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Examining Self Exile In Greek Mythology As A Defense Mechanism

1649 words - 7 pages

The dichotomy of social and individualistic tendencies is a source of conflict within all humans and throughout history. Psychologically healthy people have desires to be in the company of other people, while in other instances, they want to isolate themselves from the world and look inward. These two inclinations are kept in balance by leading a normal lifestyle without any extreme emotionally stimulation. However, when trauma is suffered in the psyche, this balance can be upset and people may find themselves looking only inward and shutting out the rest of the world completely. This self-imposed exile from humanity is something that the ancient Greeks understood and often explored in their mythology. A common trend in Greek mythology was to use a self-imposed exile as a defense mechanism and form of punishment as seen in the myths of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and Medea by Euripides.
The myth of Oedipus Rex includes self exile as a way for Oedipus to cope with the fate that he has suffered and worked his whole life to prevent. At the end of the play Oedipus Rex, Oedipus gouges out his own eyes because he realizes that he has fulfilled a prophecy told to him at the beginning the play that he would kill his father and marry his mother. He was so intent on not fulfilling this gruesome prediction that when he was told that the man who he thought was his father had died, he exclaimed:
Ha! Ha! O dear Jocasta, why should one
look to the Pythian hearth? Why should one look
to the birds screaming overhead? They prophesized
that I should kill my father! But he’s dead,
and hidden deep in the ear, and I stand here
who never laid a hand on spear against him,
unless perhaps he died of longing for me,
and thus I am his murderer. But they,
the oracles, as they stand – he’s taken them
away with him, they’re dead as he himself is,
and worthless. (Sophocles 964-73)

This exuberant attitude very clearly indicates that Oedipus was more concerned with not being the victim of fate than the well-being of who he thought was his father. Despite spending his whole life trying to avoid the prophecy however, he finds that his efforts have been in vain and in fact he has committed both sins predicted by the oracles.
Because he has convinced himself for so long that he would not have to fulfill his destiny and live out his fate, Oedipus lulled himself into a false sense of reality that caused him to not be able to maintain mental stability after becoming aware of his shortcomings. J. Michael Walton, noted author of “Oedipus the King: Overview” declares that “Oedipus, who always looks to the future, not the past, cannot see the truth until it has become plain to everyone else” (Walton). This denial of reality set him up to lose control of his psyche once he finally came to terms with his destiny.
Oedipus uses the gouging of his eyes and the subsequent exile he forces on himself as a way to try to come to terms with the actions he has committed in his life....

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