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About Oedipus and Blinding Himself Essay

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Updated: Oct 11th, 2021

Oedipus blinds himself as a symbolic gesture because he was more blind than the blind soothsayer, whom he maligned when he thought the soothsayer was wrong. Some people think that he does this instead of committing suicide because he is a coward, but it seems to me that it is much harder to put out one’s eyes than to commit suicide. If it is anything other than his judgment of just punishment, it may be one of two things: a desire to be around to look after his daughters or to create an opportunity to atone for his mistakes and his sins. Suicide seem always to me to be the easy way out of problems. Oedipus will spend the rest of his life as a blind beggar to atone for his arrogance. The blinding is done off stage, probably for practical reasons. It would be extremely difficult to show this on stage at that time realistically. If it is done off stage, then how it is done does not matter.

Oedipus really mistreated and disrespected the soothsayer, so it is logical that he should take up the same life, without respect due to the soothsayer. After all, Oedipus could not have been more wrong. He knew what the oracle had said and simply interpreted it himself instead of seeking help. This was another kind of blindness. He was spiritually and intellectually blind. He should have given more credit to the oracle than he did and he should have thought to ask for the god’s help also. It is true that the original curse upon him was not of his own making, but he was so arrogant that he thought that he could undo or avoid his fate through his own efforts. This would have outraged the gods of his time. The worst sin, possibly in every religion, is to place oneself self above the deity, to believe that one can do better or that one knows more. Even in the time of the Roman and Greek gods, this was simply not done.

So that first sin sealed the fate of Oedipus, and it was by his own hand. After all, that arrogance prevented Oedipus from learning the truth. This reminds me of Laius, who thought he could sleep with his wife and avoid intimate relations. He also had no business getting drunk if he wanted to stay in control. The gods could have changed his fate if he had supplicated properly. Instead, he sought to avoid his fate and then tried to fix the problem by having someone else kill his infant son. This shows how much Laius cared for anyone outside himself. It must have been devastating to Jocasta to lose her son like that. So perhaps Oedipus inherited his arrogance if that is possible.

The first instance of “ blindness was when Oedipus failed to interpret the oracle’s saying. If he had wisdom enough to consult the god for interpretation, he might have been told how to fix it. Instead, he defied the wisdom of the oracle and decided to interpret it for himself. The second sin of arrogance was when he killed his father, who was higher in rank and actually had the right to pass first. One would think that he would avoid killing anyone after the oracle had warned that he would kill his father. This arrogance followed him all through the play and even the blind soothsayer could “see” it. It is ironic that the “seer” can “see” better than Oedipus, even though he is blind. In one line (Oedipus Rex, p. 469), Tiresias says: “So, you mock my blindness? Let me tell you this. You [Oedipus] with your precious eyes, you’re blind to the corruption of your life…”

In spite of the arrogance that led Oedipus to ignore the oracle and think that he could change things, Oedipus truly was a loyal king to his people and wanted the best for them. True he basked in the praise of the hero, and that, again, is a result of his fatal character flaw. However, that flaw did not prevent him from loving his family, even though it was polluted by incest. He loved his children and wanted to be around to ensure they would be looked after. If he committed suicide, then he would have no way to help them if they needed it.

In addition, suicide was done more often by women than men in the old literature. Perhaps the culture frowned upon men taking this way out. It can be allowed for the “innocent’ victim, but not for the very guilty Oedipus. Jocasta’s suicide can also easily be ascribed to her reaction to the shock. That actually is her way of running away from a terrifying truth. It is also right that her pain should end since she is really an innocent victim. It is in character for her to run away since she did not try to intercede when her husband, the father of Oedipus, sent the baby out to be murdered. However, it is not in character for Oedipus to run away from anything. That is one thing that led to him murdering his father. He would not back down.

Another reason why Oedipus blinded himself was mentioned by Segal, “Later he offers as one of his reasons for blinding himself his repugnance at seeing his mother and father again in Hades. ” (Segal, p. 137) That really seems fitting also. Oedipus was guilty of arrogance, but it was the sins of his parents which really sealed his quite horrible fate. That they were both willing, or at least compliant as Jocasta was, to sacrifice their infant son for their own good shows how much regard they had for others since the family would normally come first. If you add the fact that Oedipus had children with his mother, that alone would sicken an ordinary man. Segal also offers us his same as another reason. He is ashamed that he has possibly put a curse on his children because they were the result of incest. “Later, after his discovery of the truth, he includes the sight of the children, “born as they were born,” among his reasons for blinding himself. ” (Segal , p.138). He really loved his children, so this would possibly be the worst sin for him to have hurt them.

Segal mentions in the introduction to his book that Oedipus is destined to continue wandering and then to end up dying in Athens and protecting that city with his magical bones. Another oracle had prophesized that wherever his boned would lie they would protect that city. Antigone has remained his faithful daughter and helped Oedipus all through his years of wandering as a blind beggar, so he wants to stay near her. Creon, who became King of Thebes after Oedipus left also knows of this prophecy, and tries to get the old man to return to Thebes. However, Thebes did not sustain him during his hard life, so he refuses. All of this would seem to determine that Oedipus cannot commit suicide since the gods have other use for him. “0 Zeus, what have you planned to do with me?”; ” (Segal, p. 44) This may have just been the author’s plan for this character, but it certainly makes it necessary for Oedipus to live. We have no way of knowing if this was accidental or if Sophocles planned a trilogy from the beginning.

Finally, it was necessary for Oedipus to become blind in order for him to see the truth. He can only look within once he is physically blind.

Having become blind, like Teiresias, to gain a new kind of sight, Oedipus will now live a life of truth rather than illusion. But his truth is gained through painful effort, not given as an inborn quality like the truth that Teiresias possesses. What Oedipus was ‘born’ with leads him into darkness, illusion, and deception. After confronting this truth Oedipus finds his trials coming from within rather than from the outside, and here the issue is neither victory nor defeat, only understanding, and endurance (Segal, p. 52).

Oedipus is a classical tragic hero who is destined to suffer for his human faults and then become, once again, a hero after his death.

There are several possible reasons that the blinding of Oedipus takes place off stage. I assumed it was simply logistics that made this happen. It would be a difficult scene to portray without modern tricky stage props. However, after further reading, I discovered that the brooches with which Oedipus blinded himself were those that held the queen’s garments and that the playwright might hesitate to expose her on stage. This whole scene is so symbolic of what Oedipus did in bedding his mother that it would also be right for it to take place out of our sight.

“When Oedipus has broken down the doors and does at last ‘see’ Jocasta’s body in her chamber, the first thing he does after ‘releasing’ her from the noose is to ‘pull off the gold-beaten pins [peronai] from her garments, [the pins] with which she was dressed’ (1268-69). This is the first of ‘the things terrible to see’ (1267) to be described. Personal is not merely decorative brooches, as the word is frequently translated, but the long pins that hold together the loose folds of a woman’s dress in ancient Greece. Their removal suggests the act of undressing the queen in her ‘marriage chamber’ (1242) as she ‘lies there’ (1267). This gesture, then, is a grotesque and horrible reenactment of the first night of their union. This is the act for which he ‘strikes the sockets of his eyes in the next line, immediately canceling out in himself the vision that his violation of her chamber has opened up to the audience. If the body of the king becomes that through which the invisible truth is made a reality, the body of Jocasta points to something that remains inaccessible to vision and must remain hidden. “ (Segal, p. 127)

This points out that it is symbolic that the act of “undressing” the dead Jocasta and piercing his eyes with her pins is symbolically a “hidden” act. However, there is one last reason this might take place off stage since all the actors in these plays were male. It would not be easy to cover the masculine chest, even if a young man were used for this part.

So all of the symbols of blindness work together with the internal logic of the play and would have carried extra messages to the original intended audience. We can easily see all the symbolism for blindness and we understand why it is important because it is his pride or arrogance that makes Oedipus too blind to see the truth, which was that he was mortal and not a god. He supposed that he could interpret the oracle and he never asked the gods for help. Oedipus goes from an innocent child who is cursed to an arrogant hero to the blind beggar and will finally end up once more as a hero after all his suffering.

References

  1. Sophocles, Meineck, P., & Woodruff, P. (2000). Oedipus Tyrannus. Hackett Publishing.
  2. Sophocles, Will, F., & Knox, B. (2005). Oedipus the King. Simon & Schuster.
  3. Sophocles. (2005). Oedipus Rex. Prestwick House.
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