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Oedipus The King: Overview and themes, Summary of Oedipus Rex

Summary of Oedipus Rex:

Both of these concepts played an important role in Oedipus’ destruction.
Oedipus The King

Today, we will discuss Oedipus the King including summary and themes. Oedipus the king, is a Greek tragedy. It is based on the saga of Thebes – the city of seven gates. 

It is a dramatic embodiment of the creative vigor and intellectual daring of the fifth-century Athenian spirit written by Sophocles around the fifth century, the play is universally recognized as a masterpiece of Greek theatre. The play is regarded universally as a classic example of ‘the tragedy of fate.’ 

The play also deals with the themes of ‘Patricide’ and ‘Incest’. Sigmund Freud, a psychologist, in his “Interpretation of Dreams” has used Oedipus as an example in one of his theories. 

His “Psychoanalytic Theory” has a stage which he has named ‘Oedipus Complex’, which is where the male infant suffers guilt and anxiety because he is attracted to his mother and wants to be married to her. This is based on Oedipus’ tragic fate of having to marry his mother and bear children with her.

Dramatic irony runs throughout the play. There is also the use of a metaphor here. The city suffers from a disease and Oedipus is the physician to whom all turn to for the cure. What no one realizes is that the disease has been brought down upon them because of Oedipus himself. He is regarded as a great king and the embodiment of two of the greatest achievements of mankind – medicine and mathematics.

💥Important Points:

Now, to answer the question of how far Oedipus can be blamed for his own downfall, we have to consider the argument of free will vs. fate too. According to me, both of these concepts, free will, as well as fate, played an integral part in his downfall. 

The Greeks have always believed that man’s free will exists within the cosmic order or fate and it guides the universe in its harmonious purpose. Man is free to choose and since he is free to choose, he is ultimately responsible for his own actions. Both of these concepts played an important role in Oedipus’ destruction.

Oedipus was destined, by birth, to someday kill his father and marry his mother. This prophecy was made by the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi and was inescapable and inevitable. It was going to come to pass at some point, no matter what he could have done to prevent it. However, his own actions were also to be blamed, despite the prophecy being inevitable.

Whilst Oedipus is not the only person to blame for his downfall, he is also the major person responsible for his own downfall. Many reasons can be given to explain the reason behind his downfall. 

Was it the Gods’ manipulation or destiny or his punishment for his father’s crimes? There are a lot of things that the blame can be put on to explain the reason for his downfall. But by far, he caused his own destruction, despite all these other factors also operating side by side.

His ability to solve riddles is also considered as his undoing. Tiresias also says to Oedipus that his ability to solve riddles was his own ruin. His detective ability is also a major reason. He unknowingly starts the search for Laius’ murderer again. 

Unaware that he was the person who murdered King Laius, he starts the search again, which is pretty ironic considering he starts the search again to protect himself but ends up ruining himself. He starts his own downfall, whilst trying to prevent it.

At first, when Tiresias is accusing him of being the murderer and he realizes it, he is being unaccepted of it and instead, accuses Creon of conspiring with him to throw him off the throne. But then, he realizes the truth behind the statement due to him remembering the place he killed him when Jocasta mentions it in passing. 

That is when he realizes the possibility of him being the murderer and sets out to find the whole truth. Even though Jocasta and Tiresias both warned him not to pursue his search any further as even Jocasta had realized that Oedipus, was in fact, her son and the actual murderer.

I believe that Oedipus was always destined to suffer. From birth. His parents believed in fate and prophecy with so much dedication, that they were ready to commit the sin of infanticide because they were so set on believing that their son will actually one day kill Laius and marry Jocasta. 

Now I believe, that had they raised Oedipus themselves and not sent him away to be killed, Oedipus would never have reached Corinth and never run away from Corinth to prevent killing his ‘Parents’ there. 

In the ending, the chorus asks Oedipus, that what God had brought down this tragic suffering on him when he gouges out his eyes. To this, Oedipus replies with, “It was Apollo, friends, Apollo, that brought this bitter bitterness, my sorrows to completion. But was the hand that struck me was none but my own.” (pg. 467; 1450-1453) Oedipus himself accepts, that he was responsible for his own actions, his own misfortune. 

It does not matter what the motives for Oedipus killing his father and marrying his mother are, at the end of the day, he still committed horrific crimes. When tearing his eyes with Jocasta’s brooch, Oedipus accepts the whole burden and responsibility of his acts and knows that he must be punished for his sins. 

Therefore, we can conclude that the last act of his destruction is caused by his own free will. But also that his tragic fate came about because of the nature of the cosmic order, that every sin must be punished, and the role of the gods in mortal affairs.

The tragedy is concluded by the chorus by giving a warning. They warn the Greeks that the only way to happiness is through humility and respect towards the gods. They also want that nothing should be taken for granted and for them to have a reverence for the gods and never question them. 

The chorus also says that no mortal should be counted happy until he has passed from the mortal plane, secure from pain.

In conclusion, one can say that the plot of this tragedy was entirely predestined. And the events and subplots were the results of the cosmic order or fate. It may not be fair, kind or just, but the future is preordained and inevitable. 

Sophocles’ play is a prime example that individuals can assert their independence within the limits determined by their destiny. And that that human beings do have the freedom of determining the quality of their own characters, if not always the outcomes of their lives.

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💬Contributed by: Mansidak Kaur

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