How does Oedipus respond to each revelation, and what does his reactions suggest about his character as presented in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Oedipus has one moment of revelation when Jocasta tells him that Laius was killed by thieves "where three wagon-roads meet" (744). When Oedipus learns further that Laius was killed where the road from Phocis splits and leads to both Delphi and Daulia and that Laius looked a great deal like Oedipus he begins to remember that one time he killed a man at that very same intersection. His reaction is to become horrified and tremble and demand of Zeus why he permitted Oedipus to kill a man at that crossroads. His reaction shows us that he is a moral man and one to regret any past moment of impetuousness. His reaction further tells us that he fears the gods, both for any fates they dole out and for any punishments.

Oedipus has a second moment of revelation when he learns from the messenger from Corinth that, not only has Polybus died of illness, but that Polybus is not actually Oedipus's birth father. The messenger explains that one of Laius's shepherds gave him Oedipus as a baby and he gave Oedipus to Polybus for adoption. Oedipus's reaction is to grow even more determined to discover his true parentage and even sends for the shepherd against Jocasta's wishes. His first thought is to believe that since he was given to Polybus by a shepherd he may actually be the son of a slave rather than believe that his parents are Laius and Jocasta, as we see in his lines to Jocasta, "Cheer up, for even if I am revealed a slave three generations back, you will not be proved base" (1089-90). Since Oedipus is still too naive to assume the worst about his parentage, his reaction towards the messenger's story serves to underscore Oedipus's naivete and blindness.

Oedipus has his third moment of revelation when the shepherd explains that Jocasta gave him a baby to kill due to "evil prophecies" (1203). The shepherd then gave the baby to the messenger and, hence, the baby the messenger received and gave to Polybus is Oedipus. Thus, Oedipus realizes that all of the prophecies have been fulfilled. His reaction is to feel complete agony at the realization of the sins he has committed against both his parents, as we see in his lines:

For I don't know with what eyes I could look and see my father when I go down to Hell, nor again my poor mother; to those two my deeds are beyond what hanging could punish. (1393-95)

Oedipus's agonized reaction to this final revelation again shows us that he is a moral and upright man; one who regrets any transgressions and any pain he causes.

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