Ensnared by the Gods in Oedipus Rex
A citizen of Periclean Athens may not have been familiar with the term entrapment, but he or she would surely have recognized the case of Oedipus as such. The tragedy of Oedipus is that he was ensnared by the gods. As Teiresias points out, "I say that with those you love best you live in foulest shame unconsciouslyÖ" (italics mine) God is continuously indicted for having caused Oedipusí troubles. The chorus asks, "What evil spirit leaped upon your life to your ill-luckÖ?" And Oedipus himself is well aware of the source of his troubles: "It was Apollo, friends, Apollo, that brought this bitter bitterness, my sorrows to completion." Blinded and humiliated, Oedipus thanks Creon for bringing his daughters to him: "God bless you for it, Creon, and may God guard you better on your road than he did me!"
The Athenian audience probably did not obsess with the unfairness of it all. Since the audience would have been well aware of the story and its details, the draw, and the entertainment would have been seeing the storyís lessons portrayed in a way that emphasized human failings, particularly the illusions that we hold concerning our mastery of affairs. Oedipus himself is described as "masterful," yet watching his story, which we know so well, we find it dripping with irony at the kingís every proud utterance. In his argument with Teiresias, Oedipus accuses the seer of being "blind in mind and ears as well as in your eyes." Teiresias responds that Oedipus is but a "Öpoor wretch to taunt me with the very insults which every one soon will heap upon yourself."
Oedipus is indeed convinced of his own virtue, and why not? As the play opens, the priest lavishes praise upon the king. Although the priest concedes that Oedipus is not a God, he is "Öthe first of men in all the chances of this lifeÖ" In his confrontation with the Sphinx, Oedipus had God on his side: "Öit was God that aided you, men say, and you are held with Godís assistance to have saved our lives." And in the current crisis, "Perhaps youíll hear a wise word from some God." Never one to downplay his own role, Oedipus points out that while each of the citizens has only his own problems to deal with, he, the king, must contend with his own and those of all his people, an observation that shows him to be neither very humble nor empathetic. We also detect a lack of human feeling when we see Oedipusí jubilation upon learning that Polybus of Corinth died of natural causes. Yes, it did seem to release him from an old curse, but, after all, Oedipus did think that Polybus was his father at that point.
During the spitting match between Oedipus and Creon, Creon points out another fatal flaw in the kingís character: "If you think obstinacy without wisdom a valuable possession, you are wrong." Oedipus does seem stubborn to a fault. Creonís argument that he has no reason to conspire against the king, because he already enjoys power...