How does the wit of the gods compare to the wit of man in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If we are to define the term wit as referring to "understanding, intelligence, ... astuteness, [or] wisdom," rather than the standard definition of being perceptive, clever, and amusing, then we can say that Sophocles' Oedipus Rex certainly portrays the gods as having more wit, or understanding and intelligence than man (Random House Dictionary).

The gods are portrayed as omnipotent and all-knowing. We especially see the portrayal of the gods as being all-knowing when the characters in the play repeatedly refer to the use of oracles and prophecies in order to learn from the gods. In the beginning of the play, Creon is sent to Delphi to consult Apollo's oracle in order to learn how the Thebans can put an end to the city's current plague. When Creon returns, we learn that the gods are well aware, and have been for some time, that King Laius was murdered by someone who currently resides in Thebes. Disaster stems from the gods whenever someone commits an unclean act, such as murder or breaking any other godly decree. Therefore, Apollo tells Creon through his oracle that the only way to purify the city and thus heal the plague is by either exiling or killing the murderer, as we see in Creon's lines:

By driving a man into exile, or undoing murder with murder again, since this blood shakes our city like a storm. (111-113)

In contrast, Oedipus is completely oblivious to how serious the murder was that he committed and what its true ramifications are, despite the fact that he even learned he would commit the deed through Apollo's very same oracle at Delphi. When Oedipus was a young man, he was told through the oracle that he would kill his own father and sleep with his own mother; however, even though he killed a man on the road immediately after he was given the prophecy, he was too blind and too naive to realize that the prophecy had just been fulfilled. Even when Tiresias informs Oedipus that he is the murderer of King Laius and tells him he is being blind, Oedipus is still too stubborn to realize the truth of the prophecy. We especially see Tiresias rightly accuse Oedipus of being foolishly blind and naive in his lines, "You, even though you see clearly, do not see the scope of your evil" (433-434).

Hence, since the gods are portrayed as being omnipotent and all-knowing while Oedipus is shown to be foolish, naive, and blind, we can say that the gods are portrayed as having more wit than mankind.