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Oedipus Rex: the king who damned himself

Updated on May 11, 2017

I won’t say I thought long and hard about Oedipus Rex, because I didn’t. After reading the play I did what I did best, idle thinking; letting my thoughts flit and fly to wherever they desire. Feelings of revulsion, a lot of head shaking, and a lot of muttering about how sick in the head Sophocles was popping in every now and then.

By Aristotle’s standards, it is perfectly and horribly tragic. All the emotions he ascribed to be churned out by tragedies were present and duly noted yet as my idle thoughts brought me further down into my own rabbit hole, I began to think that the fault cannot belong to Oedipus. His downfall was not by his own brash actions. Repeatedly all throughout the whole thing he is pointed out as the “wound”, the “murderer”, the one that has brought down the wrath of Apollo onto Thebes yet, if viewed in another light, I could say the root of all misfortune is Laius and Jocasta. The irrational way in which they handled the prophecy given to them, sealed their fate. If they simply let things happen then there would’ve been a more likely chance that it would not have come to pass; human tampering only brings much misery. It then brings me around to the idea that Laius was not murdered but at the same time he was, although the he was not slain by the one he thought would slay him. No, Laius committed suicide and was murdered by his own wife, Jocasta, the one who gave away the babe and married her own son; the true tragedy within the tragedy. There’s also the random thought that she must have really bad eye sight if she missed the similarities between her husband-son and late husband. Although I do not say that Oedipus is faultless, he is flawed but he is more a victim than an instigator. An animal trapped in a cage of condemnation and ignorance, both by his own making and by his predecessors. Tangled up in all these consciously and unconsciously made mistakes, the story of Oedipus Rex is indeed tragic and a shining representation of a bad day; wherein everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. It’s perfectly miserable and cathartic. I could just about bet that Plato, with his ideas on poetry, is rolling in his grave. To pity characters such as Oedipus, Jocasta, and Laius does bring up the topic of the reader’s morality; how can anyone feel sympathy for this sinful trio? Why should anyone start to think, to doubt their own integrity after reading a harmless piece of fiction? Perhaps what was running through Plato’s mind as he criticized the mimetic nature of poetry was these very questions. That after reading something incredibly mind shattering, not mind-blowing, we find ourselves aligning our virtue and experiences with theirs when these personas are so morally skewed. It does indeed allow the reader to linger near dangerous, self-destructive thoughts that have no place in Plato’s reality.

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