The Pride of Sophocles’ Oedipus The King
Greek tragedy is characterized by the emotional catharsis brought about by the horrific suffering of a heroic figure. In Oedipus The King, by Sophocles, the onslaught of pain assailing the protagonist is a result of his tragic flaw. Sophocles often used a characters hamartia to alter or influence the outcome or future of the hero. Oedipus’ hubris traps him to fulfil the oracle and intensifies his punishment.
Oedipus’ pride is an innate characteristic. Even before his glory and power as King of Thebes he allowed his conceit to cloud his judgement and rule his actions. Unknowingly, Oedipus fulfills Apollo’s oracle when he encounters a band of men at a crossroad. The driver offends Oedipus as he brushes by, inciting Oedipus’ anger. Although the contact is just a slight intrusion, Oedipus, outraged that someone would have the gall to trouble him “paid them back with interest” and “killed everyone of them, every mother’s son”. In hindsight as he recounts the incident to Jocasta he is not remorseful for the loss of life nor for his part in the crime. Instead, Oedipus’ tone is one of satisfaction that he got revenge. Had his arrogance not interfered, Oedipus would not have made the rash decision to kill all of the party and would not have satisfied the prophecy.
Oedipus’ self-confidence blinds him to the impossibility evading fate predestined by the gods. Dramatic irony is present when Oedipus tries to skirt the horrible prophecy of him killing his father and coupling with his mother, because in fleeing Corinth to avoid murdering Polybus, he is taking steps that will realize the prophecy. Again his overconfidence contributes to the impending doom; in believing t…
…o torture the shepherd, “So you won’t talk willingly – then you’ll talk with pain”. Oedipus’ cruelty indeed literally squeezes his own demise out of the shepherd: “You’re a dead man is I have to ask again”. Again, Oedipus is blind to the subtle hints the shepherd leaves for Oedipus to decipher. Until now, Oedipus’s pride has blinded him from the truth and from seeing other’s intentions; he has been stubborn.
When isolated, each of these events may be excused as a simple mistake, but a pattern emerges when viewed as a whole. The tragic outcome of Oedipus’ life is caused by his underlying character flaw – pride. However, Oedipus is a tragic hero because he becomes aware of his fault and accepts responsibility for his actions.
Sophocles. The Three Theban Plays (pp.159-251). Penguin Classics.New York, New York:1984.