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The story of Oedipus the King is the epitome of tragedy. A great hero, who was once revered as an equal to the gods, fell from grace when it was learned that he had killed his father and married his mother. In the time of Sophocles, Oedipus was pitied for having committed these sins. Today’s audience is probably more disgusted with the incestuous relationship he has with his mother than the murder of his father. After all, it was Laius, former King of Thebes, who cemented the fate of Oedipus. Oedipus was the convenient scapegoat for the tragedies in the play. How could he have avoided a fate that was ultimately unavoidable? What more could we expect of any other man in the same position? Oedipus consciously acted morally and selflessly in regards to his prophecy, the kingdom of Thebes as well as his ultimate fate.
Oedipus acted as a hero in his attempt to avoid a prophecy that involved harming his parents. Oedipus’s nobility in the matter is especially evident in comparison to how Laius tried to avoid his fate. Laius was given the first prophecy that his son would one day kill him. When Jocasta gave birth to a boy, Oedipus, Laius had his feet staked together and sent him to be abandoned on a mountain to die. Jocasta went along with this plan to kill her son. Laius and Jocasta from that point forward deserve no sympathy for their respective fates. Upon uncovering the truth about baby Oedipus, there was no public outcry for the crime of attempted infanticide on behalf of Laius and Jocasta. Oedipus in contrast, attempted to circumvent the same prophecy by leaving the city of Corinth. By doing this, he was assuring that he would not kill Polybus or marry Merope. Sadly, these were not his real parents and they had no bearing on the prophecy. However, Oedipus did not have that information. Rather than killing Polybus and Merope, which would have been in line with Laius’s method of avoiding fate, Oedipus sought a peaceful resolve. Oedipus made a moral choice to separate himself from those he thought were his parents in order to avoid harming them.
From the day Oedipus set foot in the city of Thebes, he acted as a hero. Oedipus loved the kingdom of Thebes and the people held him in great regard. He first came to Thebes and vanquished a Sphinx who was terrorizing the city. If Oedipus had failed, the Sphinx would have eaten him alive. Therefore, before he was even crowned the king, he placed the kingdom above his personal safety. When the plague came to the city, Oedipus was greatly disturbed and vowed to find a resolution to the problem. He sent for a message from the oracle and learned that the murderer of King Laius was to be found in order to remove the plague. Oedipus, unaware of course that he was the actual killer, launched a citywide investigation to learn the identity of the murderer. He offered to banish the killer rather than put him to death in order to speed up the process of justice. When it appeared that no one would step forward with information, Oedipus announced a curse on the murderer. In hindsight, we see these things as ironic. Oedipus proved repeatedly that he was a loyal, if not vigilant, servant to the people of Thebes.
Upon learning that his prophecy was fulfilled, Oedipus acted in such a manner that it should be considered brave and selfless. Oedipus eventually learned that he had indeed killed his father and married his mother, despite his best efforts to avoid that situation. There were a few moments where he may have acted irrationally, running through the palace with his sword in hand for example. This can be forgiven provided the horrific moment of recognition that he had just endured. Oedipus knew how horrible his sins were and he did not attempt to conceal the truth. Furthermore, he did not shift the blame to Laius, Jocasta or the gods that controlled his fate. He accepted the burden as his own. Needing to immediately punish himself physically to offset the emotional pain he was feeling, he used Jacosta’s dress pin to gauge out his own eyes. Then he begged Creon, successor to the throne, to either kill him or banish him from Thebes. With this plea, Oedipus, now completely blind and helpless, offered to sacrifice himself so that the people of Thebes could live. Oedipus knew that if he left the plague would end. Also the kingdom of Thebes would not be further shamed by his infamous sins. Oedipus acted as noble as any man could be expected to act given his unavoidable fate.
In Oedipus The King, Sophocles describes the tragic downfall of the king of Thebes. It is true that Oedipus suffered through tragedy, but not as a result of his own conscious decisions. He was a victim of fate. Just as you cannot attach blame to a man struck by a random lightning bolt for burning the sidewalk where he stood, nor can you find fault in Oedipus, who could not escape fate despite making a moral attempt to do so. Oedipus served valiantly as King of Thebes and selflessly pursued the best interest of the people. Oedipus made moral choices regarding his own fate as well. He elected to punish himself physically and banish himself from the kingdom that he loved so that others would be protected from harm. There is no denying the fact that Oedipus should be viewed as a tragic figure in literature. Oedipus should also be celebrated as a hero because his horrific fate would have been meaningless had it not been a paradox to his gallantry.
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