Essay on Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and the Human Condition

Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and the Human ConditionOedipus is living in a dream from which he is only just beginning to awake. In this dream, he not only believes that he is in control of his own fate but that he is in control of his own identity. He assumes that he has three virtues: wisdom, reason, and self-control. When he attempts to use these virtues, however, he discovers that he is mistaken on all three counts. His first mistake is believing that he is wise. From this wisdom he hopes to maintain control over the events around him, but true wisdom is actually surrendering to the fact that control is an illusion, a “seeming.” His second mistake is believing that he is a rational man. Indeed, Oedipus has great cognitive powers. He has insight, but this insight is quickly negated when it clashes with his own anger, which ultimately drives Oedipus to fly in the face of reason. His third mistake is believing that he is his own man, self-created. He believes that this makes him completely free, but, in fact, he is deeply tied to his roots. By rejecting his parentage, he attempts to avoid his fate. The chorus claims that no “man on Earth wins more of happiness than a seeming and after that turn[s] away” (Sophocles 64).1 Oedipus turns himself away from happiness because he believes that he is already happy. In his hubris, he becomes the agent of his own destruction. He serves as the paradigm for the self-deluding and self-destructive spirit of the human condition.

Oedipus is a man of great wit and cleverness. He has solved the riddle of the Sphinx and even Teresias says: “It’s in riddle answering you are strongest” (29). But Sophocles understands that it is better to be wise than to be clever, and that the one does …

Best services for writing your paper according to Trustpilot

Premium Partner
From $18.00 per page
4,8 / 5
4,80
Writers Experience
4,80
Delivery
4,90
Support
4,70
Price
Recommended Service
From $13.90 per page
4,6 / 5
4,70
Writers Experience
4,70
Delivery
4,60
Support
4,60
Price
From $20.00 per page
4,5 / 5
4,80
Writers Experience
4,50
Delivery
4,40
Support
4,10
Price
* All Partners were chosen among 50+ writing services by our Customer Satisfaction Team

…one thing in terrible detail—that he has been blind all of his life. Creon says that “time is the only test of honest men, / one day is space enough to know a rogue” (37). Oedipus has been far from honest; he has been lying to himself all his life. After only one day, he sees through his own lies. The fact that Oedipus thought he was happy, that he thought he was in control for so long, counts for nothing. “Count no mortal happy,” sings the chorus, “till / he has passed the final limit of his life secure from pain” (76). His happiness is not real happiness. His wisdom is not real wisdom. His reason is not real reason. Even his identity is an illusion. They are part of a dream in which all men live, none the wiser, as they sleep their real lives away.

NOTES

1. Sophocles, Oedipus the King, trans. David Grene (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991).

You Might Also Like