Oedipus The King Summary Narrative Essay Example
Oedipus The King Summary Narrative Essay Example

Oedipus The King Summary Narrative Essay Example

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Critical Paper on Oedipus the King

In his play, Oedipus the King, Sophocles successfully achieves multiple objectives. He masterfully retells a renowned Greek tale and provides intricate descriptions of the characters and their motivations. Among the characters, Oedipus, the protagonist, is given the most attention by Sophocles, who effectively portrays his beliefs, morals, and views on various subjects throughout the play.

Sophocles depicted Oedipus as a likable character with values centered on reasoning, intellect, inquiry, and measurement. This portrayal allowed the Greek audience to empathize with and possibly identify with Oedipus. They witnessed the downfall of a respectable figure without any obvious malicious intent, experiencing an unquestionable tragedy.

Sophocles ensured that the audience would perceive Oedipus as a respectable and believable hero by incorporating many popular sentiments of the


time. These sentiments were influenced by a philosophy that thrived in Greece during Sophocles' lifetime. Many of Oedipus' ideas can be traced back to either the dialectic Socrates, who appeared in Plato's works, or Plato's student Aristotle. These ideas were widely circulated throughout Greece during the time when Oedipus was believed to be presented, thereby making them common knowledge for the contemporary audience. One of the virtues that the Greeks, particularly Athenians, highly valued was wisdom – wisdom that encompassed all aspects of life.

Socrates rejected the Greek pursuit of wisdom by asserting that wisdom is the ultimate virtue, from which all other virtues stem. He famously stated, "The unexamined life is not worth living." This perspective resonated throughout Plato's dialogues, where Socrates emphasized the significance of wisdom and argued that seeking wisdom is the only path to divinity. Aristotle later built upon thi

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theory in his Nicomachean Ethics, claiming that wisdom distinguishes humans from animals and brings Greeks closer to their revered gods. The Greeks incessantly sought wisdom to attain their utmost pleasure, discover their purpose in life, and achieve genuine and ultimate happiness known as Eudaimonia. Sophocles crafted his play with the Greek audience in mind, who could easily relate to Oedipus.

Oedipus' downfall occurred when he tried to discover himself and find wisdom and happiness. These were noble goals that many of the audience members may have shared. Plato, in his Republic, outlined a dualist theory of the world. He described the world as a cave where people are bound and forced to look at shadows on the wall their entire lives. Plato believed that reality cannot exist in this world because we can only see shadows cast by a fire. According to Plato, the only way to perceive the true essence of anything, to see genuine truth and wisdom, is to escape the cave.

Escaping the cave gives a fresh perspective on reality, revealing that the fire is merely an illusory representation of the world. With this newfound understanding, one can return to the cave and accurately assess objects based on their true forms. Socrates discusses this concept in Plato's Protagoras, introducing "The Art of Measurement." According to Socrates, being confined in the cave leads to unreliable judgments and perceptions influenced solely by false shadows. He presents this theory as a response to Protagoras' investigation into why humans engage in harmful behaviors like smoking or excessive drinking.

Aristotle posited that the cause for this phenomenon was a weak moral habit, as stated in N.E. On the other hand,

Socrates did not subscribe to Aristotle's famous Akrasia thesis and instead believed that no passion or pleasure could surpass omnipotent knowledge, as mentioned in Prot. During their renowned dialogue, Protagoras questioned why individuals continue to smoke despite knowing the detrimental effects it will have on them. In order to avoid arguing against this point, Socrates elucidated his Art of Measurement. He stated that the only reason people engage in harmful behavior, such as smoking, is because they lack a means to measure the immediate pleasure of smoking against the future pain caused by cancer or other diseases resulting from smoking. Socrates simply asserted that these individuals possess a flawed sense of measurement due to the dark cave they reside in, as described in Prot.

Without this art, the essence of wisdom, one cannot accurately weigh pleasure versus pain and one cannot achieve final pleasure...Eudaimonia. The first step in achieving wisdom is the quest for self-knowledge, the quote on the base of the oracle's statue at Delphi, "Know Thyself" (Friedlander). This was the identity that Oedipus was seeking. According to Socrates, the only way to achieve knowledge in general was though the use of inquiry ("Apology" 0). Socrates practiced inquiry throughout his entire life. He started this practice when an oracle of Apollo told him that no one was wiser than he ("Apology").

In either modesty or disbelief, both Socrates and Oedipus dedicated their lives to questioning others in search of wisdom. Socrates, in his search, discovered that not one person, whether a philosopher or sophist, was truly wise, as he would reveal their self-contradictions. Despite this, he believed that the life of inquiry was the most philosophical

and divine. Similarly, Oedipus, in the play, constantly asks questions to anyone he suspects may have information, questioning every scenario that confronts him. He seeks to cleanse himself and find the source of the trouble. Both Socrates and Oedipus embrace the power of inquiry in their pursuits.

Oedipus is persistently and desperately trying to discover who killed Laius and uncover his own identity, whether he is speaking with Jocasta or the messenger. The main purpose of this inquiry is to acquire new knowledge in order to strengthen his intellect. Oedipus is clearly eager to solve his problems, as demonstrated by his determined statement "I'll bring it all to light myself!". As Oedipus analyses the information he has, his desire for answers intensifies. Jocasta urges him not to continue delving into his past, but Oedipus disregards her plea, stating "I must know it all, must see the truth at last.".

Oedipus consistently employs his intellect to determine the most effective approach to achieving his objectives. He strategically evaluates all possible options and selects the optimal choice based on the given circumstances. At the start of the play, Oedipus states, "I have wept through the nights, you must know that, groping, laboring over many paths of thought. After a painful search I found one cure...." This statement conveys the meticulous nature of his calculations. Moreover, reason serves as another means by which Oedipus enhances his intellectual capacity.

In the play, Oedipus employs reason to determine his next steps and the inquiries he must pursue. Many ancient Greek philosophers, including Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, believed that reason was essential for humans and their well-being. Oedipus exemplifies this belief by using sound

reasoning to assess the situation and continue on his journey of self-discovery. For instance, he confidently asserts to the chorus leader that if the murderer is unphased by killing, he will not be intimidated by Oedipus' threats. Additionally, he exercises reason when warning Creon about the potential danger from the killer, which ironically comes to pass. However, Oedipus also demonstrates his lingering ignorance and faulty judgment, suggesting that he is still trapped in Plato's allegorical cave.

Oedipus has a tendency to rush into judgments and let anger cloud his judgment. This is apparent when he accuses Creon and Tiresias of plotting against him. Furthermore, Oedipus does not think logically when he persists in searching for the truth despite Jocasta's pleas. If Oedipus had ceased seeking his true identity after finding out that he had murdered Laius, he could have avoided much suffering. Oedipus depends on his intellect and reasoning skills to decide whom to interrogate or whom to hold responsible.

Despite his intelligence, Oedipus sometimes makes errors in judgment. He wrongly accuses Creon of trying to seize his throne and insults Tiresias despite being blind to the truth himself. His clouded senses prevent him from discovering his true identity. His flawed perception hinders his reasoning and intellect, but his excessive pride convinces him that he is always right. As a result, he continues on a path seeking knowledge that may not be advantageous. Thus, Oedipus is unable to accurately assess the joy and suffering that would come with knowing his true identity.

Tiresias had the knowledge of measurement, which he strongly advises Oedipus to contemplate and solve. The play showcases irony, as Oedipus remains ignorant of accurate measurement

and truth until he blinds himself. When Oedipus made the decision to gouge out his own eyes, he exhibited sound judgement and measurement. He weighed the future pain his eyes would cause him against the initial pain of the needle and arrived at a justified decision. Despite being content with his choice to wander the mountains, Oedipus finally gained clarity outside the cave, but unfortunately, it was too late to prevent his disgrace.

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Every decision or quest made by Oedipus was resolved through a simple equation, in which pleasure and pain were compared to determine the optimal path towards a hedonistic lifestyle. Renowned philosophers of that time, like Plato and Aristotle, documented these equations. They discussed concepts such as the "Art of Measurement" and true reason to explain the proper approach to solving such equations. Oedipus and other characters in the play embodied these virtues, skills, or even their flaws, thereby establishing another connection between literature and philosophy.

Works Cited

  1. Aristotle. "Ethica Nicomachea". Introduction to Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. Trans.W.D. Ross. New York: Random House Incorporated, 1947.308-545.
  2. Friedlander MD, Ed. "Enjoying Oedipus the King by Sophocles". 1 Aug.1999.

Online Posting.2 Nov. 1999.

  • Plato. "Apology".
  • Plato's Famous Works. Translated by Stanley Lombardo and Karen Bell. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1992. Pages 194-223.

    • Plato.

    "Protagoras" is one of Plato's famous works. It was translated by Stanley Lombardo and Karen Bell and was published by Hackett Publishing Company in 1992. The page range for this work is 121-183.

    • Plato.

    "Republic" is one of Plato's famous works. It was translated by Stanley

    Lombardo and Karen Bell. The book was published in Indianapolis by Hackett Publishing Company in 1992 and can be found on pages 30-110.

    The Three Theban Plays includes Sophocles' "Oedipus the King" translated by Robert Fagles.

    New York: Viking Penguin Incorporated, 1982. Pages 155-252.

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