Do you think that Oedipus as a fatal flaw of pride that leads to the play's terrible consequences?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Oedipus does not have a fatal flaw. This is firstly because the concept of fatal flaw or tragic flaw is based on an old mistranslation of Aristotle. Aristotle didn't think - at all - that tragedy was a matter of a flaw that caused the hero to descend from high fortune into misery, but a hamartia - a mistake.

Oedipus is a man who makes a mistake, long, long before the play begins: in rage, at a crossroads, he kills a man, who in actual fact is his father. It's nothing to do with pride, anyway - it would have to be temper.

Oedipus, throughout Sophocles' play, acts as he does partially out of a sense that he is the great riddle-solver (of course, he won the throne of Thebes by solving the Sphinx's riddle), but also (and this is always bizarrely overlooked by tragic-flaw-ists) because he is an excellent king. Thebes, remember, is suffering from a dreadful plague, and the Oracle has told Oedipus that removing the murderer within the city is the only way to end the plague.

Oedipus is acting as a good king and is determined to free hsi people from the plague. Nothing will stand in his way. Is that pride? Perhaps a little bit. But surely, much, much more than that, it's the actions of a good king determined to free Thebes from the plague. He is, he says, even prepared to sacrifice himself if this happens: and, as it turns out, he does.

This response is right on target.  The concept of tragic flaw is one that occurs in Shakespearean plays and it is erroneous to apply it to the plays of Sophocles.  For, in Aristotle's Poetics, the definition of Greek tragedy includes no such tragic flaw.  As robertwilliam so cogently states, the tragedy develops because of the hubris of Oedipus.

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robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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I hate it to break it to you - and I'm sorry if you've heard me say it on enotes before, but the origin of the "tragic flaw" myth is not, as commonly thought, Aristotle's "Poetics". Aristotle, as scholars commonly understand it, wrote about a character having a "hamartia" which brings about their tragic downfall. "Hamartia" is now regularly mis-translated as "tragic flaw", when in fact, it means "mistake".

Oedipus' "hamartia" is nothing to do with his pride: his mistake which brings about his tragedy comes before the play starts when he kills a stranger at a crossroads. Oedipus' insistence on solving riddles, on finding the solution to problems, and on being a good king and ridding Thebes of its plague leads him, throughout the action of the play, towards his dreadful realisation that he has, in fact, killed his father and married his mother.

Oedipus' name can be read as meaning either "swollen-footed" or "I think I know", so that both Oedipus' origins as the Theban heir and his self-assured insistence on knowing are written tragically into his very name from the first moment of the play.

Why does it happen, then? Because Oedipus is a play about the fact that you can't escape your fate. It is also a play about thinking you know something - and the fragility of human knowledge. The moment Oedipus thinks he is safe from the prophecy - nothing, really to do with pride - he is travelling towards Thebes, and he kills his father. Confidence is complacence.

katemschultz's profile pic

katemschultz | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Oedipus is often considered a tragic Greek hero with the fatal flaw of excessive pride, or hubris.  He refuses to listen to Creon and Teiresias, among other, convinced that he couldn't possibly be the cause of the curse.   Doing this angers the gods, and causes the punishment for Oedipus to be far worse that it could have been.  He is impetuous and focus solely on finding the cause of the curse--so the Thebans can yet again celebrate him for doing something good for the town. 

However, put yourself in Oedipus' shoes (or sandals...or swollen feet).  He's a very well-liked and respected king.  A prophet (who they had great respect for) tells him that he killed their previous king.  How would you react?  Many people who call Teiresias crazy, and send him away, like Oedipus did, especially if Teiresias doesn't have any further explanation.  I, for one, find it hard to believe that at that point Oedipus didn't think, "Well, I did kill that one guy on the way here..."  Or, perhaps he did, and he's trying to cover it up with his hubris.  Interesting, since we don't know what's going on in Oedipus' head.

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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One of the best ways to answer this question is to know what basic social principle Oedipus went against. At the oracle of Delphi there were few important maxims that the Greeks valued. One of the statement was: "Know thyself." This meant to keep boundaries. In short, know that you are not divine.

If you look at the tragedy through that lens, one of the things we can say is that Oedipus did not know himself. He had not clue that he could have killed his father and married his mother, even though he did kill someone in his life. Self-knowledge did not exist. As the literary work progresses, more and more people begin to realize that Oedipus is the one who is guilty, but even with all this evidence Oedipus is ignorant. I would say that this is one of the great tragic flaws.

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Oedipus and his parent's hubris is their tragic flaw -- they all thought that they could avoid the prophesy of the oracle at Delphi. They put themselves above the gods in their desire to control their destinies, and that is the highest order of hubris.  Oedipus's parents think they can avoid having their son kill his father by sending him away; later in life Oedipus thinks he can run away from his "father" to avoid killing him. In the end, the prophesy is completely fulfilled because there is no avoiding a prophesy of the gods.

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

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Oedipus is a prideful man.  He vows to find the person who killed the King, and he's himself.  He is too full of pride to understand that when he came to town, the man he killed was his father and King, and then he married his mother to fulfill the prophecy he was trying so hard to escape.  He could have stopped the whole thing once he realized the soothsayer was telling him the truth, but his pride keeps him bouyed for "the rest of the story" until he plunges, head first into a sea of guilt.

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Hubris is also directly related to the tragic hero, because a tragic hero is a hero who faces tragedy due to a tragic flaw. Oedipus believes that he should be able to tempt fate, and get away with living his life the way he wants to. That's not bad, but the actions he takes to accomplish that are bad.
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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A tragic flaw is a flaw that an otherwise good character possesses that leads to his downfall. This is really what makes a tragedy. An example of Oedipus's flaw, hubris, is that he tries to outrun or outwit fate. Thinking you are better than fate is the ultimate act of hubris.

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epollock's profile pic

epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Depending on the edition and the translation that you use, hamartia, or tragic flaw as defined by Aristotle, can also possibly be defined as "sin", or "emission", or something else that underlies the character's mistakes in behaving the way they should.

His tragic flaws of which there are many can be his impatience at Creon for not returning soon enough:

I wonder anxiously what he is doing,

Too long more than is right, he's been away (Prologue 74-5)

Then when Creon comes back, Oedipus refuses to listening to him in private and he could have solved the entire situation by listen to Creon privately when Creon says:

Creon: If you will hear me with these men present

I'm ready to report--or go inside.

Oedipus: Speak out to all!The grief that burdens me

concerns these men more than it does my life. (Prologue 88-92)

And the rest is his tragedy. even accusing Tiresias and Creon of being in a conspiracy when Tiresias can't bear to tell Oedipus the truth.

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zumba96 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Not only is his hubris the account of his downfall, but another reason is the irony presented. Because he wanted to get away from the horrible fate that awaited him, he went elsewhere, which was in fact the exact place he was born. With his pride, striding everywhere, he often killed others mercilessly which included his father. With his pride of being the top of everything and the King, he ended up becoming his own downfall. Moreover, he is bound by his fate and does not truly have free will. 

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irum | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Obviously, there is the fatal flaw of pride in oedipus' character which leads him towards his own tragedy. the hubris appears at many places. for example,when he flees from CORINTH,because of knowing that he would kill his father and would marry his mother.he feels pride in escaping from his fate.which in fact was not his victory but it lead him towards the real tragedy.

sskyberg's profile pic

sskyberg | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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Oedipus has a definite flaw when you consider his extreme pride.  He does not seem to understand the truth of things because his pride gets in the way of truly seeing the depth of things, instead of only looking at the surface of conflicts, which tends to be bring him such mistakes.  For example, so that you can relate it to something...have you ever known someone to think that they are perfect in every way? Well, if this person does not come down to reality, they will not understand that there is no such thing as perfection and there's always room for improvement, therefore, the idea of perfection has taken over the person's ability to believe that there is room for improvement; just as Oedipus's pride has taken over the ability to cope with conflict. 

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jillyfish | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Perhaps you could say that Oedipus is simply a helpless pawn in his own pre-ordained life story.

The Oracle said he would kill his father and marry his mother. No matter what actions his parents took to prevent this prophesy from coming true, he still killed his father and married his mother.

Is he to blame for his life's events? He was only a baby when they were fixed. Perhaps we should blame the Gods.

hopscotch's profile pic

hopscotch | Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

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Oedipus's character flaw was indeed hubris; this excessive pride led him to his metaphorical blindness towards his true circumstances in life. He is self-reliant, has honor and is magnificence, but that is not his true reality; rather, the development of his actions and acts of pride turn him into a tragic heroe that cannot escape his doomed destiny.

Irony plays a very important part to emphasise his downfall through pride. He is initially blind to the truth in his present, but in the end when he looses his pride and is humbled by his downfall, he professes real insight and knowledge.