Through Oedipus' closing lines in Oedipus Rex and that of the Chorus, what is the lesson that we are meant to learn?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The closing lines of Oedipus and the Chorus speak to the idea of a fall from grace and how the hopes of human beings can be to avoid pain and suffering, with a modicum of happiness.  It is a far cry from the royalty and sense of pride by which the drama opened.  In these closing lines from the main character and the Chorus who bear witness, there is a statement about how individuals have to recognize fully their own limitations and the cursed capacity that mortality can offer.  It is here in which Oedipus' closing lines are spoken.  Blinded and shamed, Oedipus thinks about his children and the lives they will lead because of his actions:  

And I weep for you, although I cannot see you;
contemplating the bitterness of your lives,
the sort of life men will force you to live.
What sort of company will you keep in town?
What festivals will you attend that will not
send you home in tears, instead of joy?

It is here where the closing words from Oedipus have the most meaning.  Oedipus no longer thinks of himself.  Thinking of his children's impending marriage, Oedipus begs for his children and no longer can think of himself as anything more than a creature that embodies what it means to be pathetic:

When you come to the age ripe for marriage,
who will he be who will run the risk, children,
to take for himself the reproaches that will
be banes for my parents and offspring alike?
What evil is absent? Your father
slew his father; he ploughed his mother,
where he himself was sown, and he sired
you in the same fount where he himself was sired.
Such taunts you will hear, and then who will marry you?

Oedipus' closing words remind the reader that it is not for individual fame or claims to power that drive the individual.  It is the avoidance of further hurt or pain, the cries of a father for his children, that represent the foundational hope for human beings.

In the closing words of the Chorus, this similar mourning for the condition of being human is echoed.  The "sea of dire misfortune" is a deep one, indeed.  It is one that overcomes human beings and the Chorus is able to speak about it from the position of eyewitness.  The best one can hope for, according to the closing line of the drama and the chorus, is to avoid suffering anything "grievous."  It is in this where success can be seen.  In this message, the Chorus reflects what Oedipus' own predicament reveals.  The essence of mortality becomes the avoidance of this "sea of dire misfortune" and nothing more.