Which quotes from Oedipus Rex depict Oedipus as a hero?

Expert Answers

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

When referring to Oedipus as a hero in the play Oedipus Rex, one can be referring to one of two things. First, the hero of a story is recognized to be the central character of a story, especially the protagonist. However, while the protagonist is merely the main character that the story is about, the hero is recognized for some heroic deed. The hero is recognized as a noble figure who does his/her best to rescue or redeem other characters. Second, since Oedipus Rex is a tragedy, it also contains a tragic hero. According to Aristotle's definition, a tragic hero is a noble figure with some character flaw that propels the character to a tragic fall or end. Below are passages that reflect Oedipus as both a hero and a tragic hero.

Oedipus especially exhibits his heroic nature in the beginning the story when he is so determined to help the Thebans out of their troubled state. A horrible plague has fallen upon Thebes and we learn in Oedipus's earlier speeches that he is racking his brain to come up with a solution to save his people. His compassion and his drive to help and protect his people is especially what presents him as a noble, heroic figure, as we see in his lines:

Hence, you do not wake me from sleep, but know that I have been weeping much and wandering many roads of the mind. And that which my inquiry found our only cure I have done, for I have sent Creon ... to Apollo's home in Pytho, so that he learn what I should do or say to save this city. (70-77)

However, it is also his fatal flaw that makes Oedipus a tragic hero rather than just a hero, and that tragic flaw is his excessive pride. In fact, we learn that he has had his excessive pride even as a young man and that it is his pride that leads him to unknowingly kill his own father. We learn that when he was younger he visited the oracle at Delphi and had it prophesied that he would one day kill his own father and sleep with his own mother. In his state of anger he headed on the road again far away from his own city. A man and traveling companions were also on the road heading towards Delphi, and when they saw Oedipus, they ran him off the road. Due to his pride and anger, he struck out at the travelers, killing them all, as we see in his lines:

... the old man himself drove me from the road with force. In my anger I struck the driver, turning me off the road, and the old man ... soon was struck by the scepter from his hand ... I killed them all. (832-841)

It was Oedipus's wounded pride at being run off the road as well as his anger that leads him to kill these people, one being his own father. Hence, we see that his excessive pride leads him to the fulfillment of his ill-fated prophecy.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What passages from Sophocles' play Oedipus the King, or Oedipus Rex, describe Oedipus as either a hero or a fool?

Oedipus is considered to be the prime example of a tragic hero, especially as defined by Aristotle. According to Aristotle's definition, a tragic hero must be of high status and be a noble and admirable person, but must also have a character flaw that propels him or her to his or her great fall. Oedipus's character flaws are his excessive pride and his naivete. While Oedipus can be recognized as a noble and virtuous person for caring for his citizens, his naivete also contributes to both the city's plague and his own downfall. Therefore, Oedipus can actually be considered both a hero and a naive fool.

We especially see Oedipus's noble and virtuous nature at the beginning of the story when we see his compassion for his people and his willingness to do whatever is needed to end the suffering his citizens are enduring due to the plague. Oedipus states that his citizens' agony is causing him even greater agony, as we see in his lines:

My poor children, what you desire is known and not unknown to me, for I see well that everyone is sick, and being sick, still, not one of you is as sick as I am. (63-66)

In other words, Oedipus is stating that he is even more sick at heart than his citizens due to their sickness and suffering. We also learn in this speech that he has "been weeping much" and racking his brain to find a solution and, therefore, has sent Creon to Apollo's oracle at Delphi to learn what should be done to end the plague (71). Oedipus's compassion and willingness to help shows us what a noble and heroic ruler he is towards his citizens.

However, unfortunately, Oedipus is too blind to realize that his own transgressions are the cause of his people's suffering. As Tiresias phrases it, Oedipus is blind. Oedipus is particularly blind, naive, and stubborn in believing that Creon and Tiresias are conspiring against him to take the crown. Oedipus was even blind in failing to realize when he was younger that the man he killed at the crossroads leading towards Delphi could possibly have been his father. Hence, both of these instances serve to prove that while Oedipus is a hero, he is a naive, foolish, tragic hero.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on