Oedipus Rex is a tragedy of a man who attempts to flee a prophecy out of fear of what the future may hold for him, and in doing so blindly falls straight into his tragic fate. The use of literary devices in this play such as irony, metaphor, and reversal of situation in this play help to weave Sophocles masterpiece tragedy in to a work of art to be appreciated for centuries to come. The literary artwork of Oedipus Rex makes it a tragedy honorable of the title “perfection”. As these threads of literary devices join together throughout the play, they weave the magnificent tapestry of Oedipus Rex.
In the play Oedipus Rex, there are many hints of irony laced throughout this tragic play. The plot of the play in itself is ironic: Oedipus goal in the play is to find the source of the plagues haunting Thebes, a search which ironically leads to the main hunter, himself. Many of these threads of irony are found in the third scene of the play. For example, in the beginning of scene three, Iokaste begins the scene by presenting a prayer to the Gods to help her land in this time of turmoil. In these opening lines, Iokaste observes that the “king is not himself” (scene 3, line 4).
In this part of the play, Iokaste is only referring to Oedipus mood. Iokaste will later in the play discover that Oedipus is indeed not the same person that she believes him to be. Iokaste had given birth to a child that she was prophesied to marry years later, and so not to shame herself with this event in the future; she bound the baby and left it in the forest to die. What she does not know is that another family found him, and raised him, and he is now the man that she has married in Laius absence.
Another spot of irony in scene three of the play: In line 182, Oedipus blindly boasts when speaking on why he insists that he pursue the truth “I am a child of luck, I cannot be dishonored”. Ironically, Oedipus is actually extremely unlucky as he blindly follows a path that he thinks will lead him away from his predestined fate. In reality, this path only leads him directly to it. Another thread of irony To add color to the Oedipus Rex tapestry, Sophocles adds to his play the threads of metaphor. The riddle of the Sphinx becomes a metaphor for Oedipus himself.
Oedipus is 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 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 man. The Sphinx posed the following riddle to all who came to obtain the rule of 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 man crawls on his hands and knees this is the four feet 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 Iokaste and King Laius who was taken to the mountain by a Shepard to be killed so the omen of the god Apollo that Laius son would kill him and lay with Iokaste would not come true. Oedipus was the weakest of his life at this point.
If it has not been for the Shepard sparing his life and giving him to Polybus to raise as his own Oedipus would have died. Man walks on 2 feet 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. Unintentionally, 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 Iokaste the Queen of Thebes and his own mother. Many years later after bearing children with Iokaste a plague kills many of the people of Thebes.
Oedipus is told by the gods to find the killer of Laius. He is very persistent in the inquiry and finally comes to the horrible truth that he himself is the murderer. Iokaste kills herself at the horrible realization that she has married her son and Oedipus puts out his eyes at finally seeing the truth. This fulfills the final part of the Sphinxs 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 3 feet which man walks with at the end of his years. Oedipus used his intellect and diligence to answer the riddle of the Sphinx.
The literary device reversal of situation becomes the foundation for the Oedipus Rex tapestry. As indicated previously, Oedipus opens the play as man of pride, a man on top. As Oedipus pursues his truth and his fate, he tragically falls to the bottom, and becomes a man of shame. It had been prophesied to Oedipus many years earlier that in his future he was destined to “marry his own mother, shed his fathers blood” (scene 3, line 89). To avoid this from happening, Oedipus attempts to flee from whom he believes his birth parents in Corinth, and finds himself saving the day by solving the Sphinx in Thebes.
As a reward for saving the city, Oedipus is crowned king, and marries the queen, who is his real birth mother. This act of unintentional incest brings a plague upon the town, which Oedipus attempts to lift. When found that he is the source of the plague, he must inflict punishment upon himself. Throughout the course of the play, Oedipus has gone from Savior to terrorist, husband to son, king to commonality, man of honor to a man of shame. Anything and everything that Oedipus was at the beginning of the play he is by act of fate not at the end of the play.
Oedipus reversal sets the foundation for the story line of the play. The articulate tapestry of the story Oedipus Rex is that of a tale that has fascinated readers for years past and years to come. Through the literary threads of irony, metaphor, and reversal of situation, Sophocles play Oedipus Rex presents an entrancing story line that keeps the reader interested throughout the play. After a more intense look at the play, it is understandable why Aristotle could call a play so great a “perfect tragedy”.