Sophocles' Oedipus Rex Essay

1688 words - 7 pages

Sophocles' Oedipus Rex As the plot in Sophocles' famous play Oedipus Rex unfolds, many aspects of the relationship between ancient Greeks and their gods are revealed. It demonstrates that the people could call upon the gods in times of distress, how the gods could cause widespread disasters if a population displeased them, how arrogance and ignorance of the gods' powers would lead to disaster, and most importantly, how the gods were believed to control the individual destinies of each and every one of their mortal subjects. It is also important to note that what Sophocles implies about morality applies more within human relationships than it does in a religious context.
In the first scene of the play, it is very apparent that the city of Thebes is experiencing rough times. Oedipus, the city's ruler, leaves his palace and sees the priests and citizens troubled about the plague that has ravaged their community. It is obvious that many of them are appealing to the gods for mercy and help. They are carrying branches that have been covered with wool, a customary gift for the gods. The ancient Greeks believed the gods could be persuaded to assist with a cause through gifts and prayer. They also thought epidemics and disasters to be caused directly by displeased divine forces. One priest says, "A God that carries fire, a deadly pestilence, is on our town, strikes us and spares not." In lines 168 – 215, the chorus describes, in great detail, the suffering of the people. They plead for relief. They say such things as, "From these our sufferings grant us, O golden Daughter of Zeus… grant that [the savage God who burns us] turn in racing course backwards out of our country's bounds… smite the War God, Father Zeus… for the God that is our enemy is a God unhonoured among the Gods." It is clear from these lines that ancient Greeks held a belief that deities controlled everyday life in a direct, major way, but in all their power were not unreachable.
Regardless of how significant the will of the gods was viewed to be, the story still portrays Oedipus disregarding them. After line 215, Oedipus returns to the scene and vows to end the plague and answer the prayers of the tormented citizens himself. Earlier, Oedipus and the public learned the reason for the plague from the oracle at Delphi's messages. The curse was entirely due to the fact that the murderer of Laius, previous ruler of Thebes, was still living within the city walls. Oedipus, with his pride and arrogance, does not ask the gods for assistance at all. He announces to the people, "For what you ask me—if you will hear my words, and hearing welcome them and fight the plague, you will find...

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