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Is Oedipus The True Tragic Hero?

Uploaded by ying_ling- on May 07, 2001

In his Poetics, Aristotle defined the term ‘tragedy’ as ‘a man not preeminently virtuous and just, whose misfortune, however, is brought upon him not by vice or depravity, but by some error in judgement… the change in the hero’s fortune must not be from misery to happiness, but on the contrary, from happiness to misery’. From this definition, he further expanded it by defining the profile of the Classical Greek tragic hero, basing it on what he considered the best tragedy ever written, Sophocle’s Oedipus Rex. He felt that a tragedy should comprise of the hero’s goodness and superiority, a tragic flaw in which the hero makes fatal errors in judgement which eventually lead to his downfall, a tragic realisation in which the main character understand how he has unwittingly helped to bring about his own destruction and the absence of freewill in the tragic hero’s life.

Oedipus was a good ruler: just, compassionate and sympathetic. When the priests of Thebes approached him, pleading for help on behalf of the people of Thebes who were suffering from death and famine. Oedipus immediately agreed and promised them that he would do his best in solving the problems, saying that his heart bore ‘the weight of his own’ and ‘all of his people’s sorrows’. He promised to ‘bring everything to light’. Oedipus was also a filial son. When he first learnt about the prophecy in Corinth, he was unwilling to stay and left immediately, in case circumstances would ever lead him to kill the King and marry the Queen of Corinth, whom he had then thought of as his natural parents.

Oedipus’ superiority was also evident in the play, not only through his ranking of the king of Thebes, which automatically placed him far above the nobles, priests and common people, but also through his intelligence. When the Sphinx ‘plagued’ the city by blocking the city gates and eating those who could not answer its riddle, which was "what is it that goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at midday, and three feet in the evening?" Oedipus was the only person able to chase the Sphinx away with the correct answer of ‘man’. This led to him becoming the king of Thebes which in turn led to his superiority of ranking.

However, Oedipus was not a perfect man. His tragic flaw was that of stubbornness, impulsiveness and most of...

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Uploaded by:   ying_ling-

Date:   05/07/2001

Category:   Literature

Length:   6 pages (1,348 words)

Views:   1604

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