Oedipus and Tiresias, characters of Sophocles’ play “Oedipus Tyrannus,” are propelled to their individual destinies by their peculiar relationships with truth. Paranoid and quick to anger Oedipus, is markedly different from the confident and self-assured Tiresias. In the dialogue between the two men, Oedipus rapidly progresses from praise of Tiresias as a champion and protector of Thebes in line 304, to blatantly accusing the blind prophet of betraying the city in line 331, to angrily insulting him in line 334.
Rather than be intimidated by the protagonist’s title and temperament, Tiresias draws strength from what he knows is true and is able to stand his ground. In this play, power and strength come from the knowledge of truth. Ironically, blind Tiresias, who has the ability to see the truth, becomes enslaved to his own knowledge. Knowing the truth about Oedipus enlists him in the designs of fate as the catalyst of Oedipus’ destructive revelation. The prophet takes strength in knowing what he knows is true but, as he says in line 316, he is not able to profit from the knowledge.
Forced into dispute with the king of Thebes, by playing off of the anxieties of the main character, the simple power of knowing what another does not know protects Tiresias. Gradually Tiresias’ and Oedipus’ relationships with the truth are revealed as that of knowledge and ignorance, respectively. The anxieties that plague Oedipus, making him weak and prone to paranoia, are rooted in the obscurity of his origins. In response to accusations made by Oedipus, Tiresias declares that he is neither a conspirator in a scheme concocted by Oedipus’ paranoid mind, nor his supplicant.
Rather, Tiresias states that he is a slave of Loxias: the ambiguous one. In whatever manner the mechanics of Tiresias’ prophetic sight function, to understand the nature of truth, they must include deciphering the ambiguous. As a true slave of Loxias, he is incapable of directly telling Oedipus the truth but always speaks enigmatically. An extreme annoyance to Oedipus, such seemingly vague speech may be the only way that the truth may be expressed. Tiresias is thus fluent in the language of truth and is speaking to Oedipus, who claims to excel in deciphering riddles, in the clearest manner.
Tiresias knows who Oedipus’ parents are, and he knows that the revelation of Oedipus’ genealogy will cause the foundations of Oedipus’ identity to crumble, simultaneously destroying one man and causing another man to come into being. As he states in line 438: “This day shall give you birth and destroy you. ” Consigned to his fate by the ignorance of his birth, Oedipus’ realization of the truth brings Tiresias’ prophecy to fruition. Knowing too late what should have been the foundation of his strength, the basic knowledge of his personal identity, destroys what he thought he was and brings to light his wretchedness.
Although for Sophocles’ characters it is an unambiguous fact that, Oedipus is: the murderer of his father, a husband to his mother, and a brother to his children. For the audience, it is possible to view the murderous and incestuous truth as another ambiguity. Drawing from a sense of utter repulsion for the acts of such a situation, a situation that destroys the seemingly unquestionable boundaries of familial roles, one may wish to conclude that Oedipus’ actions are against what is natural. However, the roles of kinship are not etched in stone.
As human beings, only truly separated from one another by gender, we are all in the same situation as Oedipus. Throughout our lives we are given titles and designations that are supposed to tell us who we are, but Sophocles’ may be affirming that the only real designations that can be made are the most basic: male and female. Human beings are both created and create. What then is a son, a husband, a father, and a brother but a man? It may be that human instinct is to become the dominant male, or in another situation the dominant female, and to procreate.
Thus, it would follow that the boundaries against patricide and incest are created by society not nature. Two people completely alone, regardless of their societal relationships are to one another, are simply two people. Such an answer most certainly does not satisfy every one. Instead one might state that the sharp twinge of repulsion that many feel for Oedipus, upon reading the play for the first time, occurs because of the scenarios assault upon an instinctual sense of natural boundaries that are inherent to human beings.
Whatever the answer may be, for many people it seems more probable that, if mother and son or father and daughter were the sole survivors on earth, the prospect of preserving of the human race would not stand a chance. A disgusting pioneer in the realm of carnal truth, by the end of the play, Oedipus encompasses many different titles. Not really knowing who his parents are causes him to doubt himself. Told he is a bastard Oedipus goes to the oracle at Delphi. There, Oedipus is told his life’s prophecy.
Disregarding the reason he originally went to the oracle, he runs away from his assumed parents, to the fulfillment of the Oracles’ prophecy. In Oedipus’ mind, leaving the people he thought were his father and mother destroys the power of the prophecy. Through such isolation Oedipus believes that he has solidified the roles of father, mother, and son. Nevertheless, removing his presumed parents from his life only served to destroy any remaining sight Oedipus may have had. Ironically, Oedipus taunts Tiresias with the prophet’s own blindness, in line 389.
Truth in “Oedipus Tyrannus,” is a powerful force the strength of which may only be felt by knowing. To know one’s self, to know one’s carnal truth, is the foundation of personal strength. Oedipus and Tiresias are enslaved men who are driven by their particular interpretations of the seemingly ambiguous truth. As blind men, who both have an ability to see, they are also two sides of the same coin. Flicked into the air by fate, it is Tiresias’ knowledge that preserves him, and Oedipus’ initial ignorance that lands him in the dirt.