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In most of his poetics, Aristotle gives the fundamental qualities of a tragic hero. He argues that a tragic hero, usually the protagonist, must experience a reversal of fortune in his lifetime but he also must come to a new realization about himself even though it is through the hardest way. Focusing on the play “Oedipus the king”, this work will discuss into detail how the fortune of the protagonist is reversed, how he recognizes himself as well as the consequences that follow him after the realization.
Oedipus is the king of Thebes who takes over after the death of his father. Oedipus kills his father unknowingly among a group of other travelers when he is in his way from Corinth where he is brought up. Since his birth, Oedipus as the protagonist and the tragic hero of this drama, Oedipus has been experiencing a reversal of fortune since his childhood. First, we find that Oedipus is born to a royal family but he does not enjoy this privilege. His life is affected by a prophecy that is made long before he is born as a result of his father’s mistakes. Immediately he is born, his parents order that he is killed because when he grows up, he will kill his father and make his mother his wife. His life therefore takes a reversal of fortune the moment he is abandoned by his parents (Lawall, 2002, p. 16). However, the shepherd who is given the mandate to perform the killing pities with the little boy and instead of killing him, he takes him to another shepherd who hands him over to the royal family of the city of Corinth. The fact that he is born to a royal family means that he is supposed to be the heir of the kingdom given that he is the first born. This is thus the beginning of the many obstacles that he will meet in life before he comes to realize who he really is.
The second obstacle that Oedipus encounters is that he is blind to the things that happen to him. He does not realize earlier who he really is. He therefore lives in darkness until when he is old enough. While in Corinth, the king and queen treat him as their own blood and he lives in darkness thinking that is his real home. He however realizes that he does not belong to this family when someone mentions to him in a function that he is not a biological child of the royal family. He is determined to find the truth about his identity (Lawall, 2002, p. 18). In the process, he is told at the oracle that he will kill his own father and make his widow his wife. This prophecy confuses him even more. He has been thinking these people to be his really parents and he had been considered as the firstborn thus he was going to be the heir of the Corinth kingdom. His realization that he did not belong to the royal family at Corinth acted as an obstacle for his fortune because he left Corinth and became homeless for sometime. The fact that he takes relatively longer in his journey delays him from coming to Thebes where he would meet his real father in time.
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Despite the fact that Oedipus meets challenges wherever he goes, he does not give up in looking for his true identity. He first realizes himself when he is told that he is not the son of the king of Corinth. The journey that he takes is partly for the purpose of escaping the prophecy and partly in looking for the truth about himself. He continues with his journey and he finally arrives at Thebes, his home country though he is not aware. But before he comes to Thebes, a group of travelers attack him on the way and while trying to defend himself, he kills all of them except one. He thus kills his father without his knowledge (Sophocles & Johnston, 2007, p. 41). He proceeds with his journey and arrives to Thebes after several years.
Here he answers a riddle and he is made the king of Thebes. As the new king, it is customary that he inherits the widow of the late king. He thus marries his own mother blindly and he becomes the father to his own siblings (Sophocles & Johnston, 2007, p. 14). All these things happen not because he wills to do them but because he is not aware and also because of external forces caused by the gods. His life is full of misfortunes; when he tries to solve one problem, another problem comes as a result of the solution. Oedipus therefore goes through all these misfortunes and as suggested by Aristotle, he comes to his senses when he realizes his true identity.
Oedipus realizes his true identity later in life though through the hardest way. He realizes his true identity when a tragedy strikes Thebes and as the king, everyone looks unto him for a solution (Lawall, 2002, p. 21). The only solution to it is to eliminate the murderer from the city of Thebes. Oedipus is therefore determined to identify the murderer and promises his people that he will do all he can to ensure that the murderer is killed (Sophocles & Johnston, 2007, p. 76). He therefore asks for Tiresais, the prophet to come and give any information he has pertaining the murder. Tiresais comes but so sad that Oedipus notes and says that “you have come, but so sad” (Sophocles & Johnston, 2007, p. 19) is lamenting in his heart because he knows the murderer is Oedipus himself and therefore he refuses to tell him and instead he says that the murderer will be a brother and father of his siblings and his mother will be his wife (Sophocles & Johnston, 2007, p. 25). Oedipus gets angry at this and he calls for the shepherd who survived the murder to come and confirm if he truly is the son of king Laius. The shepherd comes and affirms that he is the one who gave Oedipus to the king of Corinth when he was still young.
His realization of the truth is as a result of him assistive and stubborn nature. While Tiresais and the shepherd try to hide to him what they know because it would affect the people of Thebes, he still insists regardless of what the outcome would be. He therefore struggles with them as his mother persuades him not to do so because it may land him into trouble (Sophocles & Johnston, 2007, p. 51). The shepherd affirms that Oedipus was taken to Corinth when he was still young because his father, Laius, feared that Oedipus would kill his as it was prophesied (Sophocles & Johnston, 2007, p. 53). If it were not for his persistence and the urgency he showed the shepherd that he really wanted to know the truth, he would have continued to live in darkness for the rest of his life. It is at this time that Oedipus realizes his true identity; that he is the son of Laius and he killed his father and slept with his mother as it was prophesied (Sophocles & Johnston, 2007, p. 53). It is at this point that his eyes open and sees the truth about himself. He starts remembering all the incidents that have been happening and associate them with the prophecy. Had he known his coming out of Corinth would lead him into killing his own father, he would not have dared.
After realizing who he really is, Oedipus came to regret all his actions saying that everything was facilitated by the gods. The consequences of his recognition are much greater than the hardship and struggles that the protagonist endures. When he realizes that he has committed a crime against the society by killing the king, who is also his father, and marrying his own mother, Oedipus becomes mad and curses why he was born. He screams as he goes to the palace where he finds his mother already dead. He then stubs his eyes with the pins from his mother’s robe and comes out to order that he be expelled from Thebes (Sophocles & Johnston, 2007, p. 66). His purpose for blinding himself is to ensure that he does not see again the evil he has done to his family and the society. He also does it as a way of punishing himself for his evil deeds. He also gives up his thrown and asks Creon to become the king of Thebes and he leaves for the exile. He goes to wonder in the wilderness and finally goes to Colonus where he dies (Sophocles & Johnston, 2007, p. 66). Thus he becomes helpless and homeless having lost his sight, his parents and the kingdom as well. Therefore his realization brings him to a downfall. From a prince who lives to become a respected king to a hopeless beggar who is blind and waiting to die in the wilderness. His life consequently becomes miserable and eventually dies under the care of his daughter.
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