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Oedipus The King: A Greek Tragic Hero

1141 words - 5 pages

Many Greek tragedies include a central character known as "the tragic hero." In the play, Oedipus the King, by Sophocles, the character Oedipus, portrays to the reader the necessary, central, tragic hero. According to Aristotle, "a tragic hero has a supreme pride" (Jones. Pg. 133). That pride is a reflection of arrogance and conceit that suggests superiority to man and equality with the gods. Students of religion are often taught that "pride Goethe before the fall." In Oedipus' situation, his pride, coupled with religious fervor and other human emotions like guilt, lead to what can only be described as a downfall of enormous and costly proportions, in other words, his fate.

The dictionary characterizes a downfall as, "a sudden fall (as from high rank)." The first few lines of the play show the reader that one reason for Oedipus' "sudden fall" stem from two serious flaws, conceit and pride. Oedipus' conceit and pride is apparent when he says to the priest, "Here I am myself--you all know me, the world knows my fame: I am Oedipus" (Glencoe Literature. Pg. 264. Lines 7-9). The bragging nature in which Oedipus says, "you all know me," shows to the reader that Oedipus has a self-centered attitude toward life and towards others. This attitude stems from the fact that he and he alone solved the riddle of the evil sphinx, saving the city and the people of Thebes, and granting him kingship over the lands. Unfortunately for Oedipus, conceit and pride are only half his problem, the other half stems from Greek religion, and that means "the Greek gods," Zeus and Apollo. Once again, trouble reigns in the city of Thebes. The city's trouble and the gods' religious stronghold, lead Oedipus in a direction that can only be described as fate, a fate that is outlined in the gods' own oracle.

In order to understand Oedipus' fate, one must understand that in the case of this particular Greek tragedy (Oedipus the King), multiple characters must look to the actions of their past to understand the consequences for their future. The characters in the play that find themselves at the center of this past and future tug-of-war are: Laius (the slain King of Thebes), Jocasta (the Queen of Thebes), Oedipus (the current King of Thebes), the Messenger, and the Shepherd. The two reasons that these characters are being yanked back and forth are the oracles. The first oracle came to the father (Laius) in the deep past, and the second oracle came to the son (Oedipus) in the not-so-distant past.

King Laius was a character from the past, a past that would indirectly start and finish the downfall of Oedipus. This past and present connection between Laius and Oedipus is found in one serious decision made by Laius. Laius' decision, based on the oracles, was to have his son put to death. Jocasta told Oedipus, "An oracle came to Laius one fine day (I won't say from Apollo himself but his underlings, his priests) and it said that doom would strike him down at...

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