How clearly does Tiresias reveal Oedipus's guilt? Why does it take Oedipus so long to recognize and admit his guilt?

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Oedipus takes a long time to learn the truth because he is trying to avoid learning it. The question asks why Oedipus takes so long to realize what has happened. When Teiresias tells him that he killed his father and married his mother, he begins to feel horrified at the thought. At this point, he is already aware that Polybus was not his real father and Jocasta was not his real mother. He suspects they are lying about something, but does not suspect that they are also lying about being his parents.

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Instead of seeming like a mistake in the play, I feel like the vagueness and openness to interpretation makes the play work in its own special way. Tiresias makes it clear to the audience that Oedipus is guilty, and recognition dawns on the entire crowd in light of the original...

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words of the Oracle at Delphi. Oedipus, however, is blind to this fact.

His naivete in light of these events is a very important part of the story. It encapsulates his hubris—the fatal flaw that tears him apart in the end. In his own pride, Oedipus is completely unaware of the idea of being guilty himself and instead believes that the culprit is still on the loose. Because of this, his own declarations twist him into further destruction as he decrees the punishments that the guilty party should receive.

The fact that Tiresias reveals this information in such an explicit way serves to underpin the depths to which Oedipus has sunk in his own pride. He is completely incapable of realizing the truth, even if it is explicitly stated to him. The juxtaposition of his blindness with the clarity of the truth serves the play's theme overall, revealing again how destructive Oedipus's pride is.

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Both ancient and modern readers are aware that Oedipus is the culprit before reading the play, due to its role as an iconic literary work that has had a major degree of cultural influence. Oedipus himself, however, has no such advantage. The events that led to his current situation, at the time of his discussion with the prophet, were a wildly improbable set of coincidences. Not only is the actual course of events described hard to believe, but, like most people, Oedipus is reluctant to believe horrific stories about himself.

Although audiences understand the words of Tiresias, there is certainly room for Oedipus to misinterpret them. Oedipus is not portrayed as stupid at all. In fact, he is portrayed as a very intelligent man who is dedicated to the welfare of the city. That is what makes his downfall tragic. One does not feel "fear and pity" at the downfall of a villain but sympathizes with a great and good (albeit flawed) man caught up in an impossible situation. The gradual realization is part of the dramatic effect, not a flaw in the play.

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In Oedipus Rex, Sophocles creates the ultimate dramatic irony by allowing the reader to understand Oedipus's true identity long before he does. The effect of this irony makes the resolution of the story all the more tragic. However, the question of Oedipus's intelligence in not believing Tiresias when he identifies him as the murderer of Laius is an interesting one. When analyzing this question, a reader must examine the conversation between Tiresias and Oedipus and Oedipus's reaction to that conversation within the context of the story as a whole.

Firstly, it is important to look at the clarity with which Tiresias addresses Oedipus. When Tiresias first enters, he is reluctant to speak, but once he does, he tells Oedipus, "You yourself are the pollution of this country" (338). Later, when questioned again, Tiresias states it all the more clearly by saying, "I say that you are the murderer whom you seek" (347). Then, when he is about to leave, Tiresias leaves him with the prophecies regarding the murderer's fate saying that he will be "A blind man / Who has his eyes now; a penniless man, who is rich now / And he will go tapping the strange earth with his staff" (439-441).

If Sophocles had not created an alternate theory that arises in Oedipus's mind following Tiresias's words, it would be much more difficult for readers to believe that Oedipus is indeed intelligent. When he hears Tiresias's accusation, he first thinks that perhaps Tiresias is simply not as skilled as people claim, but as he considers the motive behind Tiresias's words, he lands on the idea that perhaps Creon, his brother-in-law, has paid Tiresias to say these things in order to usurp the throne. Although this theory is quickly denied by Creon in the following scene, it does provide Oedipus with a fairly logical explanation. After all, if Creon did want to become king, it would make sense to blame the plague that has befallen Thebes on the current king.

Within the play, the reader is privy to enough foreshadowing from characters, both when Oedipus is on and off stage, to believe that Oedipus is the murderer early on. Yet, when thinking through the pieces of information that Oedipus has, it is logical that he tries different avenues of explanation other than the truth, simply because the true explanation is so far-fetched. Thus, although it may seem that there is a plot hole following Tiresias's entrance and exit from the play, that idea is negated by the alternate theory that Oedipus designs.

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Is it stupidity on the part of Oedipus or a defect in Sophocles's play that it takes the king so long to admit guilt?

In Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, it is neither stupidity on the protagonist's part nor defect on the author's that causes Oedipus to take so long to admit guilt (by this, I assume you are speaking of his ability to learn that he both killed his father and wed his mother). Rather, the reason for this has to do with two separate prophecies—one told to Oedipus, the other to Jocasta. It is only once he possesses knowledge of both—as well as learning of his true parentage—that he is able to comprehend exactly who and what he is.

Oedipus is shown early on to be a dedicated and caring ruler. When he discovers that the previous king's murderer was never found, he takes it upon himself to uncover the truth for the sake of his people. Were he not so insistent upon finding this out, he might never have learned the truth about his past. However, after being told by the prophet Teiresias that he is the murderer, everything begins to unravel. While speaking with Jocasta, she reveals to him a prophecy told to her long ago:

JOCASTA: An oracle came once to Laius. I do not say
From Phoebus himself, but from his ministers
That his fate would be at his son's hand to die -
A child, who would be born from him and me.

Though he has not yet discovered the truth, learning of this prophecy makes him believe in the power of oracles. When he figures out that one of the men he killed just prior to arriving at Thebes was Laius, Oedipus realizes that Jocasta's prophecy came true, at least partially. Just as Jocasta did for him, he now reveals a prophecy told to him when he was younger:

OEDIPUS: A man at a banquet overdrunk with wine
Said in drink I was a false son to my father.
. . .
In secret from mother and father I set out
Toward Delphi. Phoebus sent me away ungraced
In what I came for, but other wretched things
Terrible and grievous, he revealed in answer;
That I must wed my mother and produce
An unendurable race for men to see,
That I should kill the father who begot me.

Though it becomes clear to the audience at this point that Oedipus is Laius and Jocasta's son and that he did, indeed, kill his true father, he has not yet reached the same conclusion. He has not yet put all the pieces together—mostly because he still believes Polybus is his father. After a messenger comes to tell him that Polybus has died, Oedipus is given a brief reprieve from the weight of his prophecy. However, he soon finds out that the man "overdrunk with wine" was telling the truth. Only once he has all this information does he realize Jocasta and Laius are his parents. Additionally, though unbeknownst to him at the time, by killing Laius in a chance encounter he ended up fulfilling the prophecy that said he would murder his father and wed his mother.

To recap, it was not stupidity or defect that caused Oedipus to take so long in learning the truth. Sophocles crafted the play in such a way that allowed the audience to put the pieces together before the characters. Because of this, it highlights the tragedy that befalls both Oedipus and Jocasta once they learn the truth.

Note: For this response, the above quotations come from Ten Greek Plays in Contemporary Translations, edited by L.R. Lind and published by the Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Is it stupidity on the part of Oedipus or a defect in Sophocles's play that it takes the king so long to admit guilt?

This is an interesting question. I would say it is neither. Oedipus is not stupid (in fact, I would say that he is just the opposite), and Sophocles's play is not defective (I would say it is near perfect).

If you think about the play, Oedipus is an extremely able person. He figured out the riddle of the sphinx and he is the ruler of Thebes. The reason he has a hard time coming to certain conclusions is because everything is so far-fetched. If someone told you that you killed your father and married your mother, would you believe it? Moreover, all people have blind spots.

In addition, when it comes to the play, Sophocles has to do certain things. He needs to establish the setting, develop characters, build up the tension, and bring out a tragic ending. For these reasons, the play has to proceed at a certain pace. There is nothing defective. In fact, most peole see it as a masterful work.

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