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Oedipus Rex Essay Examples

In Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King” which is a tragic play, which discusses the tragic discovery that Oedipus has killed his father and married his mother.  Oedipus is the embodiment 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 The Sphinx.  Sophocles used the riddle of The Sphinx as a metaphor for the 3 phases of Oedipus’ life and to further characterized him as a tragic hero.

The Sphinx posed the following riddle to all who came to obtain the rule over 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 he crawls on his hands and knees this is the first stage of Oedipus’ life 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 shepherd 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 at the weakest point in his life.  If it has not been for the shepherd sparing his life and giving him to Polybus to raise as his own Oedipus would have be killed.

Man walks on 2 feet shows the next stage of his life, 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 diligent in the inquiry and finally comes to the horrible truth that he himself is the murderer.  Jocasta kills herself at the horrible realization that she has laid with her son.  Oedipus puts out his eyes, at which time he finally sees 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 walk on 3, which man walks with at the end of his years.

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.
The statement that Joseph Campbell makes that defines a hero as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself,” I believe very much that this applies to the story of Oedipus the King.  He alone had to realize a life lesson and by doing so hurt himself and the ones he had loved.

Oedipus in his journey showed others that you must not physically open your eyes up, but as well open them in a fourth dimension, so to speak.  He realized that just because he could “see” did not mean he could understand and believe. Unknowingly Oedipus gives himself, because he has destroyed his life to show others that you must be willing to accept and believe.  Even thought we can’t call Oedipus a “hero” because he does not fit all the characteristics of a true hero, we call him a “tragic hero.”  He still did teach a lesson and by far gave himself to something bigger than himself.

He was a very self-confident, intelligent, and strong willed man.  Yet these were the very same traits that lead to his down fall.  He did not realize before it was to late that one must be humble and take the advice and teaching of others; even if it may seem to be impossible or not.  A hero can have all this traits and more, but with out the willingness of others to help and guide him they are nothing.  Campbell also states that a hero “can overcome dangers.”

Oedipus on more then one occasion shows that he can over came danger, first time we see this is when he meets up with his father, who he does not know to be his father at the time, and kills them all.  The second is when he is faced with the riddle of The Sphinx, and his very fate will be death unless the riddle is answered correctly.  He over takes The Sphinx by answering it correctly and becoming the king of Thebes.  One also can not help what dangers he must face after he has taken his own sight.  He leaves the kingdom of Thebes never to return again, with only the cloths on his back and a mer walking stick.  Life in those times was not to easy for the seeing let alone the blind.

In belief that one characteristic of a hero is that they are noble but not unflawed, Oedipus is one that is flawed.  Believing he is or if others believe him not to be might be another story.  He is very noble and honorable in his ways, yet his one of his flaws is the resistance that he will now let any one help or guide him.  This is very ironic considering after blinding himself he will need to depend on the aid of a walking stick.  Is flaw might not be one that is easily fixed or even fixable, but knowing it and working with or around it is another noble deed in it’s self.
He must have something in common with the meekest of people so we can see ourselves in him.

I feel that this element of a hero is a very broad one that can have more then just one meaning and understanding to others.  In the physical sense he was just like any common man, if he was wounded he would bleed, if something dear to him was taken away or killed he would feel sorrow and loss, as well as wanting revenge.  On there other side of matter and looking more into it then just a physical appearance.  Oedipus never knew his real parents and for some that is a life quest or journey the longing to find who you were created from.

This does hinder some people in respect that there is a void in that person’s life much as in the epic of The Odyssey.  Odysseus was looking for his home, there was a void in his life much like Oedipus had the void in his to find his home/parents.   Even if it is not said aloud people still have that part of their lives missing.  Making him part with some of the most meekest people, who would give up all there power, fame and glory just to be with there true family.

Oedipus leaves his social world more then once.  First, when he is born and then given the sentence of death, he is take to another kingdom.  Is second leaving is when he hears of the prophesy that he will kill his father and lay with his mother.  He leaves what has become to him his home and social life, making a quest into a lager realm or social world.  This also relates to the characteristic of going into depth, distance or even height.  He must travel many lands before he comes to his new country (his original birthplace.)  He also makes another long journey after he vows never to return to Thebes ever again.  This is also very ironic he starts his life out on a journey and he also ends it with a journey.

He is confronted with an obstacle with which will challenge his mental strength.  Before he can become king of Thebes or even enter the kingdom he must answer a riddle by The Sphinx or he will be killed.  He does, showing his mental endurance and nobility to the kingdom as well as himself.  Keeping in mind that this does not hold this to any age I believe that he also exhibits this when he must make the long journey as a baby into his new home of Corinth.

Overcoming a weakness in this case came a little too late for Oedipus, but I still see him in this light as a hero.  Even though he had to suffer and learn the hard way he was still able to come away with the knowledge and knowing of what should have been done.  His weakness was that of not being able to believe anything others told him or take warnings from others.  All heroes have weakness, that is why all is some way, time or place can be defeated.  That is why Oedipus is a hero because he realized his mistakes and even though he paid for it he will never let it hinder him again.

The next one is one that with out any doubt or questioning makes Oedipus a candidate for a hero, suffering beyond normal human endurance.  He not only suffers physically, but mentally as well. First he finds out that he has killed his father and if that wasn’t bad enough he finds out next that he has slept with his mother.  And on top of that he has had children with her.  Next after finding out that he has done all of this he takes a knife and cuts out his own eyes, never to see the light of day again.

The next one is a real toss up because when one gets help from another person they usually use it to benefit themselves or others around them. Teiresias does come to Oedipus and does warn him of the truth and the fate to come.  I don’t really in my eyes see this characteristic of hero to fit Oedipus because even though he listened to what Teiresias had to say he did not use the knowledge to help anything or anyone.

Acting out the role alone is something that Oedipus does thought out his whole life.  Never taking help or advice from anyone, which is his ultimately his flaw that causes him and his family the pain and suffering they all will endure.  Not relying on anyone else might have also made him the self-confident, intelligent, and strong willed person he had grown up to become.

He does not show any raised consciousness has his journey is progression.  We see a somewhat more in tuned and down to earth Oedipus during the climax right into the downfall of himself.  It is not until after the fate has be cared out does he see the ways of others and what he has done to cause this.  Though I would like to point out that if when he was born if his father King Laius had not been so blind and right away have him ordered to be kill none of this may have come true.

There is no real “boon” to return home with.  The thing that Oedipus does bring with himself for future knowledge is again the realizing that in his journey though life no matter how great, strong or even smart one person may be they do occasionally need to depend on others to get them though moments in there lives.  So on a personal level he might be a hero, but on a social level I don’t think many would place him in that category.

In “The Horns of Plenty,” there are two heroes the little boy and his friend the bull.  No even the boy realizes that he is a hero, but I think with the help of the bull he is able to go strong physically and mentally.  The bull is able to show that he is hero by performing deeds and confronting obstacles that challenge his mental and physical strength.  “The two huge creatures, charged and locked horns and slashed and kicked at each other.”  Now the bull did not have to do this, but he knew it was the only way to save himself and his friend the little boy.  Also showing that when his second fight comes that hie has something in common with the meekest of animals and is able to admit, “I must fight this second bull, but now I am tired and I shall not win.”  Knowing this ahead of time he knows he is not the greatest and also him being tired is one of his own flaws.

The boy is a hero and we can see this from the beginning when he leaves his social world to go out on his own, “I will leave these cruel people and never return.”  He also why in the presents of these cruel people must suffer beyond normal human endurance.  Going days with out food or sleep, being made fun of and beaten, “…beat the boy and turned him away.”  He also over comes his weakness and fear of being alone, “They boy was terrified to think that his friend would be killed and he would be left alone.”  At the very end of the story the boy receives assistance from his old friend, the bull.  “However, feel no fear.  When I am dead, take my horns and carry them with you….”  So this story has two heroes to it much like in today’s modern Batman and Robin, each of them helps one another to make sure that the there union has a team works to better others.

The Odyssey in its original state was written as an epic, was characterization of an epic is that it must be a long narrative poem on a great and serious subject. The Odyssey is both a long poem and on a serious subject, the journey of one mans yearning for home.  Also played around legendary events in history and great creatures he must overcome to near closer to his journey.  He faces the great war of Troy, with his cunningness he is able to win the war for his people.  Him, Odysseus as the main character and hero, play a great deal on the national and even cosmic importance of this story.  Taking place not just on one continent, but on a worldwide scale.  He travels to all ends of the planet to help seek his home.

This story has been passed down from generation to generation; sometimes parts are changed or even added.  Much like when Odysseus meets his son, he will now learn after waiting all these years the treats and secrets of his family.  This passing of knowledge is one of family ties and still is shown in today’s modern times.  Odysseus also learns to pay close attention to the instructions of the gods, or he might have to face a terrible price.  He receives help from the gods up above, guiding him and helping to make the right choices.  Not always is he willing to take and accept what they are telling him, but no the less he is being helped by them
Throughout his wanderings for home, Odysseus becomes a humbler and more respectful man. The once boastful man learns that his bragging can bring people against him, and is quieter than before he left for Troy. He also learns that the immortal gods of Olympus can be merciful and bring great prosperity, but they also punish those that disobey their wishes. Every time Odysseus has not been respectful he has been severely punished and his trip home delayed. Out of this great tragedy he has become a greater man to regain his kingdom and live a long life.

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