How is Oedipus Rex a Greek tragedy?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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arkaless | College Teacher | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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Sophocles's immortal and mythical play, Oedipus Rex is believed to be one of the best classical examples of tragedy. Aristotle's theorizings in the Poetics were modelled on the tragedy of Oedipus, the king of Thebes. The play is adjudged as a great example of tragic drama on the basis of the following:

a) The play has a very well-constructed plot that arouses the twin emotions of pity and fear, and achieves the tragic katharsis;

b) The play shows the downfall of an exceptional human being belonging to high rank/station;

c) The plot involves both peripety(''reversal") and anagnorisis("recognition") and, what is more, these two moments are co-incidental;

d) The protagonist suffers because of a tragic error or hamartia; he kills his father, Laius, and marries his mother, Jocasta;

e) The protagonist's error is caused by hubris, a form of pride that goes before a fall.


Sophocles's play dramatizes the painful mystery of pre-ordained suffering of an extra-ordinary human being, fate/circumstances bringing about the downfall of an exemplary individual.

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jmcolson | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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Oedipus Rex is considered by many to be the perfect tragedy and as the model for all tragedies.  Perhaps the strongest reason this story is lasting is the idea that tragic events happen if you don't listen to your destiny. The Greek people believed the gods controlled what happend to them and if you went against the gods you would fall to you demise. As the play develops we see that as Oedipus running from his destiny he runs right into it.  Even when the story of how King Laius was killed to Oedipus he is blind to the truth.  This strengthens the one of the major themes of blindness throughout the play.

The tragedy is a good man who becomes king and is loved by his people falls into a hopeless abomination. His fatal flaw is is anger. He leaves his home in anger at being told his fate was to kill his father and marry his mother. He kills five men, including Laius, after becoming furious at being told to move the the side of the road. When Creon returns from the oracle and tells Oedipus the murdered is in the city and for the plague to be lifted the murderer must be found, Oedipus loses his temper with Creon accusing him of wanting the throne and makes the declaration that whoever the murder is will be banished immediately. Continuing to be blind to the truth his anger flares again when Tiresias, the blind prophet, tells him he is the murder of the king.