Oedipus The King Study Guide

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Oedipus The King

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
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