‘Oedipus the King,’ also known as ‘Oedipus Rex’ is one of the three Greek plays about Thebes written by Sophocles. In fact the plays form a trilogy (Oedipus Rex, Oedipus Colonus and Antigone) with the same characters. The plays are sometimes referred to as the ‘Oedipus Plays’ since Oedipus is the main character. Sophocles’ genius lies in the crafting of these plays, and their characters, almost bringing them to life. Throughout the course of ‘Oedipus Rex’ he expresses the power of fate and predestination that leads the characters astray.
In fact, it was the stubborn belief in superstitions and prophecies that Sophocles highlights.
Both the heroes, Oedipus and Creon are popular tragic heroes of Greek mythology. Oedipus is bright and has profound intellect, but at the same time is quick to make rash decisions without much thought. Creon though is depicted as a man of reason, much more subtle, unlike the brash Oedipus. The play begins with Oedipus ruling Thebes with a firm hand.
The people believe him to be their savior because Oedipus is the one who saves them from the curse of the Sphinx, a half female half lion monster, by solving her riddle. King Lauis who ruled before Oedipus had left Thebes for a while under the kingship of Creon.
But King Lauis is killed. Meanwhile Creon offers his sister’s hand in marriage to anyone who could rid the city of the Sphinx by solving her riddle. It is Oedipus who is able to solve it, marries Jocosta (Creon’s sister), and gains rule of part of Thebes.
From the beginning Oedipus is aware of that there is some curse on him. He learns from an oracle that he is destined to kill his father and mate with his own mother. But it is his over-bearing belief in this curse that eventually results in his fall. At the beginning of the play Oedipus is shown to have great strength of character and will, and is a man of understanding.
People have a high regard for him and fear him the same. But the one weakness that lied in Oedipus was his impulsiveness. Throughout the play are numerous instances where Oedipus makes rash decisions, and is quick to jump to conclusions without much thought. His vanity leads him to kill Lauis over a mere brawl. Later when the blind prophet Tiresias warns him not to investigate the murder of Lauis, Oedipus is incensed and argues that Tiresias himself is the murderer. When the prophet reveals the truth, Oedipus is enraged, accusing the old man of corruption.
He is bent on believing that Creon wants to seize power until he realizes that Creon himself chooses not to rule even thought he has the right to a third of Thebes. When Jocasta kills herself, Oedipus gouges his eyes with her broaches blinding himself in despair. And when he does learn the truth, he demands his own exile out of shame and disgust. Sophocles portrays Oedipus as a man of honor and dignity, a matter of prime importance to ancient Greeks. He was also a man of great intellect – another feature admired by them.
The riddle of the Sphinx was baffling to say the least, but it was only Oedipus who could solve it. What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening? ” To this Oedipus replies, “Man” (who crawls on all fours as a baby, walks upright later, and needs a walking stick in old age). Oedipus, in fact was a typical hero in every sense of the word. He was short-tempered, proud, and stubborn, with unflinching dedication and loyalty. He had a strong conscience, an intelligent mind and passion to do good for his people and his city. But worst of all was his inability to see clearly. Sophocles describes this by using a theme of ‘sight and blindness’ in the play often.
Oedipus can see, but remains blind to reality. In contrast, the old prophet can see clearly even though he is blind. Such themes were often a part of Greek mythology. But the theme of blindness has special importance in Oedipus Rex – at times literal, at times metaphorical. Later when Oedipus learns that Jocasta has killed herself, and when he does learn that he fulfilled the prophecy, he blinds himself out of guilt, and anger at not being able to see or think clearly. Oedipus is over-bearing in many ways, and it is his over-bearing sense of self that misleads him so easily.
After blinding himself he leaves to spend the rest of his life in exile, with the aid of his daughter Antigone. Creon, Jocosta’s brother, and Oedipus’ relative and friend stands in sharp contrast to Oedipus. In Oedipus Rex Creon plays the role of a calm and controlled man with a mind that reasons. Creon is a close friend of Oedipus, but that too does not keep the headstrong Oedipus from suspecting that Creon wanted to rule Thebes. Creon though claims that he is not interested in ruling Thebes, and that Oedipus is only a king in name, since he has the right to as much of Thebes as Oedious himself.
He represents a semblance of diplomacy and stability. In fact, these were the very things lacking in Oedipus. Creon also shows traits of being much more reasonable. An example is when Creon brings news from the oracle and wishes to tell it to Oedipus is person. Oedipus though is insistent that it be told in public, not keeping anything from anyone. One can see various instances where the two heroes are opposing in their approaches, and manner of dealing with situations. While Oedipus can be called childish and haughty, Creon was much more clear-headed and foresighted.
But there were some things that the two heroes shared in common. Both had won the hearts of the people, were respected, and loved the city of Thebes. They were also very keen followers of the Greek gods. Since most Greek mythology was built around gods and goddesses, they played a crucial role ion determining the course of the story. In fact the theme of gods and of predestination plays a key role in Oedipus Rex. Oedipus is always wary of his curse told to him by an oracle. He seeks help from Apollo to determine the cause of the plague. Creon too follows the will of the gods.
When Oedipus demands to be exiled, Creon waits for approval from the gods before taking any action. It is worth mentioning here that if Oedious Rex and Antigone are compared, one can see that both the kings accuse the old prophet Tiresias of corruption when he tells them that the gods are against them. But there is also a clear difference that follows. While Creon tries to change, and amend his wrongdoings, Oedipus remains ‘blind’ and refuses to acknowledge his mistakes. Eventually, Oedipus is left wandering blind and lonely, while he leaves his daughters in Creon’s care.