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Blindness And Sight Sight Versus Insight In Oedipus The King (Oedipus Rex)

1381 words - 6 pages

Sight Versus Insight in Oedipus the King

 
    "Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eye are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light,which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees anyone whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess light. And he will count the other one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other"

(Plato, The Republic)

 

The paradoxical coexistence of blindness and insight is portrayed in Sophocles' Oedipus the King, in which Oedipus experiences a devastating yet redeeming realization that the "vision" he possesses is nothing but false pride and blindness. Suffering a complete reversal, Oedipus nevertheless maintains the fortitude to actively develop and endure intense suffering in order to attain extraordinary insight; deliberately grasping the kairos, Oedipus experiences a double bewilderment of the eye - both a physical blindness and, more ignificantly, a spiritual enlightenment, resulting from his "[h]aving turned from darkness to the day [to be] dazzled by excess light (Plato, The Republic).

 

"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6:22-23).

 

Oedipus' "eyes are bad" and the daylight proves to be blinding - not because of its brightness, but because it diverts Oedipus' eyes from all other light, particularly the potential light from within; Oedipus is satisfied with what he perceives to be his vision, which is really nothing but incomplete logos facilitated by techne. Believing his knowledge and rationalism to be complete, he proclaims, "I,/ Oedipus the ignorant,. . . stopped [the sphinx] -/ by using thought," (401-402). All the while, Oedipus unconsciously represses the lingering shadow of the prophecy, because the heinous transgressions of patricide and incest are incongruent with his conception of his ideal self, and therefore uncomfortable and even frightening.

 

With time and circumstances seeming to obscure the prophecy and confirm Oedipus' "vision," Oedipus remains ignorant of his ignorance. In the eyes of his people and of himself, he is the paragon of virtue, a wise and noble king. Oedipus' incomplete knowledge contributes to his hamartia, breeding hubris and leading him to declare, "But I who count myself the child of Chance,/ the giver of good, shall never know dishonor" (1085-1086). Although Oedipus' "hubris [is] directed toward the good of his polis," (Bull, 6) it also gives...

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