Many modern day novels conquer the topic of self discovery. They delve into a seemingly endless search for one’s self to try and explain the purpose of soul searching. This journey that people take to find out who they are and what they are here for is the main theme of many popular books. Novels that cover this topic are popular because almost everyone has been on this search. It is not only present day novels that cover this frustration and many times confusing question. The search for self was the main theme in Sophocles’s play, Oedipus Rex written in 430 B.
C. Oedipus finds himself questioning who he is and where he came from. The play is still popular today because of its philosophical questions, suspenseful plot and the many ironies within the play. When the play begins, Oedipus is confident of who he is and his place in society. He solved the riddle of the sphinx and is the ruler of Thebes. “I have myself come hither, Oedipus, known far and wide by name. ” (Oedipus p1) He thinks he knows who is parents are and where he came from; “I am the son of Polybus of Corinth, and of a Dorian mother, Merope. (Oedipus p28) It is only after the townspeople of THebes start to get sick,and they discover the murder of Laius,that Oedipus begins his great search. Oedipus vows to his subjects that he will find the contaminator of Thebes, not knowing that he has brought on the sickness of the people; “So shall you see me, as of right, with you, venging this country and the God together.
Why, ’tis not for my neighbour’s sake, but mine, I shall dispel this plague-spot; for the man, whoever it may be, who murdered him, lightly might hanker to serve me the same. I benefit myself in aiding him. (Oedipus p6) With that vow he unknowingly starts his search for who he is. Oedipus starts the search for the murderer by sending for Tiresia, “the godlike seer, the only man who has in him a tongue that cannot lie. ” (Senator p11) The news that Tiresias brings causes the search to take an unexpected turn. Tiresias tells Oedipus that is is he who has caused Thebes to fall apart; “I say that you are Laius’s murderer-He whom you seek. ” (Tiresias p14) Oedipus believes that he is lying and encourages him to tell the truth. He believes that Tiresias must be plotting with Creon to tell him such filth. Tiresias does not have physical sight.
Although Tiresias is blind, he can see the truth, while Oedipus is blind to it. He doesn’t know the truth about himself so he can only believe that Tiresias is lying. “I say-you have your sight, and do not see what evils are about you, not with whom, nor in what home you are dwelling. Do you know from whom you are? Yea, you are ignorant that to your own you are an enemy, whether on earth, alive, or under it. ” (Tiresias p15) That simple question from Tiresias is what sends Oedipus on the search for who he is. Oedipus is confused about the news from the seer and after a conflict with Creon talks with his wife, Jocasta.
While he is discissing his confusion with her, she tells Oedipus that it was fated that Laius would die by his son’s hand; “That so it should befall, that he should die by a son’s hands, whom he should have by me. And him-the story goes-robbers abroad have murdered, at a place where three roads meet… “(Jocasta p26) This insight causes Oedipus to remember when he was leaving Corinth and he slayed a man in the place where the roads met. He starts questioning Jocasta on what Laius looked like and how he was traveling. He does this to try and figure out if Laius was the man he slayed.
He remembers what he was told by a gypsy. He was told almost the same story that Laius heard, which was that he would kill his father and wed his mother so he fled from Cornith to try and escape his fate. Oedipus sends for the herdsman, because he believes the herdsman can tell him whether it was mor than one man that killed Laius. If the herdsman can tell him it was “robbers” that murdered Laius then it would absolve Oedipus of guilt. Instead of the herdsman bringing him good news, a messenger comes to tell Oedipus that his so called father, Polybus died by natural cause.
This news should bring hope to Oedipus, and for a brief moment it does until the messenger tells him that he was not kin to Polybus. Oedipus begins questioning the man relentlessly on why Polybus took to calling him son. This is when Oedipus finally hears the truth. He is still not convinced so he sends for the old man that was supposed to kill Oedipus when he was sent away as a child. Oedipus questions the man as he questioned the messenger, trying desperately to make sense of all the information that has been delivered to him.
While Oedipus is on his search, questioning the messenger and the old man the Chorus starts to react to the news of their fallen ruler. The Chorus at the beginning of the play had faith in him even when Tiresias told Oedipus the bad news and they stayed behind Oedipus almost the entire play. The Chorus starts to question themselves because the believed in someone who wasn’t who they thought he was. Oedipus didn’t know who he was for most of his life. He lived believing a story of his parentage that was a complete lie;”Who bare thee? Which, O child, over the mountain wild sought to by Pan of the immortal Maids?
Or Loxias-was he the sire who fathered thee? ” (Chorus p39) It is as if they are going through the search along with Oedipus, feeling his confusion and symphathizing with him. It isn’t just the Chorus that has a reaction to the news. All of the servants of Oedipus react. The Senator, the one servant that is actually heard from throughout the play, sticks to his side all the way through. He wasnts to help Oedipus on his search hoping that the truth will not be that Oedipus is the slayer of Laius. Oedipus’s wife, Jocasta, at first tries to help him; “I will send quickly.
Now let us go within. I would do nothing that displeases you. ” (Jocasta p31) Her attitude changes when she figures out that he is her son and that the fate has come true;”For Heaven’s sake, if you care for your own life, don’t seek it! I am sick and that is enough! ” (Jocasta p38) After the whole miserable truth has been revealed, Oedipus is outraged ad disgusted that the fate he was trying to escape caught up with him. He hears of Jocasta’s suicide and decides that he too needs to be punished. He gouges out his eyes and then apologizes for all that he has done.
He apologizes to Laius and to his daughters, he throws himself his own pity party before he sticks to his word and exiles himself. Once he knew the whole truth, he wanted to be hated for all the wrong things that he did. He admits that he was wrong in trying to escape his fate and that it is a cruel irony that it caught up with him and gave him exactly what he deserved. Oedious Rex is a prime example of one of the many novels that tackles the difficult subject if knowing one’s self. But Oedipus’s fall from the top is extraordinarily tragic and that is what makes the play one that is still held in high esteem with modern day society.