Oedipus the Irony
In Sophocles’s Oedipus The King, Oedipus’s life was set for him. He learned through the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, that during the span of his lifetime that he would kill his father and marry his mother. He was obviously concerned by this. Laius also received the same Oracle from Apollo. Laius, the King of Thebes, was also worried by this prophecy. They both tried to stop their destiny and change the future. They believe that they were powerful enough to control everything around them. Ironically, these two strangers meet and Oedipus kills Laius and marries Laius widow. Then in order to stop the plague that hits the city Oedipus needs to find the murder of the former king of Thebes. He even curses the murder and demand that he speaks up. Ironically, it is no other than himself. He also warned by his wife/mother Jocasta not to continue the search for killer. He does not listen to her, and in return he discovers the horrible truth. In which costs Jocasta her life. He also says that he will go easy on the man who will turn himself in for the murder of Laius. But, ironically the punishment that he gives himself is far worse than anyone else would have received. This great play is filled with many cynical parts throughout. But the irony is what makes this play such genius.
When Laius got his Oracle of Apollo from Delphi (that his son would kill him and marry his widow), he tried to control faith by having his baby boy killed. He had baby Oedipus bounded and pierced by the feet and left on the mountainside for dead. The baby was given to King Polybus, ruler of Corinth. Polybus took care of Oedipus like one of his own. Oedipus even believes that he was Polybus’s son. Then Oedipus received the same Oracle that he would kill his father and marry his mother. He tried to fight faith by leaving Corinth, so he could not kill Polybus (who Oedipus though was his real father). Both men tried to fight faith yet they instead themselves directly to their destiny. Because on Oedipus journey away from the Kingdom of Corinth, he meet up with his true father, Laius, and killed him. Fulfilling the first part of the Oracle. So even in trying to stop faith, they instead fell strait into it. Ironically, in trying to escape killing his father (whom he thinks is Polybus) he kills a complete stranger (his real father, Laius).
I believe that in these two men trying to fight faith, they lead themselves to it. Instead of stopping the Oracle send to them, they stepped right into it. Even when they knew the future they were unable to stop it. Unknowingly, Oedipus killed his father Laius. They both thought that they were able to control their own destiny, but in the end they walked right into it.
After killing Laius, Oedipus journeyed into the kingdom of Thebes (his home town). Being a wise man, Oedipus saved the city of Thebes by solving the riddle of the Sphinx, which was terrorizing the people of the city. As his reward, Oedipus went on to become King of Thebes and marry Jocasta widow of Laius. Thus fulfilling the second part of the Oracle of Apollo. Then a great plague swept the city. Oedipus learned from Creon (Jocasta brother, Oedipus uncle) that the only way that the plague would end if Laius murder was found, “Creon: Banish the man, or pay back blood with blood./ Murder sets the plague-storm on the city”(Oedipus the King, 113-114). So the king went on a search through the city for the murder of the former king of Thebes (unknowingly himself). “Oedipus: if any one knows who murdered Laius,/ the son of Labdacus, I order him to reveal/ the whole truth to me”(Oedipus the King, 254-256). Then he calls for Lord Tiresias, who is a prophet of Apollo. Tiresias does not want to tell the Oedipus the truth, because he knows that it will cause great disturbance in the kingdom. But Oedipus insists that Tiresias tell what he knows. “Tiresias: I say you are the murderer you hunt”(Oedipus the King, 413). Ironically in calling out for the murderer of Laius, he is indeed calling out his own faith.
I believe that in trying to find the assassin of Laius, Oedipus is sealing his own faith. By searching for the murderer, he going to uncover something more horrific than he can even imagines. He learns that he did complete his destiny that the Oracle of Apollo has set for him. Jocasta tries to bring reassurance to Oedipus that could not have killed Laius. “Jocasta: still, my lord,/ he could never make the murder of Laius/ truly fit the prophecy. Apollo was explicit:/ my son was doomed to kill my husband”(Oedipus the King, 942-945). She also tries to insure Oedipus that Oracle of Apollo was wrong, because Polybus has died not at the hands Oedipus. “Jocasta: This is the man that Oedipus feared for years,/ he fled him, not to kill him – and now he’s dead”(Oedipus the King, 1036-1037). Oedipus fills much better about this, “Oedipus: all those prophecies I feared – Polybus/ packs them off to sleep with him in hell!/ They’re nothing, worthless”(Oedipus the King, 1063-1064). The irony for all this is that Oedipus is relieved because he thinks that the Oracle was false because he did not kill Polybus. But he never two and two together and relies that he is the son of Laius not Polybus. And that he did actually fulfill the Oracle of Apollo. Jocasta knows that Oedipus should stop his search for the truth, but Oedipus would not listen to her. She begs to her husband/son to let chance take precedence over his need to find the truth. She knows that the truth discovered will rip apart everything in their lives. “Jocasta: What should a man fear? It’s all chance,/ chance rules our lives./ Live, Oedipus,/ as if there’s no tomorrow!”(Oedipus the King, 1069-1070, 1077-1078). Oedipus discovers the truth that he did kill his real father then marry his mother. He relies that the Oracle has come true. This is too much for Jocasta to handle and she kills herself. Ironically, that was Jocasta last day on earth.
Oedipus is overwhelmed by what he has discovered. So he blind himself by putting his own eyes out with the long gold pins off of Jocasta’s clothing. This is very ironic. Because he was willing to pardon any who admitted the crime and just have them exile from the kingdom. Yet he was much harder on himself than he would have been on anyone else. He cries out, “You,/ you’ll see no more the pain I suffered, all the pain I caused!”(Oedipus the King, 1405-1406)
The ironies of this play a just brilliant. They allowed the play to move on with such amazing beauty. The irony of Laius and Oedipus trying to fight faith, yet instead walking right into it. If either one of these two decided not to control their faith the story would have never been able to take place. The irony of Jocasta warning Oedipus not to continue his search for the murder, which leads to her committing suicide. Just like all the other ironies, that all served a purpose that keeps this story alive.