Essential Quotes by Character: Oedipus

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1154

Essential Passage 1: Lines 410-418

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So tell me, when are you the wise seer? (410)
How is it that, when the singing hound was here,
you never said how the citizens might be freed?
Even though the riddle could not be solved by
the first man who met it, but required prophecy.
But you did not come forth with this, knowing some clue (415)
from birds or gods; instead I came along,
the idiot Oedipus! I stopped her,
working from intellect, not learning from birds.

Summary

As the plague ravages the city of Thebes, Oedipus asks the prophet Tiresias to identify the cause of the plague. Tiresias has very reluctantly placed the blame on Oedipus himself. In anger, Oedipus rages against Tiresias for this accusation. Oedipus even accuses Creon, his brother-in-law and co-ruler, of plotting to remove Oedipus from the throne and thus retain the crown for himself. Boasting, Oedipus recalls how he saved the city of Thebes by solving the riddle of the Sphinx (the singing hound) that had held Thebes captive in the absence of its previous ruler, Laius. It was not by the prophecies of old, nor the priests’ reading of omens in the flights of birds, nor not even by the gods that Thebes was saved. Instead, it was by Oedipus using his own intellectual strength to rid the city of the threat of the Sphinx.

Essential Passage 2: Lines 648-660

CREON:
What do you want? To cast me from this land?
OEDIPUS:
Hardly—I want you to die, not flee.
CREON:
You are the form of jealousy. (650)
OEDIPUS:
You speak neither to concede nor to persuade?
CREON:
For I see well that you do not understand.
OEDIPUS:
I understand my own affairs well enough.
CREON:
You must know mine equally well.
OEDIPUS:
Not when they are false! (655)
CREON:
Do you understand nothing?
OEDIPUS:
Yet, there must be rule.
CREON:
Not if ruled badly!
OEDIPUS:
O city, city!
CREON:
The city is mine, too, not yours alone! (660)

Summary

Creon vehemently denies Oedipus’s charge of treason. At this point in the work, Creon holds the role of adviser, though he is one of the three named rulers of Thebes (along with Oedipus and Jocasta). Why would he want to be saddled with the pressures and burdens of ruling alone, he asks. His life is much easier, his sleep is much sounder, being in the shadows. Oedipus is the one who wants to rule alone, Creon states. When asked if he realizes he could be misjudging Creon, Oedipus in his pride says that being right is not important, just so long as he continues to rule. As Oedipus cries out to Thebes (“my city!”), Creon objects, stating that it is also his city, not Oedipus’s alone.

Essential Passage 3: Lines 1412-1435

Oh, Cithaeron! Why did you accept me? Why did
you not kill me at once, so that I would never
reveal to men my origins? O Polybus
and Corinth and my old ancestral home—(1415)
so-called—in what a pretty festering
of evils you brought me up! For now I
find myself evil and born from evil people.
O three paths and hidden groves and the
narrow oak coppice at the triple crossroads, (1420)
which drank my own blood from my father
from my own hands, do you still remember me?
What deeds I performed in your presence,
what deeds I was still to do! O marriage, marriage,
you brought me forth, and afterwards again (1425)
you harvested that same seed and revealed
father-brothers, children of kin blood,
brides who were wives and mothers, and all else
counted the most shameful acts by men.
But, since these matters are as foully said as done, (1430)
by the gods, quickly hide me from the sight of men
somehow, or kill me or cast me into the sea,
where you will never see me again.
Go, deem it worthy to touch a poor man!
Yield, do not fear; for my evils are (1435)
such that no one of men can bear but me.

Summary

Jocasta the queen is dead by her own hand. Oedipus—her son, her husband, and the father of her children—takes the pins that holds her gown and stabs out his eyes. He realizes that what Tiresias had said was true, despite his angry refusal and condemnation at the prophet and his words. He has lived his life considering himself blameless and the hero of Thebes. He thought, at the outset of the plague, to be the one to heal it. Instead, he discovers that he is not the physician but the disease. At last, he accepts responsibility, begging forgiveness for the people and places that have been affected by his downfall.

Analysis of Essential Passages

Oedipus is the original tragic hero, destined by fate and his own pride to fall from glory into infamy. Oedipus takes pride first of all in his brilliant mind. As he constantly reminds the people of Thebes, it was his intellectual powers that freed them from the control of the Sphinx by solving its riddle. Yet he is unaware that it was in fact a physical act of violence that made the throne available to him. By killing Laius, Oedipus makes a place for himself through wrath, unable or unwilling to control his emotions. In his encounter with both Tiresias and Creon, it is clear that anger is born of his pride, fear that he will be proved to be less than he has presented himself to be.

Oedipus resents having to reign with Creon, even though Creon has willingly taken the lesser role of an adviser. In the narrative, Creon is a foil by which the pride of Oedipus is displayed. Creon has no ambition for himself. He does not seek power; rather, he is content to let Oedipus be the high king of Thebes. Yet he insists that the law, in this case Oedipus’s own curse on the murderer of Laius, be carried out. The law is higher than the individual, even if that individual is the king. Oedipus does not dispute the law, but he disputes who is to be the dispenser of the law. The king is the king, no matter if he is right or wrong. Oedipus thus stops being a just ruler and becomes a tyrant.

Faced with unassailable proof of the charges against him, Oedipus bows before fate. Above the king, above the law, rules fate. He has pronounced the curse of banishment on the murderer of Laius. In the course of events, he finds that he is worse than just the murderer of his father: he is the ravisher of his mother and the curse of his children/siblings. In his pride, instigated at the moment of killing Laius for pushing him off the road, he has allowed his tragic flaw to bring about not only his own downfall, but that too of his wife, his children, his city, and his legacy.

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