Where does pathos occur in Oedipus Rex?

Expert Answers
karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Greek, the word "pathos" means suffering or emotion. Usually when we use the term pathos to describe a technique used by writers of literary works, we mean that something in the work evokes the emotional response of the audience; typically, the audience feels sad, emotional, regretful, or sympathetic as a result of something depicted on stage. In Oedipus Rex, even though the tragic hero Oedipus has committed some heinous crimes (killing his own father, bearing children with his own mother) and is a flawed character (he is arrogant, short-sighted, and has a temper), he is also seen as a good leader of his city and has committed most of his crimes without full knowledge of what he was doing.

Most of the pathos in Oedipus Rex is seen in Part II as Oedipus begins to realize that he is the one responsible for the plague on Thebes and must follow his own order and be exiled. The scene when Oedipus returns to the stage after blinding himself is truly pathetic. The audience can see through Oedipus's self-mutilation and can hear through lines like "What can I see to love? / What greeting can touch my ears with joy?" (1398-99; David Grene translation) how deeply Oedipus feels his shame and guilt.

Another scene that effectively captures pathos both in the sense of the character's suffering and of the audience's pity for the character is when Oedipus interacts with his children for the final time. Oedipus begs Creon to take care of his children, particularly his daughters, and has to bid them farewell forever as he is exiled. The audience can't help but feel sorry for Oedipus as he claims he can feel no joy again and will never see his children after this day.