How does Oedipus show power?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Unlike some leaders in ancient Greek plays, like Creon in Antigone, for example, Oedipus doesn't make a public "show" of his power or demand obeisance simply to demonstrate his authority over the Theban people.

Oedipus came to be King of Thebes when he solved the riddle of the Sphinx...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Unlike some leaders in ancient Greek plays, like Creon in Antigone, for example, Oedipus doesn't make a public "show" of his power or demand obeisance simply to demonstrate his authority over the Theban people.

Oedipus came to be King of Thebes when he solved the riddle of the Sphinx and released Thebes from her tyranny. (In ancient Greece, the Sphinx had the body of a winged lioness and the head of a woman. The Egyptian Sphinx had, and has, the body of a lion and the head of a man.) In addition to being made King, Oedipus was also given the hand of the former Queen, Jocasta, in marriage. Oedipus knows that he's King only through a twist of fate and as the result of a remarkable series of events.

From all appearances, Oedipus is a benevolent king, and the people of Thebes revere and respect him. The Priest refers to Oedipus as "our peerless king." Oedipus repeatedly refers to his people as "my children."

In the opening scene of the play, Oedipus commiserates with the supplicants who have come to his palace, and he grieves with them for the drought and plague that has befallen them. His sympathetic words to the Theban people seem genuine and heartfelt. He rules by mutual love and mutual respect. He doesn't need to prove to anybody that he's the King, and he rules with a light touch.

However, Oedipus is arrogant:

OEDIPUS: Children, it were not meet that I should learn
From others, and am hither come, myself,
I Oedipus, your world-renowned king.

Oedipus is also headstrong and prideful. Until it's proven to him absolutely and without any reasonable doubt that he's the murderer of Laius, the previous King of Thebes and his own father, and that he married his own mother, Jocasta, it's entirely reasonable that Oedipus refuses to believe something that is frankly so unbelievable.

As the plot moves forward and evidence mounts up against him, Oedipus becomes increasingly isolated and increasingly unreasonable, and he lashes out at everyone around him. He accuses Teiresias of lying to him. He also accuses Creon and Teiresias of conspiring to usurp his throne.

This is when Oedipus brings his power to bear in a negative way. Although Oedipus makes no threats against Teiresias earlier in the play, even when Teiresias reveals the Oedipus is the murderer of Laius and has married his own mother, Oedipus now threatens Creon with a public death when he thinks that Creon is plotting to overthrow him.

CREON: What then's thy will? To banish me the land?

OEDIPUS:I would not have thee banished, no, but dead,
That men may mark the wages envy reaps.

Jocasta appears from inside the palace and tells the story of how she and Laius tried to save their son from the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. The Herdsman is brought in to tell the story of how he saved Oedipus from death. As the pieces of the Oedipus puzzle fall into place, Oedipus realizes that, even through no fault of his own, he's defied the gods and brought destruction to himself and his family.

At this point, Oedipus does the right thing, peacefully relinquishes his power to Creon, and banishes himself from Thebes.

Unfortunately, Creon makes a right mess of things in Antigone, but that's another story.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Oedipus is the King of Thebes when Oedipus the King begins, and while his people respect him and trust him as their leader, he can be quite arrogant. The first part of the play shows Oedipus demonstrating his power, often to extremes.

When Oedipus learns about the plague on his city, he sends Creon to the oracle to find out how to rid Thebes of it. Creon returns with the news that there is a murderer in the town—the man who killed former king Laius—and he must be exiled or killed in order to lift the plague. Oedipus immediately vows to find the killer and bring him to justice. He displays his confidence and strength to the people, as he also promised to punish anyone in the town who has helped the killer. The audience, however, knows about Oedipus's secret ignorance—he is unaware who his real parents are, and thus that he is actually the king's killer and the source of the plague.

Oedipus later commands that blind prophet Teiresias come to him to help solve the mystery. Teiresias is hesitant but eventually reveals that Oedipus is the killer. Oedipus's pride and arrogance lead him to censure the prophet. Oedipus believes his power protects him from people like Teiresias; he can't believe the blind man would dare challenge a king. The encounter with the prophet has a ripple effect, as Oedipus then accuses Creon of conspiring with Teiresias to oust Oedipus from power. Creon says that he doesn't want the kind of power Oedipus has, but he also intimates that Oedipus is abusing his power by treating Creon with such harshness and suspicion.

Oedipus's power fades over the course of the play as the truth is revealed. By the end, he has blinded himself and is exiled. He has suffered an epic fall from power.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Oedipus is the all-powerful king of Thebes, and he exerts his power over others at every opportunity. Fiercely proud, Oedipus will tolerate no opposition to his rule. As far as he's concerned, he's in charge, and what he says, goes. Unfortunately for Oedipus, this stubborn pride, this insistence on being in control, leads to his eventual downfall.

Oedipus's understanding of power is purely of this earth; but as the blind prophet Tiresias points out to him, earthly power is utterly irrelevant in the bigger scheme of things. What ultimately matters is divine authority, the power of the gods. Yet in refusing to listen to Tiresias' prophecy, Oedipus is defying the gods, putting his power as king above that of the immortals. So obsessed is Oedipus with his power as king that he regards the details of Tiresias' prophecy as nothing more than a threat to his throne. His metaphorical blindness to the bigger picture and his true place within it will lead in due course to his literal blindness.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team