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Misunderstanding: “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles

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In “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles we see many occasions where a reader or perhaps even a scholar can begin to get confused. However, Misunderstanding the Oedipus Rex takes time to look at some of the most debated events throughout the entire book. E.R. Dodd’s transforms Oedipus Rex into a descriptive legible masterpiece. Within we find the answers to many key questions and elements which have plagued undergraduates and scholars for years, and perhaps even years to come.

“In what sense, if in any, does Oedipus attempt to justify the ways of God to man?” (Dodd’s 35) This question is puzzling in itself yet, he seems to have come up with an answer or perhaps a system to begin to answer it. Within the system he begins to describe three key elements that almost ninety percent of people would fall into. If you begin to look at Oedipus Rex in this fashion it becomes clear what all the controversy is about. The first of the category is “proving”- that in the end we get what we deserve. This element is based on Oedipus himself. He was a bad man and of course bad people get what they deserve. Others say he was noble and just had fatal flaws that led him to his own demise.

Than Dodd’s brings us into an intriguing question how Oedipus Rex is “a tragedy of destiny.” This question is held in high regards, even today we see it come into play. Can anyone actually control their own destiny? Maybe, but, perhaps a path is chosen as soon as we leave the womb, and once that catalyst is struck there is no turning back.

Dodd’s interpretation of Oedipus Rex is quite useful in understanding these key elements, his words have made it much easier for anyone to appreciate the concept Sophocles’ was trying to get across. The only thing to do now is just to believe Dodd’s reasoning however, this may be the hardest question of all.

“Was he a good man?”(Dodd’s 37) this quote intrigued me because, he disproves this theory in the very next line. “Is to ask a simply meaningless question: since Oedipus never lived we can answer neither ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ the legitimate question is ‘Did Sophocles intend us to think Oedipus is a good man?” (Dodd’s 37) As I look back upon the play, I now assume yes. Everyone in the play praises Oedipus never once banishing his name.

It is a misconception that he is portrayed as evil, due to countless times this tale has been debated over. “What is not mentioned in the play does not exist.” (Dodd’s 37) Readers (including myself) lose themselves in what is written, and what they want to believe. This is a common fault because; we begin to ask questions which are not necessary. A work of an artist has views that the artist wants to get across, short and simple. Human nature begins to take over and twists and churns the story into our own fantasies. Oedipus is for the most part a good man, and is not “proving” anything. His actions do have repercussions but, not because he was angry with Creon.

If we are not out to prove anything, and “bad things happen to bad people” has been throw out the window what is left? Well the fact that Oedipus is not in control of his destiny, and no matter what he does, no matter how careful he is, the outcome will be similar. “Either we believe in free will or we are determinists” (Dodd’s 41) Explaining the typical Homeric hero is simple, you have a set path, and you are to die on that allotted day in a certain (usually painful) way. This completely deters any chance for redemption or for characters to choose their own fate. However this is not Homer it is Sophocles’ and Sophocles’ did not intend us to think in those terms when regarding Oedipus Rex. Oedipus proves this when he encounters the messenger, “Oedipus’s self-blinding as ‘voluntary’ and ‘self-chosen’…certain that Oedipus’s past actions were fate bound; but everything that he does on the stage from first to last he does as a free agent.” (Dodd’s 41)

Although the Gods know what will happen and how does not mean that they always enforce it. This leads me to my favorite analogy within Dodd’s writing. “They know who will win the next Scotland and England football match, but that does not alter the fact that the victory will depend on the skill, the determination the fitness of the players and a little on luck.”(Dodd’s 41) This describes in brute terms what is happening in Oedipus Rex. The Gods knew he was going to kill the king, and marry his mother but they did not act upon it. They let Oedipus make his decisions and accept the outcome. He fulfilled the prediction, but he did so using free choice. He chooses to be brave, loyal, and strong. These proves Oedipus has choice, “And his self mutilation and self-banishment are equally free acts of choice.” (Dodd’s41)

Oedipus Rex has many hidden meanings that countless people have tried to debunk. However the two most confusing and perhaps most prominent are “proof”, does Oedipus get what he deserves in the end because of his actions throughout? Or is he just a puppet the gods are playing with and no matter what choice he makes the outcome will always be the same? Dodd’s tries his best to explain why these his theories hold true, and upon reading them you can really begin to understand the story. There is only one problem presented; are you perhaps in the ten percent of people who can not make up their mind. Maybe after reading this you shall change your mind, because we all know that we have a freedom to choose…don’t we?

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