Tragic Hero Essay Oedipus Rex Themes

Essay on Oedipus the King: A Tragic Hero

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A tragic hero, as defined by Aristotle, is a man who is great but also terribly flawed, who experiences misfortunes while still remaining admirable to the audience at the end of the play. One of Aristotle’s favorite works, Oedipus the King, a play by Sophocles, is a play that above all others, defines the meaning of what a true tragic hero really is. In the play, Oedipus the King, the story unfolds after Oedipus unintentionally kills his own father and goes on to marry his mother. The events of the play are tragic, but it is the way that Oedipus handles the tragedies that make him a tragic hero.
     From the very beginning of the play, we can already see that Oedipus is a great but flawed man. He proves to us…show more content…

However, in spite of all of his positive qualities, he is a man that is prone to arrogance and impulsive behaviors. At the opening of the play, when he addresses the city about the plague, he tells them not to worry for “Here I am myself...the world knows my fame: I am Oedipus” (7-8), implying that he can solve any problem simply because of who he is. Oedipus also shows his arrogance by comparing himself to the gods. After hearing the chorus’ cries to the gods for help he tells the city of Thebes to “Let [him] grant [their] prayers...listen to [him]”(245-246). Oedipus displays his quick temper after the prophet Tireseas declines to tell him who Laius's murderer is; he hastily becomes infuriated at the prophet, telling him he is "scum of the earth . . . [a man who] would enrage a heart of stone" (381).
     The heart of the story unravels when Oedipus apparently begins to suffer a reversal of fortunes. At the beginning of the play, Oedipus is referred to by the priest as the “king of the land, [the city of Thebes’] greatest power” (16). Through all of Thebes he is thought of as a hero, a man who saved the city from the Sphinx and in his bravery has promised to find the killer of King Laius in order to save the city from doom and death. However, at the climax of the story Oedipus learns that he has been “cursed in [his] birth, cursed in marriage / and cursed in

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That totally depends on your definition of "tragic hero". The definition of tragic heroes and of tragedy itself is a hugely contentious issue about which very few scholars agree - and so, of course, you have to define your terms before you can even begin to answer this question.

If you go by Aristotle's "Poetics" (the most famous text written about Greek tragedy), Oedipus (in Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex") is given as an exemplar of the tragic hero. He is a man of high standing socially (King of Thebes), intellectually (he is the great solver of riddles) and morally (he is determined to find the murderer and end the plague on his people). 

Throughout the play his quest to find the murderer described by the Oracle is made with the best possible intentions: only Oedipus is a man who has made a mistake ("mistake" is the best translation of "hamartia" which is often misunderstood as meaning a personal "tragic flaw" - not what Aristotle wrote or intended). Is Oedipus' mistake to be too fervent in the pursuit of truth, thereby revealing what (as Teiresias says) would be best left covered? Or is it to act too rashly towards an old man at a crossroads?

One interesting way to think about tragic heroes in Sophocles is by using an adjective Sophocles applies to all of them: "deinos" meaning both wonderful and terrible. For Oedipus, it might just be his virtue that brings him crashing down.  

Here is a video about the characters of Oedipus:

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