1___He was figuratively blind to what was really going on around him - therefore he literally blinded himself.
2__Yeah, pride. He thought he was above everyone else, even the gods, and that he could escape his fate. But then he slept with
his mother and blinded himself
The Mystery of Oedipus's Hamartia("mistake" or an "error," "failing,")
You could wallpaper every home on Earth with the amount of scholarly papers written on Oedipus. OK, that's a bit of an
exaggeration. But, in truth, there is a whole lot of disagreement about one central aspect of Oedipus's character. Scholars
have been talking smack to each other for centuries over an essential question: what is Oedipus's hamartia, often called a
tragic flaw? Aristotle tells us in his Poetics that every tragic hero is supposed to have one of these, and that the hamartia is
the thing that causes the hero's downfall. Aristotle also cites Oedipus as the best example ever of a tragic hero. Why then is
it so unclear to generation after generation, just what Oedipus's hamartia is? Let's take a stroll though some of the major
theories and see what there is to see.
Theory # 1: Determination
It's true that if Oedipus wasn't so determined to find out the identity of Laius's real killer he would never have discovered the
terrible truth of his life. Can you really call this a flaw, though? Before you go all Judge Judy on the guy, there’s another way
to think about this. Oedipus is really exemplifying a prized and admirable human trait: determination. Why is it that we praise
Hemingway’s Old Man and Homer’s Odysseusfor the same determination for which we condemn Oedipus?
Furthermore, the reason Oedipus is dead set on solving the mystery is to save his people. Creon brings him word from the
Oracle of Delphi that he must banish the murderer from the city or the plague that is ravaging Thebes will continue. It seems
like Oedipus is doing exactly what a good ruler ought to do. He's trying to act in the best interest of his people.
Theory #2: Anger
OK it's definitely true that our buddy Oedipus has a temper. Indeed it was rash anger that led to him unknowingly kill his real
father, King Laius, at the crossroads. The killing of his father is an essential link in Oedipus's downfall, making his violent
temper a good candidate for a tragic flaw.
Of course, Oedipus has a pretty good case for self defense. There he was – a lone traveler, minding his own business.
Then, out of nowhere, a bunch of guys show up, shove him off the road, and hit him in the head with whip. If we were
Oedipus, we'd be angry too.
Killing all but one of them seems like an overreaction to modern audiences, but Oedipus's actions wouldn't have seemed as
radical to an ancient Greek audience. They lived in violent times. A man had the right to defend himself when attacked,
especially when alone on a deserted road.
Within the play we see Oedipus's anger when he lashes out at both Creon and Teiresias for bringing him bad news. This
time he just talks trash, though. We don't see any ninja-style violence. What's most important to notice is that these angry
tirades don't do the most important thing for a hamartia to do – they don't bring on Oedipus's downfall. He just rants for a
while and threatens to do bad things but never does. These tirades don't cause anything else to happen. In fact they seem
like a pretty natural reaction, to a whole lot of very bad news. Notice too, that anger in no way causes Oedipus to sleep with
Jocasta, which is an important part of his downfall.
Theory #3: Hubris
Hubris is translated as excessive pride. This term inevitably comes up almost every time you talk about a piece of ancient
Greek literature. There's no denying that Oedipus is a proud man. Of course, he's got pretty good reason to be. He's the one
that saved Thebes from the Sphinx. If he hadn't come along and solved the Sphinx's riddle, the city would still be in the thrall
of the creature. It seems that Oedipus rightly deserves the throne of Thebes.
Many scholars point out that Oedipus's greatest act of hubris is when he tries to deny his fate. The Oracle of Delphi told him
long ago that he was destined to kill his father and sleep with his mother. Oedipus tried to escape his fate by never returning
to Corinth, the city where he grew up, and never seeing the people he thought were his parents again. Ironically, it was this
action that led him to kill his real father Laius and to marry his mother Jocasta.
It's undeniable that by trying to avoid his fate Oedipus ended up doing the thing he most feared. This is probably the most
popular theory as to Oedipus's hamartia. We would ask a rather simple question, though: what else was Oedipus supposed
to do? Should he have just thrown up his hands and been like, "Oh well, if that's my fate, we should just get this over with."
This thought is ridiculous and more than a little twisted. It hardly seems like the moral we're supposed to take from the story.
Is it really a flaw to try to avoid committing such horrendous acts?
Theory #4: We've got hamartia all wrong
Though hamartia is often defined as a tragic flaw, it actually has a much broader meaning. It's more accurately translated as
an error in judgment or a mistake. You can still call it hamartia even if the hero makes these mistakes in a state of
ignorance. The hero doesn't necessarily have to be intentionally committing the so-called "sin." Hmm, does that sound like
anybody we know?
The word hamartia comes from the Greek hamartanein, which means "missing the mark." The hero aims his arrow at the
bull's eye, but ends up hitting something altogether unexpected. Oedipus is the perfect example of this. The target for
Oedipus is finding Laius's murderer in order to save Thebes. He does achieve this, but unfortunately brings disaster on
himself in the process. Oedipus aim's for the bull's eye but ends up hitting his own eyes instead.
Sure, Oedipus has some flaws. Just like the rest of us, he's far from perfect. There's a strong argument, though, that
ultimately the man is blameless. Some say that all this talk or tragic flaws was later scholars trying to impress a Christian
worldview onto a pagan literature. The Greeks just didn't have quite the same ideas of sin that later societies developed.
The reason that Aristotle admired Oedipus the King so much is that the protagonist's downfall is caused by his own actions.
We are moved to fear and pity at the end of the play not because Oedipus is sinful, but because he's always tried to do the
right thing. The terrible irony is that his desire to do the right thing that brings about his destruction. When Oedipus gouges
out his eyes at the end of the play, he symbolically becomes the thing he's always been: blind to the unknowable complexity
of the universe.
If you want to learn more about Oedipus, check out the next play in this trilogy: Oedipus at Colonus.