Sophocles' 'Oedipus The King' - Was Oedipus a victim of hubris or a victim of the gods?

Essay by DooDa February 2004

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The fate of Oedipus was bitter indeed. By the end of 'Oedipus the King', he and his fate are seen as "Luckless" (Ln 1195) and objects to "envy not at all" (Ln 1196). But what was it that caused this man to sleep with his mother and slay his father? What was it that Oedipus fell victim to? Was it the hubris that seemed to so permeate his character? Was he a puppet held in the cruel grip of the gods? It would seem that perhaps it was neither of these and that rather these things combined together as Oedipus fell victim to chance.

If the fate of Oedipus was a punishment then it was a great one and therefore must have been caused by a large sin. The largest sin we see in the play is obviously parricide and incest, which Dodds claims were the "greatest a man can commit" (Dodds).

But this can not be what he was punished for as it was his punishment. The two can not be the same. Therefore another sin must be searched for and the one most commonly blamed is his hubris.

The hubris of Oedipus is most evident in his dealings with Creon and the contrast that is later drawn between his own actions and those of Creon. Oedipus is certain that Creon has betrayed him and lied to him. He ignores the innocent man's protests and he sentences Creon to death saying "No, certainly; kill you, not banish you." (Ln 625) This was a terrible thing to do, a decision made rashly, a decision made with much hubris. The point is emphasised all the more sharply when Creon later says, "...when I lack knowledge I prefer not to speak at random." (Ln 1546) A strong contrast is drawn...