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Influential Themes of Oedipus Rex

Examines the themes of hubris, the consequences of thoughtless actions, and the connection between a king and his people in Oedipus Rex.

{Oedipus Rex} by Sophocles is one example of several powerful Greek dramas that took the stage of ancient theatres sometime around 430 B.C. (pg. 71) {Oedipus Rex}, like many other Greek plays of the time, has many themes woven throughout it. These themes help to convey messages that were of great spiritual importance to the Greeks. Three themes that I saw as being especially significant in this play were: hubris, the consequences of thoughtless actions, and the connection between a king and his people.
Hubris, the excessive pride or arrogance of an individual, proved to be an omnipresent theme in Oedipus Rex. On many occasions throughout the play, Oedipus, the main character who later has a tragic downfall, speaks in an arrogant fashion. Early on in the play Oedipus addresses a crowd of people: ?I, Oedipus who bear the famous name.? (Prologue) His self glorification and constant reminders of his heroic feats illustrate excessive pride in himself. When confronting the seer, Teiresias, Oedipus loses his temper and attempts to talk down to him, saying ?Wealth, power, craft of statesmanship! Kingly position everywhere admired!?(Scene I) He also mocks Teiresias by reminding him of how it wasn?t he the soothsayer who solved the sphinxes riddle but himself, Oedipus: ??What help were you to these people? Her magic was not for the first man who came along: it demanded a real exorcist??(Scene I). Oedipus used language that reflected his feelings of superiority.
Another prominent theme in this play is how thoughtless behavior can result in negative consequences. One could argue that every tragic event that befell Oedipus was brought on by his own rash actions. When confronted with a decision, Oedipus frequently chose to rush ahead into the unknown without giving any thought to the possible outcome. In several cases he made poor choices and as a consequence he paid the price. In the case of his hasty bid for justice in Scene I, his words of judgment reflected his future fate: ?As for the criminal, I pray to God?whether it be a lurking thief, or one of a number?I pray that that man?s life be consumed in evil and wretchedness.? This declaration, though intended with good cause, was the beginning of his downfall. Another incident in which Oedipus appeared to be thoughtless was when he had the opportunity to dismiss several clues that he was Laios? murderer and forget the whole thing. Iocaste even warned him to not seek the truth: ?Listen to me, I beg you: do not do this thing!? (Scene III) He did not
heed her warning. Instead he boldly pushed for the very truth that proved him to be guilty of murder.
A king and his people are one. Throughout the play this is demonstrated in the Parados and Odes 1-4, where it seems the words of the chorus reflect upon Oedipus? thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Early in the play, when the cause of the plague is identified, Oedipus gives a passionate speech praying to the gods that the murderer may suffer a fate worse than death. Shortly after, in the Parados, the chorus says essentially the same thing: ?Destroy our enemy, lord of thunder! Let him be riven by lightning from heaven.?(Scene I) As the situation in the play becomes more dire for Oedipus, the chorus becomes somber in its tone and the people of Thebes mourn their fallen king. ?And now of all men ever known most pitiful is this mans story: his fortunes are most changed, his state fallen to low slave?s ground under bitter fate.? (Ode 4, strophe 2) They (the people) are bound to their king by an undying bond; they suffer when he suffers and triumph when he is victorious. Such is this bond that they will never reject his status, and when he should be hated he is pitied.
The themes of hubris, thoughtless actions, and the connection between a king and his subjects shaped the story and helped to make it a powerful play that has survived the test of time. The universal nature of each theme represented tells a story that still is relevant today. A person?s character and how they choose to act determines their fate. Oedipus was a man who had many good qualities, but it was his fatal flaw that resulted in his demise. The failures and successes of a leader are mirrored in the people who serve him/her. In Oedipus Rex the voices of the people reflected his emotions. Even though we live in a world with more advanced technology, these themes still are meaningful in society today.

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