Oedipus as a Tragic Character OR Aristotle’s Concept and Oedipus as a Tragic Hero

Oedipus as a Tragic Character OR Aristotle’s Concept and Oedipus as a Tragic Hero

One of the more authentic criteria has been set by Aristotle in so far as the judgement of a tragic hero or character is concerned. He believes that a tragedy is actually an imitation of life with serious story and aim. It must have the strength of being complete in itself. In other words, we can say that a tragedy is based on realistic approach. However, it must be narrow in its focus. It must have the ability to foster ‘pity and fear.’ It must have the ability to foster the feelings of ‘Catharsis’ in the readers.

Keeping in view the story of ‘Oedipus Rex’ in his mind, Aristotle declares it the model tragedy. In his ‘Poetics’, he acknowledges this drama for its well-constructed plot. He appreciates its plot for being able to foster the feelings of pity and fear. Not only the audience realizes the feelings of pity and fear but also the hearer of the story. One of the major characteristics of a tragedy is true tragic hero. Aristotle observes all the qualities of a tragic hero in Oedipus. We can say that Oedipus is the best and classical example of a true tragic hero in the history of literature. Richard B. Sowell says: “Oedipus of Sophocles can be judged by Aristotle’s criteria. He answers to all the Aristotelian requirements.” Now let’s have a look at the character of Oedipus and try to measure with the yardstick introduced by Aristotle.

According to Aristotle, the first major quality of a tragic hero is that he is neither completely good nor wholly a corrupt fellow. It is his fate that he is to suffer and find out the truth from ignorance to knowledge. However, whatever he suffers and whatever he suffers, it is only because of ‘Hamartia.’ Oedipus is a prince. He saves a kingdom from Sphinx. He is popular, man of integrity, dead honest, just ruler and a well-wisher of the people.

Not one is as Sick as I,

Each of you suffers in himself alone,         

But my spirit groans for the city

For myself, for you.

Although we see ‘fate and opportunity’ playing a very lethal role in moulding his life, but he never loses his integrity. He is the character that does not have one single flaw in his character. He has more than one flaws that cause his downfall and tragic end. Let’s have a look at the flaws which Oedipus has.

The very first tragic flaw Oedipus has is his ‘Pride.’ In drama, we see him giving too much importance to his own intelligence. It means his ego is at its peak that makes him suffer and he becomes defeated. He is unaware of the truth and refuses to believe in Teiresias’ warning. Teiresias makes effort to console Oedipus but Oedipus is too proud and arrogant to see the truth and refuses to accept that he is the responsible for a very heinous crime. He does not want to accept the things as they are. On the other hand, he wants to see the things as he wants. This very thinking leads him to wrong direction and he is not ready to follow anything. He believes that he can outwit the oracle if he does not go to Corinth. Walting opines Oedipus brought his fate upon himself by a combination of pride, ignorance and determination.

Another flaw in his character is his inquisitive nature. He is in search of truth. No doubt, this is the quality of a great character but here in the play this quality of Oedipus mars everything and becomes a flaw of his character. Teiresias, Jocasta and the herdsman try their best to stop him from pursuing and knowing the actual truth but he does not pay any attention to their advice. When the prophecy becomes true, Jocasta requests him to let it remain unsolved but again he becomes willful and faces the bitter reality of life.

Another flaw in Oedipus character is that he is not able to take the logical steps to shun the disaster waiting for him. Moreover, after the increase in complications, he does not show any flexibility. He becomes more and more inflexible in his attitude towards the circumstances he is faced with. After the prophecy becomes true, he does not pay any heed to the request or suggestion offered by Jocasta. When Jocasta says: “Stop-in the name of God, if you love your own life, call off this search! My suffering is enough”, Oedipus replies, “No! By the gods, no; Leave it if you care for your own life. I suffer. ‘Tis enough.’ I cannot yield my right to know the truth.”

Another factor that plays a vital role is “Irony of Fate” that cannot be overlooked. Early in the play, he remarks when he comes to know his vulnerable state.

“Can it be any but some monstrous god

                                    Of evil that has sent this doom upon me.”

            Similarly, in the final scene, when the Chorus asks him why he has put out his eye, in such pathetic condition, he answers: Apollo laid this agony upon me.” G.M. Kirkwood says about Oedipus, “Human power; and in Sophocles’ view, human power is inadequate armour to protect against suffering.”

Now, if we have a look at the remarks made by most of the critics, they opine that Oedipus is innocent. They believe that Oedipus is just a puppet in the hands of fortune. It is what makes the play a tragedy of destiny. However, we cannot say with surety that Sophocles is trying to present his story as the tragedy of destiny because some action which Oedipus took in the past can be the part of fate but every action he does is deliberate and he does them as an absolutely free agent. A renowned critic says: “The gods know the future, but they do not order it.

It is necessary for a tragic hero that he must learn some lesson from the mistakes he commits. He sets as well as becomes an example for others. The great example offered in the play is presented by herdsman who actually informs Oedipus of his real mother. When he comes to know this reality, he comments: Oh, Oh,” and Similarly, he cries in the pangs of agony and remarks: Light, I shall not look on you again. I have been born where I should not be born, I have been married where I should not marry, I have killed whom I should not kill; now all is clear.”

No this discussion compels us to think of Oedipus as a great character because whatever he faces after his spirit of inquiry of truth, it is all because of his great spirit. The spirit of finding out the truth must be the quality of every human being. Such a quality shows the great character of a great person. A minute and detailed study of the play shows that his downfall is the result of his great qualities i.e. his love for Thebes as a leader, his love for the people of his state and his love for the inquiry of truth. He is ready to punish himself and punished in the end. He makes himself blind. He says, “What use of my eyes to me, who could never see anything pleasant again?” He himself requests Creon to banish him from the city. It shows his love for justice.  His confession shows the strength of his character. E.R. Dodds says, “Oedipus is great because he accepts the responsibility for all his acts, including those which are objectively most horrible, though subjectively innocent.”

To sum up the discussion, the character of Oedipus creates an everlasting and powerful impact on the minds of the readers. Whatever the results of his consequences are, he is truly a tragic hero. he also meets all the demands of a true tragic hero introduced by Aristotle. We must appreciate him for his unceasing and relentless effort which he makes in the pursuit of truth. Richard, a renowned critic believes and declares Oedipus the true tragic hero being the embodiment of Aristotelian concept of a tragic hero.             (Words: 1358)