Oedipus Rex - Bliss in Ignorance


One of the most memorable and meaningful Socratic quotes 
applies well when in context of Sophocles' Theban Trilogy. "The 
unexamined life is not worth living," proclaims Socrates. He could 
have meant many things by this statement, and in relation to the play, 
the meaning is found to be even more complex. Indeed, the situation 
of Oedipus, king of Thebes, the truth of this statement is in 
question. Would Oedipus have been better off if he was blind to the 
knowledge of his birthing and the fate which was foretold to someday 
befall him? Truly though, his life would have been a far better and 
easier path had he never known about his true origins. His life in 
Corinth would have been long and prosperous, and Thebes would have 
lived on under King Laius. In fact, everyone would have been better 
off in the long run if Oedipus had not ventured out beyond the walls 
of Corinth. So is it worth living an examined life?
 Socrates had made this statement long after the creation of 
the Theban Trilogy. In the context of his own time, this was meant to 
imply that life must be examined and reflected upon, known and 
discovered by each individual philosopher to better enrich life for 
all. Yet in terms of Sophoclean drama, specifically Oedipus Rex, this 
was meant in a vastly different way. The unexamined life was one that 
was in the dark, unknown as to what fate lied beyond every turn and 
irony of living. Oedipus, up to the point in which he heard the 
comment in the tavern in Corinth, lived an unexamined life. To 
Socrates, he was an unfulfilled man, one who deserved to know more, 
one who not complete. However, in a much less metaphysical sense, 
Oedipus' life was complete, in that he had all that he needed, and was 
living a happy and fruitful life. As the drama progresses, he finds 
out more and more, learning exactly what the implications of his birth 
was, he suffers the fate for examining his life. So what Socrates 
had meant, that the life which was not rich with self exploration and 
reflection was not worth living, was indeed different than its 
application in terms of Oedipus, who's life was unexamined, yet 
 The question arises, what would life have been like, if 
Oedipus had not discovered his true origins? If he had stayed in 
Corinth, would this have ever happened? We find that indeed, we would 
have had no story, if not for that lone comment of a drunkard which 
sparked the fire of rebellion in the young prince Oedipus. He 
ventured out to Delphi, to pry knowledge of his background out of it, 
and to discover if this was indeed the truth, despite the fact that 
his adopted parents of Corinth had assured him of it falseness. 
Oedipus leaves Corinth, fulfilling the Socratic idea of the unexamined 
life. However, we must evaluate the eventual consequences of his 
actions and the implications which they possess. What becomes of his 
fateful journey out of Corinth leads to the downfall of an entire city 
and family line. If he had not murdered King Laius, the Sphinx would 
have never descended upon Thebes, he would have never fulfilled the 
prophecy, and all would have lived on in a relative peace and 
 Once examining these aspects of the relationship between the 
quote and Oedipus Rex, we can come to a final examination of its 
implications. The question which was addressed, that of the value of 
the examined life, can be answered. Indeed, if Oedipus had not 
ventured beyond the protective walls of his adopted home, would 
anything such as what occurred in the play ever have transpired? If 
Oedipus had not pursued that answers to the mysteries that plagued 
him, despite the pleading warnings of Iöcasta, in fact his life would 
have been contented and happy. Instead, he follows the Socratic 
method of exploration and discovery, and proceeds down the path of 
pain and distraught. Was, after it was over, all worth it? We find 
that no, it was not. Being content and suited with what he knew of 
himself would have saved Oedipus and his children/siblings much agony. 
 However, in the typical Greek tragedy, we must see his fall from 
grace through, which is indeed what happens.
 In the bliss of ignorance, much pain and difficulty is 
averted. For what worries does the ignorant man have? In the case of 
Oedipus, ignorance would have suited him fine. The Socratic quote 
"the unexamined life is not worth living" certainly doesn't hold true 
in the case of Oedipus Rex. While it may hold importance and a 
substantial meaning for our own lives, in the case of Oedipus Rex, he 
would have been better off without it. Indeed, for while the 
unexamined life is poor in a metaphysical sense, Oedipus would have 
truly been fine without it. For the unexamined life is a simple one, 
and he would have lived a long and happy life, never discovering the 
true nature of his birth, nor even caring.

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