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A Tragic Hero: Oedipus Rex

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Natalie Bird

Liberty University

English 102

Sarah Horne

October 14, 2011

In Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, the protagonist Oedipus does exemplify Aristotle's definition of the tragic hero. The tragic hero, according to Aristotle, is a hero who is held high on a pedestal, seems to be a person of great virtue, who through no apparent fault of his own, falls from his high position to the lowest depths possible. By falling, the hero becomes the subject of pity to both the other characters in the play as well as the audience.


I. Thesis

II. Oedipus' Position in Thebes

A. Prophecy

B. King Polybus and Queen Merope

III. How the Tragedy Unfolds

A. The Murder of Laius

B. Growing Concern for Thebes

IV. How Oedipus Falls - The Tragic Hero

A. As Both Brother and Father

B. The Prophecy of Laius

C. The Passing of King Merope

D. The Fall of Oedipus

VI. Conclusion

As the play Oedipus Rex begins, Oedipus is speaking to his subjects and the priest. Together the priest and Oedipus are lamenting the tragedy that has befallen the city of Thebes. The opening scene and dialogue begin setting the stage for what will happen as the play progresses, but only with a hint at the tragedy that is about to unfold.

Oedipus' position as ruler of Thebes and how he attained that position is re-told to the characters as well as to the audience. The story and fate of Oedipus began before his birth; King Laius learned that he is doomed and will be killed by the hand of his first-born son. In an attempt to spare his life, Laius asks his wife Jocasta to kill the baby. Unable to kill her own child, Jocasta gives the baby to one of their servants and tells him to do it. The servant carries the baby to the top of a mountain, where it is left to die. However, a shepherd rescues the baby apparently out of pity and names it Oedipus.

The child is then taken in and raised by King Polybus and his wife Merope. Growing up in Corinth, Oedipus catches wind of some gossip that he is not a true child of the King nor the Queen, but when he questions them on the matter, they deny it. Being he still has some suspicion that they are not his biological parents, Oedipus confronts an oracle on the matter. This is where he learns he is destined to "mate with his own mother, and shed with his own hands the blood of his own sire" (Sophocles). Still believing Polybus and Merope are his biological parents; Oedipus leaves Corinth believing that he is protecting them from his harm.

Heading toward Thebes, Oedipus literally runs into King Laius, their chariots almost running each other off the road. Out of rage, Oedipus kills King Laius and all the other men, but one. When he reaches Thebes, Oedipus is asked the riddle of the Sphinx, which much to everyone's surprise, he answers correctly. Now that he has saved the city from the curse of the Sphinx, he becomes the king by marrying the recently widowed Jocasta, who was originally married to Laius.

Oedipus had come from total obscurity in Thebes to become the king. Because Oedipus had saved the city by solving the riddle of the Sphinx, he was considered not only great, but also one who had great virtue. It seemed as if nothing bad could be said about Oedipus.

As the scene continues to unfold, we see Oedipus show concern for his people by his recounting that he sent his brother-in-law Creon to the oracle to help identify the source of the pestilence and disease that was now scourging the city of Thebes. As the priest and Oedipus are speaking, they see Creon approaching. The stage for Oedipus' fall is set even more strongly as the priest states, "It seems he brings good news."

With the words of Creon, it seems as if Creon brings good news indeed. Creon repeats the pronouncement of the oracle on what it will take to rid the city of its plague. Unknowingly when Creon states the oracle's judgment to drive the guilty man into exile, he has delivered the upcoming fate of Oedipus. Creon informs the priest and Oedipus that in order to rid the city of the plague, they must exile whoever killed King Laius. Oedipus vows to find whoever killed Laius and exile him to save the city of Thebes. He then requests they bring in the blind prophet Tiresias for help.

Oedipus soon sends Tiresias away, because he points the finger at Oedipus telling him that he was the murderer of Laius. Before he leaves, Tiresias says what he came to say, "The man, whom you have long sought, threatening him and naming as the murderer of Laius, that man is here. An immigrant in theory, soon he will be revealed a native Theban, though he will not be happy to learn it; for blind instead of seeing, a beggar instead of rich he will travel foreign earth, tapping it with his staff. He will be revealed to live with his children as brother and father both; and to his parents he is both his wife's son and lord in his father's fellow-sower and slayer" (Sophocles). Thinking



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