As if peering into a glass of time, Genesis and Oedipus Rex seemed to have made me travel back through realization to make me reassess how I understood these early texts. Initially, the two texts seem to have nothing in common. Genesis, as the term implies, talks about the beginning, focusing on the creation myth and proceeding to the stories about the first people of the world inclusive of its genealogy and progress towards becoming a nation. Oedipus Rex, on the other hand, presents a snippet of a King’s life including his musings, fears, decision-making and actions. One seems to be solely about Theology and the other about politics.
I realized later though that both are actually part of a bigger picture – the culture of Western Civilization. Women’s role in Western Civilization is generally limited to home, maternal and family life. Sarai, for instance, has the right to command her home. This was shown in the part where Abraham told Sarai “Your maid is in your power. Do to her whatever you please. ” (Gen. 16: 6). Similarly, Jocasta’s entrance in Oedipus started as a manner of putting order in the house. During this time, Creon and Oedipus were arguing because of Creon’s assumptive claims on the misfortune of their land and the solutions.
Women’s role as wife was emphasized in Sarai’s inability to conceive. Stressing this, accounts for another aspect – the importance of children in a family. It is apparent that women should bear children for their husbands and perhaps it is this tragedy that pushed Sarai to suggest for Abraham to take Hagar, her maid, and have children through her. There were also numerous instances where Abraham asked God when Sarai would conceive a child proving further how important children are not only for the “order of things” but also for the family.
If you’ll also follow, when Hagar, pregnant of Ishmael, was sent away by Sarai, an angel advised Hagar to return. Later, when Abraham sent both Hagar and Ishmael away, God did not only provide and help Hagar and Ishmael survive the desert but as promised to Abraham, blessed Ishmael’s generations. God’s participation in this picture further asserts the value of children in “His design. ” For Jocasta, another aspect of a woman’s role as wife was highlighted. Her’s focuses on enlightening, empowering and giving advise to her husband at the time of extreme doubt.
This was shown at the time Oedipus was worried and earlier – when she gave up the baby Oedipus – to prevent her husband’s fate. Women also have a role in politics, but this is limited to their symbolic purposes. Jocasta is queen to both King Lauis and Oedipus, symbolizing her continuous devotion to her land, to serve as mother of the kingdom, rather than co-ruler. Much in the same way as Sarai is called “mother of all nations,” for she is the wife of Abraham, and from her, will spring the roots and generations to come. Men, on the other hand, have a critical role in Western Civilization.
During this time, society was highly patriarchal and men, through the characters, Abraham and Oedipus, reflect not only the culture of their times, but also, the thoughts and patterns of morality and humanity. First instance was how men treats women. Twice within the sample text of Genesis did Abraham introduce Sarai as his sister for fear of being killed due to Sarai’s beauty. From this we can assume that one’s wife can be claimed by killing her husband, that a woman can be “won” or “taken” by force, else the occurrence and/or rampancy of adulterous relationships.
Perhaps it is for this reason that adultery is called a sin and that anyone who commits such will receive misfortune – just like what happened to the land of Egypt and the land of Gerar when the rulers took Sarai as their queen/wife. It is a bit different in Oedipus because here, it is depicted that women can be passed from one king to another, for Jocasta was the dead Lauis queen and was queen to Oedipus, the present king. Although there are other factors involved, fact remains that women can be passed on, as it appears fit.
Second instance was how men treats their nation. In the story of Sodom and Gommorah, Abraham considered the welfare of the people that he took the courage to technically, bargain with Yahweh – that the city must have some goodness left in it, that it cannot be destroyed with the faithful in it. From fifty people, he was able to ask God to spare Sodom if there are 10 faithful people – and sad to say, there wasn’t. Oedipus form of atonement in consideration of the welfare of his land is in a way like this.
He has chosen to blind and banish himself from the land which he has done injustice to – killing its ruler and sleeping with his own mother. Third instance is in the way men carries out their decisions. As leaders, both Abraham and Oedipus consider civility and reason before acting upon it. Abraham, for instance, took into account the fact that his and Lot’s herdsmen cannot live together and so decided to separate with his brother so that Lot and his herdsmen can pursue their own future as he goes to the opposite direction.
Much in the same way when Oedipus confronted Creon and in spite of his suspicions and doubt, set aside his fears and objectively pursued the issue Creon told him. He has called upon all the links mentioned upon him, the slave, shepherd and messenger and carefully inquired details about what happened. He did not inject ideas but rather, took the facts they offer and connected the events in a string, used his reason and acquired the truth of the matter – even if it means the realization of his fears.
It is quite noticeable though that the fatalistic and monotheistic belief patters are evident in both texts. Abraham follows the will of Yahweh while Oedipus yields to Apollo. Both also take part in atonement of mistakes, Jocasta’s suicide and Oedipus’ decision to blind and banish himself is an example. Offering sacrifices is another. There is one difference though. In Genesis, Abraham is able to talk to Yahweh and He answers him directly. Apollo has no voice in Oedipus except through the mouths of the oracle or the seers.
Conversation with divinities was possible in Genesis while it is not in Oedipus. Emphasis on human nature is also clear in both texts. Abraham, although a man of faith, has always been free to choose on what to do. Such with sleeping with Hagar and accepting the consequences of his actions, such with separating with Lot and bargaining with Yahweh to save Sodom and Gommorah, such with traveling and moving on forward to various lands, even if it means pretending to be a brother to Sarai, or if it means having to sacrifice his only son for his God.
Much in the same way as Oedipus, who has been played by fate, yes, but wittingly, listened and pursued truth as it was told by “witnesses” – living proofs of people’s actions. He has admitted that it was his own decision – not moved by any God – to strike Lauis for he was at a raging disappointment, much in the same way as it his own decision to blind and banish himself from his land – to punish himself for his crime and for causing his kingdom, misfortune for his actions or his curse. Similarly, Jocasta’s action to commit suicide, as punishment of her mistakes.
A simple truth and belief carried across times, even today, that such assessment or review can make me think like this… good only begets good. And in the end, no matter how impossible, or how human and unlikely, Justice prevails. Time teaches souls that wander barren of moments but that of voices from the past read through the lips of beings like me.
References: Catholic Biblical Association of America (1971). The New American Bible. Washington: Catholic Publishers Inc. Pickering, James H. & Hoeper, Jeffrey (1990). King Oedipus by Sophocles, translated by William Butler Yeats. Literature. New York: Macmillan
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