Oh it’s terrible when the one who does the judging judges things all wrong.
Early in Antigone, a sentry tells Creon that someone has buried Polynices’ body despite Creon’s law forbidding such an action. Creon does not take the news well and immediately blames the sentry, accusing him of breaking the law himself for money. Here, the sentry’s response to the accusation foreshadows one of the trilogy’s unifying themes: Humans often “see” things incorrectly. Blindness in these plays is both literal and figurative. Significant characters in each play do not see the truth as they are often blinded by their own pride and strong will.
Bind as you are, you can feel all the more what sickness haunts our city. You, my lord, are the one shield, the one savior we can find.
Here, Oedipus speaks to the blind prophet Tiresias, who despite his blindness can see the truth. This line is the first of many in Oedipus the King that indicate how characters who are literally blind can “see” the truth better than the characters with sight. When Oedipus asks him to reveal Laius’s murderer, Tiresias refuses to answer and instead asks Oedipus to send him home. Oedipus refuses the request and forces Tiresias to reveal what he knows. Tiresias’s explanation, that Oedipus himself is the corruption, triggers the rest of the play’s action.
So, you mock my blindness? Let me tell you this,
You with your precious eyes,
you’re blind to the corruption of your life,
to the house you live in, those you live with.
Tiresias finally lets Oedipus hear the truth for which he has begged, and when he finally speaks it aloud, he holds nothing back. Tiresias predicts that once Oedipus “sees” the truth of his life, he will scream in agony. At this point in the play, the details are yet to be revealed, but Tiresias’s words foreshadow exactly what will happen. Oedipus accuses Tiresias of speaking absurd filth, and dismisses Tiresias’s words entirely because they are too painful to bear.
Not a man on earth can see a day ahead, groping through the dark. Better to live at random, best we can.
Jocasta, Oedipus’s mother and wife, tries desperately to talk Oedipus out of believing the unfolding truth about his origins and his life. She begs him to live in the present moment, ignoring both the prophesies of the past and the inevitabilities of the future. She even suggests that most men have imagined sleeping with their mothers, which became the source of the term “Oedipus complex” first used by psychologist Sigmund Freud. The theme that human life is nothing more than a grope through the dark prevails throughout the trilogy, but its expression is never more poignant than at this moment.
Oh blind, blind, poor man . . . no eyes, no sight—tell me, were you blind from birth? Your life a life of pain and the year long, it’s all too clear . . .
The Chorus speaks these lines to Oedipus early in Oedipus at Colonus. In this play, a now physically blind Oedipus is guided by his daughter, Antigone. The Chorus does not recognize Oedipus as the king he once was. Their simple question whether Oedipus was “blind from birth” is loaded with meaning. In fact, he was metaphorically blind to the truth of his birth for much of his life; when Oedipus finally learned the truth, he physically blinded himself by poking out his eyes with the long gold pins from his dead wife’s brooches.