Oedipus the King
Sophocles, an Athenian politician and dramatist, was born in 496 B.C. and died ninety years later. His lifetime almost perfectly paralleled the "Golden Age" of Athens. Unlike other dramatists and thinkers of his time, Sophocles did not abstain from politics. Indeed Sophocles was completely immersed in it, serving as an elected official for several years, most notably as a Strategoi-an elected general. Fortunately for Sophocles, he died just before Athens surrendered to Sparta in 404 B.C., marking Athens' loss in the Peloponnesian War.
Dramatically speaking, Sophocles is best known for his adoption of the third actor in his Greek tragedies. This made it possible to include complex dialogues and character interactions in Oedipus the King and other plays. Before this idea emerged to dominate drama, only two actors were allowed to speak at a time.
Sophocles wrote Antigone before Oedipus the King , and it is here that he establishes the connection of tragedy between generations of his characters. Indeed Antigone's fate is shaped not only through her own actions but through Oedipus' fate as well. Though Antigone is heralded as a great piece of writing, most critics consider Oedipus the King to be Sophocles' greatest work.
Sophocles begins by describing a procession of priests who come before the sacred altar outside the palace to lament over the plague that has befallen the city of Thebes. The priests hope that the gods will show mercy to Thebes and take back their curse. Soon Oedipus, seeing himself as the peoples' agent of salvation, enters to reassure his people.
Oedipus has been the king of Thebes for many years now. As alluded to in Sophocles' introduction, the Thebans make him king after he rescues them from the Sphinx, an evil being who possesses supernatural power. To save the city, Oedipus correctly answers the Sphinx's riddle: what creature walks on four feet, then two feet, and finally three feet? The answer that Oedipus gives is "man."
Though Oedipus is not a god, the people of Thebes regard him highly for his bravery and intelligence. The temple priest exemplifies this regard when he implores Oedipus to help the city: "You cannot equal the gods, your children know that, bending at your altar. But we rate you first of men, both in the common crisis of our lives and face-to-face encounters with the gods." He goes on to kneel before the king and beg for his assistance.
Oedipus, the obliging father figure, willingly pledges to find and root out the cause of Thebes' curse. In fact, he says he's already taken action on behalf of Thebes, sending Creon to Delphi to learn what Apollo's oracle says.
Just as Oedipus wonders out loud why Creon has taken so long to return, the priest sees the queen's brother approaching and Creon soon enters. Though Creon wishes to speak to Oedipus inside the palace in private, the king instructs him to reveal the oracle of Apollo in public, in front of the priests and townspeople. Obligingly, Creon says that the plague of the city is due to the unresolved murder of King Laius, the former husband of Jocasta and the Theban king who reigned before Oedipus. According to Creon, the city's curse will only be removed when justice is dealt to Laius' murderer.
Now knowing the cause of the plague, Oedipus pompously announces that he will solve the mystery of Laius' death. "Now you have me to fight for you, you'll see: I am the land's avenger by all rights, and Apollo's champion too. But not to assist some distant kinsman, no, for my own sake I'll rid us of this corruption," he proclaims. He then instructs the priests to remove their branches from the altar, signaling an answer to their request for deliverance from the gods' curse.
Next, the Chorus, which represents the city as a whole, enters the scene and, like the priests, laments its burden, praying to the gods for assistance. Soon Oedipus enters, arrogantly telling the Chorus, "You pray to the gods? Let me grant your prayers." He goes on to tell them to be wary of the murderer, who is probably somewhere in the city.
Later, Oedipus, fully convinced of his own innocence, proclaims, "I curse myself as well . . . if by any chance he proves to be an intimate of our house, here at my hearth, with my full knowledge, may the curse I just called down on him strike me." When the leader of the Chorus suggests that Tiresias, the blind prophet, be called to help find the murderer, Oedipus explains that he has already taken this action, having called the seer previously. Soon Tiresias enters, led by a small boy.
Tiresias is reluctant to divulge any information to Oedipus. "Just send me home. You bear your burdens, I'll bear mine. It's better that way, please believe me," he implores the king. At first, Oedipus is perplexed by the prophet's words, but as the conversation continues, the king grows increasingly hostile and combative. This, in turn, enrages Tiresias, who charges Oedipus with the murder, saying, "You are the curse, the corruption of the land!"
Oedipus is shocked and outraged at this charge, and refuses to believe what he considers to be nothing more than a personal insult. In fact, he charges, Tiresias and Creon are the true perpetrators, engaged in a conspiracy against the crown. The king goes on, "Creon, the soul of trust, my loyal friend from the start steals against me... so hungry to overthrow me he sets this wizard on me, this scheming quack, this fortune-teller peddling lies, eyes peeled for his own profit-seer blind in his craft!"
These accusations fuel Tiresias' temper. Before he leaves the scene, he warns, "So, you mock my blindness? Let me tell you this. You with your precious eyes, you're blind to the corruption of your life, to the house you live in, those you live with-who are your parents? Do you know? All unknowing you are the scourge of your own flesh and blood, the dead below the earth and the living here above, and the double lash of your mother and your father's curse will whip you from this land one day, their footfall treading you down in terror, darkness shrouding your eyes that now can see the light!"
Here, Tiresias prophesizes Oedipus' tragic fate. He alludes not only to Oedipus' murder of Laius but also his marriage to Jocasta, his mother, which soon the reader will learn has already been fated by an oracle. Here as well, Sophocles uses the metaphor of light to underscore the theme of his play. Ironically, Oedipus charges Tiresias with being blind to the truth when in actuality he himself cannot see the awful destiny that is his life.
Before Tiresias leaves, he goes on to speak about the murder of King Laius. Here, Oedipus is believed to have entered the palace, thus not hearing all of Tiresias' prophecy. Though the seer has previously hinted at Oedipus' slaying of his father and marriage with his mother, Oedipus doesn't connect this prophecy with that of the oracle which told him years ago that one day he would kill his father and sleep with his mother. Later in the play, Sophocles explains this more fully.
Tiresias leaves by describing Oedipus as such: "Revealed at last, brother and father both to the children he embraces, to his mother son and husband both-he sowed the lions his father sowed, he spilled his father's blood."
Next, the Chorus speaks for fairly long, unsure of what to think or who to believe. Having tremendous respect for both Oedipus and Tiresias, the Chorus refuses to make any conclusions, opting to wait and see. It explains, "I'm lost, and the wings of dark foreboding beating-I cannot see what's come, what's still to come... and what could breed a blood feud between Laius' house and the son of Polybus?"
Polybus is the king of Corinth, a nearby city-state, and he is the adoptive father of Oedipus. As is revealed later in the drama, Oedipus' biological parents, Laius and Jocasta, each receive troubling oracles regarding their son. Laius is told that his son will eventually murder him; Jocasta, likewise, is told that she will sleep with her son. In order to avoid this fate they decide to get rid of Oedipus. They send instructions to leave their baby to die on a mountainside, bound at the ankles. They assume that Oedipus dies, but miraculously a shepherd finds the child and saves him, sending him to live in Corinth as the adopted son of the king and queen there. Oedipus, of course, grows up believing Polybus and Merope to be his parents. One day, however, he receives an oracle from Apollo that warns him that he will kill his father and sleep with his mother. This causes Oedipus to flee Corinth, wary of the prophecy. Eventually he finds Thebes, solves the Sphinx's riddle, and becomes king. Yet on the road to Thebes he bumps into Laius and murders him in cold blood.
Soon Creon enters the scene, deeply resenting the accusations made by Oedipus against him. He adamantly denies these charges, calling Oedipus a liar. The leader of the Chorus hesitantly defends the king however, saying to Creon, "I never look to judge the ones in power."
Next, Oedipus himself enters the scene, confronting his brother-in-law with very harsh words, calling him a traitor. Temporarily finished with the name-calling, Oedipus goes on to ask Creon about the details of Laius' disappearance, eventually returning to the charge that Creon has "[betrayed] a kinsman." Yet Creon disputes this accusation, claiming that he has no motive to dethrone Oedipus. As Creon puts it, he already gets a share of the kingship by being the brother of the queen. Though he doesn't have to rule, as Oedipus does, he still receives the benefits of royalty. Creon describes himself: "A man of sense, someone who sees things clearly would never resort to treason. No, I've no lust for conspiracy in me, nor could I ever suffer one who does."
Next, Jocasta comes on stage for the first time, hoping to put an end to the ensuing quarrel between her husband and brother. After a few moments, the argument dies down and Oedipus and Jocasta are alone. When Oedipus tells his wife that a prophecy from Delphi has predicted an awful fate, Jocasta reassures him, saying, "No skill in the world, nothing human can penetrate the future." To prove this, the queen briefly describes the account of the oracle that told Laius that his son would kill him. Yet Laius was murdered by thieves (and their son was left on a mountain to die), she asserts, so the prophecy did not come true. Unfortunately, she doesn't know how wrong her logic is. For when Oedipus hears from Jocasta that Laius was killed at the intersection of three roads, the king becomes worried because he vaguely remembers killing someone at such a place. He cries, "Oh no no, I think I've just called down a dreadful curse upon myself." Wanting more information, Oedipus learns from Jocasta that only a lowly servant saw the murder first-hand. The palace officials immediately send for this servant.
In this section it's important to note some changes that are occurring. No longer is Oedipus the majestic king seen at the play's opening. Now he acts more like a monomaniac dictator of sorts, demanding death for his opponents. He has become an incredibly paranoid ruler, determined to find his own innocence despite an increasing mound of evidence against him.
The Chorus, similarly, begins to change its tune. No longer the staunch supporter of Oedipus, it starts to chastise the king for his outlandish charges. For example, it pleads with Oedipus, "Be sensible, give way, my king, I beg you!"
Jocasta doesn't understand her husband's concern about the details of Laius' death. When she asks Oedipus why he wants to see the servant, he responds, "I can hold nothing back from you, now I've reached this pitch of dark foreboding." Oedipus goes on to give the history of his childhood, as referenced in the fourth summary. He says that he killed a man where three roads met when the driver of the other carriage tried to push him off the road. Realizing the similarities between his narrative and Jocasta's account, Oedipus naturally begins to suspect himself in the murder. He questions the gods: "But why, why? Wouldn't a man of judgement say-and wouldn't he be right-some savage power has brought this down upon my head?" Oedipus now rests his final hope in the shepherd's coming testimony, since the shepherd, being the only eye-witness, will know whether Laius was killed by one man (Oedipus) or by a band of thieves as Jocasta claims. Even by this point Jocasta seems confident (though perhaps a little less so) that her prophecy will not come true. She maintains, "Apollo was explicit: my son was doomed to kill my husband... my son, poor defenseless thing, he never had a chance to kill his father. They destroyed him first." Here, the queen obviously still believes that Oedipus, her son, is dead.
As Oedipus and Jocasta return to the castle, the Chorus takes the stage, describing Oedipus in not so flattering terms: "Pride breeds the tyrant [,] violent pride, gorging, crammed to bursting with all that is overripe and rich with ruin.... Can such a man, so desperate, still boast he can save his life from the flashing bolts of god?" Here, the Chorus, representing the townspeople, continues to lose faith in its king.
Here, Jocasta re-emerges from the palace, invoking the gods to grant healing to Oedipus, who she admits, seems to be losing his grip of life. Soon a messenger from Corinth unexpectedly arrives with what he says is good news. According to him, the people of Corinth want Oedipus to be their king because Polybus has died. When this news reaches Oedipus, he is very happy, not because his "father" died, but because he apparently hasn't killed him, as the prophecy had predicted. Oedipus exuberantly proclaims, "But now, all those prophecies I feared-Polybus packs them off to sleep with him in hell! They're nothing, worthless." Thus, both Oedipus and Jocasta are reassured, not realizing the true genealogy of the king. Yet when the messenger hears the nature of their relief, he nonchalantly dispels the idea that Polybus is Oedipus' true father, saying that Oedipus was a gift to Polybus and Merope, brought to Corinth as a baby. In fact, this messenger himself seems to be the shepherd who found Oedipus lying on the side of Mount Cithaeron. Wanting more information, Oedipus questions the messenger about how he was tied to the mountain. The shepherd tells him that he was pinned by the ankles. This testimony is confirmed when Oedipus reaches down to reveal scares on his ankles. As the messenger alludes to, the Greek name Oidipous literary means "swollen foot."
When questioned further by Oedipus, the shepherd clarifies his account of Mount Cithaeron. Although he delivered Oedipus to Corinth, a different shepherd, a servant of King Laius, was the first person to discover the child. The king asks the Chorus for help in locating this herdsmen, asserting, "The time has come to reveal this once for all."
Though Jocasta implores her husband to call off the investigation, Oedipus is paranoid to learn the truth. When Jocasta, who seems to sense the impending doom, realizes that Oedipus will keep probing, she is heartbroken and flees back into the palace.
Soon the old shepherd, the former servant to Laius, is seen approaching as beckoned. Though the old man wants to keep secret Oedipus' origin, he is finally forced to speak when the king threatens him with death. After he testifies, the mystery is finally solved-indeed this shepherd did pick up Oedipus as an infant. When questioned about where the baby came from, the shepherd admits that it was Jocasta who had given instructions for her child to be killed. "She was afraid-frightening prophecies," he explains.
This causes Oedipus to speak this famous quote: "O god-all come true, all burst to light! O light-now let me look my last on you! I stand revealed at last-cursed in my birth, cursed in marriage, cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands!"
Soon the Chorus takes the stage, lamenting the tragic fate of their fallen king. Though they pity Oedipus, at the same time they realize that he has largely brought this agony upon himself. Though he cannot control his fate, his arrogant attitude and pompous actions seem at least to partially justify the internal torture he now feels.
The Chorus continues its dirge, now realizing the awful truth that is Oedipus' life. Here, it underlines the kings' incestuous relationship with his mother: "O Oedipus, name for the ages-one and the same wide harbor served you son and father both [.] [Son] and father came to rest in the same bridal chamber."
Soon a messenger enters from inside the palace, interrupting the Chorus with news that the queen, Jocasta, has killed herself. The messenger describes the suicide scene: "And there we saw the woman hanging by the neck, cradled high in a woven noose, spinning, swinging back and forth." When Oedipus sees his wife/mother hanging from the rope, he affectionately lays her down, removing the pins that hold together her robe. Using these long brooches, he gouges out his eyes, screaming, "You, you'll see no more the pain I suffered, all the pain I caused! Too long you looked on the ones you never should have seen, blind to the ones you longed to see, to know! Blind from this hour on! Blind in the darkness-blind!" The messenger continues to describe the bloody scene to the horror of the Chorus.
Next, Oedipus enters the stage for the last time, led by a boy. He addresses his fellow Thebans: "Oh, Ohh-the agony! I am agony-where am I going?... My destiny, my dark power, what a leap you made!" He continues, "Dark, horror of darkness [,] my darkness, drowning, swirling around me [,] crashing wave on wave-unspeakable, irresistible headwind, fatal harbor! Oh again, the misery, all at once, over and over the stabbing daggers, stab of memory raking me insane."
The fallen king, preferring death to the life he has led, curses the shepherd who rescued him from the mountain's slope. The Chorus concurs, admitting, "Better to die than be alive and blind."
Oedipus, now incredibly dejected, continues to address the Chorus: "Now I've exposed my guilt, horrendous guilt, could I train a level glance on you, my countrymen?" Here, the king is obviously much changed from the opening scenes where he is seen as a noble hero. Perhaps he can still be considered a tragic hero, yet he has fallen far from the pedestal on which he initially rests.
Soon Creon enters and Oedipus feels immediately self-conscious and humbled before the man be once called a traitor. Oedipus begs forgiveness from Creon, admitting, "I was so wrong, so wrong." Yet Creon doesn't take advantage of his brother-in-law's weakened state, insisting that Oedipus should not be seen in this vulnerable condition.
Next, Oedipus asks Creon, who will now take over as king, if he will please exile him far from the city. Creon tentatively agrees, but first says that he must consult the will of the gods. Oedipus then requests to see his daughters, Antigone and Ismene, one final time. They soon enter, crying for their father. He gives them a sorrowful farewell, instructing Creon to watch over them.
Finally, the scene ends with Oedipus being escorted off stage, presumably to exile. The Chorus concludes the tragedy, addressing the melancholy citizens of Thebes: "Now as we keep our watch and wait the final day, count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last."
Throughout Oedipus the King , Sophocles employs one continuous metaphor: light vs. darkness, and sight vs. blindness. A reference to this metaphor occurs early in the play, when Oedipus falsely accuses Tiresias and Creon of conspiracy: "Creon, the soul of trust, my loyal friend from the start steals against me... so hungry to overthrow me he sets this wizard on me, this scheming quack, this fortune-teller peddling lies, eyes peeled for his own profit-seer blind in his craft!"
Tiresias responds by using the same metaphor: "So, you mock my blindness? Let me tell you this. You with your precious eyes, you're blind to the corruption of your life, to the house you live in, those you live with-who are your parents? Do you know? All unknowing you are the scourge of your own flesh and blood, the dead below the earth and the living here above, and the double lash of your mother and your father's curse will whip you from this land one day, their footfall treading you down in terror, darkness shrouding your eyes that now can see the light!"
Though at this point the reader cannot be sure which character is right, eventually Tiresias comes out the winner. This is revealed as Oedipus learns his tragic fate, saying, "O god-all come true, all burst to light! O light-now let me look my last on you! I stand revealed at last-cursed in my birth, cursed in marriage, cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands!" Here again, the metaphor of light, which represents truth and knowledge, is present.
Ironically, this causes the king to gouge out his eyes, which have been blind to the truth for so long. He screams, "You, you'll see no more the pain I suffered, all the pain I caused! Too long you looked on the ones you never should have seen, blind to the ones you longed to see, to know! Blind from this hour on! Blind in the darkness-blind!" Oedipus furthers Sophocles' sight metaphor when he defends his decision to humble himself through blindness: "What good were eyes to me? Nothing I could see could bring me joy."
Thus the idea of sight is critical in Oedipus the King . Though Tiresias is physically blind, he sees the truth from the beginning, while Oedipus, who has physical eyesight, is blind to his fate. By the end, Oedipus makes his eyes blind when he learns the truth and finally "sees."
1) Oedipus arrogantly tells the Chorus, "You pray to the gods? Let me grant your prayers."
2) Oedipus claims that Creon and Tiresias are engaged in a conspiracy against the crown when he charges, "Creon, the soul of trust, my loyal friend from the start steals against me... so hungry to overthrow me he sets this wizard on me, this scheming quack, this fortune-teller peddling lies, eyes peeled for his own profit--seer blind in his craft!"
3) These accusations likewise fuel Tiresias' temper. Before he leaves the scene, he warns, "So, you mock my blindness? Let me tell you this. You with your precious eyes, you're blind to the corruption of your life, to the house you live in, those you live with-who are your parents? Do you know? All unknowing you are the scourge of your own flesh and blood, the dead below the earth and the living here above, and the double lash of your mother and your father's curse will whip you from this land one day, their footfall treading you down in terror, darkness shrouding your eyes that now can see the light!" Here, Tiresias prophesizes Oedipus' tragic fate.
4) When Oedipus tells his wife that a prophecy from Delphi supposedly tells his awful fate, Jocasta reassures him, saying, "No skill in the world, nothing human can penetrate the future."
5) When Jocasta asks Oedipus why he wants to see the servant, he responds, "I can hold nothing back from you, now I've reached this pitch of dark foreboding."
6) As Oedipus and Jocasta return to the palace, the Chorus takes the stage, describing Oedipus in not so flattering terms: "Pride breeds the tyrant violent pride, gorging, crammed to bursting with all that is overripe and rich with ruin.... Can such a man, so desperate, still boast he can save his life from the flashing bolts of god?"
7) Oedipus gives his famous quote: "O god-all come true, all burst to light! O light-now let me look my last on you! I stand revealed at last-cursed in my birth, cursed in marriage, cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands!"
8) Using Jocasta's brooches, Oedipus gouges out his eyes, screaming, "You, you'll see no more the pain I suffered, all the pain I caused! Too long you looked on the ones you never should have seen, blind to the ones you longed to see, to know! Blind from this hour on! Blind in the darkness-blind!"
9) Oedipus' attitude toward Creon seems dramatically altered when Creon approaches Oedipus, who implores the audience: "Oh no, what can I say to him? How can I ever hope to win his trust? I wronged him so, just now, in every way. You must see that-I was so wrong, so wrong."
10) Oedipus furthers Sophocles' sight metaphor when he defends his decision to humble himself through blindness: "What good were eyes to me? Nothing I could see could bring me joy."
Oedipus: Oedipus is the central figure and tragic hero of Sophocles' play. Though he is initially the majestic king of Thebes, he soon becomes a dejected man, humbled by his horrible fate. As the oracle predicts, Oedipus kills his father and sleeps with his mother. When Oedipus learns what he has done, he chooses exile, leaving Creon to be king.
Priest: The priest is seen briefly at the play's opening. He implores Oedipus and the gods to end the plague of the city.
Creon: Creon is the brother of Jocasta and therefore brother-in-law of Oedipus. At first, Oedipus accuses Creon of trying to unseat him as king, but Creon is eventually exonerated when Oedipus realizes his own guilt in the murder of Laius. When the dejected Oedipus leaves Thebes at the end of the play, Creon becomes king.
Tiresias: Tiresias is the old, blind prophet/seer who tells Oedipus his fate. Tiresias has the special gift of foresight and prophecy, which he learns from the gods. In many ways, he is the gods' messenger. Though Oedipus accuses him, too, of treason, Tiresias is proved right in the end.
Jocasta: Jocasta is the queen of Thebes. She is first married to Laius, but after Laius is murdered and Oedipus becomes the new king, she marries him. Eventually she realizes that Oedipus is her son and that the tragic oracle has been fulfilled.
Chorus and Leader: The Chorus and their leader are seen throughout the play. The Chorus usually represents the townspeople as a whole as they respond to the new twists in the plot. The Chorus is also a way for Sophocles to reveal the major themes of his tragedy.
Shepherd: The shepherd confirms Oedipus' tragic fate by telling the king that Jocasta and Laius are his true parents. This shepherd sends Oedipus, then an infant, to Corinth to live as the son of Polybus.
Antigone/Ismene: These are the daughters of Oedipus who cry with him towards the end of the play.
Ancient Greeks cared deeply about the pursuit of knowledge. Although the truth was often a terrifying concept, they still saw it as a critical virtue. The theater was one way in which the ideas of knowledge and truth were examined.
Many Greek dramatists use the self-realizations of their characters to underscore the themes of their tragedies. Sophocles, for one, uses the character transformation of Oedipus, in tandem with the plot, to highlight the theme of his famous work, Oedipus the King . As Oedipus grows in terrifying self-knowledge, he changes from a prideful, heroic king at the beginning of the play, to a tyrant in denial toward the middle, to a fearful, condemned man, humbled by his tragic fate by the end.
At first, Oedipus appears to be a confident, valiant hero. This is especially true during the situation alluded to at the beginning of the drama, when he solves the Sphinx's riddle. Although Oedipus is not a native Theban, he still chooses to answer the riddle of the Sphinx despite her threat of death to anyone who fails to answer correctly. Only a man like Oedipus, a man possessing tremendous self-confidence, could have such courage. When Oedipus succeeds, freeing the city from the Sphinx's evil reign, he becomes instantly famous and known for his bravery and intelligence. A temple priest reveals the respect the Thebans have for their king when he tells Oedipus, "You freed us from the Sphinx, you came to Thebes and cut us loose from the bloody tribute we had paid that harsh, brutal singer. We taught you nothing, no skill, no extra knowledge, still you triumphed" (44-47). Here, Oedipus' bold actions seem to be a blessing, a special gift from the gods used to benefit the city as a whole. Indeed Oedipus is idealized by the Thebans, yet at times he seems to spite the gods, assuming authority that normally belongs to them. For example, he pompously tells the Chorus, which implores the gods for deliverance from the city plague, "You pray to the gods? Let me grant your prayers" (245). Yet the people accept, even long for, this language from their king. Since the gods don't seem to give them aid, they place their hopes in Oedipus, this noble hero who has saved Thebes in the past and pledges to save it again.
Soon, however, Oedipus' character changes to a man in denial-a man more like a tyrant than a king-as he begins to solve the new riddle of Laius' death. A growing paranoia grips Oedipus when Jocasta recounts the story of her husband's murder, leading the king to suspect his own past actions. He remarks, absentmindedly, "Strange, hearing you just now . . . my mind wandered, my thoughts racing back and forth" (800-02). Yet Oedipus is not quick to blame himself for the plague of the city-indeed he tries to place the burden onto others as he continues his investigation, blindly trusting his own superior ability while ignoring the damaging evidence that surrounds him. For example, when Tiresias accuses Oedipus of being the murderer, the king takes the counter-offensive, actually accusing Tiresias of the murder when he asserts, "You helped hatch the plot, you did the work, yes, short of killing him with your own hands . . ." (394-96). Similarly, he blames Creon for conspiracy and treason, charging, "I see it all, the marauding thief himself scheming to steal my crown and power!" (597-98). In this way, Oedipus chooses to attack the messenger while disregarding the message. Besides spiting the prophet, Oedipus also fuels the wrath of the gods, who vest their divine wisdom in Tiresias. The Chorus underscores the vengeance of the gods when it warns, "But if any man comes striding, high and mighty, in all he says and does, no fear of justice, no reverence for the temples of the gods-let a rough doom tear him down, repay his pride, breakneck, ruinous pride!" (972-77). Here, Sophocles portrays Oedipus as a tyrant of sorts; indeed the peoples' greatest blessing has become their worst curse.
Lastly, Oedipus becomes a man humbled with the pain and dejection of knowing the truth of reality as the overwhelming evidence forces him to admit his tragic destiny. Sophocles shows the sudden change in his protagonist's persona when Oedipus condemns himself, saying, "I stand revealed at last-cursed in my birth, cursed in marriage, cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands!" (1309-11). Yet the transformation of Oedipus' character is most clearly demonstrated when he chooses to gouge out his eyes. Now, finally seeing his horrible fate, he makes himself physically blind like Tiresias, the true seer told he was blind to the truth. Oedipus furthers Sophocles' sight metaphor when he defends his decision to humble himself through blindness: "What good were eyes to me? Nothing I could see could bring me joy" (1473-74). Consequently, Oedipus can no longer be called a tyrant, let alone a king, after being humiliated in this way, unable to see or even walk without assistance. His attitude toward Creon also seems dramatically altered when the new king approaches Oedipus, who implores the audience: "Oh no, what can I say to him? How can I ever hope to win his trust? I wronged him so, just now, in every way. You must see that-I was so wrong, so wrong" (1554-57). In this way, Oedipus, who greatly humbles himself before Creon and the rest of Thebes, completely changes his demeanor for the third time in the play.
This character transformation coincides with several other key themes of the work. First, as the play progresses, Oedipus gradually leaves his ignorant bliss, eventually learning his awful fate. Here, Sophocles raises the question, is the painful knowledge of truth more important than the happiness of naivete? He seems to say yes. Yet Sophocles is not simply referring to the fictional character of Oedipus; Oedipus the King was intended to reflect the nature of the Athenian rulers of the time. Like Oedipus, these rulers were bold and daring, known for their intelligence and heroism. But they were also known for their arrogance and their "risk it all" attitudes. On one hand, they saw themselves as protectors of the city, while at the same time they were unable to defend themselves as individuals.
Similarly, fifth century Athenians struggled over many religious issues. As humanism grew in Athens, many citizens, particularly those in leadership positions, saw themselves as increasingly independent of the gods. They questioned whether their lives were results of fate or free will. Though Jocasta initially believes that fate-namely, oracles and prophecies-means nothing, she later changes her tune when she realizes that her divine prophecy has come true. Oedipus, the epitome of human intellect, also challenges the gods; yet by the play's conclusion it is clear that the gods have won out. In this way, Sophocles asserts that the gods are more powerful than man, that there's a limit to human ability and reason.
Lastly, Oedipus the King serves to explain the causes of human suffering. Though Oedipus' fate is determined, the reader still feels sympathy for the tragic hero, believing that somehow he doesn't deserve what ultimately comes to him. Here, Sophocles attributes, at least partially, human suffering to the mere will of the gods.