55). As his punishment is realized, Oedipus understanding that his course of action has brought great shame to himself and his city, decries “lead me away from Thebes” (Sophocles 70).

Oedipus nderstands that in order to protect the citizens and obey the laws of the city that this outcome must be realized. “This punishment that I have laid upon myself is just” (Sophocles 71) thereby maintaining the laws of the city higher than his own life. It is certain now that in the cases of Socrates and Oedipus, their loyalty to their city far surpassed that of their self-preservation or any hidden agenda. What have we learned about these two men? Socrates is dead and Oedipus is a sightless exile, yet their city-states remain strong in their determination to maintain the justice of society.

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