Inescapable Destiny

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

[This is an old entry. I originally wrote this last October 19, 2010 but I'm moving it to my new blog because my ideas on Oedipus Rex are still relevant, for me, at least.]

For our World Literature 1 Class, we were asked to read Sophocles' drama, "Oedipus the King." I was pretty excited about this reading task because we were talking about Catharsis, the purgation of pity and fear - the dominant feelings in the play, in our Literary Theory and Criticism class just the other day. I have always wanted to explore the world of Greek drama and widen my knowledge of the classics, and reading Oedipus Rex, being a well known work of Tragedy, is a good way to start.
In the beginning of Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King,” the audience or readers already have an idea of what had transpired in the story – that there was an oracle saying that Oedipus would kill his own father and marry his mother. This knowledge helped the readers understand and react to what happens as the drama unfolds, and it also adds to the inevitability of the oracle. 
The story starts off with Oedipus, king of Thebes, speaking to his people when they asked for his help to get rid of the plague. There is already irony here, because Oedipus was speaking to his own people, as the rightful king of Thebes. Oedipus then focuses on his search for the murderer of the late King Lauis, not knowing that he is actually pertaining to himself. After he had an argument with Tiresias, Oedipus begins to doubt himself and wonder about his own identity. Tiresias already knows the truth and at first, tries to tell the king that he is better of not knowing, as seen on the first part where he says, “I’d rather keep you and me from harm. Don’t press me uselessly. My lips are sealed.” (Sophocles, Oedipus the King 226). The conversation heats up to the point that Oedipus insults Tiresias and accuses Creon as the murderer because of his insecurity. The plot continues with a pattern following discovery (or disclosure of the truth), when Jocasta tries to cheer his husband up by telling him the oracle at Delphi and what she knew of his husband’s death, then recognition of the three highways - peripety, as Oedipus begins to doubt himself further, more disclosure, and the pattern continues until the very end, suffering, where Oedipus blinds himself. 
Aside from the progression of events in the story, one could also looks at the name of Oedipus himself. The Greek word “oida” translates as “I know” and the word “eido” means “I see.” This can be quite ironic because in the story, Oedipus fails to see, despite all the puzzle pieces being revealed in front of him. When he finally realizes the truth after much questioning, he deliberately takes away his ability to see (212). 
When Jocasta and Laius first found out about the oracle prior to the start of the drama, they tried to change fate by attempting to kill their son when he was a baby. This can be considered a tragic flaw because it was like a challenge to the gods. Jocasta saying: “So there! Apollo fails to make the son his father’s murderer, and the father (Laius sick with dread) murdered by his son. All foreseen by fate and seers, of course, and all to be forgotten. If he god insists on tracking down the truth, why, then, let the god himself get on the track.” (238) is the same as saying the gods are powerless and that they can change destiny and avoid what was foretold. Jocasta even mentions “There’s nothing certain, nothing preordained” (246). That statement, questioning the power of the gods, proves human’s ignorance and pride. Oedipus, thinking about the unfortunate oracle, also tries to escape his fate when he runs away from Corinth, not knowing that he is actually making the oracle happen by going to Thebes. Here, the concept of destiny is unchangeable and inevitable. Sophocles illustrates the power of the gods and goddesses; they already know what will happen because they know that the Oedipus, being himself, would eventually lead to downfall no matter what. Since he is ignorant and oblivious, he lives his life fulfilling his destiny according to the gods. 
Like what happened in the story, no matter how people try to change their lives, they end up where they are supposed to be. There may be free-will, but the gods’ power exceeds that. Coincidences happen and things are repeated because they have a reason.
Work Cited
Sophocles. Sophocles: The Complete Plays. Trans. Paul Roche. New York: Signet Classic, 2001.

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