Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1060
Essential Passage 1: Lines 1004-1010
Why should a person fear when the ways of fortune
are supreme, when there is no clear foresight? (1005)
It’s best to live at random, however one can.
Do not worry you will wed your mother,
for many mortals already have lain with
their mothers in dreams. Rather, the one for whom
these things are nothing bears life easiest. (1010)
Oedipus, having lived in fear of the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother, has avoided his boyhood home of Corinth and the people he believes to be his parents: Polybus and Merope. A messenger arrives with both bad and good news. The bad news is that Polybus has died after a short illness. The good news is that the people of Corinth want Oedipus to be their king. Despite the grief at his father’s death, he is overjoyed that the prophecy has proved false. Jocasta states that it is chance, not fate, that rules human lives. No one can see ahead, so all prophecies are false. It is best to live for today rather than in obedience to the oracles of some priest or prophet.
Essential Passage 2: Lines 1376-1388
Let him die who took off the fierce fetters,
feeding off my feet, and rescued and saved
me from my death, no good deed for me!
For if I had died then,
I would not have brought (1380)
so much pain to my friends or me!
It is my wish, too, that it have been thus.
I’d not then be my father’s slayer,
nor called the groom of her whence I was born.
Abandoned by the gods, child of sacrilege, (1385)
sharing the source of those I myself sired.
Were some evil greater still than evil,
this, too, would be Oedipus’ lot.
Jocasta has committed suicide, hanging herself above her marriage bed. In horror at what he has unwittingly done, Oedipus takes the pins from Jocasta’s gown and gouges out his eyes. Led out to the people, he stands before them, blinded and destined for exile. Begging to be sent away from Thebes, he curses the shepherd who took off the pins that bound his ankles together as a baby, destined to die. Saving his life was not mercy. It condemned those he loved, including the people of Thebes, to fall under the punishment of the gods for his sin. The Chorus, speaking for the people, agrees. If he had died, as his father had intended, he would not have been the tool of fate by which his father would die. His wife/mother is now dead. His children are under the curse of Fate. He can blame no one else. He alone is guilty.
Essential Passage 3: Lines 1553-1559
People of our country Thebes, behold this Oedipus,
who knew the famous riddle and was a most powerful man,
whose fortunes all the citizens watched with emulation, (1555)
how deep the sea of dire misfortune that has taken him!
Therefore, it is necessary to call no man blessed
as we await the final day, until he has reached
the limit of life and suffered nothing grievous.
The childhood prophecy about Oedipus, that he would kill his father and marry his mother, has been fulfilled, though with Oedipus’s full ignorance of the significance of his actions. In full honor, he exiled himself from Corinth so that he would not kill who turned out to be his foster father, Polybus. On his way, he unknowingly killed Laius, his true father, and after solving the riddle of the Sphinx and becoming the savior of Thebes, he married the widowed queen, who turned out to be his mother. He has sired four children by his mother, two grown sons and two young girls. He proclaims a curse on the girls, who can never marry because of their father’s sins. Creon, now the sole ruler, fulfills Oedipus’s decree that the murderer of Laius must be exiled. Although Oedipus at the end finds parting from his daughters too painful, the girls are nevertheless taken away, and Oedipus is forced out of Thebes. In closing, the Chorus addresses the audience, proclaiming that although Oedipus’s deeds were great, fate had the upper hand.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Fate plays a crucial part in Oedipus Rex, providing the vehicle by which Oedipus’s tragic flaw, hubris, leads to his downfall. Fate is presented as an impersonal force, beyond the mere whim of the gods. It is the progress of an individual’s life that has been set in stone from before his or her birth. Neither god nor man may escape from it. In fact, it is the attempted escape by both Oedipus and Jocasta that brings about fate’s intended design.
Jocasta is presented with her fate by an early prophecy: her son will kill his father. Laius starts off the chain of events by trying to control fate: he sentences his son to death. Oedipus is instead taken by a shepherd to Corinth, where he is reared by Polybus and Merope. Fate follows Oedipus there, with an additional prophecy stating that not only will he kill his father, but he will marry his mother in his father’s place. The secret of his birth has been kept from him, not intentionally but out of ignorance. Oedipus then flees Corinth, attempting to avoid fate’s declarations. As he travels, fate puts him in the way of his father, Laius, thus allowing the first part of the prophecy to be fulfilled as Oedipus kills Laius in a fit of rage. This leaves the way open for him to enter Thebes, solve the riddle of the Sphinx, become the hero, and marrying the widow of the late king.
Jocasta is presented as a mocker of fate. She tells Oedipus that one must live for today. Her realization (anagnorisis, the term created by Aristotle for the sudden enlightenment of the protagonist) that she has put herself and Oedipus in the path of fate prompts her final act of suicide.
As the Chorus closes the drama, it tells the audience that there is no happiness as long as fate is in control. A person’s courage, intelligence, power, and even reverence for the gods mean little if fate has determined a different destiny.
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