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Major Themes In Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus

1776 words - 8 pages

Major Themes in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus

A theme in literature is a unifying or dominant message that may be about life, society, or human nature. Themes often explore timeless and universal ideas and may be implied rather than stated explicitly (Webster’s Dictionary). Sophocles includes several themes in his play, Oedipus Tyrannus. He explores the potential dangers of the pursuit of knowledge and self-realization, the irony of sight and blindness, the limitations of free will and the nature of human suffering. “Perhaps no play has better demonstrated the maxim that a man's character is his fate, for it is in fulfilling his personal characteristics—his relentless pursuit ...view middle of the document...

Instantly, he gains fame and become well known for his courageousness and intellect. A priest of the temple reveals the respect the people of Thebes 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" (Sophocles, Lines 44-47).  This indicates that Oedipus' bold actions seem to be a blessing. It is a special gift from the gods used to benefit the city and its people as a whole. 

Oedipus' character eventually changes to a man more like a tyrant than a king as he tries to solve the death of Laius', the previous king.  As Jocasta recounts the story of her husband's murder, paranoia takes over Oedipus, which leads him to suspect his own past actions (Segal). He states, "Strange, hearing you just now…my mind wandered, my thoughts racing back and forth" (Sophocles Lines 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 (novelguide.com).  In the play, Tiresias tells Oedipus that he is the murderer; the king becomes defensive and actually accuses Tiresias of committing the murder. Oedipus says, "You helped hatch the plot, you did the work, yes, short of killing him with your own hands . . ." (Sophocles, Lines 394-96).  Oedipus would rather kill the messenger and disregarding the message all together.  Here, Sophocles portrays Oedipus as a tyrant. He was, indeed, a blessing to the people but ended up becoming their worst curse.

In the end, Oedipus becomes a fearful, humbled man. The pain and misery of knowing the truth forces him to admit his dreadful destiny.  The sudden change in Oedipus’ character is shown when he states, "I stand revealed at last-cursed in my birth, cursed in marriage, cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands!" (Sophocles, Lines 1309-11).  The biggest example of the transformation in his character is shown when Oedipus chooses to gouge out his eyes.  Finally realizing his horrible fate, he makes himself physically blind like Tiresias, the prophet.  Oedipus furthers Sophocles' irony on sight and blindness when he defends his decision to humble himself through blindness: "What good were eyes to me? Nothing I could see could bring me joy" (Sophocles, Lines 1473-74). This character transformation corresponds with other key themes of the work. 

In the play, the irony of sight and blindness may be considered to be one of the main themes. This theme can be looked at both literally and metaphorically. Physical blindness is to be "unable to see," while metaphorical blindness is an "inability or unwillingness to understand or discern" (Cameron). Sophocles keeps these two factors under close attention...

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