Oedipus Tyrannus is deemed as Sophocles’s magnum opus and is undoubtedly the most famous of all Greek tragedies. Aristotle went to the extent of calling it a perfect play. It was first performed in around 425 b. c. , only just after a plague that had wreaked havoc on Athens, Oedipus Tyrannus was set in Thebes, a city which was also facing the same catastrophe. King Oedipus was informed by the Creon, the brother of Oedipus’s wife, Jocasta that the city will remain a sufferer unless and until the slayer of the previous king is convicted.
Oedipus promised to discover the killer’s identity and to prosecute him. Ignorant of the fact that he himself was the murderer, Oedipus unremittingly trailed the truth until he found his own guiltiness and blinded himself so he might never catch the sight of his father in the afterworld. A Freudian analysis of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex (the King) would point out that Oedipus truly had an incestuous nature. This was exposed not only by Oedipus’ marriage to his own mother, by whom he had children, but also by his unreasonable preference for his daughters, Antigone and Ismene.
While the attention he showed to his daughters was profound and braced with sexuality, he dismissed his sons as creatures who are able to look after themselves. Although he was unconsciously attracted to his daughters, he also had this fear in his mind that his daughters would become pariah and will be unable to marry.
Freud thought that all the men since birth harbor not a natural repugnance to incest, but the contrary which is an instinctive sexual attraction to the mother. He says, “[The experiences of psychoanalysis] have taught . . that the first sexual impulses of the young are regularly of an incestuous nature” (Totem and Taboo, p. 160). He also emphasized that each male anchorage undecided feelings towards their fathers. “But surely I must fear my mother’s bed? ” (Oedipus Tyrannus, line 576) When Oedipus throws this question to his wife Jocasta, he is totally oblivious of the profundity of his words. The Messenger has just informed him about the murder of King Polybos of Corinth, Oedipus’ supposed father.
Now free in his mind from the intimidation of Apollo’s foretell that he would kill his father, Oedipus here desires to validate with his wife that, as his hypothetical mother (the queen of Corinth) is still living, he must still look into that for fear that he sleep with her, as the oracle also foretold. But his words touch a more primary issue: Why is the forecast that he will sleep with his mother so horribly threatening and vile? Oedipus is actually calmed and contented about the natural death of his supposed father Polybos, as in his mind this frees him from the concern that he will someday kill his father.
Freud had suggested an interesting explanation of the source of the taboos against incest and parent murder. In the primitive civilization, people lived in groups dominated by the most powerful male, the father, who hold a sexual monopoly over the group. When each of his sons grew to an age where he would challenge the father’s supremacy in order to get a part of the action, so to challenge, the fathers forced them to leave the group. After so many sons had been so treated like this, they resolute to cooperate in order to remove from power their father and get hold of the females, their mothers, for themselves.
With their collective strength, they killed the fathers. In civilized society, Freud observed, proscription against such crimes go unsaid, but this is not evidence that we no longer harbor such wishes. The conscience of mankind which now appears as an inherited mental force was acquired in connection with the Oedipus complex. However, from Sophocles’ text, it would seem that Oedipus does everything in his power to avert these two crimes.
Freud too examines the play from this vantage point although, under the novel concept of unconscious motivation, moral condemnation gives way. Freud’s perspective added another dimension to previous simplistic disputes as to whether an action was freely willed, and thus subject to moral injunction, or determined by fate. Freudian intentionality implied that there were actions which, though not intended (consciously), nevertheless were compulsive enactments of inner latent wishes (Hamilton 1993, p. 209).