Oedipus the King: Human Power vs. Supernatural Power

Essay by ShadownetHigh School, 12th gradeA, February 2008

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By definition, a tragedy invokes pity or fear on the audience while telling a story of misfortune as a result of reversal of situation. This is usually due to the protagonist's hamartia, or character flaw. All this is present in Sophocles' play, "Oedipus the King". The play can also be considered a tragedy due to fate. The tragic effect it causes is due to the conflict between the omnipotent will of the gods and the futile efforts of humans threatened with disaster. Regardless of being a king and having won commendation as the savior of Thebes, Oedipus could not overcome the destiny prescribed to him by Apollo, at Delphi, and it was this conflict that caused his downfall.

King Oedipus was the most powerful man in Thebes. He achieved his power by defeating the Sphinx and saving the city. It is for this that he is praised as being the greatest man in Thebes. However, he is "not one of the immortal gods…yet…the man most surest in mortal ways" (5). This leads to a battle between Oedipus, the most powerful human, and the destiny given to him by the gods. Unbeknownst to him, however, he had already fulfilled the prophecy that he would kill his father, and wed his mother. In fact, it is because Oedipus denies his fate that the city he had saved was stricken with a plague by the gods. While Oedipus was able to save the village, the gods were able to condemn it even more. While all of Thebes suffers, the gods make Oedipus suffer the most, as the leader of the cursed city. He himself tells them "not one [of them] is as sick as [he]…[because] it is for them [he suffers], more than for himself" (5-7). It is not the city that is being punished, but Oedipus.

Sophocles demonstrates this conflict between human power and the power of the gods in order to show us that we should not go against their will. It is useless to try to fight your destiny, because humans con not hope to truly understand the supernatural. People like Oedipus believe that with only the knowledge of the future they can be equals to, or even surpass, the gods. It is due to this flaw that Oedipus met his downfall, and ultimately was left exiled, blind, and alone.

Sources: Shakespeare's Oedipus Cycle