Sight and Vision in Oedipus the King




Sight and Vision in Oedipus the King

Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King is an Athenian tragedy play by Sophocles that follows the life of Oedipus a great king who seems to be fleeing away from his fate but he eventually meets it at the end of the play. In the play there are numerous references to the act of seeing, vision, insight, the light as well as darkness. Theme of sight is an important motif throughout the play. Seeing in the text has been used both metaphorically as well as literally. Oedipus who is the King of Thebes has physical sight but he is quite blind to the evidence surrounding his life including his background. Sophocles uses theme of sight and vision to portray knowledge, physical light and the truth all which are depicted in Oedipus’ actions that led to his tragic end as king.

Sophocles throughout the novel builds the character of the king in three distinct phases all which portray both the themes of vision and light. In the beginning of the novel, Oedipus the king has physical sight, he is also quite knowledgeable as he even solves the Sphinx’s riddle. He is quite brave as in choosing to answer the riddle, he was prepared to die in case he failed as Sphinx had threated death upon anyone who failed. During this phase, we can say sight and light can be related to his knowledge and bravery as he even rescues freeing the city from Sphinx evil reign. However, he soon changes his character and becomes a man in denial determined to solve the riddle on Laius death. We can see his ignorance showing therefore bringing the aspect of his blindness to both his past as well as present (De Vlemick, pg. 197-214).

Sophocles introduces Teiresias who is a prophet but also blind to show the aspect of Oedipus blindness metaphorical. Although Teiresias is blind, he can still see the corruption that exudes in Oedipus’ life and the king who has complete sight cannot see the truth surrounding his life. Oedipus issues a curse upon Laius’ killers a curse that eventually would befall him instead. He places a curse on himself, “I curse myself as well… if by any chance he proves to be an intimate of our house, here at my hearth, with my full knowledge may the curse I just called down on him strike me!” (Sophocles, line 285) yet Tiresias goes ahead to tell him that he is the corruption of the land.

Oedipus is blind to the fact that his people are suffering the plague because of his own action yet a blind man can see this. It is proven that Oedipus escaped from his parents a while fleeing he meets with his real father Laius killing him. He goes on to become king of Thebes and ends up marrying the mother. He learns he has fulfilled the prophesy and was the cause of the misfortunes in the city of Thebes (Zachrisson, pg. 313-331). When truth is presented surrounding Oedipus birth and circumstances of his life, he blinds himself with pins stating “What good were eyes to me? Nothing I could see could bring me joy” (Sophocles, line 1473-74). At the end he has seen the light by accepting the fact that he has to meet his fate and humble himself. He realizes even with his eyes he was not able to see the truth that was in front of him the whole time. Oedipus believed he was doing what was right for his people that is why we use the term tragic hero on him. He was unable to escape the prophesy that doomed his life.

In conclusion the novel seeks to answer the question whether painful knowledge of the truth may be more important than having happiness? King Oedipus was a knowledgeable man who wanted to be a great king for his people. By being blind to the truth he was a happy and a noble hero to his people. However, his blindness to the truth regarding his past and his obsession to solve Laius’ death resulted in his fall from the once noble hero to a sad, humiliated, blind man.

Works Cited

De Vleminck, Jens. “Tragic choices: Fate, Oedipus, and beyond.” The locus of tragedy. Brill, 2008. 197-214.

Sophocles, E. A. Oedipus the king. Classic Productions, 1994.

Zachrisson, Anders. “Oedipus the King: Quest for self‐knowledge–denial of reality. Sophocles’ vision of man and psychoanalytic concept formation.” The International journal of psychoanalysis 94.2 (2013): 313-331.

Works Cited