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Tragoed Oedipus The King (Oedipus Rex) As Ideal Tragic Hero

1267 words - 5 pages

Oedipus Rex as the Ideal Tragic Hero

If we give ourselves up to a full sympathy with the hero, there is no question that the Oedipus Rex fulfills the function of a tragedy, and arouses fear and pity in the highest degree. But the modern reader, coming to the classic drama not entirely for the purpose of enjoyment, will not always surrender himself to the emotional effect. He is apt to worry about Greek fatalism and the justice of the downfall of Oedipus, and, finding no satisfactory solution for these intellectual difficulties, loses half the pleasure that the drama was intended to produce. Perhaps we trouble ourselves too much concerning the Greek notions of fate in human life. We are inclined to regard them with a lively antiquarian interest, as if they were something remote and peculiar; yet in reality the essential difference between these notions and the more familiar ideas of a later time is so slight that it need not concern the naive and sympathetic reader. After all, the fundamental aim of the poet is not to teach us about these matters. but to construct a tragedy which shall completely fulfill its proper function. Nevertheless, for the student of literature who feels bound to solve the twofold problem, How is the tragedy of Oedipus to be reconciled with a rational conception of life? and How does Oedipus himself comply with the Aristotelian requirements for a tragic hero? there is a simple answer in the ethical teaching of the great philosopher in whose eyes the Oedipus Rex appears to have been well-nigh a perfect tragedy. In other words, let us compare the ideal of the Ethics with the ideal of the Poetics.

Aristotle finds the end of human endeavor to be happiness, that is, an unhampered activity of the soul in accordance with true reason, throughout a complete lifetime. This happiness, as Aristotle discovered by careful observation during the length of his thoughtful life, does not result principally from the gifts of fortune, but rather from a steady and comprehensive intellectual vision which views life steadily and distinguishes in every action the result to be attained. By the light of this vision the wise man preserves a just balance among his natural impulses, and firmly and consistently directs his will and emotions toward the supreme end which reason approves. He has, therefore, an inward happiness which cannot be shaken save by great and numerous outward calamities, and, moreover, he attains an adequate external prosperity, since, other things being equal, the most sensible people are the most successful, and misfortune is due, in large measure, to lack of knowledge or lack of prudence. Even if he is crushed beneath an overwhelming catastrophe from without, the ideas character of the Ethics is not an object of fear and pity, for the truly good and sensible man bears all the chances of life with decorum, and always does what is noblest in the circumstances, as a good general uses the forces at his command to the best...

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