The Theme of Oedipus Rex

Essay by Lollygagers15Junior High, 7th grade May 2004

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In Greek mythology, one of the major themes is the importance of fate and free will. The story of Oedipus Rex is a perfect example that shows this theme. The major theme explored in Oedipus Rex is that fate and free will are intertwined with the main character, Oedipus. Oedipus is not only fated to perform such detestable acts, but his infamous behavior (which leads him to commit these terrible acts) determines his fate. The crimes that he commits against his father and mother are abhorrent but not as hateful as that of ignoring the very signs, which could have prevented the horrible tragedy. By not paying attention to the prophecy or following up on the rumors about his heritage, Oedipus set into motion the fate that is ordained him. His assumptions and arrogance about who he truly is leads to his downfall. In the story of Oedipus Rex, Sophocles demonstrates that it is Oedipus who chooses his path, the one of ignorance rather than clarity, and in doing so; he must take responsibility for his actions, which lead to his tragic downfall.

One of the ingredients of Oedipus' personality that leads to his horrific fall is the characteristic of arrogance. During his conversation with Tieresias, Oedipus says, "Say what you will. Whatever you say is worthless." (Page 20) This quote shows that Oedipus believes that he is special and is better than anyone else. Throughout the conversation, Oedipus treats Tieresias with such disrespect and acts as if the man is inflicted with some sort of horrible disease. He acts as though he is on a different level then him. Oedipus believes that Tieresias has no feelings and is ignorant to the city. However, it is clear that Tieresias told Oedipus the truth of the murder as if he were trying to help him open his eyes from Oedipus' blindness, but like most of the time, Oedipus' arrogance spoke instead of his mind. Throughout the play there are a number of other scenes that show Oedipus arrogance, which also lead to many other dangerous characteristics of his personality.

The second characteristic of Oedipus is his anger that he develops from his arrogance. Because Oedipus is arrogant and self-centered, he begins to defend himself and, in doing so, he builds up a great amount of anger against certain characters in the play because he believes that they are not worthy of stating their thoughts. This anger of his mostly occurs in the beginning of the play when Tieresias visits the kingdom. After Tieresias tells Oedipus the true murderer of Laios, Oedipus begins to claim that Creon has plotted against him to overthrow him as king. Oedipus says, "Creon desires in secret to destroy me! He has brought this decrepit fortune-teller, this collector of dirty pennies, this prophet fraud." (Page 21) This statement shows that through his rage, Oedipus shows that he believes that since he has such a high place in society as king, people are trying to overthrow him to receive his place in the kingdom. Oedipus displayed anger throughout the whole story, which greatly affected him. It truly hinders him and exhibits how he has clearly changed his thoughts about certain people.

A third and last characteristic of Oedipus' personality is his lack of trust. Oedipus exhibits this characteristic particularly at the beginning of the play. Due to the fact that Oedipus is proud of himself and angry at specific individuals, this generates the characteristic of lack of trust. For example, after Oedipus and Tieresias get into their heated argument, Oedipus then demands to Tieresias "Am I to bear this from him?-Damnation take you! Out of this place! Out of might sight!" (Page 23) This quotation illustrates that Oedipus has no more use for Tieresias. He believes that there is no reason to believe Tieresias' acquisition of the murderer. Also, after the discovery of Creon bringing Tieresias to the kingdom, Oedipus feels that he can no longer trust Creon nor Tieresias. This lack of trust in these specific characters relates to Oedipus' characteristic of arrogance. Oedipus feels that because he has such a powerful position, there are people, such as Creon, that want to overthrow Oedipus and take his position. Therefore, Oedipus believes that he can not trust certain characters. Along with having lack of trust in Tieresias and Creon, Oedipus also shows lack of trust to the Gods and to the prophecies. The characteristic of lack of trust in Oedipus' personality truly affects him and is one of the explanations for his great downfall.

It is clear that Sophocles' message in the story of Oedipus is that it is Oedipus who ultimately chooses his path through free will and, by doing so; he must take responsibility for the actions that he has performed. Oedipus' arrogance, anger, and lack of trust are the key factors that help him fulfill his own prophecy in which of course, brings the disastrous consequence of his downfall. The theme of this play is extremely important to all people. This legendary theme of the ancient world is still read and studied today for a reason. It is thought provoking; it withstands the test of time, and is relevant to our world. This theme, which includes responsibility, theism, destiny, and knowledge versus ignorance, can be applied to today. The people, who take the time to appreciate Oedipus Rex, and all of the culture of antiquity for that matter, will become strong, more insightful individuals.