Oedipus fits the classic description of a tragic hero in the Greek tradition.
Aristotle contests that the tragic hero has to be a man “who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.”
Additionally, Aristotle defines the tragic hero as "morally blameless". By today's reckoning, a tragic hero is also seen to have a tragic flaw. This flaw is often a hero's strength that gets turned against him or her.
Applying these definitions to Oedipus, we see that his character fits very well into this description.
- Oedipus is a strong leader, prepared to sacrifice for his people. He owns a history of success in this vein.
- He is also not entirely good or divinely favored. He has no special knowledge of the prophecy that haunts him and no special insight into the causes of the turmoil that now plagues Thebes. He is merely a good, strong-willed man.
- Oedipus, aware of the prophecy that he will kill his father and sleep with his mother, sets out to avoid that fate. This shows that wants to do good. He is not depraved or immoral. He does not accept the fate outlined in the prophecy, but fights against it.
- Oedipus also craves honesty. He is brave and forthright. He has no secrets.
It is this positive attribute of honesty that leads to the tragic realization that he has fulfilled the prophecy. This has happend, not because Oedipus was cowardly or depraved or knowingly immoral, but actually because he was strong and brave and proud and honest.
He made a fundamental error when he came to Thebes, believing that he was leaving his true parents behind. In truth, he was running straight to his real parents and bringing with him the doom that had been prophesied.