Oedipus Rex, or Oedipus Tyrannus as it is in Latin, could be what we call todaya Freudian work of literature. The Oedipus Trilogy was originally written bySophocles and is meant to be told in a story-telling fashion. But this Greciantragedy was revised and translated into English by Paul Roche and put into anovel form. The Oedipus Trilogy is a novel that deals with destiny and fate.
Thereader is shown a series of events plotted out from which Oedipus cannot escape. When we begin to read this story, we must remember that Greek society was basedaround myths and legends. They, much like today’s society, had the need toexplain everything. Their myths were a way of explaining such things. They had aseries of gods and muses and fates to explain why things happened the way ithappened.
They believed in a force greater than their own controlling theirevery move. Sophocles took their beliefs and used the Oedipus Trilogy to explorethe irony of how the Fates work more closely. The Oedipus plays are separatedinto three main plays: Oedipus Rex (The King), Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. The story starts in Oedipus Rex, and the city of Thebes in which he is ruler isin plague.
The city calls upon the ruler Oedipus to find a way to stop theplague. At this point in time, it is 15 years after the prophecy given to him bythe Oracle of Delphi of his father dying and him marrying his mother. When hehears of this he promises never to return so he may outsmart the fates. Heeventually ends up in Thebes through his travels and gets into an argument withan old man.
He ends up killing the old man in a brawl. Little does he know thatthis old man is King Laius, his father. He goes to Thebes where a Sphynx isharassing it’s people for an answer to it’s riddle. Oedipus solves theriddle and the Sphynx throws itself from its perch upon a rock outside the city.
Its people make Oedipus the new King. Now he is faced with another challenge, tofind the killer and banish him from the city to rid them of the plague. We arefaced with an interesting plot indeed. When Oedipus pledges to find themurderers, he puts himself in the ironic position of having to hunt himselfdown.
The story shows Oedipus following his own tracks until he finds theshepherd who gave the infant Oedipus to the king of Corinth, from King Laius. Once the story becomes clear, Jocasta, his wife, kills herself in a bloody rageand Oedipus stabs his eyes out. Oedipus has Creon, brother to Jocasta, tend tohis last affairs and assume kingship of Thebes. When we go to Oedipus at Colonus,the whole story then goes to the eminent defeat of Thebes by whomever holdsOedipus’s tomb.
Oedipus promises the knowledge of his tomb only to the kingsof Athens. The story of Antigone is of how Oedipus’ daughter defies the willof Creon and gives Polynices. When a person is faced with the possibility ofcommitting an unfavorable deed, a person will take whatever steps necessary toprevent them from committing the act. It is a basic human instinct to preventones self from committing the act. And the basic overall theme of the Oedipustrilogy is defiance.
We see the attempt to defy throughout the whole trilogy. Oedipus tries to defy the Fates by avoiding his destiny. Creon tries to avoidthe will of the Fates by getting Oedipus to come back to Thebes so he can saveit from being taken. And Antigone defies the will of Creon by burying Polynicesagainst his will.
What they all learned by the end of their stories was thatthey could not escape their chosen fate. All throughout the story we seeattempts to defy the will of others. Oedipus staying in the sanctuary is oneexample. His resistance to go back to Thebes is another.
It all points back todefiance of fate. The entire trilogy is done from a third person omniscientpoint of view. This gives it the flexibility to move easily between the threedifferent stories without having to explain each setting in length. Eachcharacter in Oedipus’ line all seems to have one thing in common, theirstubbornness. Creon seems to be a man of distinction and honor in the story.
Tiresias, as the seer, symbolizes knowledge and reason. Jocasta acts as themediator between Oedipus and the rest of the world. The two daughters are quietand obedient to only their family and to what makes sense. The sons are thesymbol of the everlasting conflict in the line of Oedipus. Of course the settingtakes a major role in the play.
It takes place in ancient Greece, naturally,where tragedies and stories of misfortune are known to happen. And as such thereare many symbols used throughout the trilogy. The chorus is one of the mainsymbols continually used in the story, singing their strophies and antistrophies. Their importance is to show what the people of the time would feel about whatwas happening. They are sort of a mild version of critics in the story. Tiresias,the seer, is another great symbol in the story.
Though he is blind, he is provedin the story to have seen things more clearly than the stubborn Oedipus wouldhave. The irony of it is that Oedipus himself later became that seer in thestory of Colonus, with Antigone as his own hand-girl. The plays of Oedipus alsouse a great range of picturesque speech to make a point. We see it in the veryfirst lines of Oedipus the king when Oedipus asks his beloved people, “what isthe meaning of this thronging round my feet- this holding out of olive brancheswreathed in woe?” (Roche 23). By this sentence Sophocles is showing that hispeople are crying at his feet for an answer to their sickness.
Little didOedipus know that he had his own much larger problem on his hands. The plays ofOedipus have long been some of the most enlightening and teaching of stories. This story sparked the study of much psychological debate and theoriespertaining to the love of ones mother and ones own sanity. It was used inAncient Greece to tell of the twisted ways that Fate worked and how you can dosomething you may not want to out of pure ignorance. This story is a trulyremarkable one for those who would read it for pleasure, and yet it is a plagueof its own for many a student. And it is still used today so that we may studyhow an ancient culture thought.
Much of Greco-Roman myths are centered on thesubject of Fate. Homers epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey are two such examples. We can see that their societies were greatly concerned with Fate, as much oftheir writing reflects that. Every society has its own needs and concerns, andliterature is always the best way to reflect them.