Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King

The Eyes Have It: Oedipus and Responsibility in Ancient Greek Society

Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus is a play about one man's actions, both intentional and unintentional, and the necessary punishment for those actions. Regardless of whether he was manipulated by the gods or self-motivated, Oedipus must take responsibility for his deeds and their consequences. His reaction to the course his life has run is an important reflection of ancient Greek society. The play blurs the line between a shame-based culture and a guilt-based culture. Scholars argue that in the 5th century B.C., when the play was written, the Greeks were transitioning from the former to the latter. In order to understand how Oedipus Tyrannus represents this, it will be necessary to better define shame, guilt, and responsibility as the Greeks viewed them. Specifically, it must be shown how the character of Oedipus demonstrates all three of these concepts in a way that would have likely conflicted Sophocles' audience.

Oedipus was destined by the gods to kill his father and sleep with his mother. When given knowledge of this, he ran away from his city and family in order to escape this fate. Later, he became the tyrannus of the city of Thebes, rescuing it from the curse of the Sphinx and marrying the widowed queen. In...

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