“Fear? What should a man fear? It’s all chance, chance rules our lives. Not a man on earth can see a day ahead, groping through the dark. Better to live at random, best we can.” (lines 1068-1072) The themes of fate and light and darkness are prominent in Oedipus Rex, a play written in ancient Greece by the famous poet Sophocles. Oedipus was a powerful Greek king and was notable for his compassion, sense of justice and his swiftness of thought and action. Unfortunately for him, his life fell ill when the prophecy of his birth came true. Throughout the play, the audience experiences a series of emotions. They experience pity, fear, and anger. At the end of the play, the audience may or may not experience a katharsis, a cleansing or purgation of emotions. The dispute between whether Oedipus should be viewed as a victim or merely a part of the gods manifesting their power and thereby teaching man a lesson is a common argument still in literature today.
As many members of an audience believe, Oedipus can appear as having been victimized by the prophecy stricken upon him at birth. Oedipus, being born into such a horrible predicament, had no choice but to live his life as he did always afraid of the horrible outcome of his fate. His parents Laius and Jocasta chose to selfishly bind there son’s feet together and abandon him as a way of making sure they would never see him again and never be vulnerable to the day that Oedipus’ prophecy would come true. Therefore, the emotion of pity arises in the audience and Oedipus is viewed as a victim of a very tragic fate. However, it is important to consider whether he inflicted more agony into his life by trying to fight against his fate. Were the gods punishing Oedipus and ultimately all of mankind because of his retaliation?
If so, not only was Oedipus punished, but also his parents were for interfering with the gods’ plans. Oedipus suffered the consequence of losing his sight and his mother committed suicide because of her shame and embarrassment. Today, some view the idea of fate as something planned by a greater being and for human beings, out of our control. For Oedipus and his parents, they thought that they could change their fate but as an outcome and consequence for disrespecting the gods, there was no way to escape it. As Oedipus eagerly attempted to uncover the truth about his fate, acting decisively and deliberately refusing to shield himself from the truth.
Although we see Oedipus as a playing-piece of fate, the irony becomes so magnified that it seems as if Oedipus was willingly bringing catastrophe upon himself. In one of Oedipus’ speeches, he declares that when he discovers the truth he will excommunicate the murderer from Thebes and punish him severely. Ironically, Oedipus is the murderer himself that he spoke so viciously about and he leaves Thebes and blinds himself after he finds that Jocasta has hanged herself. Despite the many character flaws that Oedipus withholds, such as quickness to anger, stubbornness, ignorance and arrogance, rather than viewing his fate as a natural result of the virtues and vices of his character, Oedipus teaches mankind a lesson in humility. Like many tragedies, Oedipus Rex teaches a lesson of morality to the audience.
It teaches the audience that it is better to be humble and that even if you are a good leader, it does not necessarily mean that you are a good person. Oedipus Rex also teaches that no matter your past or what you do to change your fate, it will always catch up to you somehow. “People of Thebes, my countrymen, look on Oedipus. He solved the famous riddle with his brilliance, he rose to power, a man beyond all power. Who could behold his greatness without envy? Now what a black sea of terror has overwhelmed him. Now as we keep our watch and wait the final day, count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last.” (lines 1678-1684) These words, spoken by the chorus, form the ending of Oedipus Rex. The chorus announces that even though Oedipus solved the riddle of the Sphinx, he was never happy with his life and his fate and he caused his own fall. Rather than a victim to his fate, he was the antagonist to his fate.
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