Oedipus Rex Questions and Answers
by Sophocles

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Does Oedipus Rex represent real life or not?

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The Aristotelian idea of catharsis depends on the audience experiencing the pity and terror of the protagonist's situation. Aristotle says that the protagonist should be a great man, better than the people watching the play, but that we should nonetheless be able to sympathize with his fall. This depends on the drama being true to life.

Oedipus Rex certainly gives the audience an extreme and bizarre situation, quite unlike anything they are likely to have experienced. Freud only posited the idea of the Oedipus Complex more than two millennia later, and to a Greek audience, the idea of a man killing his father and marrying his mother would have meant one thing above all others: pollution. It is, however, the type of pollution that is fairly common in Greek mythology, which is full of parents eating or killing their children, if not marrying them. Moreover, the underlying circumstances are described with unusual realism. Prophecy and plague aside, Oedipus Rex is about as true to life as Greek drama gets.

What is particularly realistic, amidst all the dramatic conventions, is the psychology of Oedipus himself. If the play is sometimes difficult to believe (and, by the standards of Greek drama, it isn't), the character of Oedipus himself is clearly true to life: suspicious, stubborn, quick-tempered, but essentially noble. The audience has no difficulty in believing that the king would act and react exactly as he does or in feeling pity for his unconscious role in his own destruction.

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