From honorable and successful king to devastated, blind, man guilty of murder and incest, Oedipus’ downfall is so drastic that it poses the question: what did Oedipus do to deserve such misfortune? E. R. Dodds and his students give varying interpretations to this question; some students state that Oedipus’ downfall is a result of his own actions and proves that people always getting what they deserve, while others believe his downfall is part of his destiny and proves that people cannot escape their destiny.
A last group of students claims that Oedipus’ downfall evokes no theme or moral but is simply an rtfully crafted story. Although Oedipus’ misfortune is caused by his own actions, as some students claim, no group of students successfully identify what leads to Oedipus’ tragic circumstances. Oedipus’s actions cause the discovery of his marriage to his mother and killing of his father, not because his behavior is unethical and deserving of punishment, as Dodd’s students’ suggest, but because he gains control over the people of Thebes and values himself over the Gods, angering the Gods.
The Gods, having instilled fear in all people, have cruelly expressed their superiority in the past and do so with Oedipus y corrupting him with the knowledge of his murder and incest and limiting his power, showing that he should not attempt to assume the role of the Gods. Although many of Dodd’s students’ argue that Oedipus is punished for his moral character, Sophocles depicts Oedipus as a trustworthy and kind man by having the characters trust Oedipus’ and showing Oedipus’ good intentions for the people of Thebes.
As Dodds’ suggests, the question of whether Sophocles depicts Oedipus as a “good man” can be answered “by looking at what the characters in the play say about him” (Dodds 39). The citizen’s trust Oedipus, showing is favorability as a character. One priest, begs Oedipus, on behalf of all citizens, to rescue Thebes of its turmoil: “we bend to you, your power- we implore you, all of us on our knees” (Sophocles 161). While citizens respect and look up to Oedipus, trusting their city in his hands, readers should find themselves trusting Oedipus as Sophocles intended them to.
Additionally, Sophocles depicts Oedipus as a kind man by expressing Oedipus’ good intentions for the people of Thebes. When the citizens become concerned with the violence and state of their country, Oedipus does too. Expressing his worry nd sympathy for the citizens, Oedipus states, “my spirit grieves for the city… all of you… I have wept through the nights” (Sophocles 162). Feeling pain and sorrow when they do, Oedipus cares for the citizens as he does himself which shows his selflessness and kindness. Because Oedipus is depicted as kind and trustworthy, he does not deserve punishment for his character.
Although Oedipus’ moral character is not deserving of punishment, his authority and power causes him to value himself over the Gods, angering the Gods. After defeating the Sphinx, Oedipus becomes admired and trusted by the citizens of Thebes. This admiration mimics the relationship between the citizens and the Gods. As the priest explains the country’s concerns and asks for Oedipus’ help, he praises Oedipus: “You freed us from the sphinx, you came to Thebes and cut us loose from the bloody tribute we had paid the harsh, brutal singer” (Sophocles 161).
The priest and other citizens view Oedipus as if he were a God, claiming that he has “freed them” of their troubles. Oedipus, however, embraces the admiration of Thebes, beginning to value himself over the Gods. When the citizens become concerned with the chaos following the death f Lauis, they pray to the Gods. But Oedipus undermines the Gods’ power, asking the citizens to trust him instead. He states, “You pray to the gods? Let me grant your prayers. Come, listen to me” (Sophocles 171). Through asking the citizens to follow him, Oedipus assumes the role of the Gods, undermining their authority and angering them.
Tiresias who “sees with the eyes of the Lord Apollo” (Sophocles 174) reveals the Gods’ anger. Tiresias, enraged with Oedipus, tells him “speak to no one, not these citizens, not myself. You are the curse, the corruption of the land” (Sophocles 179), showing the Gods’ belief that he hould leave Thebes, for he has corrupted the country as the killer of Lauis and doubter of the Gods. Having proven to be cruel in the past, the Gods are brutal in expressing their anger and superiority over Oedipus, revealing his dark secrets and causing his downfall.
Throughout the story, the Gods punish the citizens for their wrongdoings through chaos, conflict, and violence. The citizens regard the Gods as vengeful and relentless; some citizens, including the priest, believe, “the fiery god of fever hurls down on the city, his lightning slashing through all of us- raging plague in all its vengeance” (Sophocles 60), claiming that the violence and disruption in Thebes is a result of the Gods’ anger. While most citizens worship the Gods with fear, praising them and offering sacrifices in exchange for good fortune, Oedipus remains proud of his reign, continuing to anger the Gods.
The Gods resort to their cruel ways and reveal Oedipus’ faults that they have hidden from him. As Tiresias states, the Gods know “the great masters of all the dark and depth of human life,” (Sophocles 187), meaning that they are aware of Oedipus’ relationship with his mother and father from the day he is born. However, they shield Oedipus from this nowledge. Unaware of his own faults, Oedipus is content and powerful because as Tiresias tells Oedipus, “the truth is only pain to him who sees” (Sophocles 176).
Once Oedipus undermines the Gods’ power, they punish him in the cruelest way by bewildering him with the painful truth. After hiding the secret, they reveal the news, crippling the supposedly all- knowing and mighty King Oedipus. Oedipus’ punishment proves that no one should assume the Gods’ role, an idea that different characters express, but Oedipus does not comply with. During the story, characters remind Oedipus that though he is powerful nd influential, he is not as superior or powerful as the Gods. One man, a priest, reminds Oedipus about this truth, stating, “Now we pray to you. You cannot equal the Gods, your children know that” (Sophocles 161).
As Oedipus rejects this truth and values himself over the Gods, the Gods, becoming angry, unleash the truth After Oedipus discovers that he has murdered his father and married his mother, he is stricken with guilt that he explains by telling the citizens, “Now I’ve exposed my guilt, horrendous guilt.. Oblivion- what a blessing” (Sophocles 243). Being exposed to the truth, Oedipus is aware with the arshness of his reality, and is extremely guilty for his actions. Oedipus is no longer powerful, king but a peasant in the eyes of the God.
Now, miserable, Oedipus will likely change, as he acknowledges the Gods’ superiority. Creon explaining how the Gods’ punishment has proven their strength, addresses Oedipus: “And this time, I assume, even you will obey the god’s decrees” (Sophocles 246). Through revealing the truth, the Gods have proven that no one should value themselves over the Gods, for it can have devastating repercussions as it did with Oedipus. By the end of the story, Oedipus, filled with grief, stabs is eyes to blind him from the devastating truths of the world.
The gods have corrupted Oedipus, turning him from wise and authoritative king to a broken, powerless character. Neither fate nor poor moral character lead to this misfortune, as many of Dodds’ students state, but Oedipus’ own misjudgment of his and the Gods’ power cause his downfall. Through this, the Gods’ show their superiority over Oedipus and all humans, for they can change one’s life by purely revealing the truth about them. For Oedipus, his truth is so destructive that he is cursed, unable to see any joy in the world.