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Oedipus: A Tragic Hero

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

A tragic hero is someone who is destined to make a severe mistake, falls from high respect and pride, and eventually realizes that the mistake they have made, is permanent. Oedipus, who is born into nobility, is actually a tragic hero. He is a well-known person to the city of Thebes who learns a valuable lesson of humility. His failure to listen to people like Teiresias and Creon helps him develop and learn as an individual. These faults allow him to distinguish his character flaws, giving him the wisdom to see the truth. Oedipus’ character shifts from being over confident to later becoming humble and extremely modest. Over the dramatic course of his journey, Oedipus transforms and grows from cunningness, to unyielding pride, to a man who learns humility.
Oedipus depicts a character who is sincerely passionate about his community.  He is known as “[the] greatest of men,”[4398]. Oedipus cares deeply about the concerns of his people and their sorrow. He cries, “ And while you suffer, none suffers more than I... But my heart bears the weight of my own, and yours [sorrow]” [4398]. Oedipus understands and feels everyone's pain which can be viewed as beneficial to a strong leader. While determined, he is open to finding out who killed Laius; however, he seems unwilling to consider the possibility that it is he who is the murderer revealing that metaphorically, Oedipus is blind. As his quest to find Laius’ killer progresses, he also begins to show extreme hubris, especially when he says, “Until I came – I, ignorant Oedipus, came/ And stopped the riddler's mouth, guessing the truth/ By mother wit, not bird-lore”  [4398]. His actions and utter resistance to accept the truth reveals that Oedipus is arrogant, selfish and cocky.
Oedipus quickly begins to unravel thereby revealing his weaknesses, defensive posturing, the inability to see the real truth and his insecurity. Expressing his doubts, he inquires, “How long ago did [Laius’ death] happen?” Jocasta replies, “It became known/ A little time before your reign began.” Oedipus then exclaims, “O God, what wilt thou do to me!” (Sophocles 46). When Jocasta provides the details of Laius death, Oedipus experiences anxiety wondering if it is he, who is the killer. Although Oedipus is becoming more self aware, he continues to exhibit an ego. He is still riding on the power he received from solving the riddle and becoming the King of Thebes and he refuses to believe the prophet Teiresias. The prophet says, "from this day forth/ never to speak to me or any here. / You are the cursed polluter of this land” Oedipus is in shock and therefore says, “[how] dare you say it! Have you no shame at all? / And do you expect to escape the consequence…say it again. Let there be no mistake…I have it beyond all doubt. Say it again.”[4398]. This action of denial and defensiveness shows that Oedipus still cannot accept the truth and that he has no respect for the prophet.
    His denial and extreme defensiveness soon transforms into the ability to accept the truth no matter how unforgiving it may appear. Oedipus says to Creon, “[I ask for] one thing only-/for God’s love-for your good, not mine” [4398]. This proves Oedipus’ transformation from hubris to unassuming nature. Oedipus asks for forgiveness from God, from Creon, from everyone. He is ashamed and feels as if he does not deserve to be happy ever again. Oedipus exclaims, “O light! May I never look on you again/ Revealed as I am, sinful in my begetting…” [4398]. Oedipus later blinds himself once he discovers the horrid truth about himself. This is an example of dramatic irony. Oedipus can now deduce and acknowledge the truth however he is literally blind. Realizing that he has made an irreversible mistake, Oedipus is a true tragic hero.
Oedipus develops from a man who shows benevolence and affection, to showing hubris, to learning humility through his mistakes and actions. He learns a worthwhile lesson and transforms into a reserved man.  Oedipus changes from being over confident to being more modest and develops the ability to see the harsh truth. Liable for his own fate, he finally believes the prophet and punishes himself by self-inflicting blinding. Oedipus needs to deform himself in this manner to experience the physical and physiological ramifications of his actions. Oedipus goes from metaphorical blindness and the inability to even consider the truth, to being literally blind and seeing the truth for what it is no matter how cruel. Oedipus learns from his terrible mistakes and actions, and is known as a tragic hero.



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  1. Sophocles Oedipus. unknown: unknown, unknown.

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