Role of seers or prophets in Sophocles' tragedies.

Essay by SERVICEj87College, Undergraduate December 2005

download word file, 5 pages 3.0

Downloaded 2247 times

"We cannot believe, we cannot deny; all is dark."(King Oedipus, pg. 39) Throughout the tragedies of Sophocles there are seers and prophets and the resolution of whether to believe their predictions or to disregard them. This internal struggle of belief causes the prophets to play a major role in the outcome of events in both King Oedipus and Antigone.

In the two tragedies by Sophocles there are prophets made and the characters who hear them are torn. "My heart is torn in two. Its hard to give way, and hard to stand abide...... Both ways are hard."(Antigone, pg. 155) The characters are unsure of whether to believe what they have been told or to disregard it as a feeble attempt for the prophets to "seek their own advantage." (Antigone, pg. 154)

In the play "King Oedipus", a major prophet is made that shapes the entire outcome of events.

Laius was warned by an oracle that his own son would kill him and that he would marry his mother, Jocasta. Determined to reverse this fate, Laius bound his newborn son's feet and sent a shepherd away with him with instructions to leave the child to die on the mountain of Cithaeron. This shows how much effect the prophets really have over the characters.

However, Oedipus did not die. The shepherd who was supposed to place Oedipus on the mountain felt sympathy and he passed the child into the hands of a Shepard who then passed Oedipus on to the shepherd in Corinth so that the child may be raised as a prince of Corinth.

As the play progresses Oedipus grows up with his "adopted" parents but later he hears of a prophet that he will kill his father and marry his mother. Hearing this, Oedipus fled from home, never to return. Again we see how much influence the seers have on the outcome of events. It was on this journey away from home, which would take Oedipus to Thebes; he was confronted and harassed by a group of travelers, whom he killed in self-defense. The group of travelers was none other than Laius and his companions and when Oedipus killed them, not knowing their true identities; he unknowingly completed the prophecy that was made.

The remainder of the play is about Oedipus and his search to find the killer of Laius and his true parents. He is unaware that the killer is actually himself and he goes on a mad search to find the killer. A prophet is made saying that "your enemy is yourself." (King Oedipus, pg. 36) At first Oedipus thinks that this could not possibly be true, but then he remembers the group of men he killed in self-defense and he realizes that it was actually he who killed Laius.

He panics and worries that someone will find out it was his doing. He goes on a mad search to find his true parents until he finally finds the shepherd whom was given the task of placing him atop the mountain of Cithaeron. The shepherd informs him that he is the son of Laius and Jocasta. He realizes what he has done and he is broken. Jocasta hears of the truth as well and she kills herself. When Oedipus discovers her body he gouges out his eyes and demands to be banished from the city, Creon is happy to oblige.

In the tragedy of Antigone seers also play a role in the conclusion of events just as they did in the tragedy of King Oedipus. The play is about Antigone's brothers and their fight for power over Thebes. Eteocles and Polynices, sons of Oedipus and brothers to Antigone and Ismene, died at each others hands in battle and Creon takes control of Thebes. Creon states that anyone who mourns the death of Polynices must be put to death due to the fact that in his opinion Polynices actions of attacking the city were unjust and he deserves to rot in godless shame.

Antigone goes against Creon's orders and buries her brother and gives him the proper burial procedures and for this she was sentenced to death. Creon changes his mind after a heated argument with his son and after his son claims that "if she dies, she does not die alone" (Antigone, pg. 146) After his disagreement with his son Haemon, he decides that instead of killing Antigone right away he promises her a living death. He decides to enclose her, alive, in a tomb where she will slowly die.

The only time that a prophecy is made near the end of the play after Antigone is put into her tomb. Creon meets with the prophet Teiresias and the prophet claims that Creon was unjust in refusing the burial of Polynices and his punishment to Antigone. As a result of his cruelty and unjust behavior he "shall have given a son of your own loins to death, in payment for death." (Antigone, pg. 154) Creon does not believe this prophecy about a "curse" on his family and claims that "all prophets seek their own advantage." (Antigone, pg. 154) He later talks with the chorus and he decides to take the advice of the prophecy.

He returns to the field where Polynices lay and he performed the proper burial procedures. When the deed was done however he heard Haemon, son of Creon, screaming in anguish. Creon runs to his son to see Antigone had killed herself. In rage at his father's cruelty Haemon draws his sword and attempts to strike his father but fails, he slips and accidentally stabs himself and dies with Antigone. Word gets back to Eurydice that her son is dead and she too kills herself in a fit of despair. The family curse has come true for Creon.

A question that must be asked is whether or not any of this would have happened if there were no prophecies. In the play King Oedipus, if Laius hadn't of listened to the prophecy about his son killing him he wouldn't have tied him up and sent him away to die. As a result, his son wouldn't have grown up in a different region with different parents and Oedipus would have never met his real father and mistaken him for a thief.

If Oedipus hadn't listened to the prophecy about him killing his father and marrying his mother he wouldn't have run away from home and he wouldn't have met his real father and killed him in self defense.

In "Antigone", if Creon hadn't of taken the prophets advice and gone to fulfill the deed of burying Polynices he would not have met his son there and his son, Haemon, would not have drawn his sword and clumsily stabbed himself. If Haemon hadn't of killed himself then there would also have been no need for Eurydice to kill herself and the family "curse" that was prophesized would not have happened to Creon.

So all in all, if the seers did not exist and did not make any prophecies then there would have been no problems. Each time a prophet was made it set into place a series of events that, in the end, would cause the prophets to come true. If none of the prophets were taken seriously and they were disregarded then none of catastrophic events would have taken place.