The Irony of Blindness in Oedipus The King
Is there a single definition of what it is “to see”? I can see the table, I can see your point, I see the real you, I don’t see what you’re saying. Sometimes the blind can “see” more than the sighted. During a scary movie or a horrific event, people may cover their eyes, choosing not to see the truth. As human beings, we often become entrenched in the material world, becoming oblivious to and unable to see the most apparent truths. Oedipus, the main character in Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex, could not see the truth, but the blind man, Teiresias, “saw” it plainly. Sophocles uses blindness as a motif in the play Oedipus Rex. Oedipus, known for his intelligence, is ignorant and therefore blind to the truth about himself and his past. Yet, when Teiresias exposes the truth he is shunned. It is left to Oedipus to overcome his “blindness,” realize the truth, and accept fate.
Oedipus, “who bear the famous name,” fled his home of Corinth in fear of fulfilling the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. During his flight, he Oedipus kills a caravan of presumed low-class travelers. Oedipus comes into Thebes a stranger and hero who solved the riddle of the sphinx. Believing that he is blessed with great luck, Oedipus marries the recently widowed Iokaste and becomes King of Thebes. After many years, a plague vexes the city and Kreon, brother of Iokaste, comes to Oedipus with news from the oracle. He states that the plague will be lifted when the murder of Laios is avenged. Oedipus claims that he sees and understands the terrible fate of Thebes and vows to find the murderer. Since the criminal is said to still be in Thebes, Oedipus believes that a man of his intelligence should have no difficulty in finding the perpetrator. When Oedipus is confronted by Teiresias with truth, perhaps it is Oedipus’ own hubris, which blinds him to the unthinkable truth.
Unwillingly, Teiresias the blind seer provides Oedipus with the hurtful truth. Although before the truth is announced, Oedipus describes Teiresias as a “seer: student of mysteries.” Oedipus looks to Teiresias for help in finding the murderer of the former king. He is trusted and respected by everyone in the city as evidenced by his introduction as “the holy prophet In whom, alone of all men, truth was born.