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The Appropriateness of Oedipus's Punishment According to Encarta Encyclopedia, appropriateness is defined as being suited to a particular condition. This definition can be applied to a situation in a literary masterpiece, Oedipus the King. In Oedipus the King, a major question arises: Does the punishment befit the crime? Many critics agree that Oedipus's punishment is just because he ruined an entire nation. However, others say that fate is uncontrollable and therefore he was not responsible for his actions. Oedipus's punishment is appropriate and serves its purpose because by ruining his entire nation, trying to escape his fate, and suffering from a tragic flaw, he learns to accept what he has done. In the beginning of Oedipus the King, Oedipus is looked upon as the father of his people, and the first of men, both in the common crises of one's life and face-to-face encounters with the gods (Oedipus the King 161). Yet, as the plot progresses, one realizes that Oedipus is not only the savior but also the source of the pollution (Ancient Writers Greece and Rome 199). This is shown when Oedipus uncovers the truth of his past. Through Apollo's oracle, Laius and Jocasta were warned that their son was destined to kill his father and marry his mother.
Thus, Laius pinned his baby's feet together and gave him to a shepherd with orders to leave the baby in the mountains to die. However, instead the shepherd gave the baby to a herdsman from Corinth. The herdsman gave the baby to his king, Polybus, and Oedipus was raised as a prince under Polybus and Merope. Later, Oedipus discovers about the prophecy he was to kill his father and marry his mother; he vows never to return to Corinth again. Yet in the midst of his escape, he stumbles upon an old man and some servants, and he kills them all as a result of a quarrel. He continues his journey and becomes king of Thebes without knowing that he has actually killed his father, the previous king. Now, the present situation in Thebes is of complete ruin.
"...black death luxuriates in the raw, wailing miseries of Thebes" (Oedipus the King 161). Oedipus's mission is to find the murderer of Laius and the killer of his country. When he sees that he is the murderer of whom he speaks, he gouges his eyes with his hands. At first, Oedipus cannot accept the fact that he caused the destruction of his country. However, in all his misery, he does not commit suicide or lose his love for his family (Ancient Writers of Greece and Rome 198). This shows that Oedipus still has strength. Critics have said that even as he leaves the stage, he is still a heroic figure, as he views himself as most hated by the gods and asks to be left to go wander as an outcast (198).
This means that now Oedipus has uncovered his past and realizes that for the rest of his life, he must stay true to himself and to the ones he loves. Oedipus says, "Apollo, friends, Apollo -he ordained my agonies -these, my pains on pains! But the hand that struck my eyes was mine, mine alone -no one else -I did it all myself" (Oedipus the King 151.) Oedipus has taken full responsibility for his actions. Now all he can do is accept them. Another critic comments that Oedipus is held responsible for the catastrophe. The plot of the play consists not of the actions which Oedipus was fated to perform, or rather, which were predicted; the plot of the play consists of his discovery that he has already fulfilled the prediction (149). Oedipus tried to avoid Apollo's prediction, and believed he had succeeded, only to discover that he had fulfilled Apollo's prophecy long ago. By vowing never to return to Corinth, Oedipus is certain that it would be impossible for him to murder his father. Therefore fate must have been nonexistent and the oracles must have been incorrect. But he soon learns that fate is uncontrollable and there is no way to rearrange it.
Though, even without Apollo's predictions, it is evident that Oedipus's past is unclear simply because of his name. "Oedipus" means "know foot." This is suggesting that Oedipus is supposed to know the secret of his feet that point back to the hidden origins of his life (Ancient Writers of Greece and Rome 199). Freud comments, "The Oedipus Rex is a tragedy of fate; its tragic effect depends on the conflict between the all-powerful will of the gods and the vain efforts of human beings threatened with disaster" (195). Oedipus is the human threatened with disaster, and as a result, he thinks he can trick the gods. But by doing so, he realizes that the gods are all-powerful, and his attempts to create his own destiny are useless. Instead, he is again forced to accept his fate.
To Aristotle Oedipus is an excellent subject for tragedy because he is preeminently great and glorious w/out being preeminently just and virtuous, and because he falls through a fault but not a criminal fault (194). Aristotle is suggesting that Oedipus suffers from a tragic flaw which has proven to be flaws of anger, violence, and pride. Examples of Oedipus's anger are in the beginning of the play when Tiresias refuses to share his secrets of Laius's murderer. She knows that Oedipus will build his anger and rage his worst (Oedipus the King 178). Because he has no control over his temper, Oedipus responds with, " I have such fury in me -now I see it all. You helped hatch the plot, you did the work, yes, short of killing him with your own hands -and given eyes I'd say you did the killing single-handed!"(178).
Oedipus is actually accusing Tiresias of being the felon. Later, Oedipus also accuses Creon of trying to overthrow him. He thinks that Creon is jealous of Oedipus's authority and is secretly planning to steal his crown. (189). In the play, Oedipus's will to action never falters and it forces Tiresias, Jocasta, and the shepherd, in spite of their reluctance, to play their part in the progress toward the discovery of the truth (138-139). Tiresias, Jocasta, and the shepherd were forced to inform Oedipus of reality to stop his incorrect accusations. Two principal citations of Oedipus's violence are when he murdered Laius and how he gouged his eyes with his bare hands. Because of some insulting comments, Oedipus feels the need to actually take the life of the few men at the crossroads on the way to Thebes.
When Oedipus learns that he has murdered Laius, his violent nature causes him to severely harm himself. One can see Oedipus's characteristic of pride from the first stanza in the play. He states, "Here I am myself -you all know me, the world knows my fame: I am Oedipus" (159). This proves that Oedipus is indeed all too well known to the whole world and unknown to himself (Seneca 197). Also, he can not understand how Tiresias can be so disrespectful since Oedipus credits his own intelligence for stopping the Sphinx and saving Thebes. (182).
He is obviously extremely confident. Aristotle says that it is hard to swallow Oedipus' ignorance of the story of Laius and hard to think that Oedipus would ever allow himself to marry a woman twenty years of his age (A Companion to Greek Tragedy 195). It is also difficult to believe that Oedipus's anger and violence would lead to the destruction of Thebes. Oedipus needed a punishment to make him realize these flaws. However, his regret of his behavior is punishment in itself. In conclusion, by ruining his country, trying to exceed his fate, and suffering from tragic flaws, Oedipus has truly learned that acceptance is the great lesson that suffering teaches (Sophocles). When Oedipus initially sees that he is the murderer of Laius, he can not control his anger and gouges his eyes. However, while suffering as an exile, Oedipus becomes stronger and understands that there is nothing he can do but accept his actions. Similarly with trying to change his fate, Oedipus learns to be accept the person he was born to be. Lastly, by suffering from flaws of anger, violence, and pride, Oedipus later realizes that he must change his character.
While some critics say that Oedipus is innocent because he is not responsible for circumstances outside of his control, it is clear that his punishment is appropriate and served its purpose because in the end Oedipus's main achievement is learning to accept himself. Bibliography:.
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