The Innocence of Oedipus the King - Essay Sample

Published: 2021-08-11
1431 words
6 pages
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Vanderbilt University
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Like several other Greek tragedies, the story of Oedipus is detailed in its elaboration of characters in a way that makes them come alive and bring to surface the struggle of man against fate. This particular tragedy achieves its philosophical communication of the nature of man via the manner in which it presents the curse of a family as it descends through generations. In its general perspective, it is easy to see the comparison that the play has with the myth of the House of Atreus. Most of the Greek plays in the period of Sophocles had the splendor of settings, extremities of emotions and the concern of sexual relationships alongside dynastic power. The same characteristics of the Theban plays are evinced in this play by the supernatural existence of the Delphic oracle and the mention of the prophets which highlights the sense of inescapable fate. The Three Theban plays revolve around the fate of Thebes in the time of King Oedipus reign. They try to capture the idea of fate while showing the idea of free will through King Oedipus, his mother Jocasta who tries to protect him from the knowledge behind the riddle of Oedipus identity, his daughter and sister Antigone in highlighting consequences of actions and Tiresias who points the metaphorical blindness of people who decline to believe in the truth. The three Theban plays by Sophocles show the most heinous and polluting crimes as brought about by divine guidance and the choice of free will.

In Oedipus the King, there are various controversies as to whether Oedipus was innocent or guilty. The two perspectives appear explicitly in the life of Oedipus and the choices he made which led to his fated ill demise. In the play, it is easy to see how both innocence and guilt play a part in his fate and his actions from different perspectives. In a generalized view, Oedipus is unquestionably innocent because he put all his effort into avoiding the prophecy of the oracle. Despite the fact that he is angry and blames the gods for ridiculing his life, he does not once curse them as he holds onto the belief that this tragedy is a consequence of ignorance. Besides, Oedipus does not have a clue of Thebes past, he is not an assassin. Rather, he comes across as an innocent man who only did what he figured out was right in his time.

The death of his father King Laius was not in accordance with the will of Oedipus. Though he plays the central role in the assassination of his father, Oedipus acts were only out of the lessons that they taught him as a prince of Corinth. His trait of impatience had taken hold of him even as he grew up with in Corinth, a society where everyone had to accept and respect any member of royalty irrespective of their imperfections. Being of noble breeding, it is inevitable that he would carry his attitudes wherever he went. The trait of self-sufficiency and inability to see past personal success was something evident in his father King Laius as well who was more conceited and never cared much about other people. It is therefore notable that Oedipus innocence emanates from the fact that he had royal blood in him. In other words, King Laius and his men wanted to punish Oedipus for not honoring the king, while on the other hand, Oedipus wanted respect from the king and his people. The first blow that led to the demise of King Laius came from his chariot's driver who attacked Oedipus. Out of defense, honor, and fear for his life, Oedipus reacted and killed everyone in the chariot including his father. An important thing to note at this point is that Oedipus when killing King Laius, he had no idea that he was his father because he ran away at the fear of killing Polybus who he previously thought was his father. If there is any sense of guilt at this point, it is on the Oracle who had prophesized to both Oedipus and King Laius that Oedipus would kill his father and in trying to escape this, the fate only put him in a position where he killed the man whom he later realized was his father. It is upon realization of his act that Oedipus says, "What have you designed, O Zeus, to do with me?" to show that he was not in control of his actions thus proving his innocence.

Every intention of Oedipus was positive, and most of the times he tried avoiding the oracle only to find out that he could not cheat his fate no matter what actions he took. The concept in this context disclose the operation of the divine law in the play and that it often plays against the human law as everything that Oedipus went through was already predetermined even before his birth. It was not only Oedipus who tried to cheat his way out of the fated life but also his father, King Laius. It shows that the characters in the play were not in control of the outcomes of their choices and therefore anything that happened, in which many people would consider Oedipus guilty, were out of his control. It was not his fault that Oedipus ended up marrying Jocasta, his mother. After defeating the Sphinx by solving the riddle to become the new King of Thebes, Oedipus marries the Jocasta, the widowed queen, unaware that this was his mother. As a result of killing his father and marrying his mother, a plague falls on the citizens of Thebes, and the riddle is that the murderer has to be driven out of Thebes for the plague to cease. It is clear that the god Apollo already passed the judgment on Oedipus and found him guilty. However, the truth of the fact after a precise analysis of the play shows that it was out of ignorance that Oedipus committed the mentioned sins. It is not reasonable to find him guilty if he did not consciously kill King Laius and willingly had a sexual relationship with Jocasta.

According to Aristotles idea of good and bad Oedipus is a good person but burdened by a cruel gift from the gods that he cannot escape. A curse was placed on Oedipus since he was three years old and he had no choice in deciding this hence proving his innocence. The Chorus referred to him as a sinful individual and requested him that instead of just blinding himself, he should also kill himself. An interesting arch offered here is that the Chorus never understood that they were as blind as the king because they could not see the truth. The fact that Oedipus escaped Corinth to avoid killing Polybus shows that he was someone with good intention and full of compassion. Oedipus haste of common sense is encountered when he consistently goes against the commands of the oracle.

Oedipus cries that Im god abandoned when he realizes that the prophecies of the oracle came to pass and he blames the gods for deserting him. He curses himself for his ignorance to show his sense of responsibility for his actions. Oedipus acknowledges that he was careless and ignorant and does not even think of blaming the gods for the outcome of his life or fate. Oedipus claims that my load is mine taking full responsibility and extended this by sympathizing with the people who, out of kindness, kept him alive.

Oedipus is therefore innocent because, from the day he was born, everyone in the play took part in advancing ignorance that molded his destiny. Laius and Jocasta abandoned as a baby only to be found by a shepherd who gave the boy to King Polybus who neglected to tell him his true identity. If Polybus had been honest with Oedipus then maybe there would be a different turn of events. Though Oedipus consistently blamed himself for the events that unfolded in his life, there was nothing he did that was not predetermined by the divine law in the play. His intentions through the play were pure and out of an honest heart but no matter what good he tried to achieve, his fate played against him, always submitting him to the losing side where his choices only led to suffering in his life. Oedipus lived in accordance with the law of man, but in the realms of the gods who foresaw events, he was proven guilty. Hence, for as long as guilt constitutes malicious intent, Oedipus is innocent.

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