Oedipus the King, written by Sophocles around 430 BC, is one of, if not the most, important and influential tragedy ever written. It became the base for most of the tragedies written since. In spite of the fact that some of the story line may seem a little out of place now, parallels can be very easily drawn with the present time. Even though it was written over 2000 years ago, Oedipus the King is still fitting and applicable in today’s society.
In ancient Greece, the people believed that the gods already decided upon their fates and destinies. They believed that nothing that they could do could change them, no matter what they do (Fagles, 152). Oedipus tried to change what he knew to be his destiny, to kill his father and marry his mother, by moving away from the city and family that he knew to be his own. He found out later in the play that by moving he had actually fulfilled his destiny. His parents tried to change their destinies, but that too backfired on them. In modern times, most religions that have beliefs similar to this are in the eastern part of the world. Most people in the west believe that they are in charge of their own fates and destinies and that they can be altered by things that they do or don’t do (Donn, 231). Walton notices this too. He states that “Oedipus is not a turannos at all. He is the legitimate son of the previous king (119).
Another thing that may be found similar between Oedipus and modern life is that people can and do change themselves internally and develop themselves over time. Changes are usually unmotivated. The motivating factor for Oedipus was after he realized that he killed his father, married his mother, and found her dead. He then blinded himself be jabbing brooches into his eyes. After this traumatizing event, he seems to have developed his personality further. He is calmer, and seems to “see” things better now that he is blind. Things like this happen all the time now. Sophocles’ “development of character is richly complex. Instead of relying on the extreme situations and exaggerated actions that earlier tragedians used, Sophocles created powerfully motivated characters who even today fascinate wudiences with their psychological depth (Meyer, 981). People change their personalities and lifestyles based on the influences and suggestions of others. Unmotivated changes are subtler and not very noticeable all at once. They tend to happen over time. These tend to happen from others indirectly, such as dressing similar, talking similar, etc.
Finally, the way in which Oedipus the King can be perceived as universal the best is in character traits that are alike in both modern people and Oedipus himself. Oedipus is a very stubborn person. He believes that Tiresias has not told him the truth and was sent by Creon to lie to him, even after Tiresias proves that he can actually see into the future. Modern day people can also be very stubborn, especially if they know or think that they are wrong about something. Oedipus also shows great intelligence. He saved the entire city of Thebes by answering the Sphinx’s riddle and his reward was the crown and the queen’s hand in marriage (Meyer, 987). He ruled the city fairly and justly, and shows his intelligence once again when he figured out that he was the cause if the plague that had fallen upon the city, and that he was the cause. Intelligence is a common character trait found in people today. The most obvious of Oedipus’ character traits was his arrogance. He was sure that Creon wanted his crown and believed that he was the only person in the world who could have saved the city from the sphinx’s plague. Oedipus “ who was beginning to believe, in the fifth century B.C., that he could seize control of his environment and make his own destiny, become, in fact, equated to the gods. ‘Oedipus shot his arrow far beyond the range of others’-the choral ode began-‘and accomplish the conquest of complete prosperity and happiness.’ (Knox, 6). This statement shows Oedipus’ arrogance in believing that he could become an equal to the gods. He was only a mortal and was basing this on the fact, once again, that he was the only person to save the city from the horrifying sphinx. Arrogance runs wild in the world today, mostly among leaders of underdeveloped and third world nations.
Oedipus the King was written by Sophocles around 430 B.C. It has become the most important tragedy ever written and also became the basis for most all tragedies written after it. Although it contains some material that seems foreign and out of place in modern times, most of it is still relevant. Even though it was written over 2000 years ago, Oedipus the King, by Sophocles, is still fitting and applicable in today’s society.
Knox, Bernard. “Sophocles’ Oedipus.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Sophocles
Oedipus Rex. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea, 1988. 5-22.
Walton, J. Michael. The Greek Sense of Theater. New York: Wethuen, 1984.
Meyer, Michael. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Boston: Bedford/St.
Sophocles. "Oedipus the King." Trans. Robert Fagles. The Three Theban Plays. New
York: Viking Penguin Incorporated, 1982. 155-252.
Donn, Jeff. History of Religion. New York: Plume, 1991.