Oedipus the King
Ancient Philosophy
• Initial scene
– Plague
– Infertility
• Creon returns from Apollo’s shrine
– Unavenged murder
– Oedipus’ curse
• Oedipus and Teiresias
– Challenges Teiresias claim to knowledge
– All Oedipus needs is mother wit—natural abilities
• Oedipus and Creon
– Creon content with his place
– Oedipus-paranoid
• Threatens people with death on rumors
• Oedipus and Jocasta
– Deny the validity of oracles
– Learns that
• Laius killed at the intersection of three roads
• One person survived
• There were many robbers
• Chorus
– Humans part of a lawful order
Jocasta and the Messenger
• Jocasta
– Goes forth presenting offerings to the gods
• Messenger
– Polybus is dead
• Jocasta
– Ye god-sent oracles, where stand ye now!
Oedipus and Messenger
• Oedipus
But, as they stand, the oracles are dead-Dust, ashes, nothing, dead as Polybus.
• He didn’t kill his father
• Will he sleep with his mother?
Oedipus and Messenger
• Messenger
– thou know'st not what thou doest.
– He does not know what he knows
– Polybus is not Oedipus’ father
– Ankle scars
– Obtained from a shepherd of Laius’ house
Jocasta and Oedipus
• Jocasta
– Give up quest—be content with his place
– upset
• Oedipus
– Believes Jocasta is upset because he is not of
noble birth
Chorus and Oedipus
Let the storm burst, my fixed resolve still
To learn my lineage, be it ne'er so low.
It may be she with all a woman's pride
Thinks scorn of my base parentage. But I
Who rank myself as Fortune's favorite child,
The giver of good gifts, shall not be shamed.
Oedipus and Herdsman
• Herdsman
– Denies knowing messenger
• Messenger
– Oedipus is the child given to the messenger
• Oedipus
– Threatens to torture the herdsman
• Messenger
– Oedipus is one of Laius’ children
I stand a wretch, in birth, in wedlock cursed,
A parricide, incestuously, triply cursed!
Second Messenger
• Jocasta is dead
– Oedipus asked for a sword to kill her
– She had already hung herself
• Oedipus blinds himself with her brooches
Oedipus and Chorus
• Oedipus
– Apollo blinded him
Once ranked the foremost Theban in all Thebes,
By my own sentence am cut off, condemned
By my own proclamation 'gainst the wretch,
The miscreant by heaven itself declared Unclean--and
of the race of Laius.
Thus branded as a felon by myself,
How had I dared to look you in the face?
Once ranked the foremost Theban in all
By my own sentence am cut off, condemned
By my own proclamation 'gainst the wretch,
The miscreant by heaven itself declared
Unclean--and of the race of Laius.
Thus branded as a felon by myself,
How had I dared to look you in the face?
Oedipus and Creon
• Oedipus
– Asks to be exiled to some desert
• Creon
– Wants to consult the gods
• Oedipus
– Sons can take care of themselves
– Daughters need caretakers
• Will die barren
• To the end, trying to dominate
Crave not mastery in all,
For the mastery that raised thee was thy bane
and wrought thy fall.
Look ye, countrymen and Thebans, this is Oedipus the great,
He who knew the Sphinx's riddle and was mightiest in our state.
Who of all our townsmen gazed not on his fame with envious
Now, in what a sea of troubles sunk and overwhelmed he lies!
Therefore wait to see life's ending ere thou count one mortal blest;
Wait till free from pain and sorrow he has gained his final rest.
• Artificial relations (state) vs natural bonds
• Inversions
– Unfatherly father
– Unsonly son
– Unmotherly mother
• Outsmart themselves
– Like father like son
• Sacred and profane confused with ruler and
• Oversees the maintenance of order within
the city
• His prime commandment is to “Know
– Knows one’s own abilities and limitations
– Knows where one fits into the order of things
– He accepts his place.
– Knows and accepts that he is mortal.
pride- self-made man
bring things to light
sets punishments
arbitrarily accuses others
he exalts his own ability to reason above the
messages of the gods
• he can’t be denied the truth about his birth
because he will not accept any limitations on his
Will to Omniscience
• When he consults Apollo’s oracle after his
parentage had been called into question,
he assumes he knows the meaning of the
oracle’s message. He didn’t take this as
an opportunity to know himself. Instead,
he assumed that he knew the answer to
the very question for which he was
seeking an answer from Apollo, and he
fled Corinth.
Will to Omnipotence
• Has to always be in charge
• Piety demands that one act hospitably toward strangers,
who are protected by Zeus.
• Piety also demands that the younger person treat the
older one with respect. Thus, Oedipus should have
yielded to Laius.
• Those lower in rank should respect those higher in rank.
Thus, on all these grounds, Oedipus should have yielded
to Laius, who was a reining king and who was traveling
in a cart with a retinue of followers. Oedipus, in contrast,
was traveling alone on foot.
• Oedipus does not stay within the boundaries of his
proper place.
pious-constantly consults Apollo
Jocasta and Laius
• Death by binding, as Oedipus was
sentenced to death by binding
• Laius the murderer killed
• Killed at intersection of three roads, just as
Oedipus killed at birth (3 days)
• Maternal-devours those who fail to please
• Lion-both rashness, excessive anger
• Eagle-and overblown expectations
Has Oedipus Changed
• Oedipus' blinding of himself can be seen
as him cutting himself off from Apollo
• This dependency is another manifestation
of his will to control others because he
uses his weaknesses to manipulate others
to get what he wants.
The Greeks thought that one who looked
upon a god would be blinded. Oedipus
attempted to see farther than humans can
see. He attempted to look directly at the
sun, indeed, to become the sun. The
natural punishment for a misuse of a
natural faculty is the rendering of that
faculty useless.
Three Paths
• the path of humble piety
– One can continue to recognize one’s weakness and
dependency and obediently follow the rules set down
by them from above.
• the path of the tyrant
– One can follow the path of arrogance and greed going
beyond all limits of human needs and powers and
attempt to control and dominate the world around
• the path of withdrawal from life.
– He blinds himself and weakens himself so that he can
demonstrate his power.
• Social elites
– Reproductive incest
• Rome
• Europe
– Political incest
• Ruling elite becomes an isolated, self-supporting
– Intellectual incest
• Ritualistic repetition of ideas--No creativity
• Unable to solve problems