Essay about Sympathy for Oedipus in the Oedipus Tyrannus

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Sympathy for Oedipus in the Oedipus Tyrannus

    The aim of tragedy is to evoke fear and pity, according to Aristotle, who cited the Oedipus Tyrannus as the definitive tragic play. Thus pity must be produced from the play at some point. However, this does not necessarily mean that Oedipus must be pitied. We feel great sympathy ('pathos') for Jocasta's suicide and the fate of Oedipus' daughters. Oedipus could evoke fear in us, not pity. He is a King of an accursed city willing to use desperate methods, even torture to extract truth from the Shepherd. His scorning of Jocasta just before her death creates little pity for him, as does his rebuke of the old, blind Tiresias. But with this considered, we must not forget the suffering he endures during his search for knowledge and the ignorant self-destruction he goes under.


Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother, with whom he produces four children. These are terrible crimes, impious, immoral and illegal. However, the fact that he carries these out in ignorance, not conscious of his own actions, attributes them to severe misfortune and a cruel fate. He even tried, in vain, to avoid the completion of this destiny, leaving his believed home city of Corinth upon hearing it told to him at the Oracle of Apollo ("I heard all that and ran" 876). Thus, when it is revealed to him, this sudden revelation of his crimes within one day leads him to blind himself so that he can no longer see what he has done ("Nothing I could see could bring me joy" 1473). The blinding was not required by fate and is indeed self inflicted but he believed that it is just punishment for what he has done, and by doing so he regains some control over his fate ("hand that struck my eyes was mine...

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...are evoked but against the divinely spun destiny and pity is felt for Oedipus, their play-thing, with no more power to change his life than to change his past.


Works Cited and Consulted:

Badger, Vincent M. "Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus: A Map of the Soul" (Oct 30, 1999)

Dodds, E. R., The Ancient Concept of Progress and Other Essays on Greek Literature and Belief, London. Oxford University Press, 1973.

Harsh, Philip Whaley, A Handbook of Classical Drama, Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press, 1967.

Murray, Robert D. Jr. "Thought and Structure in Sophoclean Tragedy", in Sophocles, A Collection of Critical Essays, Woodward, Thomas, editor,

New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1966.

Segal, Charles. Oedipus Tyrannus: Tragic Heroism and the Limits of Knowledge. New York: Twayne, 1993.



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