During the times of the Ancient Greeks, the pursuit of knowledge was an important part of their society. Although throughout the Greek history, stories portray the “hero” realizing that he cannot avert fate, Oedipus ignores this and attempts to garner more insight into his heritage. In Oedipus Rex, Sophocles presents Oedipus’ pursuit of the truth and his will to be a “hero” as his character flaws that eventually lead to his downfall.
At the beginning of the play, the readers learn that Oedipus, the new king of Thebes has sent Creon to find out from the Delphic Oracle how to stop the plague. When Creon arrives and announces that the murderer of Laius needs to be exiled before the plague can end, Oedipus acts as the hero and tells his people that he will not stop until the murderer is punished. Sophocles uses Oedipus’ heroic tendencies and willingness to find the truth to lead Oedipus to his downfall. Through Oedipus’ urging, a blind prophet comes to tell the people who killed Laius. Because of Oedipus’ ignorance, he pushes the prophet to far and the prophet announces that in fact Oedipus was the killer. Sophocles gives Oedipus many character flaws including his inclination to ignore the facts. What I found interesting was the fact that the prophet was blind yet he could see the truth and Oedipus had sight but he was too blinded by his ignorance to realize the truth.
Although a good tragedy consists of the main character falling to his demise by his own hand, Sophocles is cruel in the way that he portrays Oedipus’ life. When first reading the play, Oedipus is hailed as the hero for solving the Sphinx’s riddle and he is crowned the new king of Thebes. Oedipus seems to have the perfect life complete with a doting wife, who we later find out to be his mother, and a city that respects him. This bravery and heroism of Oedipus is soon overshadowed by his need to solve the new riddle of Laius’ death. Oedipus becomes paranoid and pushes for more information that eventually leads to him realizing that he in fact killed Laius and that Jocasta, his wife, is also his mother. Sophocles allows Oedipus to fall into a depression that not only leads to the suicide of Jocasta but the exiling of his two daughters because of their affiliation with him. I believe that only a hero of the tragedy should be lead to their downfall and not the rest of their family. It is then no longer about the hero’s realizations ruining not only their own life but also their families.
At the end of the play, the reader sees that Oedipus is humbled and has gone through a lot of pain while he apologizes to his family members. After Oedipus blinds himself for not being able to see the truth, I felt even more compassion for this character and I wondered how Sophocles could be so cruel to this character. But, I realize that every great tragedy has a hero that falls by his own hand and a surprise that will shock all readers by the end. These are most likely the reasons why Oedipus Rex was Sophocles’ most famous tragedy.