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An examination of the story of Oedipus reveals a certain degree of hubris among the characters which I believe is an integral theme within the story that lead to the start and culmination of most of the events that occurred.
What you have to understand is that in most of the Greek stories that I have read, such as Hercules, the story of Troy and the Odyssey, those who exult themselves, place themselves above all others or state that they are on the same level as the Gods often meet tragic and ironic ends. As such, it can almost be expected that characters within a Greek tragedy who exhibit such characteristics often end up in adverse circumstances.
In the case of Oedipus his fate resulted in one of the most tragic ends of all wherein he killed his father and married his mother. The concept of pride is crucial within this story and as I elaborate more on this point it will be immediately apparent as to why Oedipus readily believed the drunk who tells him that Polybus and Merope are not his real parents, but will not believe the famous and reliable prophet Teiresias.
The Growth of Pride
First and foremost, when you examine the story of Oedipus it can be seen in certain parts of the Greek play that Oedipus places such distinctions on himself as “the man who all men call great” or “the greatest man in all men’s eyes”. Such titles of course come as a direct result of his defeat of the Sphinx, his marriage to Jocasta and him being crowned king of Thebes. This method of distinction that Oedipus places upon himself is based on a considerable degree of pride as a direct result of his accomplishments.
As such, when presented with the words of the prophet Teiresias stating that he was the murderer of Laius, Oedipus does not readily believe them since his pride in himself would not allow him to do so. He labels the words of Teiresias as falsehoods and even accuses his friend (who is also unknowingly his uncle) Creon of instigating such lies. This particular behavior is in direct contrast to his earlier attitude involving his adoptive parents, Polybus and Merope.
In this earlier instance, he readily believed the words of a drunk (who stated that Polybus and Merope were not his true parents) as well as believed the words of the Oracle of Delphi who repeated the same prophecy given to Laius and Jocasta. This divergence in the acceptance of what is said to them between the younger and older versions of Oedipus is based on the fact that the older version of Oedipus had developed a considerable degree of pride in himself as a direct result of his accomplishments.
This had manifested itself in events early on within the story where he encountered Laius on the road to Thebes and refused to give way due to his pride in being a prince of Corinth. The end result was the murder of Liaus which was inherently based on the concept of pride and how Oedipus refused to be humble.
His hubris escalated even more as a direct result of his accomplishment in saving the people of Thebes from the Sphinx and being crowned king of the city. The younger version of Oedipus did not have significant accomplishments, was merely a prince and as such did not have as much pride as compared to his older self which as a result left him more open to believing in the words of others rather than himself.
Possible Alternative Explanations
It must be noted though that there are possible alternative explanations as to why Oedipus readily believed the drunk but did not believe Teiresias. One of possibilities is based on the fact that Oedipus may have doubted the origins of his birth given that since he was not the natural son of Polybus and Merope then it would be unlikely that he would look anything like them.
On the other hand, the reason why Oedipus did not want to believe the words of Terisias may be due to the fact that they seemed so farfetched that it would have been hard to believe them in the first place.
While these alternative explanations do have a considerable degree of merit, they lack a sufficient enough connection to the concept of hubris that pervades various aspects of the story. An explanation behind one of the focal points of the story that led to Oedipus killing his father and marrying his mother should be based on the concept of pride since this is the main theme of the story and all explanations of events that emerge from the story of Oedipus should be based on this particular perspective.
As it can be seen from the various arguments presented within this paper, the concept of pride played a significant role in having Oedipus believe the words of the drunk yet not believe the words of the prophet Teiresias. As the pride of Oedipus increased the more likely he was to believe in his own words and thoughts rather than those coming from other people. In the end, like so many Greek tragedies in the past, the prideful are humbled and in the case of Oedipus he was humbled to an extreme degree.