Plague and Health
Another major theme in Oedipus the King deals with the ideas of plague and health. This theme can be taken as both literal, but metaphorical as well. This theme is literal in the sense that there is a genuine plague affecting Thebes. The health in Thebes only occurs at the end of the play when the plague has disappeared and after Oedipus blinds himself.
While others may have let the plague take its course, Oedipus decided to consult the oracle in Delphi, after seeing his people suffering. The plague is causing the fruit not to ripen, miscarriages, and death (Sophocles Lines 190-211). According to Apollo the only way for the plague to end is if the citizens of Thebes “Drive the corruption from the land, don’t harbor it any longer, past all cure, don’t nurse it in your soul-root it out” (Sophocles Lines 109-111). This quote by Creon means in order for the plague to stop, they need to find the person who killed Laius and either kill him or exile him. This may make the audience assume that the source of the plague is the killer of Laius. Oedipus unknowingly sentences himself to exile or death by agreeing to this in order to end the plague. Oedipus originally agreed to do this because he feared that “Whoever killed the king may decide to kill me too, with the same violent hand-by avenging Laius I defend myself” (Sophocles Lines 157-159). He was basically just trying to save himself more than he was trying to save the citizens of Thebes.
The idea of a metaphorical plague exists because there is something rotten that is affecting the moral state of Thebes. This is due to the fact that there is incestuous activity occurring between his mother, Jocasta, and Oedipus himself. The audience is able to understand how the citizens of Thebes feel after finding out about Oedipus fulfilling his prophecy through the use of the Chorus. Oedipus the King ends with a statement by the Chorus stating, “People of Thebes, my countrymen, look on Oedipus. He solved the famous riddle with his brilliance, he rose to power, a man beyond all power. Who could behold his greatness without envy? Now what a black sea of terror has overwhelmed him. Now as we keep our watch and wait the final day, count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last” (Sophocles Lines 1679-1685). This quote is significant because it shows how the attitudes towards Oedipus changed as Oedipus found out more about who he was. At the beginning he was a hero, but in a split second his life changed when he found out about the horrible things that he had done. The quote ends by saying that they will wait and watch Oedipus until he dies, when everyone can be happy including himself.
Prophecy, Oracles, and Predestination
Oedipus the King raises one big question, can a person escape their fate? With the use of irony, foreknowledge, and expectations, it seems that running away from one’s fate ultimately ensures that they are running towards it. In the background of the play it talks about...