According to the great philosopher Aristotle, the tragic hero is impeded by a distinguishable characteristic or tragic flaw which leads to his ultimate demise. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero has a supreme pride. Aristotle also believed that a tragic hero shows vigorous protest ( Jones). When Sophocles penned Oedipus Rex, he not only created a play with universal themes, but a character that Aristotle would later define as a tragic hero (Hamlett). There are a number of characteristics that define a tragic hero.
Being a noble member of an upper class, or he or her must contain a tragic flaw that will cause his or her own downfall and must be responsible for his or her own fate. The tragic hero must have a grave moral flaw (Bloom 38). A tragic flaw is a flaw in a character of the hero of a tragedy that brings about his downfall (Merriam-Webster 1238). Although a tragic hero causes his own downfall, his fate is usually not deserved. The tragic hero is usually someone of importance or power who has a tragic flaw that affects his judgment, and must then suffer the consequences.
A tragic hero is usually someone of importance or power who has a tragic flaw that affects his judgment. In the play Oedipus the King, Oedipus is a tragic hero. Oedipus is a classic example of Aristotles tragic man (Jones). All of the above characteristics make Oedipus a tragic hero and one can see how these attributes cause his fall from a powerful king to a blind outcast. Oedipus was victimized by his own fate. The oracle ruled Oedipuss life. An oracle once prophesied to the young couple that the son Jocasta was about to bear would kill his father and sleep with his mother (Melchinger 104).
In fear, Oedipus birth parents leave him on a mountain top to die. Oedipus is found a Shepard and is given to adopted parents. When Oedipus was older he hears that fate would have him end up killing his own father and sleeping with his mother. He decides to run away and get out of town. He figured that since he was supposed to kill his father and marry his mother, he would leave his home, so that he would be far away from Polybos (his adopted father) and mother. What Oedipus did not realize is that the oracle was not talking about Polybos; it was talking about his real father.
Oedipus did not know that he adopted, naturally he would believe that the oracle was referring to his father, Polybos. Oedipus running away ends up bringing him closer to his birth parents, and thus, he is actually taking the first step towards fulfilling the prophecy that the oracle predicted. One night while Oedipus was traveling on a dark road, he came upon King Lauiss entourage. Oedipus lost his temper and killed everyone in the entourage due to his impulsiveness and foolishness, which led to his being crowned King and ultimately, to his downfall.
Oedipus killed King Lauis not knowing it was his father. When the Sphinx plagued the city Thebes by eating those who could not answer its riddle, What goes on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three at the evening? (Kennedy and Gioia 1383). Oedipus was the only person able to chase the Sphinx away with the correct answer of man. This led to him becoming the king of Thebes which in turn led to his superiority ranking. Oedipuss past actions were fate-bound, but everything that he does on stage from first to last he does as a free agent (Bloom 41).
A plague is put on the city while Oedipus is king. The plague will not be lifted until King Lauis killer is brought to justice. Oedipus was later crowned King of Thebes and was thus obliged to find the killer of the former King Lauis in order to save his people from suffering. Oedipus relentless search for the truth ultimately brought his downfall. Oedipus is a very stubborn man and he lets his pride and his temper get in the way of his better judgment. The killing of Lauis and his servants is an extreme display of Oedipus murderous temperament.
Oedipus got very angry when a messenger suggests that Polybus was not his father. Oedipus was a good ruler though. He was compassionate and sympathetic. However, Oedipus was not a perfect man. His tragic flaw was that of stubbornness, impulsiveness, and most of all, his grandiosity. Oedipus has a self-centered, arrogant attitude toward life (Jones). Oedipus pride in his abilities and his determination not to look weak in front of his people leads him to blindly pursue the identity of the murderer, even though he is warned off by Tiresias and his wife.
In order to save his people from suffering during the plague, Oedipus invites the renowned blind prophet Teiresias to Thebes to reveal the truth of the mystery surrounding Lauis death. Oedipuss encounter with the blind prophet is another example of Oedipuss exaggerated pride and it foreshadows his downfall. Although reluctant at first, he finally revealed that it was in fact Oedipus who had killed King Lauis. Oedipus did not believe him and insulted him. His pride refused to let him believe that he had in fact done wrong by killing his own father. His grandiosity blinded him while he was seeking King Lauis killer.
He felt he had nothing to lose and persisted in bringing the truth to light, disregarding the warnings of Jocasta, his wife and mother. Eventually, Tiresiass prophecies come ever clearer: Oedipus will be driven by his parents curse, blind, equal to his own children. This day will give Oedipus birth and destroy him (Scodel 59). All these errors in judgment he had made led to his eventual downfall, where he finally realized that he had unwillingly fulfilled Apollos oracle. Oedipus is furious when he learns that he has unknowingly carried out a fate that he was trying to avoid (Jones).
Through Oedipuss downward fall, he conducts himself with dignity. Jocasta has hanged herself over the incestuous marriage bed (Melchinger 126). His wife and mother commit sucide, due to the emense emotional burden this situation puts upon him, he gouges his eyes out. When Oedipus destroys his eyes, he not only shows remorse for his previous actions, but he also rebels against fate, showing the gods that he has free will do as he chooses (Jones). Oedipus believed that he had no reason to see. He had nothing good to see in this world or the next (Scodel 61).
He also gouged his eyes out because he did not want to look upon his children or his countrymen. All his life Oedipus has been living his life blindly. All has been taken from him-happiness, honor, power-except the power of the intellect, the power of reflection, of knowledge, of passing judgment (Melchinger 128). Oedipus has accepted the truth, for the first time he realizes his true station in life. Oedipus was the greatest of men, now he is nothing (Scodel 61). He is stripped of all his power. Now he must obey laws instead of issuing them. He shall live out the rest of his life without any rights, a beggar, blind (Melchinger 130).
Oedipus went through a reversal of fortune. Oedipus decides to exile himself. He is, led to a cruel but satisfying exit into exile (Scodel 72). At the end of the play the audience or reader feels a sense of pity for Oedipus, which is another characteristic of a tragic hero. Oedipus was a god-fearing man, believed oracles and acted on them. At the end of the play Oedipus came to understand how he has unwillingly helped to bring to his own destruction and downfall. Oedipus went from happiness to misery. Oedipus is a classic example of Aristotles tragic man (Jones).