Oedipus-Concepts of Sight
The concept of sight is one of the major motifs throughout Sophocles play Oedipus the King. The play revolves primarily around series of events caused by many peoples insight or lack there of. Oedipus does not see that he is caught up in a web of cruel destiny that he can not escape. The gods demonstrate foresight and insight into the play. In addition to this, Tiresias has physical blindness but also has prophetic insight. Finally, both Oedipus and Jocasta portray types of mental blindness and shortsightedness.
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These are all examples of different uses of sight in the play Oedipus the King. Oedipus is a hero, but sometimes he can not see the reality of this. He goes into states where he lacks mental insight, making rash decisions without thinking about the future or consequences. One of his biggest downfalls because of this shortsightedness is that he does not realize that his destiny is solely in the hands of the gods. After Oedipus is told as a young boy about the prophecy of his life, he can not “see” how he is destined to marry his mother and kill his father.
Furthermore, because of his lack of insight he truly believes that he can move without the Oracles prophecy following him. No matter what Oedipus does, he has no control over what the gods have predetermined. The gods also punish the people of Thebes with hard times since it is these people who brought Oedipus into the land as their king. The gods do this in order to make the people see through Oedipus extreme pride and quick temper. The gods apparently think that the only way to get them to see what Oedipus has done is by causing the city pain and suffering.
The gods use their insight to affect Oedipus life, family and city. Although the gods do not initially favor Oedipus, his kingdom sees him as a noble ruler. Oedipus pride prevents him from seeing the truth and this leads to his great fall. His pride forces him to kill his father because he refuses to pay a toll and give up the right of way. Oedipus is so blinded by his pride that he can not accept the fact that he can not avoid his fate placed upon him by the gods. It is because he is not perfect and has these tragic flaws that in the end makes him a tragic hero.
The greatest of his flaws happens to be his excessive pride and self-righteousness. Had Oedipus not listened to his pride, he could have avoided some of the humiliation and he would not have fallen from power in such a tragic manner. Another ironic concept of sight in the play is found through Tiresias, the blind prophet. This is an oxymoron in itself. Tiresias is a wise old man who exhibits supernatural powers to interpret the past and predict the future. The fact that Tiresias is blind makes his visionary powers appear even more mysterious.
This leads Oedipus to doubt Tiresias ability to see the truth. Had Oedipus not had so much pride, he would have understood the truth of Tiresias. Tiresias uses puzzling predictions to make men ponder about themselves. He does this to Oedipus by asking him to consider himself the murderer of Laios. He describes the murderer of Laios as “blind instead of seeing, beggar instead of rich, he will make his way to foreign soil, feeling his way with a stick” (31). This is great foresight on behalf of Tiresias. All of these things will later come true when Oedipus falls from power and blinds himself.
It is Tiresias who is the first person to tell Oedipus that he has killed his own father. He tells Oedipus “You do not see the evil in which you live” (25). It takes a blind prophet to see that it is Oedipus who has murdered Laius. Even so, Oedipus states ” You are blind, your ears and mind as well as eyes” (25). Therefore, when Oedipus insults Tiresias and accuses him of being a false prophet, he is also attacking the gods. This shortsighted decision made by Oedipus can cause no good. If what Tiresias has said is true, then Oedipus is quickly sealing his own doom by insulting the gods furthermore.
Tiresias has a very different type of sight than that of Oedipus. Tiresias can see the truth even while blinded, whereas Oedipus can physically see but he is blinded by his own shortsightedness. Jocasta shows mental blindness when she fails to realize that the prophecy has come true. Jocasta keeps ignoring the signs, ironically blinded by shortsightedness just as her son/husband Oedipus. At the same time, Oedipus is beginning to see how his shortsightedness has sealed his fate. He must face up to the fact that in a moment of anger, he threatened harsh punishment on whoever killed Laios.
Once again, Oedipus has been blinded by his own quick temper and poor judgements as he now realizes that the punishment only applies to him. When Jocastas eyes are finally open to the truth, she returns to the house and shortly thereafter kills herself. She does this because she can not believe that she had been so blind as to think that the prophecy will not come true. She is fully aware that all of Oedipus troubles have been caused by the blind way she and Laius handled the Oracles prophecy. She does not want to have to live with the double fruit of her marriage, a husband by her husband and children by her child.
Ironically, at the beginning of the play Oedipus is lacking mental insight, but when he finally gains foresight into the situation, he blinds himself. He does this because he believes that he carries the entire fault of all the events that have happened. While he is totally innocent of everything but his predetermined destiny, he can not endure the sight of what he has inadvertently caused. ” You will not see, he said, The horrors I have suffered and done. Be dark forever now-eyes that saw those you should not have seen, and failed to recognize those you longed to see ” (93).
He takes responsibility for blinding himself saying that he can not bear to see the “horror everywhere” in his actions. Athenian law condemns parricide and incest, so Oedipus has broken the most sacred of their moral laws. While others would have been punished by death or exiled for their crimes, it is decided that Oedipus will only be exiled since he acted in innocence without knowledge of his actions. As a result of his actions, it is now apparent that Oedipus has lost everything of importance: his kingdom, his family, and his happiness.
In the beginning of Oedipus the King, Oedipus is portrayed as an admired and respected ruler. By the end of the play, he has been stripped of his political power, has blinded himself, and has exited as a broken man. All these different uses of the concept of sight are found in Sophocles play Oedipus the King. Oedipus is noble in taking full responsibility for his troubled past, even though his troubles have been caused by Laius and Jocastas blind way of handling their problems. With a little help from the gods, who did not hold Oedipus in favor, his blind choices and quick temper lead to his great fall.
Even though Oedipus is not physically blind like Tiresias, he is blind to the actuality of the actions of his life. Because of this, it is ironic that Oedipus is morally blind when physically he can see. When Oedipus finally sees the truth, he realizes he is morally blind and then physically blinds his eyes. He realizes that his destiny is in the hands of the gods, and there was nothing he could do to change that. These are all different concepts of sight that revolve around the story of Oedipus.