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Oedipus Rex Essay

1210 words - 5 pages

Cultural identity is the feeling of belonging and is based primarily on a set of common social values and beliefs. Ancient Greeks used tragic theatre to promote a common cultural identity amongst its people and numerous colonies and allies, and in so doing, achieved a peaceful and conformist society. One of the principal playwrights of this era was Sophocles (497/6 BC – winter 406/5 BC) who, during his adult life, was able to develop and express the free social life and culture of this period through the medium of theatre. It is Sophocles’ upbringing that greatly influenced the plot of many of his plays and the manner in which they are portrayed – they represent an extension of his youth and ...view middle of the document...

Pride, according to Aristotle’s Poetics, appears to be a reflection of conceit and arrogance. This may be linked to Oedipus Rex where Oedipus believes he can outwit the gods and reject prophecies – indicating extreme arrogance and ultimately leading to his downfall. During the drama, Sophocles draws on a range of tragic conventions to warn the audience of the detrimental consequences of hubris. This overconfidence stems from the historical event when he outwitted the evil sphinx and was subsequently heralded by the people for saving the city from this dreadful tyranny. He states that it was he who, “stopped the riddler’s mouth,” and, by so doing, saved the lives and livelihoods of the people of Thebes – it was not the gods. Furthermore, Oedipus is recognised as “not the equal of the gods, but the first of men.” However, the way in which he conducts himself and treats others show him to be their equal or even their superior – his subsequent decision to ignore the ideas that the prophets present to him, ultimately leads to his downfall. Although king, Oedipus is condescending towards his people as he sees himself as their father, “my children,” and commander. By so doing, he is challenging the egalitarian beliefs which formed the cultural identity of ancient Athenian democracy. However, as a king, he enforces a hierarchy which represents Sophocles’ will of returning to tradition – people were still looked down on for questioning the actions of their superiors.
Ancient Greece was a pious society – one that conforms to social norms – where people would be marginalised and perhaps seen as outcasts if they did not bow to conformism. Possibly the main avenue to which Oedipus asserts his impiety is the way in which he treats the gods and their messengers, the prophets, referring to Teiresias as an, “Insolent scoundrel,” and a, “Shameless, brainless, sightless, senseless sot!” Oedipus draws on the key theme that Teiresias is blind by insulting him accordingly. However, his blindness symbolises that although he cannot see the truth physically, his truth can only stem from the communication with the gods and so he must be a prophet – he has little of which to base his knowledge and prophecy on other than the gods. Another quote supporting Oedipus’ impiety again draws on Teiresias’ lack of sight, “eyes wide open for profit, but blind in prophecy?” Oedipus accuses Teiresias of being a fraud and tells him that he is prophesising the wrong things – Oedipus called for the help of Teiresias but is not willing to listen thus contradicting himself. Another example of how impiety is represented is through Jocasta – an outgoing...

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