In Sophocles's play Oedipus Rex, when Tiresias does speak, he speaks the truth.  Why doesn’t Oedipus accept the story that Tiresias tells?

Expert Answers

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

In Sophocles's play Oedipus Rex, when Tiresias speaks, he speaks the truth. Why doesn't Oedipus accept the story that Tiresias tells?

Various answers to this question suggest themselves, including the following:

  • At first Oedipus suspects that Tiresias may be disloyal to Thebes (382-85).
  • He also suspects Tiresias of...

Unlock
This Answer Now

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

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In Sophocles's play Oedipus Rex, when Tiresias speaks, he speaks the truth. Why doesn't Oedipus accept the story that Tiresias tells?

Various answers to this question suggest themselves, including the following:

  • At first Oedipus suspects that Tiresias may be disloyal to Thebes (382-85).
  • He also suspects Tiresias of disloyalty to himself (Oedipus; 395).
  • He accuses Tiresias of “stubbornness” (402).
  • He accuses Tiresias of insulting Thebes (407).
  • He even suspects Tiresias of having helped to plan Laius’s death:

I get the feeling you conspired in the act,
and played your part, as much as you could do,
short of killing him with your own hands. (413-15)

Given the fact that Oedipus has already accused Tiresias of being unpatriotic, personally disloyal, stubborn, disrespectful to Thebes, and partly responsible for the death of Laius, it is not surprising that he is unwilling to believe Tiresias when the latter finally reveals that Oedipus himself was the murderer of Laius. Tiresias several times accuses Oedipus of having an uncontrolled temper (402-04; 409-10), and surely this temper also helps explain why Oedipus rejects Tiresias’s revelations about Oedipus himself.

Once Tiresias makes his personal revelations about Oedipus, Oedipus repeats many of the same suspicions and charges he had already leveled against the old man. He says, for instance,

  • that Tiresias is a liar (445-46).
  • that Tiresias has been bribed by Creon (464).
  • that Tiresias is untalented (473-75)

During the course of his argument with Tiresias, Oedipus reveals that he himself is arrogant, easy to angry, and greatly irrational. These defects in his personality are some of the reasons he rejects the old man’s revelations, but other reasons involve his assumptions that Tiresias himself is afflicted with all the defects of character outlined above.  Ironically, Oedipus’s suspicions about the alleged flaws in Tiresias’s character help reveal the flaws in Oedipus himself.

 

-- Ian Johnston translation (see link below).

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team