Sophocles' Oedipus the King and Homer's Odyssey both deal on the topic of truth. In both works the character Tiresias, a blind prophet, participates in the different journeys by revealing various truths to the main characters. While the main importance of Tiresias in The Odyssey is to show that truth can be helpful, his importance in Oedipus the King is to attempt to discourage Oedipus on his journey to find the truth because he knows the truth can be negative as well.
The first thing that should be examined is the different ways that Tiresias reveals the truth in the two works. In The Odyssey, Tiresias is direct and to the point. He starts by stating that "A sweet smooth journey home Ã¢ÂÂ¦ is what you seek, but a god will make it hard for you." From what can be read, Tiresias feels no need 'sugarcoat' what he is telling for two simple reasons.
First, he came willingly to Odysseus, sugarcoating the truth would be a waste of time. The second and more important reason is that he has good news for Odysseus, relative to what has happened so far. On the other hand, in Oedipus the King, Tiresias skirts around telling Oedipus the truth. In fact, he initially refused to tell Oedipus anything at all, seen in such lines as "You'll get nothing from me" and "I'll never reveal my dreadful secrets." The important thing is that when Oedipus got Tiresias angered, Tiresias bluntly stated that "[Oedipus is] the curse, the corruption of the land." When Oedipus responds to this, which will be discussed later, he continues to berate Tiresias for 'lying'. Following that, Sophocles uses Tiresias to foreshadow the rest of the play for the reader, while cryptically half-hiding and half-telling Oedipus the truth, which is essentially ignored. The fact that Tiresias had to be summoned, instead of coming on his own, and that Tiresias attempted to hide the truth from Oedipus, shows that Tiresias was trying to protect Oedipus. He knew it would cause Oedipus harm in the end. Tiresias' differing attitudes in the works serves as a parallel to how the truth told in general. Truth that brings hope to people is normally easily given, but truth that brings sadness or despair is generally told with caution and reluctance.
The reaction to the information given by Tiresias is also important due to its difference. In Homer's work, Odysseus' reaction to the news is different than the joy that one might normally expect. Instead of a reaction of happiness or joy, Odysseus simply asks how he can communicate with his dead mother. But this in itself reveals something important. Essentially, Odysseus is now aware that he has more than a good chance of returning home soon, but still cannot be overjoyed because of stress that he has suffered so far. One could say that he is simply not near as worried as he was before, essentially he now has hope to arrive home to his wife and son because of Tiresias' revelation. Oedipus' reaction, on the other hand, is much different from that of Odysseus'. Simply put, the reaction to the truth that Tiresias reveals is utter disbelief and anger. Oedipus can not comprehend that he could be the plague, so he accuses Tiresias aligned with Creon in a part of a plot to overthrow him. The irony being that it is Oedipus the one searching for the truth, but when it is told, he is to close-minded to see it. Eventually Oedipus finds out the truth for himself and must realize that Tiresias was telling the truth, especially about being better of not knowing the truth of his heritage and actions. The significance of this comparison is that it also reveals the general reaction of society to truth. While Odysseus' reaction was not of the 'get up and do a happy dance' type, one can still see that he benefited from the truth, and therefore had to be at least somewhat thankful of what Tiresias told him. In the case of Oedipus, the truth proved to be harmful and therefore denied at first until it was confirmed by second source. In the real world, it is essentially the same. If finding out the truth helps someone, they would generally be appreciative of knowing the truth at the very least. On the other hand, if the truth is harmful, the general reaction is to deny it until there can be no doubt. To put it very simply, good news is better than bad news.
Although already somewhat covered, the effect of Tiresias informing the two main characters and the story as a whole should also be examined in a more specific manner. The effect of Tiresias' telling Odysseus the truth and guiding is The Odyssey is easy to see. Because of what Odysseus learnt from Tiresias, Odysseus was given hope and managed to return home to Ithaca. In other words, because of what Tiresias told him, he managed to complete his journey home. The result of what Tiresias told Oedipus in Oedipus the King is a bit more convoluted than with The Odyssey. While what Tiresias told Oedipus was true, Sophocles used that scene more as a way to foreshadow what would happen later on in the play rather than a direct plot motivator. This can be seen in the fact that Oedipus essentially discounts Tiresias' prophecy, convincing himself that Tiresias is trying to 'mess' with him. But what Tiresias told Oedipus did have an effect, although different than what would have been expected, especially since Tiresias was a trusted and respected seer. That effect was the bringing about of suspicion in Oedipus' mind of whether or not he really was the person who murdered Laius. As a result of this suspicion, Oedipus began to pursue the truth with more fervor, which did eventually lead to his confirming the truth that Tiresias had already hinted at. In relation to the real world, this is significant because it shows that while truth is a wonderful and helpful idea, it is better to not know the truth because of the pain it can cause.
Both these works, when taken in comparison to each other, reveal much about how society tends to deal with the subject of truth. On the one side, represented by The Odyssey, is the idea that truth is beneficial, and can help one on their own personal journeys through life. Sophocles' Oedipus the King represents the other side of truth, the bad and potentially harmful side. This play shows that there are truths that people are better off not knowing, for it would cause them more harm than good. As can be seen, both these works views on truth do play heavily into how society as a whole generally views and reacts to different 'kinds' of truth, being the good truths that help and the bad truths that hinder.