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How is Oedipus in "Oedipus Rex" a tragic hero?Examples of Oedipus' nobility, virtuous...

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missnicelady | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 7, 2008 at 8:31 PM via web

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How is Oedipus in "Oedipus Rex" a tragic hero?

Examples of Oedipus' nobility, virtuous intentions, and arrogance would all be helpful.

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robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted September 8, 2008 at 5:17 AM (Answer #2)

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That totally depends on your definition of "tragic hero". The definition of tragic heroes and of tragedy itself is a hugely contentious issue about which very few scholars agree - and so, of course, you have to define your terms before you can even begin to answer this question.

If you go by Aristotle's "Poetics" (the most famous text written about Greek tragedy), Oedipus (in Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex") is given as an exemplar of the tragic hero. He is a man of high standing socially (King of Thebes), intellectually (he is the great solver of riddles) and morally (he is determined to find the murderer and end the plague on his people). 

Throughout the play his quest to find the murderer described by the Oracle is made with the best possible intentions: only Oedipus is a man who has made a mistake ("mistake" is the best translation of "hamartia" which is often misunderstood as meaning a personal "tragic flaw" - not what Aristotle wrote or intended). Is Oedipus' mistake to be too fervent in the pursuit of truth, thereby revealing what (as Teiresias says) would be best left covered? Or is it to act too rashly towards an old man at a crossroads?

One interesting way to think about tragic heroes in Sophocles is by using an adjective Sophocles applies to all of them: "deinos" meaning both wonderful and terrible. For Oedipus, it might just be his virtue that brings him crashing down.  

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robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted September 8, 2008 at 5:20 AM (Answer #3)

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And to add to that, you might see Oedipus' pursuit of the "murderer" in the oracle as an interesting reflection of the status of a tragic hero. Oedipus is arrogant enough to think that he can solve the riddle and find the murderer by himself: but of course, he is the murderer. He wants to untie the puzzle, but he actually ends up pulling apart his own life and security. Again, perhaps a tragic hero is a combination of good intentions, fervent pursuit of a noble ideal, at huge personal cost.

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missnicelady | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 8, 2008 at 5:05 PM (Answer #4)

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And to add to that, you might see Oedipus' pursuit of the "murderer" in the oracle as an interesting reflection of the status of a tragic hero. Oedipus is arrogant enough to think that he can solve the riddle and find the murderer by himself: but of course, he is the murderer. He wants to untie the puzzle, but he actually ends up pulling apart his own life and security. Again, perhaps a tragic hero is a combination of good intentions, fervent pursuit of a noble ideal, at huge personal cost.

Thank you very much, I believe you have completely answered my question. I appreciate your kindness.

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missnicelady | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 8, 2008 at 5:10 PM (Answer #5)

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That totally depends on your definition of "tragic hero". The definition of tragic heroes and of tragedy itself is a hugely contentious issue about which very few scholars agree - and so, of course, you have to define your terms before you can even begin to answer this question.

If you go by Aristotle's "Poetics" (the most famous text written about Greek tragedy), Oedipus (in Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex") is given as an exemplar of the tragic hero. He is a man of high standing socially (King of Thebes), intellectually (he is the great solver of riddles) and morally (he is determined to find the murderer and end the plague on his people). 

Throughout the play his quest to find the murderer described by the Oracle is made with the best possible intentions: only Oedipus is a man who has made a mistake ("mistake" is the best translation of "hamartia" which is often misunderstood as meaning a personal "tragic flaw" - not what Aristotle wrote or intended). Is Oedipus' mistake to be too fervent in the pursuit of truth, thereby revealing what (as Teiresias says) would be best left covered? Or is it to act too rashly towards an old man at a crossroads?

One interesting way to think about tragic heroes in Sophocles is by using an adjective Sophocles applies to all of them: "deinos" meaning both wonderful and terrible. For Oedipus, it might just be his virtue that brings him crashing down.  

Great explanation. I think I'll check out Aristotle's "Poetics" like you recommended. You are truly wonderful. Much Thanks.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 13, 2008 at 1:43 PM (Answer #6)

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Oedipus is a man of high social standing and is a "hero" since he embodies the qualities of the people of his land (though his true royal identity is hidden from him since he was adopted), he attempts to do the right things at great cost to himself, and he does put too much emphasis on his own abilities, ie, he is arrogant.

He leaves his home to avoid the prophecy, only to fulfill it by killing his father and marrying his mother.

He vows to find the killer of his father at all costs, even though he doesn't realize the murderer is himself.

He is too arrogant to admit his errors and attempts to take it out on the blind soothsayer.

The result, then, is the prophecy fulfilled and Oedipus blinding himself before wandering aimlessly through the land.

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mlbradford | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 17, 2008 at 7:33 PM (Answer #7)

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I wonder if the issues Oedipus brought on himself are actually due to excessive arrogance, or if it is simply that any person who seeks to "act" in addressing the problems of the world, no matter their intergrity, will invariably "act" wrong.  Is it simply that Oedipus possessed a degree of self autonomy that was incomprehensible to the common man and therefore the gods MUST be involved?

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missnicelady | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 27, 2008 at 1:55 PM (Answer #8)

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Why is oedipus's life worse at the end of Oedipus at Colonus? One additional reason to these following reasons would be helpful.

I understand that he is

1)Cursed all his life.

2)People are afraid he will bring bad luck to their community.

I just need a third reason why his life is worse at the end of Oedipus at colonus. I am writing my first analytical essay and I can't seem to think of another reason. I wasn't sure if saying that he is blind really defends my thesis.

Also, my prompt for this essay is: Is Oedipus's life better or worse at the end of the play Oedipus Rex (I may also use Oedipus at Colonus)? I chose worse.

Thanks a million to all of you who take your time to help me out. I appreciate your kind actions!!

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