Oedipus Tyrannus is one of Sophocles’ masterpieces. This play brings into action different historical issues that are pertinent in contemporary world. Written between 428 and 425 B.C, Oedipus Tyrannus remains all time favorite play. Sophocles explores “how it is to be a human and live in a world that does not bend itself to support humanity” (Meineck & Woodruff 10). Sophocles addresses historical issues like oracles and divination and Greek religion among others.
These plays were part of Greek religion; actually, it was a form of worship where they worshiped, Dionysus, a seditious revelry god who lived in the wilderness. According to Meineck and Woodruff, amongst Greek people, divination and oracles served as the only form of revelation, no priesthood, sacred books, theology, or founders, only seers and oracles (13).
Delphi; being the most sanctimonious place in Greece, gave the final word on every matter and all people had to respect its oracle. Oedipus Tyrannus expounds on these works in a colorful event dealing with society issues like murder, rape, marriage, family, leadership, and divinity among others.
Importance of the Story
Though written many years ago, Oedipus Tyrannus addresses important issues that affected people during those times. Interestingly, the same issues appear to be affecting people in the contemporary world. This fact solidifies the common adage that, ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same.’
It is amazing that the issues that rocked the newly civilized society are still pertinent in a fast moving world where civilization has hit climax. The main character here, Oedipus, is acting like most of our leaders in modern times, confident, heroic, saying one thing and doing the other coupled with deliberate denial of the truth even when all evidence is available. This play is important because it handles issues that are happening in our society today.
Oedipus appears as a hero especially at the beginning of the play where he solves the Sphinx’s enigma. It takes a lot of confidence to engage in a dangerous activity that Oedipus engages in.
He offers to give Sphinx an answer although he knows a wrong answer would lead to death. After this incidence of freeing people from the wrath of Sphinx, Oedipus becomes popular and garners massive following due to his intelligence and bravery. This phenomenon is common in modern world where a single act of boldness and bravery will lift someone to stardom.
The first person to hail Oedipus is a temple priest who says, “You freed us from the Sphinx, you came to Thebes and cut us loose from the bloody tribute we had paid that harsh, brutal singer. We taught you nothing, no skill, no extra knowledge, still you triumphed” (Sophocles 44-47). According to the people of this city, nothing short of god’s gift would deliver them from the hands of Sphinx. This blessing came through Oedipus.
Unfortunately, once the Thebans start to idolize Oedipus, he assumes powers that are not his. It is interesting how people are hungry for power and recognition, and the things they will do once they gain all that they have been wanting all along. Oedipus assumes powers of gods.
Instead of people praying to their gods, he offers to answer their prayers. He says, “You pray to the gods? Let me grant your prayers” (Sophocles 245). This is ridiculous. Maybe out of gullibility and hypnotization, people start offering their prayers to Oedipus. This is because their gods does not seem to answer their prayers anymore.
It is easy for people to be lured away from what they believe and what they have cherished for long. As aforementioned, though written in many years ago, this play is of great significance in the contemporary world. Day after the other, people are becoming followers of new sects that they do not really understand. Not because they did not have beliefs and religions hitherto, they are simply hypnotized.
Nevertheless, Oedipus’ popularity begins to take a nosedive as the reality of Laius’ death starts to set in. At this point, the vehement denial of truth sets in. leadership without honesty cannot stand. Oedipus becomes a tyrant for he cannot swallow the truth that he killed Laius.
As Locasta recounts the events that preceded her husband’s murder, it becomes clear to Oedipus that he is the subject in this case. Suspicion plunges him and absentmindedly says, “Strange, hearing you just now . . . my mind wandered, my thoughts racing back and forth” (Sophocles 800-02). People cannot just accept the truth; however, they will always look for scapegoats and point fingers to others. What happened to owning up mistakes and taking responsibility?
Oedipus is not different, despite the mounting pressure he continues to carry out investigations to what he already know. In a typical way of people in modern world, Oedipus goes on to question the credibility of the Oracle. Just like people nowadays, they want to challenge every ruling to satiate their selfish ambitions.
After Tiresias implicates Oedipus in the murder of Laius, Oedipus becomes offensive and he actually infers that Tiresias is the murderer. He says, “You helped hatch the plot; you did the work, yes, short of killing him with your own hands . . .” (Sophocles 394-96). Dying of suppressed guilt, he extends the blame to Creon and accuses him of treason and conspiracy.
He says, “I see it all, the marauding thief himself scheming to steal my crown and power!” (Sophocles 597-98). Talk of assassinating the messenger with a complete disregard of the message. Man is known to deny the facts. This paper aforementioned that, interestingly, the things that were pertinent in society many years ago, they remain the same even to date.
Citizens and leaders alike do not want to come out and accept the truth. Selfish ambitions are the rule of the day and no one is ready to take responsibility of his or her actions. It appears that Oedipus set the pace, and we have followed his footsteps so faithfully.
At this point Oedipus cannot be contained. He acts with complete disregard of divinity, by spiting a prophet and even igniting the ire of gods. This wrath is inevitable as we find out in the chorus that, “But if any man comes striding, high and mighty, in all he says and does, no fear of justice, no reverence for the temples of the gods-let a rough doom tear him down, repay his pride, breakneck, ruinous pride!” (Sophocles 972-77).
This tyrant behavior is typical in modern society. People choose leaders to be a blessing to them only to be a curse. Our leaders go to the people, beg for votes, and get that highest seat in the land, and turn out to be tyrants once seated in the throne of powers.
Think of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. The only thing the people of Thebes could show after Oedipus reign is wrath from their gods. Similarly, the only thing the people of Zimbabwe can show after many years of poor governance by one of their elected leaders is a wretched economy.
Lastly comes the payday. Oedipus has to pay for all his sins and face humiliation in front of the very people he ignored with contempt. He admits his mistakes by saying, “I stand revealed at last-cursed in my birth, cursed in marriage, cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands!” (Sophocles 1309-11).
On top of this, he gouges out his eyes but moves quickly to justify his actions, “What good were eyes to me? Nothing I could see could bring me joy” (Sophocles 1473-74). Truth has a way of finding ‘her’ way home. No matter how hard we try to cover the truth, nature has a way of bringing our deeds to light. This is a fact that Oedipus came to learn, unfortunately, it was a belated bitter lesson.
When people reach this point of life where they realize everything is vanity, they become remorseful. Oedipus did not miss in this common arena and he concludes by saying, “Oh no, what can I say to him? How can I ever hope to win his trust? I wronged him so, just now, in every way.
You must see that-I was so wrong, so wrong” (Sophocles 1554-57). He regrets how contemptuous he acted towards Creon. This is a typical ending of many people in our times. People have risen to stardom only to come down crumpling as we watch.
Apart from the significance of this play in contemporary world, it plays a crucial role in Greece’s history. This play reflects greatly the character of Athenians rulers; who were diligent, brave, and daring on one side, while arrogant and contemptuous on the other side (Silverman para. 6).
These leaders defended their territories but they could not defend themselves as individuals, just like Oedipus. Moreover, Athenians struggled with religious issues and this play highlights all these. Lastly, this play expounds on human suffering that, sometimes people get what they deserve while at other times they endure the most of fate.
Sophocles knew exactly what he was writing when he compiled the play Oedipus Tyrannus. This play is a true reflection of what people go through. Oedipus is an epitome of modern day leaders who start their leadership reigns in style only to turn tyrannies and come to humbling ends.
The place of this play in today’s society is important and it is amazing how humanity has not changed after many years of civilization. Issues to do with divinity were critical in Greece during the times of Oedipus and they still weigh heavily on society today.
There has been a deliberate shying away from and denial of the truth; a fact highlighted strongly in this play. People have continually neglected the truth, choosing to pursue what seems right in their own eyes regardless of criticism that may be surrounding them.
Finally, this play emphasizes on historical issues in Greece’s history like nature of leaders, religion, and human suffering. Oedipus Tyrannus is an educative and entertaining masterpiece that cannot afford to take a backseat in today’s literature.
Meineck, Peter, & Woodruff, Peter. “Oedipus Tyrannus.” Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Company, Inc. 2000.
Silverman, David. “Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus.” 1995. Web. 12 Feb. 2010.
Sophocles. “The Oedipus Tyrannus with English Notes.” Crosby, Howard. Ed. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1857