The Ramayana main character Prince Rama standing with an arrow quiver on his back and holding a bow

The Ramayana

by Vālmīki

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How do societal roles and divine expectations shape the heroism of Rama and Oedipus, and what do their similarities and differences reveal?

Quick answer:

A. Rama is a prince and heir to the throne of Ayodhya while Oedipus is a prince who turns out to be adopted and not heir to the throne. Rama is sent into exile, but returns home with honor. Oedipus leaves for his journey of discovery after being banished by the very people he was supposed to save from a plague. Both men meet with misfortune on their journeys, but one rises above it, while the other falls under its weight. Both heroes are faced with many trials and tribulations in which they must prove their strength or intelligence by performing impossible tasks or solving unsolvable riddles as well as risk life and limb to save their loved ones.

Expert Answers

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Rama and Oedipus make for an interesting comparison given the events that occur in their respective stories. While both are rulers, their stories unravel in incredibly different ways. However, there are many themes that are similar in nature between the two.

The most prominent similarity between the two is the importance of fate in their journeys. Both Rama and Oedipus are servants to duty and to fate. However, it is the role of fate that also leads to the greatest difference between the two.

The biggest difference between the two men is their ability and willingness to accept their fates. Oedipus famously attempts to avoid a horrible fate after hearing a prophecy that he will murder his father and have a sexual relationship with his mother; however, in attempting to run away from this fate he ends up causing these events to happen.

In the Ramayana, Rama is exiled from his kingdom due to the actions of his stepmother. Rather than fight against fate, he gladly agrees to go to the forest. There, he learns important lessons and eventually the younger brother his stepmother intended to take the throne finds him. The younger brother knows that Rama is destined to be the ruler of their land and, in an act of dharma (which determines law and order), the younger brother tells Rama that he will willingly give up the throne when Rama returns from exile.

It is these heroes' different reactions to fate that lead to different outcomes in the story. Oedipus attempts to defy fate, and so his story ends in tragedy, whereas Rama accepts his duty as well as fate and ultimately restores order to a kingdom in chaos.

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