Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Section 4 Analysis (lines 768-997)

In this section, Oedipus shows his less desirous traits, traits that liken him to the paranoid tyrant described by the Chorus starting at line 963 (though the Chorus does not refer directly to him, the allusions are certainly present.)

Jocasta dismisses the oracle, displaying her irreverence toward the gods, and is perhaps why such heavy consequences are levied against her. The audience also learns the origin Oedipus's name, which in Greek refers to his swollen foot—a deformity caused by the binding of his ankles. The dramatic irony continues to build here as Jocasta comforts Oedipus by telling him of a prophecy the characters didn't believe came true, but that the audience knows did (ll. 780-800). Sophocles is highlighting Jocasta's arrogance and ignorance, and Oedipus condones her statements, which might be another reason he suffers so much at the hands of divinity.

This section contains the first mention of the crossroads too—an important symbol in the play. It is at the crossroads that Oedipus, by killing his father Laius, really commits fully to his terrible fate. The mention of the crossroads is also what triggers Oedipus to begin to realize his horrible destiny: "My god, my god—what have you planned to do to me?" (l. 813). Oedipus's realization is coupled with yet another ironic sight simile (connected with him gouging out his eyes): "Ai—now I can see it all, clear as day" (l. 830), and again in line 848: "I've reached this pitch of dark foreboding." Remember, these are only a few examples—Sophocles uses eye and seeing references constantly throughout the work.

The audience, knowing the story of Oedipus, is now shown that by trying to escape his fate, Oedipus was driven to it. This is indeed tragic. What was his flaw? Did he have one, and if so, would his tragic fate have been averted if he corrected his flaw or mistake? This is a complex work, and there are no easy answers to these questions, which are some of the reasons this work has endured for so long. The Chorus reinforces the sense that man has no chance against the gods, though it does remark that if the prophecies don't come true, there is little reason to seek out the oracles.

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