Any great story has its critics ready to critique every great detail of a story. Sophocles’s Oedipus the King is no exemption. Oedipus the King was written around 430 B. C. so this play has had plenty of time to be critiqued. Not only has this Greek tragedy been around for so long, but it is considered a masterpiece; it only makes sense for something very famous to be criticized even more. Oedipus the King follows the story of a man named Oedipus who tries to escape fate. Before the play is even started, the readers are given background information about Oedipus.
When Oedipus was a baby his parents abandoned him. His parents, Laius and Jocasta, ordered a servant to leave him on a mountain to die. The servant, taking pity on Oedipus, gave Oedipus to a shepherd. The shepherd then gave Oedipus to the king and queen of Corinth. When Oedipus is older he learns of a prophecy that he is destined to kill his father and marry his mother; Oedipus, upon learning this, leaves Corinth to avoid this prophecy coming true. Along his journey, Oedipus has some mishap with a chariot and kills the servants and their passenger.
Unknown to Oedipus, the passenger was Laius. His journey leads him to Thebes, where he was born to Laius and Jocasta, the king and queen of Thebes. The town was struggling with the problem of a Sphinx, and whoever could solve the Sphinx’s riddle got the reward of the king’s crown and his wife. Oedipus was the one to solve the Sphinx’s riddle, resulting in becoming king and marrying Jocasta. The play opens up with telling it’s readers there is a terrible plague in the city of Thebes.
Oedipus is talking to the citizens saying how he sent Creon, his wife’s brother, to Delphi. As Oedipus is mentioning this, Creon arrives with news from Apollo. Creon says the only way for the plague to be ridden is for the killer of Laius to be murdered or exiled. Oedipus, not realizing the murderer is him, promises to just that. Very little is known about Laius’s murder, so the bring a blind prophet, Tiresias, to help them find the murderer of Laius. Tiresias, trying to help, tells them that the murderer they are looking for is Oedipus, but Oedipus calls him a liar.
Oedipus talks with Jocasta about everything that has happened, only to start to realize that Tiresias and the oracle he spoke with before leaving Corinth were both correct. Oedipus then meets with a messenger from Corinth and the servant who was to leave him on a mountain to die to confirm everything he has realized. Jocasta, upon realizing everything that has happened, commits suicide; Oedipus’s reaction is to gouge his own eyes out. The play ends with Creon becoming king and Creon taking Oedipus away from his daughters and the citizens of Thebe to await his fate.
One critique of the play is that there are difficulties understanding what actually happened in past events because of contradicting statements. This is half true; there are some things that are confusing, but other things that seem quite simple. One example is the death of Laius. Some say that because the servant said there were multiple men who attacked and killed Laius and Oedipus said it was him who did it, so there is some trouble in understanding what actually happened with King Laius’s death. I would have to disagree in this situation.
I believe it is very clear what happened with King Laius’s death. My belief is that the servant said there were multiple men so it did not seem like Laius and his servants lost to one person, hence the contradicting statements. Oedipus was the person, and the only person, to kill Laius and his servants. Another contradiction in the story Oedipus the King also revolves around Laius’s death and Oedipus. Creon mentions that after the survivor of attack returns with the news and the Sphinx tells them not to investigate the death of Laius.
However, this contradicts with what Jocasta tells Oedipus. Jocasta tells Oedipus that the servant arrived after he had taken the throne, which means the Sphinx would have been gone. I would have to agree in this situation and say that this does make the past events confusing. If the servant did arrive after Oedipus was the king and got rid of the Sphinx why did the citizens of Thebes not investigate their king’s murder. However, if the servant really did arrive before Oedipus why is it he did not warn everyone else that he was the murderer when he finally arrived.
Another critique of Oedipus the King is that it is believed to be “a gripping exploration of the role of the gods in man’s life and a warning to mankind to avoid becoming too proud, too godlike” (“Oedipus Rex Essay”). I strongly agree with this critique and find it to be very true in the case of Sophocles’s Oedipus the King. To begin, this play demonstrates the role of gods in a person’s life very well. In Oedipus the king, the citizens of Thebes (and Corinth) heavily worship the Greek gods (Apollo, Zeus, Dionysus, Hermes, etc).
The citizens in this Greek tragedy rely on the gods for practically everything. At the beginning of the play three Greek gods/goddesses alone are mentioned. At the beginning, citizens are burning wool before temples of Athena to help try and rid the plague. There are two ways gods are incorporated in this. This first is obvious (the temples of Athena), the citizens are burning here because Athena is known for being the protector of Greek cities. The second way is through the burning of wool; burning of wool was used for offerings to Apollo, the god of healing and prophecies.
Throughout the play, there are several more mentions of Apollo, dealing particularly with his prophecy of Oedipus. The third god mentioned in the beginning would be Zeus, who is introduced through the priest of Zeus that is introduced in the beginning. There are many more ways Greek gods/goddesses are incorporated. The next part of the critique, about warning mankind of becoming too proud, is also very true. This part applies mainly to Oedipus. Oedipus was too proud to realize the truth of Tiresias and the harm he had done to his town.
When Tiresias told Oedipus it was him who killed Laius he refused to elieve him, being too proud and stubborn. Another thing people critique over in Oedipus the King is whether or not Oedipus would have still killed his father if he was not fated to do so. A compelling case can be made for both sides of this argument. It could be said that no matter what Oedipus did he would end up killing his father no matter what, which is sort of evident in the play. Oedipus did everything he could to avoid the prophecy once he heard of it. He left Corinth as soon he heard to avoid his killing his father, only to kill his real father on the way.
On the other hand, it could be said that Oedipus easily could have escaped killing his father if he had not been fated to do so. If Oedipus had not been fated to kill his father and marry his mother, his parents would have made such drastic measures to take him away and kill him. He could have happily lived with his parents without killing his father. I myself am split down the middle with my decision. I believe both options are very possible, that he could or could not escape his fate. However, if I had to chose I would pick the side that he could indeed live a normal life without killing his father if he was not fated to do so.
I believe that if Apollo had not “doomed” Oedipus to kill his father and marry his mother he would have lived in the royal house with them. I also belief even if Oedipus was fated to kill his father he could still escape this fate if his parents had not sent him away. The first reason for this belief is that there would have been no prophecy that would have sent Oedipus away, which was the ultimate reason for the prophecy coming true. The second reason for my reasoning is no (sane) person would kill their father.
On the other hand, the argument could be made that even if Oedipus was not sent away and lived in the royal house he still could have killed his father without being fated to. Oedipus could still have got in a fit of rage and killed his father, whether on purpose or accident. All great stories, Oedipus the King included, are going to critiqued. Authors should almost be thrilled people pay that close attention to their stories; it shows that their stories are good and they would like to analyze them. A great story is fated to be a great story if it can remain that way through all the critiques it will go through.