Thebian king oedipus, classic and ideal tragic hero
Thebian King Oedipus, Classic and Ideal Tragic Hero
By: Shaina Mavreen D. Villaroza
“How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be when there‟s no help in truth!” –An excerpt
from Sophocles‟ Oedipus Rex (Microsoft Encarta Premium, 2009).
It is the theme of tragedy, of human ignorance and suffering of Sophocles‟ works which
made him the greatest of Greek tragedians as considered by modern scholars (Microsoft Encarta
Premium, 2009). Flawless construction, dramatic power, and effective dramatic irony depict the
tragic story of Oedipus, who killed his father, the king, and married his own mother. Oedipus is
one richly developed character exhibiting tragic flaws that ironically support his unwelcome
Oedipus meets the considerations that distinguish the tragic hero in Aristotle‟s view.
According to his description, Oedipus is an example of a tragic hero. Oedipus, having an upright
reputation and noble stature, caused his own downfall, did not deserve his fate and his
punishment exceed his fault (FreeEssays.cc, 2003). As stated by Aristotle, a tragic hero is “such
a person who is neither superior in virtue and justice, nor undergoes a change to misfortune
because of vice and wickedness, but because of some error, and who is one of those people with
a great reputation and good fortune” (EssayForum.com, 2009). This error or tragic flaw was
translated from the Greek term “hamartia” and talks closer on „mistake‟, „failure‟ or „error‟
rather than innate or characteristic flaw (Struck, 2000). Aristotle believed that all tragic heroes
have a “hamartia” but it does not totally involve their characteristic, for the audience might lose
respect and not pity the hero and on the other hand, it is not entirely accidental and involuntary,
for the audience might not fear the hero (Struck, 2000). Oedipus startlingly and accurately fits
Aristotle‟s definition though Sophocles made Oedipus long before Aristotle‟s ideas came out.
Oedipus‟ complex and dynamic character emotionally unifies the audience. His tragic flaw
compels the audience to fear for him. And his terrible punishment provokes a great sense of pity
from the audience.
However, there is a simpler answer or common definition based on common knowledge
on why Oedipus is considered as a tragic hero. A tragic hero has high fame and prosperity
(Answers.com, 2012). In the story Oedipus answered the Sphinx‟s riddle, was a good and well-
liked king by not hiding anything from his people, and pursued justice without favoring killing.
He rose to great heights and fell equally to great depths (Answers.com, 2012). In the beginning,
he was a respected king who had great wealth and knowledge but when he knew the truth about
his life story, he gouged his eyes out expressing his dismay of not seeing the truth even when he
had them (123HelpMe.com, 2011); he exiled himself and wandered around as a blundering poor
old man feared and hated by anyone near him. It was constantly repeated in the book that the
downfall is the central theme by moral or faith. His tragic flaw is the cause of his doom
(Answers.com, 2012). Because of pride, he brought upon his own doom by unknowingly killing
his father. Another instance was when he left his “home country” based on his own judgment.
Despite his flaw, he strived and proved to be a better person.
Even though Oedipus didn‟t die, he banished himself out of his own kingdom, Thebes
and put out his eyes which are far worse punishment than he deserves. These acts evoke pity,
compassion, sympathy, or even empathy to its audience and make them experience catharsis
which, in Greek, means “purgation” or “purification” (BookRags.com, 2000). When he inflicted
blindness upon himself he said, “What use are my eyes to me when I can never see anything
pleasant again? If I had sight, I know not with what eyes I would have looked” (FreeEssays.cc,
2003). The consequences he faced were because of his character flaw, “neither idiosyncratic nor
arbitrary” as indicated by Aristotle, deeply embedded in the central part of virtue, a kind of
human failing and human weakness (Struck, 2000). In other circumstances though, the flaw of
the tragic hero might also be a virtue. By one man‟s downfall, a kingdom has been saved. In
Oedipus‟ case, his flaw is also a virtue; he was doomed for his persistence, determined to save
his city, and insisted to learn the truth which were his qualities being a good ruler. In spite of
this, the gods indicated that he should back off because the truth was something he couldn‟t
handle but given his nature, backing off was not an option.
As the tragic hero, Oedipus, learned a lesson about life and how there is more to it than
just one person‟s fate, audiences, viewers, and readers along grasp moral and object lesson. In
Oedipus‟ defense, he is the tragic hero and he thoroughly deserves this title. Like any of us, he
was not perfect and he had tragic flaws to remind all of us of our human nature and essence.
“Oedipus – The Tragic Hero.” 2003. FreeEssays.cc. 02 Nov 2012
“Oedipus As A Tragic Hero.” 2011. 123HelpMe.com. 02 Nov 2012
“Oedipus As The Ideal Tragic Hero.” Struck, Peter T. 2000. classics.upenn.edu. 02 Nov 2012
“Oedipus Rex, A Tragic Hero.” 2000. BookRags.com. 02 Nov 2012
“Oedipus The Tragic Hero.” 2009. EssayForum.com. 02 Nov 2012
“Oedipus.” Microsoft Encarta 2009. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation 2008
“Sophocles.” Microsoft Encarta 2009. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation 2008
“Why Is Oedipus Considered A Tragic Hero In „Oedipus Rex‟?” 2012. Answers.com. 02 Nov