Oedipus The King; Did the prophecy cause his destiny?
Undoubtedly there has been a tremendous amount of speculation and dissection of this play by countless people throughout the ages. I can only draw my own conclusions as to what Sophocles intended the meaning of his play to be. The drama included a number of horrific and unthinkable moral and ethical dilemas, but I believe that was what made the play so interesting and that is exactly the way Sophocles intended it to be. The play was obviously meant to entertain and portray the author’s own insight. The underlying theme to the play is that no man should know his own destiny, it will become his undoing. This knowledge of things to come was presented to both Laius and Oedipus in the form of prophecies well in advance of it coming to be. The prophecies told of things that were so morally disturbing that they both aggressively did everything in their power to try and stop them from coming true. The story begins with Oedipus at the height of power as King of Thebes. His kingdom has encountered rough times and he has sent his nobleman Creon to seek help from the god Apollo to restore his land. Creon tells Oedipus that he must find the murderer of the previous King Laius and by finding this man and banishing him, his land will be restored. The murder occurred some time ago and King Oedipus sends for the seer Theiresias with his powers of prophecy to aid in the search for the murderer. Sophocles cleverly projects his feelings on wisdom and knowledge through Teirsias when he says “Alas, how terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the man that’s wise!”(23) Teirsias knows that this terrible prophecy has already been set into motion and the damage has already been done. There is really no point in telling it to Oedipus because it will only cause more harm than good. Oedipus provokes Teirsias into telling him the prophecy, ” I tell you, king, this man, this murderer-he is here. In name he is a stranger among citizens but soon he will be shown to be a citizen true native Theban, and he’ll have no joy of the discovery: blindness for sight and beggary for riches his exchange, he shall go journeying to a foreign country tapping his way befor him with a stick. He shall be proved father and brother both to his own children in his house: to her that gave him birth, a son and husband both: a fellow sower in his father’s bed with that same father that he murdered.”(30). King Oedipus is enraged and sends the seer away, not realizing that the prophecy was referring to him. Before Oedipus was born, King Laius was told of the prophecy “and it told him that it was fate that he should die a victim at the hands of his own son.” (41). This caused him to cast his newborn son Oedipus to die. In his mind this would surely prevent the prophecy from coming true. His son, Oedipus was taken pity upon by a Shepard who secretly delivered him to the King in Corinth who was happy to raise Oedipus since he could not produce an heir of his own. Oedipus was never made aware that he was not raised by his natural parents. Then one day he was told of the prophecy, “Phoebus foretold other and desperate horrors to befall me, that I was fated to lie with my mother, and show to daylight an accursed breed which men would not endure, and I was doomed to be murderer of the father that begot me. When I heard this I fled, and in the days that followed I would measure from the stars the whereabouts of Corinth-yes, I fled to somewhere where I should not see fulfilled the infamies told in that dreadful oracle. “(45). Is it possible for Oedipus to have grown up with his natural parents and then kill his father? Yes it is, but it is unlikely. The part of the prophecy that would not have come to be is marrying his mother and becoming father and brother to his children. Sophocles, through his characters makes it very clear through repetition of the prophecies throughout the story and the reactions to these words that this was as socially unacceptable in his time as much as it is today. No one of this time would have tolerated this union nor is it likely that Jocosta or Oedipus would have pursued it. The reason I believe it to be so intriguing is that Sophocles used sensationalism to get peoples attention, much in the same way that we still do today. This is the reason daytime talkshows are so successful. Talk shows always seem to have some ridiculous and socially unacceptable topic which is clearly out of the norm. This is what attracts people. I am sure that when audiences gathered to watch the play from its very first presentation, that many an eyebrow was raised upon hearing the first prophecy in its entirety. Very similar to the way mine did when I first read it. The curiosity mounts as you ask the question, how could that ever happen? Then as you go further into the reading you realize, long before Oedipus, that the prophecy speaks of him. The amazing thing is that, it is as if Oedipus is the last to know. Of course like anyone in his position he is blinded by denial and the false sense that it couldn’t be about him because he had taken measures to ensure the prophecy would never happen. Upon hearing the prophecy, the chain of events are set into motion and becomes reality for both Laius and Oedipus. Some might say that Sophocles was trying to convey that you cannot change your fate, but I believe that he was trying to leave the viewer with this thought to ponder, If this knowledge of things to come were never told, would this story have taken place?