Let’s talk about some classic Greek mythology, the Sophoclean tragedy, Oedipus Rex(also called Oedipus Tyrannus or Oedipus the King) today. This is part three of a three-part series on Oedipus. This continues from where part two left off. If you haven’t read the previous parts, do go and read Part one and Part two before you continue here.
Now that the story is done, let’s talk about it.
Oedipus Rex has all the elements of a pretty classic Greek tragedy and is considered by many if not the greatest, one of the greatest Greek dramas ever written. The first in Sophocles’ Theban trilogy, I’m sure you’ll not argue with me when I say that the tale itself is pretty macabre. It has quite a few deaths; out of which two are suicides(Jocasta and the Sphinx), two are natural deaths(Polybus and of course, Oedipus himself) and god knows how many are murders(Laius, his charioteer, other people travelling with Laius, all of the Sphinx’s victims, the list goes on.) There is also a healthy dose of incest, patricide, possible intent to harm an infant, possible indirect infanticide, self-harm and what I’m positive is some sort of sadism(Or whatever you’d choose to call what the shepherd who dropped baby Oedipus off at Corinth, who knew everything did, by choosing to say nothing while Oedipus went off killing his dad and marrying his mom and then turning up at the very last minute to drop his dramatic reveal)
(Some of)The deaths in Oedipus Rex
This entire story banks on one of the most popular tropes of classic Greek dramas; the self-fulfilling nature of prophecies, seemingly triggered by its knowledge. Basically, the fact that the whole mess can almost always be traced to just one integral prophecy. If you’ll notice, whenever one of the characters finds out about the prophecy, they end up taking a drastic step which in their mind is preventing the prophecy but ends up ensuring that it comes to be. (Be it Laius trying to indirectly kill his child and ensuring his child wouldn’t recognise him in the future or Oedipus trying to go away from who he thought were his parents but actually ending up going towards his real parents and the many more times that it happens throughout the story, go on, read it again if you’d like. )
And before you fight me and say that the prophecy probably still would have happened, no matter what, I’ll have to tell you that I know that but still hear me out. What if Laius never knew about the prophecy and chose to raise his son himself and with love and then Oedipus would have at least certainly known who his parents were and would at least definitely not have married his mom even if the first half could not be averted. In my opinion, even the first half wouldn’t have happened simply if the characters did not know about the prophecy. Ah well, we can never know for sure, it is all speculation and it wouldn’t make for a good story, would it?
There is also the fact that if you look at every character, they are all victims of their fates, tied to their destiny. First, there’s Laius, cursed to fear his own child and live with the knowledge that his own child would be the cause of his death. Then there’s Jocasta, cursed to be widowed and to eventually marry her own son and beget his children. Then come, the King Polybus and Queen Merope of Corinth, Oedipus’ adopted parents cursed to have no biological children and then to be denied time with their adopted child because of his fears due to a prophecy that never referred to them. There are so many more characters to go into but the bottom line is the same: everyone is a slave to their fate. I mean, the apparent hero of our tale, Oedipus has it the worst of all, cursed to perform incest and patricide, cursed because of performing them. Can he even be considered a hero then at all?
This is something that Sophocles did happen to acknowledge in his play and is considered one of the central themes of his story. I’d like to conclude our sojourn with this myth with the closing line of the play, a common Greek maxim, “No man should be considered fortunate until he is dead.”
Until our next Greek adventure! (Or wherever we choose to go)
THIS POST’S QUESTION: What were your thoughts on this series on Oedipus?Which myth should I do next? Comment below with what you think about it,I’d love to hear from you!