Sophocles' 'oedipus The King' Was Oedipus A Victim Of Hubris Or A Victim Of The Gods?

1209 words - 5 pages

The fate of Oedipus was bitter indeed. By the end of 'Oedipus the King', he and his fate are seen as "Luckless" (Ln 1195) and objects to "envy not at all" (Ln 1196). But what was it that caused this man to sleep with his mother and slay his father? What was it that Oedipus fell victim to? Was it the hubris that seemed to so permeate his character? Was he a puppet held in the cruel grip of the gods? It would seem that perhaps it was neither of these and that rather these things combined together as Oedipus fell victim to chance.If the fate of Oedipus was a punishment then it was a great one and therefore must have been caused by a large sin. The largest sin we see in the play is obviously parricide and incest, which Dodds claims were the "greatest a man can commit" (Dodds). But this can not be what he was punished for as it was his punishment. The two can not be the same. Therefore another sin must be searched for and the one most commonly blamed is his hubris.The hubris of Oedipus is most evident in his dealings with Creon and the contrast that is later drawn between his own actions and those of Creon. Oedipus is certain that Creon has betrayed him and lied to him. He ignores the innocent man's protests and he sentences Creon to death saying "No, certainly; kill you, not banish you." (Ln 625) This was a terrible thing to do, a decision made rashly, a decision made with much hubris. The point is emphasised all the more sharply when Creon later says, "...when I lack knowledge I prefer not to speak at random." (Ln 1546) A strong contrast is drawn between the two attitudes. Creon does not put a large amount of faith in his own judgement; instead he seeks to obtain confirmation from the gods. Oedipus, on the other hand, sees what he thinks as certainty and is willing to make a life and death decision based only on his own opinion. This shows much hubris, a large sin indeed. But was the sin punishable?The hubris of Oedipus seems to occur much later than the punishment. He has been involved in an incestuous relationship for many years before this hubris becomes apparent. Some traditionalists would say that from his acts the reader can tell that Oedipus had always been a proud man. However this does not seem to fit in with what Sophocles portrays. Early in the play he establishes that Oedipus was a good and enviable man. He saved Thebes from the Sphinx and was moved by pity to try and rid them of the plague. The Chorus claims that, "...he will not be condemned in my mind." (Ln 512); not something one would say of a hugely unjust and proud man. Dodds states that if "...the punishment preceded the crime [it] is surely an odd kind of justice." (Dodds) On this point Kitto seems to agree, so one would presume that this can not be what Oedipus was punished for. Kitto places more importance on Oedipus' hubris though, seeing it as a direct link to the hubris Oedipus displayed in being so certain that Polybus and Merope were his parents, " ... it never occurred...

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