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Oedipus Rex | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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In Oedipus Rex why did the servant leave Thebes instead of claiming Oedipus was the murderer?

The servant, who was the shepherd ordered to kill Oedipus when he was a baby, was likely afraid of Oedipus as an adult because Oedipus had killed King Laius and everyone else in the party. While he could have told Jocasta that Oedipus was the murderer, instead he lied and said the king was attacked by robbers. Whether or not the servant recognized Oedipus when Oedipus attacked his group, he recognized Oedipus as the killer when he became the ruler of Thebes. Rather than tell Jocasta that Oedipus was the killer and retract his lie, he had to leave so Oedipus would not recognize him. If he did not leave Thebes, Jocasta would discover he had told not one but two lies and had brought on the fulfillment of both parts of the prophecy. Instead, he chose to protect himself and keep everyone in the dark about what had really happened.

How does Stasimon 4 reflect the theme of blindness in Oedipus Rex?

In Stasimon 4 the Chorus refers to Time, "which watches everything," and uncovers the sins of Oedipus despite his attempts to keep these sins in the dark. The Chorus sings that they wish they had never seen Oedipus because they foolishly believed that Oedipus was light. They believed that he brought to Thebes honor and glory through his deeds when "he slaughtered the hook-taloned Sphinx," standing like a "tower against death" and earning the name "king." Yet, the Chorus understands now that these grand deeds blinded them to the truth: "no mortal man is ever blessed." The Chorus credits Oedipus with giving them hope ("I found my life and breathed again") and then destroying this false hope with the shadow of reality ("the darkness veils my eyes").

How does Sophocles use the Chorus to reflect his religious beliefs in Oedipus Rex?

Sophocles, being a very religious man, did not question the power of the gods in any of his plays, unlike the other tragic playwrights of his era in Greece. He uses the Chorus at the end of the play to state his belief that human beings are supposed to suffer. Being alive entails suffering because otherwise humans could not come to the realization that they are powerless to control their destinies. The gods, for Sophocles, are the only ones who hold power over fate, and humans are only able to get a clear vision of this when they endure suffering.

In Oedipus Rex, Episode 5, why does Jocasta kill herself, and why does she cry out for Laius?

Jocasta kills herself because she can no longer protect Oedipus from the truth of his sins. She might have been able to continue living with her own personal knowledge if Oedipus did not know the truth because she loves Oedipus and her children. She might have dealt with the pain of knowing Oedipus killed Laius and is her son if their lives remained unchanged. But, knowing Oedipus is going to suffer the same pain she feels, Jocasta is unable to handle the burden and is too overwhelmed with grief to remain alive. Before she hangs herself, she calls out for Laius because she believes she will meet him in death. She also calls to him because she is so full of grief that the horrible act she felt obligated to commit—infanticide—did not protect Laius at all. In the end she has protected no one, and in desperation she takes her own life.

In Oedipus Rex, Episode 5, why doesn't the Chorus's opinion of Oedipus change to hatred?

In Episode 5 the Chorus sees how pitiful Oedipus is and that he has suffered enough. It knows he did not intend to commit the sins of murdering his father and sleeping with his mother, and it sees how his flaws led to his downfall. The Chorus also knows he has been good to Thebes in as many ways as he possibly could have been. It wishes he had killed himself so as to end the pain, and it pities him for the pain he is still feeling. The Chorus sympathizes with Oedipus, a man who was destined by the gods to suffer.

In Episode 5 of Oedipus Rex, why doesn't Oedipus kill himself rather than blind himself?

Oedipus feels incredible guilt for having killed his father and slept with his mother and for creating daughters who will never be married because of their status as both his sisters and his daughters. He also feels guilty for not respecting the power of the gods and for the death of his wife. He gouges his eyes out, not only as a sign of despair but also as a reaction to his guilt and a way of punishing himself for his sins. He also does not want to see his father in death, and, by blinding himself and leaving Thebes, he does not have to see the pain he has caused any more.

In Oedipus Rex Episode 5 why can't Oedipus exile himself without asking Creon?

Oedipus must ask Creon whether he can leave Thebes because Oedipus is now Creon's subject. By recognizing his new status as a subject, Oedipus acts with the hard-won knowledge that he does not control his own life. Creon has become the ruler of Thebes as well as the guardian of Oedipus's children at Oedipus's request. Creon is kind enough to let Oedipus go, but the children must remain at the palace because Creon wants them to have as normal a life as possible. Creon originally wants to keep Oedipus at the palace because he pities him and still loves him, even though Oedipus has caused so much pain. Creon knows Oedipus did not intend to commit the sins he committed and wants to take care of him, but he also understands that Oedipus feels the city will not heal if he remains.

In Oedipus Rex, Episode 5, why does Oedipus choose blinding instead of mutilating himself in some other way?

Oedipus gouges out his eyes because he wants to punish himself, and the justice for having been blind to the truth, as Teiresias predicted, is to be literally blinded. Oedipus feels compelled to fulfill that oracle rather than harm himself in some other way. He could have cut off the hand that killed Laius, but instead he did what seemed to be a fit punishment prophesied by a godlike figure, as well as the only way he could continue to live without having to repeatedly witness the pain he has caused. Gouging out his eyes is also a way Oedipus finally acknowledges the power of the gods and the fate they chose to make him suffer.

In Oedipus Rex how does Oedipus's view of the gods change by the end of the play?

At the beginning of Oedipus Rex, Oedipus assumes he is a powerful enough leader that he can save the city of Thebes from a plague that is clearly the work of angry gods. He promises he will do it, and he never waivers from that promise. He also does everything he can to avoid prophecies from Apollo that he has been given, but, by the end of the play, he discovers his actions have only caused him to fulfill the prophecies. Creon tells him he must trust in the gods, and, at the end of the play, when he is blind and grieving, Oedipus agrees this is what he must do and he does trust the gods now. The alternative is to cause more pain, but Oedipus is a good person who does not want to hurt anyone anymore.

In Oedipus Rex how does Oedipus hasten his eventual downfall when he promises to find Laius's killer?

Oedipus hastens his own downfall because he unwittingly inflicts a host of misfortunes upon himself by cursing Laius's killer. He has not yet realized he himself is the murderer. Oedipus tells his people to make sure they do not harbor the killer in their homes or even let him enter, and he says the killer will suffer a miserable punishment. This proves to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, Oedipus comes to embody the notion of the self-fulfilling prophecy. By trying to apprehend a murder suspect, he unwittingly dooms himself.

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