Strength Equals Downfall
Aristotle defined a tragic story as the adventure of a good man who reaches his ultimate downfall because he pushed his greatest quality too far. Sophocles advocates the definition in the tragic play Oedipus Rex. He develops the play with the great polarities of fame and shame, sight and blindness, and ignorance and insight to show Oedipus’ experiences in search for knowledge about his identity. Through his search, Oedipus pushes his quest for truth too far and ultimately reaches his doom. Oedipus’ reliance on his intellect is his greatest strength and ultimate downfall.
Oedipus is shown to be a well-liked and trusted king among all his townspeople. Solving the riddle of the Sphinx and saving Thebes brought him great fame and popularity. When time came to save the town from Laios’ killer, Oedipus relied much on his intellect. He searched for information about the night of the murder from Creon and Teiresias, but as he learned more details, Oedipus realized not only that he was the killer but also that he married his mother. Throughout his inquiry he believed he was doing good for his people as well as himself, but eventually it brought him shame. Oedipus was humiliated and disgusted and stated, ‘…kill me; or hurl me into the sea, away from men’s eyes for ever(p882, 183).’; Oedipus’ wanted to be isolated from the people of Thebes because all his respect and fame was destroyed by his fate.
Oedipus’ fate caused him to isolate himself by blinding himself. Ironically, when Oedipus had his sight, he didn’t know the truth about the murder or even his life. He thought a group of bandits killed Laios and that his parents were from Corinth. Teiresias, a blind man, accused Oedipus of being blind ‘with both his eyes(p855, 196).’; Oedipus used his ‘blinded’; sight to discover the truth that brought him to his demise. Since he ‘had too long been blind to those for whom he was searching…from this hour he would go in darkness(p878, 49)!’; His strong reliance on his intellect unfortunately led him to see no more.
When Oedipus blinded himself, he actually had more insight than before. His ignorance about the murder caused him to rely on his intellect to find out the truth. He persisted learning more not only from Creon and Teiresias but also from the messenger and the shepherd. He went against his wife Jocasta’s wishes of having ‘no more questioning(p872, 140)’; because he felt ‘the truth must be made known(146).’; Eventually, Oedipus discovered that all the lies he held as true made him ignorant his whole life. Only his quest for truth brought him insight to the reality not only about the murder but also about his entire life.
Through his persistence for finding the truth, Oedipus’ reliance on his knowledge served as both his greatest strength and ultimate downfall. In all his experiences, he went from having fame, sight and ignorance to shame, blindness, and insight. He who had ‘solved the famous riddle and towered up…no mortal eyes but looked on him with envy(p884, 293)’; was swept over by ruin. Oedipus pushed his need for truth and knowledge too far and ultimately lost everything he cherished. Sophocles shows his main character as the perfect hero to a perfect tragedy.