The Selfishness of Oedipus in Oedipus the King


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"Selfishness is the greatest curse of the human race,” as quoted by William E. Gladstone, supports my thought that selfishness is what causes most of our problems in the modern world. Currently, we are living in an era that is filled with much gluttony and selfishness. However, selfishness is a trait that all of us possess, but the amount of selfishness that we have can determine the type of person we are. For instance, parents should always put their children’s needs before their own. Selfish parents would rather buy materialistic items for themselves than anything useful for their children. In Sophocles’s “Oedipus Rex,” the protagonist is literally blinded by his own arrogance. This attitude begins before he even travels to Thebes, and that is apparent due to the circumstances of his father’s death. Oedipus seals his own fate with his egotistical attitude and he cannot change his destiny after everything is set into motion. During his journey on the road to enlightenment, Oedipus’s selfishness causes him to transcend from being completely ignorant of his fate to holding on to the last shreds of denial to having an overwhelming sense of realization.
The selfishness that Oedipus possesses causes him to have abundance of ignorance. This combination is what leads to his father’s death. After fleeing Corinth and his foster family, Oedipus gets into a skirmish with an older man. The reason for the fight was because, “The groom leading the horses forced me off the road at his lord’s command” (1336). Oedipus is filled with a rage after being insulted by the lord and feels the need to act. The two men fight, but Oedipus ends up being too much for the older man, and he kills him. What Oedipus is unaware of is that the man was actually his birth father and by killing him, Oedipus has started on the path of his own destruction. Not only does Oedipus kill his father, but also everyone else, “I killed them all” (1336). The other men had no part in the scuffle, but in his rage, he did not care who he was killing.
As Oedipus becomes king, his selfishness only grows, as does his denial. As the king, he gained the burden of Thebes whenever a problem arose. To find a way to rid his city of the plague, he sent Kreon so that he would have some answers and be able to place the blame on something or someone.

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Oedipus shows the immensity of his selfishness by turning the pain of the people to the pain of himself, “I know that you are deathly sick; and yet, sick as you are, not one is as sick as I” (1314). He then goes on to say that, while you are just one person sick and dying that is nothing compared to him, who is not sick but has to mourn for many. After Kreon returns, Oedipus begins the investigation on the circumstances of Laïos’s death. Oedipus meets with the blind seer, Teiresias and explains his predicament. The seer knows that he should not have come and tries to withhold his knowledge from Oedipus. After much persistence from Oedipus, Teiresias reveals to him that he, Oedipus, is the murderer that he seeks, “You yourself are the pollution of this country” (1323). Oedipus immediately discards this and accuses him of lying and plotting with Kreon. He is consumed by the thought that Kreon wants to become king. Even with significant proof, Oedipus still does not see the truth.
Oedipus’s final acts of selfishness come when he finally accepts that he is the murderer. First, he finds out that the father who raised him has died from natural causes. Oedipus then rejoices at the fact that he is not the murderer, but does nothing to mourn for the man that raised him. As events then unfold, he discovers through evidence that in fact he is the murderer of his biological father. He runs to find his mother, and wife, dead from her own hand. Oedipus then takes off her golden brooches from her dress and then, “raised them, and plunged them down straight into his own eyeballs” (1350). He is now a man that does not have to live with the full repercussions of his actions. Oedipus speaks of how he should be pitied and if he could, he would make himself deaf so that he could not have to suffer from his own decisions, “If I could have stifled my hearing at its source, I would have done it” (1354). People all around him suffered simply because he did not want his name tarnished with his city being known to be plagued with a curse. He could not even take the advice of Teiresias, someone he looked up to, and just not ask, because there would be more pain with the truth rather than without knowing.
Oedipus makes some selfish decisions and with that, he has to face the consequences. He changes the lives of many people around him, in fact, the fate of a whole city. However, despite Oedipus’s selfish behavior and attitude, only after one loses everything can they gain anything back. The hardships Oedipus will have to overcome will transform him into much more than a blind beggar. This principle is based off the phoenix, a mythical bird that bursts into fire only to rise again from its ashes. Oedipus’s destruction and demoralization at the end of “Oedipus Rex” represents this same idea. It also addresses the fact that it is necessary for Oedipus to suffer in order for him to end up happy. In the case of his loss of vision, he must completely lose the tangible sense of sight so that he can find deeper meaning in the world and in himself, and gain insight.


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