Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
In Sophocles' "Oedipus the King" which is a tragic play, which discusses the tragic discovery that Oedipus has killed his father and married his mother. Oedipus is the embodiment of the perfect Athenian. He is self-confident, intelligent, and strong willed. Ironically these are the very traits which bring about his tragic discovery. Oedipus gained the rule of Thebes by answering the riddle of The Sphinx. Sophocles used the riddle of The Sphinx as a metaphor for the 3 phases of Oedipus' life and to further characterized him as a tragic hero.
The Sphinx posed the following riddle to all who came to obtain the rule over Thebes: "What is it that walks on 4 feet and 2 feet and 3 feet and has only one voice, when it walks on most feet it is the weakest?" Oedipus correctly answered, "Man" and became the king of Thebes. This riddle is a metaphor for the life of Oedipus. As a child he crawls on his hands and knees this is the first stage of Oedipus' life to which the Sphinx refers. Also man is at his weakest as a small child. He depends solely on others for his nourishment and well being. Oedipus was the child of Jocasta and King Laius who was taken to the mountain by a shepherd to be killed so the omen of the god Apollo that Laius' son would kill him and lay with Jocasta would not come true. Oedipus was at the weakest point in his life. If it has not been for the shepherd sparing his life and giving him to Polybus to raise as his own Oedipus would have be killed.
Man walks on 2 feet shows the next stage of his life, when he has matured. This is a metaphor for Oedipus when he reaches adulthood and leaves Corinth to escape the oracle. Oedipus meets up with a band of travelers and in a rage kills them. Inadvertently Oedipus has killed his own father. Oedipus then answers the riddle of The Sphinx and becomes king of Thebes. By becoming king of Thebes he marries Jocasta the Queen of Thebes and his own mother. Many years later after bearing children with Jocasta a plague kills many of the inhabitants of Thebes. Oedipus is told by the gods to find the killer of Laius. He is very diligent in the inquiry and finally comes to the horrible truth that he himself is the murderer. Jocasta kills herself at the horrible realization that she has laid with her son. Oedipus puts out his eyes, at which time he finally sees the truth. This fulfills the final part of the Sphinx's riddle for Oedipus will have to walk with a cane for the rest of his life because of his blindness. This will give him the walk on 3, which man walks with at the end of his years.
The Sphinx's riddle was used by Sophocles to characterize Oedipus as a tragic man and as a parallel to his life. The riddle describes the 3 stages, which Oedipus went through in his life. Also in answering the riddle Oedipus inevitable brought about his own tragic ending by a horrible discovery.
The statement that Joseph Campbell makes that defines a hero as...