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Sophocles’ tragedy “Oedipus the King”

In Sophocles’ tragedy “Oedipus the King”, Oedipus proclaims ” it was I who have pronounced these curses on myself” (Madden 37). With this announcement, Oedipus is aware that his pursuit for order has led to a life of chaos. The central thesis is that the presumption of order establishes physical, intellectual, and spiritual chaos. The text’s reference to the sphinx, Oedipus, and Tiresias creates this notion. These three literal signifiers are the metaphoric symbolizers of physical, intellectual, and spiritual chaos.

The concept of physical chaos is first introduced during the first speech of the riest when reference is made to the “harsh singer” (Madden 37), the sphinx. In greek mythology, the sphinx is recognised as a hybrid creature with a woman’s head, a lion’s body, an eagle’s wings, and a serpent’s tail. In reality, “the virgin with the crooked talons” (Madden 48), is a unique archetype for many things in one single being. The sphinx is an epitome of destruction and chaos who establishes “the tax [they] had to pay [her]” (Madden 17) because she devourers all who fail to answer her riddle.

Her domination of Thebes causes havoc and melancholic responses that are directly related to the degree of her physical chaos. The confrontation between Oedipus and the sphinx ends with the latter destroying herself, “the winged maiden came against him: he was seen then to be skilled” (Madden 29), due to Oedipus answering her riddle. By destroying herself, the sphinx makes it possible for the oracles to come true. With her reign of terror at an end, the sphinx makes it possible for Oedipus to continue with his life in pursuit of order.

Chaos is established because of the opportunity for the prophecies to become an actuality. The physical appearance of the sphinx and her self- destruction foreshadow chaos for Oedipus in the near future. As the sphinx is the measure of highest physical chaos, so Oedipus is a measure of utmost intellectual chaos. Oedipus, being the king of Thebes, portrays qualities that signify intelligence, fortitude, and freedom from doubt.

Oedipus’ intelligence is prominent upon knowledge of his ill faith; Oedipus, in his present state of mind, interprets the prophecies made to him literally. This course of action assists in the accomplishment of the oracles. “[Phoebus] said [Oedipus] would be [his] mother’s lover, show offspring to mankind [that] they could not look at, and be his [father’s] murderer. When [Oedipus] heard this, and ever ince, [he] gauged the way to Corinth by the stars alone, running to a place where [he] would never see the disgrace in the oracle’s words come true. ” (Madden 37).

By trying to set down a systematic life, Oedipus ironically commits the “wretched horrors” (Madden 37) he intends to avoid, thus coming to the realization that “[he] struck them with his hand”(Madden 52). Oedipus answers the riddle of the sphinx “and stopped her-by using thought” (Madden 26). By doing so, Oedipus’ reward for freeing Thebes was the throne and the hand in marriage of the widowed Jocasta. His intelligence-driven fulfilment of the prophecies induced chaos because [her] riddle wasn’t for a man chancing by to interpret, prophetic art was needed” (Madden 26).

The realization that “[he has] pronounced these curses on [himself]” (Madden 37) depicts how Oedipus establishes intellectual chaos because the choices he makes to secure order in his life strangely enough provoke a chaotic time to come. The mention of Tiresias in the play signifies spiritual chaos. He is a blind but wise prophet who “sees more [… ] than Lord Phoebus” (Madden 24). Tiresias knows the truth about Oedipus and states: “he’ll be shown a father who is also brother; to the ne who bore him, son and husband; to his father, his seed-fellow and killer” (Madden 28).

Tiresias has “the strength of the truth” (Madden 25) and chaos evolves when he does not speak of the truth he knows. With this, Oedipus accuses him of being “[part] of [the] plot [to murder Laius]” (Madden 26), when in reality, “[Oedipus is the] enemy” (Madden 27). Tiresias is blind due to natural causes, but when Oedipus tries to achieve his level of wisdom, all that is obtained is chaos. “[H]e snatched the pins [… ] and struck [them] into [his eyeballs]” (Madden 50) in attempt to see spiritually.

Tiresias deceives Oedipus unintentionally into believing that wisdom can be achieved by blindness; Tiresias says: “since you have thrown my blindness at me: Your eyes can’t see the evil to which you’ve come” (Madden 27). This incident depicts how Tiresias’ order establishes chaos for Oedipus. Acquiring order cannot exist without the concept of chaos. The realization that order leads to chaos manifests man’s pursuit for an unreachable end. The challenge to accomplish a life of order involves smart decision making, and this process is essential for physical, intellectual and spiritual chaos.

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