Sympathy For Oedipus In The Oedipus Tyrannus

2262 words - 9 pages

Sympathy for Oedipus in the Oedipus Tyrannus

    The aim of tragedy is to evoke fear and pity, according to Aristotle, who cited the Oedipus Tyrannus as the definitive tragic play. Thus pity must be produced from the play at some point. However, this does not necessarily mean that Oedipus must be pitied. We feel great sympathy ('pathos') for Jocasta's suicide and the fate of Oedipus' daughters. Oedipus could evoke fear in us, not pity. He is a King of an accursed city willing to use desperate methods, even torture to extract truth from the Shepherd. His scorning of Jocasta just before her death creates little pity for him, as does his rebuke of the old, blind Tiresias. But with this considered, we must not forget the suffering he endures during his search for knowledge and the ignorant self-destruction he goes under.


Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother, with whom he produces four children. These are terrible crimes, impious, immoral and illegal. However, the fact that he carries these out in ignorance, not conscious of his own actions, attributes them to severe misfortune and a cruel fate. He even tried, in vain, to avoid the completion of this destiny, leaving his believed home city of Corinth upon hearing it told to him at the Oracle of Apollo ("I heard all that and ran" 876). Thus, when it is revealed to him, this sudden revelation of his crimes within one day leads him to blind himself so that he can no longer see what he has done ("Nothing I could see could bring me joy" 1473). The blinding was not required by fate and is indeed self inflicted but he believed that it is just punishment for what he has done, and by doing so he regains some control over his fate ("hand that struck my eyes was mine" 1469). The crimes that Oedipus committed occurred before the play began, and we only hear about them through reports. The fact that it is separate from what we see means that it is far easier to sympathise. The fate which he has unwittingly followed, and the incest he has committed would not have been eventually discovered by him or the city if it wasn't for his desire to find out his true lineage and know who he really is. But it was only his love for his city ("my spirit grieves for the city" 75) that led him to try and find the killer of his father, in accordance with the words of the Oracle. It is a cruel fate ("you were born for pain" 1305) that causes someone's downfall due to their compassion and wish to lift a plague which is rampaging through the city and killing hundreds ("let me grant your prayers" 245). This all definitely evokes pity in us. However we must also consider what kind of a man this has happened to. Has he evoked fear just as much as this pity?


In considering Oedipus' failings and why it is hard to feel pity for him, let us begin with the title issues. There are instances unquestionably when he is unyielding about issues. He is prone to getting an idea into his head and ignoring all...

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