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Blindness in Humanity Displayed Through the Play Oedipus/hub/funfact

Updated on July 19, 2015

In the play Oedipus the King, Sophocles demonstrates the blinded path human beings face throughout life. His characters symbolize differently how the truth can be misguided to disrupt personal thoughts towards oneself and one’s fate. In the beginning, Oedipus is portrayed as a brave, noble king who has conquered the mighty sphinx and saved the townspeople of Thebes. Current conditions of this once proud city display lost hope as it is plagued by disease and famine. As one of the high priests humbles himself before his king he begs, “Therefore, O mighty King, we turn to you; Find us our safety, find us a remedy, whether by counsel of the gods or men” (Sophocles, 43-45).

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Oedipus is wounded by the pain and agony displayed by his beloved city of Thebes. Therefore, he sends his brother-in-law Creon to confront an oracle whom is a priest or priestess who acts as a “middle-man” between the Gods and mortals. Therefore, the oracle speaks with the Gods personally about conflicts that individual is having and provides a verdict to resolve the issue stated. Upon Creon’s return he reveals to his brother and the city of Thebes that:

By exile or death, blood for blood. It was

Murder that brought the plague-wind on the city. […]

My lord: long ago Laios was our King,

Before you came to govern us. […]

He was murdered; and Apollo commands us now

To take revenge upon whoever killed him. (Sophocles, 106-112)

This weighs heavy on Oedipus the King, and leaves the audience wondering who this defilement is that must be removed to protect the city.

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Throughout the play Oedipus is confronted by an older blind prophet, a messenger, and a shepherd who reveals that it is in fact he himself who should be exiled from Thebes. Although, the evidence weighs heavily against him Oedipus still fails to consider that he has murdered the last King of Thebes. The older blind prophet not only reveals that King Oedipus is the murderer of Laios, but also the victim of incest. What an awful thing to say? What an awful thing to become the victim of?

Oedipus is blinded so much by the thought of this insanity he curses the prophet for telling tales and leads him away. The prophet relays one last message before being led out of the palace:

The damned man, the murderer of Laios,

That man is in Thebes. To your mind he is foreign-born,

But it will soon be shown that he is a Theban,

A revelation that will fail to please.

A blind man,

Who has his eyes now; a penniless man, who is rich now;

And he will go tapping the strange earth with his staff;

To the children with whom he lives now he will be

Brother and father—the very same; to her

Who bore him, son and husband—the very same

Who came to his father’s bed, wet with his father’s blood. (Sophocles, 233-242)

Heartbroken with disbelief, Oedipus continues to search for other parties involved with the knowledge of Laios’ death.

Oedipus is not only influenced by his disastrous thoughts, but in fact his wife Jocasta tells him not to search further into the matter. A messenger is sent to the palace to advise Oedipus that his “adopted” father had recently passed. Jocasta, hides the truth even more when she states to her King, “Have no more fear of sleeping with your mother/How many men, in dreams, have lain with their mothers/No reasonable man is troubled by such things” (Sophocles, 67-69). Even though Jocasta knows the possibilities of her husband/son she fails to come to grips with the situation in her mind. Thus, leading Oedipus on a further journey to discover the truth and finally realize what his fate is.

In Tragedy and Civilization: An Interpretation of Sophocles, by Charles Segal he clearly states the main issue with Oedipus and his quest. “He lacks the basic information about his origins that gives man his human identity and sets him apart from the undifferentiated realm of nature and the anonymous, individuated realm of the beasts” (Segal, 207). Basically, Segal explains that as all human beings we feel as if we serve a purpose and if not that purpose what else.

Nearing the end of the play, Oedipus has finally realized that he murdered his father in cold blood. Thus, he also faces the fact that he is both a son/husband to Jocasta and a brother/father to his children. So many horrors and truths were explained to the King, while Jocasta finally admitted to herself that Oedipus was in fact her son. After coming to this realization she commits suicide by hanging herself to remove her life from the horrors within. Blinded by his fate and the truths being displayed to him he gather’s Jocasta’s golden brooches and stabs his eyes out.

At the beginning of the play, where have the townspeople gathered?

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In Oedipus at Thebes: Sophocles’ Tragic Hero and His Time, Knox explains in depth an interesting viewpoint on Oedipus and his quest for his fate. In Knox’s opinion of Oedipus stated:

Oedipus learns who he is, seems right and indeed inevitable. But it is hard to accept. It means that the heroic action of Oedipus, with all that his action is made to represent, is a hollow mockery, a snare and a delusion. It suggests that man should not seek, for fear of what he will find. It renounces the qualities and actions which distinguish man from the beasts, and accepts a state of blind, mute acquiescence no less repugnant to the human spirit than the recklessness demanded by Jocasta's universe of chance. (Knox, 185)

This couldn’t give a more in depth analyzation of Oedipus and how his actions symbolize humanity. As we all search throughout life for meaning and purpose, we find that it may not be the answer we anticipated. As we all search throughout life for meaning and purpose, we find that it may not be the answer we anticipated.

Segal, Charles. “Tragedy and Civilization: An Interpretation of Sophocles”. Norman: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1981. Print

Sophocles. “Oedipus the King”. Trans. Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry and Drama Ed. X.J Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Boston: Wadsworth/Cengage. 2013. 1207-1244. Print

Knox, Bernard. “Oedipus at Thebes: Sophocles’ Tragic Hero and His Time”. Britain: The University of Yale, 1957. Print

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