What is the purpose of Oedipus Rex?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Greek tragedy is drama in which a tragic hero suffers a grave misfortune which is not accidental, but is meaningful in that it is connected reasonably with the hero's actions.  Stressing the susceptibility of humans, tragedy portrays how man's suffering can instruct and entertain.

Tragedy stresses the vulnerability of human beings whose suffering is brought on by a combination of human and divine actions, but is generally undeserved with regard to its harshness.

And, although Oedipus is a Greek king from fifth century Athens, his tragedy speaks to many about integrity and altruism.  As Jennifer Lewin writes in her essay, "Oedipus Rex: Possibly the Greatest of All Tragedies,"

Oedipus shows fearlessness in the face of turmoil, and his unstoppable quest for public utterance of the truth of the oracle leads him, tragically, to the knowledge that he has fulfilled its terms.

Sigmund Freud notwithstanding, Oedipus instructs readers that a certain integrity with excessive pride can unfortunately, lead to fatal results. Yet, even with his hamartia, Oedipus is admirable in his honesty and sincere intentions to help the people of Thebes.  And, with his tragic knowledge about himself, there is in Oedipus an increase in wisdom. Thus, there is what Aristotle calls "catharsis," an emotional release as well as a renewed sense of the potentialities of human greatness at the end of the drama. For, it is the inner strength of Oedipus from whom many learn and are inspired. 



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