Self-Damnation in Oedipus Rex (the King)
Sophocles' play Oedipus Rex (the King) is a tragic tale of fate and hubris. At first glance, it seems that the terrible fates of the main characters are merely the doings of mischievous or cruel gods. That Laios should die at the hands of his unknowing son, that Jocaste should later marry that son to commit the crime of incest, and that Oedipus, the son, should be the actor in both crimes all seem to be deeds scripted unfairly by the gods for their own pleasure. However, upon examining the evidence in the play, it becomes clear not only that Laios and Jocaste directly cause their own fates by abandoning the infant Oedipus to die on the mountain, but that Oedipus is himself a willing participant in his own crimes.
In choosing to abandon Oedipus upon his birth, Laios and Jocaste try to prevent the fulfillment of Apollo's prophecy: "[Laios'] down at the hands of a son, our son, to be born of our own flesh and blood" (Sophocles 201). They "fastened" the baby's ankles and "had a henchman fling him away on a barren, trackless mountain" (201). This done, the king and queen live their lives believing that they are safe from any danger that the child might pose. It is their cowardly act of attempting to escape fate that seals their doom, however. Not only do they decide to kill their only child, but they are unable to do so in a humane manner. Rather than relieve their son of any misery, they tie his ankles together and abandon him to the harsh elements of nature on a mountain. They are blissfully unaware that a shepherd has taken pity on the royal child and has delivered him to the care of King Polybos of Corinth (218). Clearly, by their self-preserving act of child-abandonment, Laios and Jocaste deservedly set the traps of their fates: their child will live to commit the atrocities prophesied.
Not only does Oedipus live, but he thrives and matures as a prince of Corinth. His royal upbringing has several consequences for the unsuspecting Laios and Jocaste. First, Oedipus is a noble young man. Upon hearing from the Oracle that his destiny is to murder his father and marry his mother, breeding children with her (205), Oedipus promptly leaves the Corinthian territory in a loving and noble effort to avoid committing this terrible deed upon those whom he loves.
It is during his journey of exile that the young prince happens upon King Laios and his party. Here, we see the second consequence of Oedipus' royal upbringing: he is a proud and self-righteous fellow. Forced off the road by the charioteer of an obviously royal personage, Oedipus strikes back. As he later recalls to his wife/mother, Jocaste:
I paid him back with interest!
Short work, by god--with one blow of the staff
In this right hand I knock him out of his high seat
Roll him out of the wagon, sprawling headlong--
I killed them all--every mother's son! (206)
Even years later, his wounded pride and...