Is Oedipus a tragic or a pathetic character?Is Oedipus a tragic or a pathetic character?

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snsuber eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This question calls for an opinion to be backed up with facts from the text. It may be better posted in the Discussion Board section of this site.

If you are looking for a way to get started, though, you may start with the definition of the two words you must choose between and frame your answer from there.

A tragic hero is "a privileged, exalted character of high repute, who, by virtue of a tragic flaw and fate, suffers a fall from glory into suffering." Basically, someone who had it all and then lost it because of his tragic flaw (or weakness in his character). Essentially, a tragic hero is well respected except for this one issue in his personality that causes him to lose everything.

On the other hand, the defintion of pathetic according to Merriam-Webster is "pitifully inferior or inadequate."

Based on those two concepts, it is up to you to think about Oedipus' actions in the play and decide which category he falls into.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The denotation of the word pathetic, which derives from the Greek word pathetikos, is defined by The Amerian College Dictionary as exciting pity or sympathetic sadness; full of pathos.  In Greek tragedy, the catharsis evokes pity and fear for the tragic figure; therefore, using this definition of pathetic, the tragic figure of King Oedipus does, indeed, evoke these feelings because of his/her excess of virtue, not because of any weakness, which inspires the connotation of pathetic for those using Miriam-Webster--weak and ineffective or "pitifully inferior or inadequate."

(Here is yet another example of the problems associated with the semantics of English as opposed to other languages that are more precise.)

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that you can find many answers to this question.  In my mind, I would say that Oedipus is a tragic character.  His greatness is what proves to be his ultimate undoing, which is what makes him tragic to me.  His excellence as a leader, willingness to find the truth no matter what, and his sense of pride all contribute to his undoing.  These are qualities of a great leader and human being.  That is to say human beings strive to possess some level of these ideas in their own upbringings and lives.  Yet, these are the very traits which bring a sense of unimaginable downfall to Oedipus.  The source of his greatness becomes the very origin of his condition. With this, I think he moves past a label of "pathetic" and into the domain of tragic.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the best way to answer this question is by challenging it. I thinkOedipus is a tragic figure within Greek tradition and history, but he is also pathetic. Let me define what I mean. In Greek literature only a great person with great virtue can really be tragic. If a failure of a person or an unimpressive person fails, this is not tragic at all. They are expected to fail! In this sense, Oedipus is tragic, because he is really an impressive person.  Also because the tragic hero is a great man in many ways, the very fact that he fails makes him also pathetic, or we can say a person filled with pathos. We can mourn for the tragic hero, because we see the fall of a great individual.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oedipus is a tragic figure by nearly any definition; however, he is not a pathetic figure  to me.  His most vulnerable moments are those few days when he is a child and is literally given away to die and is then rescued.  It's true he suffered the pain and scars and deformity of the spikes in his feet; however, he changed from being a prince to...being a prince.  A pathetic figure is, I suppose, one with whom you sympathize; I sympathize little with this royal personage who demonstrates arrogance and pride and temper at every turn.  Would I wish his fate on another? Certainly not. Do I think he got what he deserved, probably so.  A little sympathy, but no more.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't think of Oedipus as a pathetic figure - he is not someone who I lack patience with or who I think is just a big wimp. He is a character who faces his situation and problems head on, and we all sympathise with him as he embarks on his journey towards self-identity and discovery. There is kind of heroic grandeur with which he faces the truth and I think in a sense when we think of a tragic figure, Oedipus is the first that comes to mind because of this.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oedipus is certainly a tragic character. Because he is willing to hear and accept the truth about himself, because he is a noble figure in bearing and in role, and because he strives to courageously outwork his fate, Oedipus can be seen to possess virtue. His failure, eliciting our sympathy, does not diminish his virtue but occurs, instead, in spite of his virtue and his great efforts. 

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Do we have to choose one? I would argue that while Oedipus is definitely a tragic character, we pity him too. It's hard to pity him too much because of his arrogance and his deplorable actions, but it's also hard not to think the guy might not have gotten a fair shake.