It seems as if only the gods could be blamed for the tragic ending of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. How could one not blame them, for they placed a prophecy on the king, his wife and their son, sending them to their dreadful doom. Perhaps there is more to be seen in this famous Greek tragedy. Perhaps the blame does not belong completely to the gods, but to the victims of the prophecy. Sophocles exemplifies this throughout the play using methods of symbolism, actions and words. From the get go of the prophecy, things weren’t well.
Once king Laius and his wife Jocasta were told that their son would become their destruction, and they could not let this become a reality; “An oracle came to Laius one fine day (I won’t say from Apollo himself but his underlings his priests) and it declared that doom would strike him down at the hands of a son,” (Sophocles, 201). King Laius took grave actions and decided to leave their own baby on a mountain to be killed. Some may say that in the end, the parents deserved their terrible ends. (FORESHADOWING QUOTE) Jocasta does not help her case.
After abandoning her own son because of a prophecy foretold by the gods, she begins to disregard the gods’ words and calls them on their bluff. Disrespecting the gods was, in those days, was not something to take as light hearted. If she had taken the prophecy more seriously, perhaps her and her son’s fates could have been avoided. According to Dictionary. com, hamartia is “the flaw in character which leads to the downfall of the protagonist in a tragedy”. Oedipus is victim to his own hamartia of ignorance and determination. His determination makes him disregard peoples’ words of caution.
Tiresias and Jocasta explicitly tell him not to search for the truth any longer for he will regret it, but with no avail. The king promises himself and the city of Thebes the culprit who murdered the deceased king, Laius. He goes a step further and curses the killer and goes on a search for knowledge, even when people tell him to look no further. Sophocles wrote the Jocasta’s character as one who is highly ignorant. On several occasions, she could have connected the dots but was too blind to see it. A very horrific and important prophecy was placed on her and her family. She disregarded it, but it seems one would not forget it anyways.
After her husband was murdered, she went on to marry a man that was the same age that her son would be at the moment, and he looked strangely like her deceased husband as well. Not only this, but if they would have communicated better, they would have both realized that each of their prophecies were connected. Sophocles used the method of symbolism in order to show his audience that Jocasta and Oedipus were to blame for their own fates. It was said that King Laius was murdered at a place where three roads meet; “A place called Phocis, where two branching roads, one from Daulia, one from Delphi, come together – a crossroads,” (Sophocles, p. 02).
The crossroads are a big symbol in showing how people always have a choice. The gods and their prophecy were not all to blame because in the end, Oedipus had the freedom to make choices, which would lead to a faith only he could choose. When coming at the crossroads and meeting his father and the king, he became angry and murdered him on the road. He made the choice right then and there to use violence to meet his ends and to kill someone just because they wouldn’t move. The symbolism is made greater with the street names.
The road Delphi, named after the Oracle of Delphi signifies the gods and their prophecy and the terrible doom that brings with it. So one could say he had the choice to pick between then regular road named Daulia, or the other, named Delphi, which in turn symbolized the choice to step forth to his destiny. “… the finest tragedies never show good men being crushed by destinies that they could not have avoided. To believe in tragedies of fate, according to Dodds and to many others, is worse even than to believe in a tragic flaw. ” (Gould). In this famous Greek tragedy, there was nothing up to fate and everything up to choice.
Time and time again, Oedipus is shown clues as to how he is the murderer, and yet he never seems to pick up on them. First, Oedipus calls upon the blind prophet Tiresias and asks who is the killer of the king. Tiresias tells him “I say you are the murderer you hunt,” (Sophocles, p. 180). Oedipus has been told flat out that he is to be blamed and brushes it off, with force. Later on, he asks his own wife Jocasta about the timing of the death; “The heralds no sooner reported Laius dead than you appeared and they hailed you king of Thebes,” (Sophocles, p. 02). Once again, facts are being thrown in his face and he can’t seem to add them up.
Not only this, but he also seems to know within him that he is in fact the perpetrator. Throughout the tragedy, people keep telling him about how the king was killed by a band of thieves. “A thief, so daring, so wild, he’d kill a king? ” (Sophocles, p. 166). Oedipus, like in the example shown, keeps answering statements about a number of thieves with the singular form of one perpetrator. This shows that he knows subconsciously that this all goes back to him.
How is it that he can’t seem to piece together the puzzle when he is the best man to do so, as shown by Tiresias’ statement; “Ah, but aren’t you the best man alive at solving riddles? (Sophocles, p. 184). He is so smart that he became king for saving a whole city that needed a man of his talents, but when it comes to saving his own life, it seems he cannot live up to his expectations. Sophocles also shows Oedipus and Jocasta’s ignorance by referring to the symbolism of sight versus blindness. He goes on this pursuit of knowledge. ***** In the end he stabs his own eyes out, which shows irony for he can finally “see” the truth.
He can also “see” his fault in all of this. He takes that violent measure because he can feel the guilt and he feels he must punish himself. Oedipus and his wife and mother Jocasta were to blame for their tragic fates in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. They had tragic flaws, which consisted of ignorance, disregard for the gods, and an empowering search for knowledge that drove them over the edge. In the end, the gods and their prophecy were not the deciding force, but a way to get the ball rolling. Oedipus and Jocasta had free will and made their own choices, no matter the consequences.