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Oedipus As A Tragic Hero In Sophocles’ Oedipus The King

1473 words - 6 pages

The tragic hero has served as the foundation of Greek tragedy since its inception in ancient times. He or she serves as a rallying point for the audience to cheer for and mourn with throughout the story, and ultimately teaches the audience a lesson about human vulnerability and strength through defeat. A tragic hero is “a privileged, exalted character of high repute, who, by virtue of a tragic flaw and fate, suffers a fall from glory into suffering” (DiYanni). The combination of the tragic hero’s character traits and the storyline he or she follows make the tragedy an actual tragedy rather than a depressing story with a sad ending. In Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Oedipus embodies the traits that a tragic hero should have, including being greater than the average man and possessing an ultimately benevolent character, while also following the plot line that a tragic hero must by coming to a great fall through external circumstances and internal character traits and accepting responsibility for his fall.
Many explanations of Greek tragedies and the tragic hero expound that the hero must be “extraordinary rather than typical” in order to make his or her fall more distressing to the audience (“Tragedy” 1221). The creation of the tragic hero has also been described as “an imitation of persons who are better than the average” (Aristotle). The placement of the tragic hero above the rest of mankind creates feelings of fear associated with the impending and unavoidable fall by reminding the audience of the vulnerabilities to which all men are susceptible (“Tragedy” 1223). If the greatest men can come to a bitter end, any normal person would be defenseless against that fate. Sophocles shows that Oedipus is an extraordinary man in the play when the priest is addressing Oedipus during the first episode, asking him to find a solution to the plague that Thebes is suffering under. The priest calls Oedipus the greatest of men in saying, “You cannot equal the gods, / your children know that…/But we do rate you the first of men” (Sophocles lines 39-41). In qualifying the statement by saying that the people knew Oedipus was not equal to as the gods, Sophocles maintains Oedipus’s realistic persona while still making him an admirable and praiseworthy character. This is necessary for the plotline of the tragedy because it ensures the build up of compassion and fear that the audience will feels as Oedipus approaches his demise. The priest continues on to applaud Oedipus on his defeat of the Sphinx without any aid from the city by proclaiming, “We taught you nothing, / no skill, no extra knowledge, still you triumphed” (Sophocles 46-47). This statement illustrates that Oedipus possessed the wit and skill necessary to defeat the great Sphinx with the aid of no man. Oedipus’s extraordinary intellect and power are established early in the play to lay the foundation for a growing compassion for Oedipus as he faces the trials and tribulations that he has unknowingly bestowed...

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