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Oedipus Rex


Sophocles' "Oedipus the King" is a tragic play which discusses 
the tragic discovery of Oedipus that he has killed his father and
married his mother. The story of Oedipus was well known to the 
athenian's. Oedipus is the embodiement of the perfect Athenian. He is 
self-confident, intelligent, and strong willed. Ironically these are 
the very traits which bring about his tragic discovery. Oedipus gained 
the rule of Thebes by answering the riddle of Sphinx. Sophocles used 
the riddle of the sphinx as a metaphor for the 3 phases of Oedipus' 
life and to futher characterized him as a tragic man.

 The Sphinx posed the following riddle to all who came to obtain 
the rule of thebes: "What is it that walks on 4 feet and 2 feet
and 3 feet and has only one voice, when it walks on most feet it is 
the weakest?" Oedipus correctly answered "Man" and became the king of 
Thebes. This riddle is a metaphor for the life of Oedipus. As a child 
man crawls on his hands and knees this is the four feet to which the 
Sphinx refers. Also man is at his weakest as a small child. He depends 
solely on others for his nourishment and well being. Oedipus was the 
child of Jocasta and King Laius who was taken to the mountain by a 
shepard to be killed so the omen of the god apollo that Laius' son 
would kill him and lay with Jocasta would not come true. Oedipus was
the weakest of his life at this point. If it has not been for the 
shepard spairing his life and giving him to Polybus to raise as his
own Oedipus would have died. 

 Man walks on 2 feet when he has matured. This is a metaphor for 
Oedipus when he reaches adulthood and leaves Corinth to escape the 
oracle. Oedipus meets up with a band of travelers and in a rage kills 
them. Inadvertently Oedipus has killed his own father. Oedipus then 
answers the riddle of the sphinx and becomes king of Thebes. By 
becoming king of Thebes he marries Jocasta the Queen of thebes and his 
own mother. Many years later after bearing children with Jocasta a 
plague kills many of the inhabitants of Thebes. Oedipus is told by the 
gods to find the killer of Laius. He is very dilligent in the inquiriy 
and finally comes to the horrible truth that he himself is the 
murderer. Jocasta kills herself at the horrible realization that she 
has layed with her son and Oedipus puts out his eyes at finally seeing 
the truth. This fulfills the final part of the Sphinx's riddle for 
Oedipus will have to walk with a cane for the rest of his life because 
of his blindness, this will give him the 3 feet which man walks with 
at the end of his years. 

 Oedipus used his intellect and diligence to answer the riddle of 
the Sphinx. Many of the most intelligent young men of thebes has been 
killed attempting to answer the riddle but Oedipus proved his 
intelligence superior to theirs. Oedipus uses the same intelligence 
and perseverence to find the killer of Laius. He does not give up his 
search even when Jocasta warns him to stop and let the matter rest. He 
calls the shepard and interrogates him till he discovers the 
horrifying truth that he is the killer. Oedipus' intelligence was 
ultimately his flaw. Also, if Oedipus had not had been as coarageous 
he would have have never ventured to answer the riddle of the Sphinx. 
Thus even though he had killed his father he would have never become 
king of Thebes and laid with his mother. In addition, if Oedipus had 
had the courage but not the intelligence the Spinx would have killed 
him for answering the riddle incorrectly. Sophocles used this to 
characterized Oedipus as a tragic man for he came about his tragic 
discovery not because of an evil act or an evil trait but because of 
the person he was. Oedipus traits which gave him riches and power 
ultimately led to his tragic ending. Also, the god apollo did not 
predestine that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother by 
the oracle, he only stated what he knew was inevitable because of who 
Oedipus was. 

 The sphinx's riddle was used by Sophocles to characterize Oedipus 
as a tragic man and as a parallel to his life. The riddle describes 
the 3 stages which Oedipus went through in his life. Also in answering 
the riddle Oedipus inevitable brought about his own tragic ending by a 
horrible discovery. 


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