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Daniella Le - Aristotle and Oedipus Response

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Daniella Le
Pina Cancelliere
October 6, 2022
Aristotle and Oedipus Response
To start, Aristotle’s tragic hero is often described as a person who continues to have a
human flaw, which by doing so caused them to fall to their demise. In the short play, Oedipus
Rex, one character that highlights and aligns perfectly with this description, Oedipus. From the
start of the play, readers are introduced to Oedipus’ fate; destined to murder his father and marry
his mother. However, when Oedipus learns about his predetermined destiny, he states, “it was my
fate to defile my mother’s bed, to murder the father who engendered me. When I heard that, I ran
away from Corinth. From then on I thought of it just as a place beneath the stars. I went to other
lands, so I would never see that prophecy fulfilled, the abomination of my evil fate.” (951-959).
This quotation portrays Oedipus as a good man, someone who did not want to follow his destiny,
attempting to avoid it. Readers almost immediately feel pity for the character as Oedipus uses
Aristotle’s belief to highlight and prove that he is a tragic hero, although he is not a great person,
he still is a good person who knows right from wrong. Readers see that Oedipus is capable of
human emotion which leaves him susceptible to human flaw and error. Even when Oedipus sees
that he fails his mission trying to outrun fate, he punishes himself by blinding himself, stating
"You will no longer see all those atrocious things I suffered, the dreadful things I did! No. You
have seen those you never should have looked upon,and those I wished to know you did not see.
So now and for all future time be dark!" (1516-1521). This demonstrates Oedipus' sorrow and
pain, readers witnessing first hand Oedipus’ human emotions and flaws despite being someone
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of such high status allows the readers to feel pity for him; being cast aside by his mother and
father, being subjected to such a horrible fate. All of which furthers and proves Aristotle’s
description of a tragic hero, since readers are able to see how similar Oedipus, a king, to
someone of different social standing and presence is human, flawed as they are. A tragic hero
instills fear and pity to those who are witnessing their actions, which is why Oedipus is just that,
a tragic hero, leaving fear for the readers who know someone as powerful and prosperous as him
is unable to fight and avoid the inevitable.
Aristotle believes that in tragedy the hero must fall from the graces of heaven and hands
of good fortune into their downfall and demise. In the beginning of Oedipus Rex, Oedipus’ life is
portrayed as a great king and leader, whom his people also care and respect greatly. However all
of Oedipus’ good fortunes unexpectedly fall from his hands when Teiresias, a blind soothsayer
tells him the truth of his origins and why the city of Thebes is suffering, “Then I would ask you
to stand by the very words which you yourself proclaimed and from now on not to speak to me
or these men. For the accursed polluter of this land is you.” (418-422). The quotation holds
significance since it is the turning point for the good life that Oedipus has been living, up until
his conversation with Teireasias, Oedipus has been living a lie. He believes that he can save his
people from all the pain and suffering when he is in fact the cause of all of it. Aristotle’s belief in
tragedy is portrayed perfectly in Oedipus' situation, his downfall and his recognition that he lives
a life of lies and delusions allows the audience to feel pity and sympathy for the fate that is out of
his hands, and he cannot hide from. All of which is further proved when a servant properly
confirms all of Oedipus’ speculations about his birth, which leaves Oedipus expressing his pain
and sufferings, "Ah, so it all came true. It's so clear now. O light, let me look at you one final
time, a man who stands revealed as cursed by birth, cursed by my own family, and cursed by
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murder where I should not kill" (1418-1422). The quote holds significance in the fact that it
confirms Aristotle’s theory that a hero becomes a tragic hero when they experience their
downfall. When the hero, Oedipus experiences his downfall it allows the audience to feel pity for
the character regardless of their actions that they committed in the past. Despite Oedipus,
committing crimes of murder, it is overlooked by the good acts that he has done for the city of
Thebes; since he believes that he has brought peace and serenity to the city. However, in an
ironic twist of events, Oedipus lives in delusion, his fate is forever unavoidable and will always
catch up to him. His downfall marks a tragedy that verifies Aristotle’s belief on tragedy, where
Oedipus is at peak of his life, starting at the top as a great king and ends at the bottom,
surrounded by loss and sorrow, all of his fortunes and luck is gone, including his family, wife and
children as well as his power, and vision.
Lastly, Aristotle’s framework of tragedy also believes that a tragic hero is someone who
is renowned highly and is prosperous. This description is the perfect deception of the character
Oedipus. At the beginning of Oedipus Rex, he is seen as a royal, someone who is a king who is
respected by his peers and people of the city. More of Oedipus’ prosperity and being highly
renowned is further enforced when the Priest praises Oedipus for saving the city of Thebes from
a Sphinx that was terrorizing city, “For you came here, to our Cadmeian city, and freed us from
the tribute we were paying to that cruel singer- and yet you knew no more than we did and had
not been taught. In their stories, the people testify how, with gods' help, you gave us back our
lives" (40-45). This quotation demonstrates how much of an impact Oedipus has on the people
and city of Thebes. They look up to the people who saved and allowed them to be free from the
sufferings of the Sphinx, so much that they place a crown on Oedipus' head and call them his
king. As a tragic hero, readers are able to feel a connection with Oedipus but instead of pity it
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leans towards empathy, as they see how the citizens praise, love and respect the great man who
has saved them from suffering and pain. The audience is able to see how much the citizens praise
Oedipus through the Chorus, speaks about Oedipus, " But until I see the words confirmed, I will
not approve of any man who censures Oedipus, for it was clear when that winged Sphinx went
after him he was a wise man then. We witnessed it. He passed the test and endeared himself to all
the city" (604-610). This demonstrates the trust and respect that the citizens have for Oedipus.
They disregard the accusations and claims that are held against Oedipus for killing their previous
king Lauis, but instead remain loyal and devote themselves to Oedipus. They are willing to stand
up against those who speak or do wrong towards their king wholeheartedly, they lack any sort of
distrust or suspicion towards Oedipus despite multiple claims from different people that Oedipus
has killed Lauis. All of which is why Oedipus makes the perfect tragic hero, as the plot forces the
audience to feel pity and sympathy towards the characters, specifically Oedipus since readers are
aware of his predestined fate and the tragedy he has yet to face.
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Work Cited
Oedipus the King Dramatis Personae - St. Louis Public Schools. (n.d.). Retrieved October
7, 2022, from