Oedipus the Tragic Hero?

A tragic hero is a character who makes a judgment error that eventually leads to their downfall. Oedipus is an example about a tragic hero. The play is about a tragic hero, Oedipus. He did not have control over his fate, since he was prophesied from birth. When he was an infant, an prophet prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother. King Lauis and Queen Jocasta, the parents of Oedipus instructed a servant to kill him, but instead of killing him, the servant took him away and abandoned him, causing Oedipus to fulfill his destiny.

What happened to Oedipus was fate because the servant did not want to kill the baby as instructed causing the prophecy to unfold, without his knowledge. According to Barstow (2;1912), Aristotelian requirements for a tragic hero required that a tragic hero fails to retain happiness because of significant error rather than moral corruption. Oedipus exemplifies Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero because his downfall was tied to his destiny rather than choices.

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According to Aristotle, the tragic hero has to be a person of noble character (Butcher 8, 2008). Oedipus is the King of Thebes, which qualifies him as noble character. At the beginning of the play, Oedipus is listening to his people, like a noble king. He then sends this brother in law to Creon to find a solution facing the problem in the kingdom. Oedipus is respected and loved by all because of his constant and steady ruling, The people worship him.

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The Aristotelian definition of a tragedy requires the character to portray moral obligation. Oedipus decides to investigates the murder of the former King Lauis. Creon returns bearing news about the fallen kingdom. Oedipus asks Creon to share his news with the public sense they are involved. Oedipus declares, to find the murderer of King Lauis not knowing it is him. The people were plagued because King Lauis was killed and the murderer was never caught. Oedipus felt he had an obligation to his people to find the murderer and get rid of the plague that caused havoc on his people.

Queen Jocasta tells Oedipus not to believe the blind prophet, Tiresias because prophecies aren’t always right. She confesses that her and King Lauis once had a prediction that their son would kill their father and marry their mother. She goes on to tell how Oedipus the story how the servant end up abandoning the infant. The story that Queen Jocasta tell Oedipus helps him figure out who his true identity is. Oedipus continues to investigate further into his background. Oedipus punishes himself when he discovers that he is the one that murdered King Lauis. According to Barstow (4; 1912), King Oedipus had bound himself morally when he declared publicly that the murderer would be executed or sent to exile. Therefore, he punished himself, by asking to be put in exile, but also blinding himself. This shows that Oedipus is a fair and honest because he did not spare himself from punishment.

Oedipus often appears moral and virtuous, but he is not perfect. Linnebank (6,2015) when a person who was excellent faces a downfall to one mistake, the feelings of tragedy arise. Oedipus was a fair and honest king, but the one mistake he made before king came back to haunt him. “Although, King Oedipus had much natural greatness of soul, he lacks clear vision that enables him to weigh both sides of the matter before making a decision.” (Barstow 3,1912) He had a habit of making decisions and judgment calls not knowing all the information, which causes to another of his downfall. Before, killing the former king, he had just learned that his parents were not his biological parents. So when he was at the crossroads he sees King Lauis and kills him, in the heat of the moment.

Although, later this mistake becomes his downfall despite his good works. Oedipus temperament becomes apparent when he accuses his brother in law Creon of betrayal. Linnebank (1,2015) “an ideal tragedy should not be constructed around an exceptionally virtuous person or a wicked person; it must be based on a person between the two.” Oedipus has virtue as a moral king, but at some point he does lose control. When the blind prophet, Teiresias accuses Oedipus of murdering the former King Lauis, Oedipus becomes furious and think he not believable. Oedipus then accuses his brother in law, Creon of betrayal, but since Oedipus did the save the kingdom from the sphinx he brother in law Creon remains loyal to him. This is another Aristotle’s definition of a tragedy since Oedipus had many character flaws despite being a fair and honest king.

“Tragedy is supposed to be triggered by an error of judgement as a result of the imperfection of the hero” (Butcher 14, 2008) Oedipus had a habit of making rash decisions. When he learned he that was destined to kill him biological father and mother he ran away from home without talking to him parents. This irrationality and his temper was what lead to his downfall. Due to him running away from home, thinking he would escape his fate, this led him down to the road of destruction. If he would have stayed home and talked to his adoptive parents about his discovery, his future would have had a different outcome. He would not have to had run away from home. Oedipus acted on his impulses then thinking about the situation, another mistake that lead to his downfall. “Drives the tragic hero like Oedipus to his affliction by the end of the play is his waywardness or his error or judgement since he is free in committing or not committing what is warned against by gods.” (Farahbakhsh 3, 2018)

Oedipus didn’t have to second guess himself about killing King Lauis, and afterward a plague came over the kingdom because the murderer was not caught. When Oedipus became king, during his investigation he became aware that he was the murderer of the former King Lauis, leading to his downfall. Even though King Lauis triggered Oedipus killing him. Oedipus made the decision to murder. “Oedipus was tied to his fate, and he unconsciously took paths that lead him to his ill-fate” (Dino et al. 3, 2015) Oedipus did not consciously murder his father and marry his mother. When he first heard of the prophecy he ran away from home, not knowing he was running straightforward to his fate. He did not know that the family he was running away from were not his biological parents. Oedipus suffers psychological trauma when he finds out that he killed he biological father and had married his own biological mother, and they have children. Queen Jocasta commits suicide when she finds out that Oedipus is her son.

Oedipus punishes himself for the crime of murder, and is exiled leaving his children behind. Aristotle argues that one function of a tragedy is to arouse emotions of fear and pity. These feelings of sympathy arise because Oedipus suffers yet his fate is already set. He thought by running away he had escaped his fate, but only for it be fulfilled. “The Greek tragedies were meant not to entertain but to pass on a moral lesson” (Linnebank 8, 2015) Oedipus made his decisions without thinking them through. He ran away from home, without talking to his parents first fulfilling the prophecy. When King Lauis made Oedipus angry, he killed him. According to Aristotle, “the man who attains perfect happiness in the world is a wise man who sees all their aspects all the facts or the forces with which he is dealing, and can balance and can direct his impulses under reason.” (Barstow 4, 1912)

Oedipus failed to have control over his temper and reasoning which lead to his ultimate downfall. In conclusion, this play, Oedipus the King, exemplifies Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero. Oedipus is a nobleman with very few imperfections and high moral standards. Oedipus tragic end is because of his lack of control, temperament, and punishment that exceeds his crimes. The tragedy of Oedipus the King also aligns with Aristotle by teaching a lesson of pity and fear to the audience.


Linnebank, Levon The Contemporary tragic hero. June 2015 Farahbakhsh, Alireza. “Exploring the Applicability of Aristotle’s “Tragic Flaw” to Sophocles.” THE INTERNATIONATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL “INTERNATIONAL RESEARCHERS”, 2013:8 Barstow, M (1912). Oedipus Rex as the tragic hero of Aristotle. The Classical Weekly,6(1), 2-4. Dino, Sain. (2016). “Role of Fate in Play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. Butcher. S.H. (2013) The Poetic of Aristotle. November 3. 1-39 Johnson, G., & Arp, T. (2018). Perrine’s Literature (13th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

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Oedipus the Tragic Hero?. (2020, Sep 06). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/oedipus-the-tragic-hero-essay

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