The Oedipus Plays

by: Sophocles

Oedipus the King, lines 1311–1684

After we learn of Oedipus’s self-inflicted blinding, Oedipus enters, led by a boy (1432)—a clear visual echo of the Tiresias’s entrance at line 337. Oedipus has become like the blind prophet whose words he scorned. Unable to see physically, he is now possessed of an insight, or an inner sight, that is all too piercing and revealing. Though the Chorus is fascinated with the amount of physical pain Oedipus must be in after performing such an act, Oedipus makes no mention of physical pain. Like Tiresias, he has left the concerns of the physical world behind to focus on the psychological torment that accompanies contemplation of the truth.

Once the mystery of Laius’s murder has been solved, Creon quickly transfers the power to himself. Even in his newfound humbleness, Oedipus still clings to some trappings of leadership, the most pathetic example being his command to Creon to bury Jocasta as he sees fit. Oedipus finds it difficult to leave the role of commander, which is why he tries to preempt Creon’s power by asking Creon to banish him. Creon, however, knows that Oedipus no longer has any real control. Creon is brusque and just as efficient a leader as Oedipus was at the beginning of the play. Just as Oedipus anticipated the Chorus’s demand for a consultation with the oracle in the first scene, so Creon has anticipated Oedipus’s request for banishment now: when Oedipus requests banishment, Creon says that he’s already consulted “the god” about it (1574). Creon has also anticipated Oedipus’s desire to see his daughters, and has them brought onstage and taken away again.

Mostly because he is contrasted with Creon, Oedipus becomes a tragic figure rather than a monster in the play’s final moments. Though throughout the play Oedipus has behaved willfully and proudly, he has also been earnest and forthright in all of his actions. We trust Oedipus’s judgment because he always seems to mean what he says and to try to do what he believes is right. His punishment of blindness and exile seems just, therefore, because he inflicted it upon himself. Creon, on the other hand, has the outward trappings of Oedipus’s candid, frank nature, but none of its substance. “I try to say what I mean; it’s my habit,” Creon tells Oedipus in the play’s final lines, but the audience perceives this to be untrue (1671). Creon’s earlier protestations that he lacked the desire for power are proved completely false by his eagerness to take Oedipus’s place as king, and by the cutting ferocity with which he silences Oedipus at the end of the play. At the end of the play, one kind of pride has merely replaced another, and all men, as the Chorus goes on to say, are destined to be miserable.