The Punishment of the King/Oedipus Rex

Essay by Anonymous UserA+, September 1996

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At the end of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Oedipus, king of Thebes, ends up banished forever from his kingdom. Additionally, Oedipus physically puts out his own eyes, for several reasons which will be discussed later. The question is: Did Oedipus deserve his punishments? There are many factors that must be considered in answering this, including how Oedipus himself felt about his situation. His blinding was as much symbolic as it was physical pain. After all factors have been considered, I think that only Oedipus' banishment was the necessary punishment..

It is important to keep in mind the whole basic reasoning for Oedipus' search for Laius' killers: he wished to put an end to a deadly plague, and that plague would only be stopped when said murderer is killed, or driven from the land (pp 4-5). Thusly, when it is revealed that Oedipus himself murdered Laius, then banishment seems to be the only option.

Death, in my mind, is not valid simply because of what it might do to the kingdom's people. Even though it seems that Oedipus has not been a particularly good monarch, in fact his only major accomplishment seems to be killing the Sphinx all those years ago, having a king put to death could have serious repercussions on the rest of the kingdom. So in the end, the only way to cure the plague and keep the kingdom stable seems to be the banishment of Oedipus. In this case, the question of whether or not he deserved to be punished seems irrelevant; Oedipus' only goal was to stop the plague and by leaving, he has accomplished that goal. Banishment was the only choice.

But what exactly was Oedipus being punished for? Even after re-reading the play, this still seems to be a gray area. Incest? Immoral,