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Destiny In Sophocles’ Oedipus The King

1399 words - 6 pages

In ancient Greece, the purpose of drama was, according to various philosophers of the time, to present moral messages through the presentation of already well known narratives such as the story of Oedipus. In doing so, the dramas were dramatically ironic, and did, therefore, serve as a type of moral reminder to Dionysian festival attendees. In Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Sophocles asserts that prophecy is unavoidable because the gods have been, and always will be, in control of destiny.
During the time that Oedipus the King was written and performed, the fifth century B.C., Athens had made significant strides in art, architecture, economics, and academics—history and philosophy were in ...view middle of the document...

But, the gods will have none of that. A servant of Laius feels bad for the baby and sends him with a servant of Polybus of Corinth. Oedipus is raised, and eventually learns from another oracle that he is to kill his father and sleep with his mother. In a futile attempt to avoid the prophecy, he flees. At a crossroads, he kills Laius (unbeknownst to Oedipus), arrives at Thebes, solves a riddle—which is representative of human progress, and is given rule of the land as well as a wife, Jocasta. It is apparent that the prophecy has come true, and the play picks up here (Jaeckle 4; Sophocles, Oedipus 850-918). At the start of Oedipus the King, Oedipus is trying to find the murderer of Laius to end a famine imposed by the gods, and the audience already knows what’s to come. This dramatic irony—the audience knowing that Oedipus is the murderer—is extremely important; the audience knew the story, and did, therefore, feel the tension build as Oedipus brought the truth to light. This in turn reminded the audience of the importance and inescapability of prophecy because they know that Oedipus is doomed to fulfill the prophecy. In essence, the theme is already known before the curtain rises, per se; the enlightened thinking of mortals is subservient to the ruling power of the gods.
Sigmund Freud states that Oedipus the King reminds human beings of their place within the cosmos: “[Oedipus Rex’s] tragic effect is said to lie in the contrast between the supreme will of the gods and the vain attempts of mankind to escape the evil that threatens them,” and he continues to assert that the lesson one should take from Oedipus the King “is submission to the divine will and realization of his own impotence” (qtd. in Fagles 132). So, then, the play’s purpose is made plainly clear. Because the Grecian citizens had progressed as a whole, they began to question the importance of the gods in their everyday lives. In questioning the importance of the gods, and thus losing touch with the importance of prophecy, they lost touch with the faith which was the foundation of traditional Grecian thought.
It is made clear throughout the play that the oracle Tiresias is the true seer of things; thus, Sophocles is emphasizing the importance and inescapability of prophecy. After calling upon Tiresias to question him to see who the true murderer of Laius is, Tiresias informs Oedipus that Oedipus himself is the murderer, and Oedipus proclaims that Tiresias is “Blind, lost in the night, endless night…! You can’t hurt me or anyone else who sees the light—you can never touch me” (Sophocles, Oedipus 425-28). This is perhaps one of the most transparent lines within the play. Oedipus says that the prophet cannot hurt anyone who sees the light because he remains in the dark. This is a comparison between savagery and progress: the prophet is old school, Oedipus is new school. Later on, when Oedipus is closer to finding out the truth about himself, Jocasta, in an attempt to comfort Oedipus...

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