The questions this play urges and my answer and comments of these.
Oedipus Rex is a play with a plot that all along leads to Oedipus’ misery which makes readers reflect on what is under our control and what isn’t as well as what is right to do and what isn’t.
Firstly i will give a short summary of the plot of Oedipus Rex, here is a very brief and simplified version I did of the origin of Oedipus Rex.
Here I have showed the story of Oedipus, the play begins with him at the top of his power, as the infamous King of Thebes and ends with Oedipus blind and exiled because he slowly unravels his origin. Any of us could suffer Oedipus’ misfortune therefore the least we can do is learn the important life lessons that Oedipus did: I will do so through questions.
1. Were the crimes that Oedipus committed bad even though he wasn’t aware of his blood relations with those involved?
I believe that Oedipus should be held accountable for killing his father. What I find interesting is that Oedipus doesn’t feel guilty for killing a stranger but once he finds out its his father he realises the crime he committed, or that it was a crime at all. Arguably people in greek times were more used to killings ,however, the act of killing is immoral, in my opinion, whether the person you kill is someone close to you or a stranger.
I don’t think Oedipus should be held accountable for having sex with his mother. He simply didn’t know it was her. This is different from killing his father because killing is bad regardless, while having sex isn’t. He was in love and wasn’t doing anything wrong, apart from doing so with him mother.
2. Why is incest bad?
This is a question that I cant help ask myself. Oedipus and Jocasta are in love in the beginning of the play and have four children together, if they didn’t have any relation there would be nothing wrong with their relationship. Try to imagine you being married and having sex with your dad/mom…I don’t particularly like what I see, not sure about you. However usually this is something that causes us to feel greatly disgusted…and that is nature’s work. Plants and even cockroaches have anti-incest mechanisms as a child from incest has a 50:50 change of having mental disabilities or a severe birth defect which doesn’t promote our survival as a species. Incest isn’t a crime because of the act but because of the circumstances which doesn’t make the act itself (sex) the crime but sex+ relation a crime. To conclude incest is wrong but because fo the circumstances which makes ita different crime from others where its usually the act that is the crime.
For example, I argue with my best friend and ask a close friend of mine to go Christmas shopping instead. Christmas shopping is what me and my best friend always do together so because of the circumstances what I just did with my other friend really hurt my best friend when she found out. Christmas shopping doesn’t hurt people (usually) but the circumstances can make that possible.
3. Was Oedipus in control of the events that occurred to him?
Blood and relatives are not under our control therefore Oedipus could not change who his parents were.
However a big reason for his downfall is his personality, which doesn’t allow him to calm down, listen to others but rather incessantly look for the truth, unaware of the consequences it has on those close to him- like his wife killing herself. There were many hints long before the discovery of the truth that Oedipus was the killer: he realises early on that the murder he once committed was at a triple crossroads which was where Laius was murdered too and realises that he might have been the killer. He could have simply stopped knowing that this was going to turn against him – but he didn’t. Whether his personality is under his control is arguable. Many events that occur in one’s life change them but not entirely, some aspects come from genes that come from parents. Because Oedipus didn’t grow up with his biological parents he might have noticed differences and always felt like he didnt belong increasing his desire to find out to the truth to finally know where he belongs and prove himself that he was right – the king and queen of Corinth weren’t his parents.
His actions were fully under his control. They were influenced by his personality and blood relations but they were still up to him to decide – he decided to kill the man who annoyed him and to sleep with the woman he married.
Oedipus appears to be a small piece in a bigger game, unaware of what the game being played is and that thinks he is under control. In the play it’s the gods that are governing the game but it could also be fate. Fate means everything that isn’t under Oedipus’ control that happens from his actions or not, Jocasta being his mother, Laius his father, him trying to save the city but destroying himself.
Lastly Oedipus was in control of his actions, but not in full control as these were influenced by other factors ( blood relations, love, personality) while the rules of these actions and other key pieces of information he wasn’t aware of were not under his control but under fate’s.
4. Is a life in the dark better than a life in a bright shitty world?
In the beginning of the play Oedipus is completely blind to the truth. he doesn’t know who his parents are. That he was born in the castle he now lives in, that his wife is his mother, his sons and daughters his siblings and the man he killed his father. However that is when he is the happiest in the play. Once he knows all that i just mentioned he gouges his eyes out to never see again. Knowing Oedipus, if asked, he would probably do it all again and not choose to live in the dark but happy however what would you do? Instantaneously I would choose to stay in the dark and live a wonderful life however if i give it further thought i would rather know the truth.
For example, I really enjoy singing however i would rather know whether i am good or bad before performing in public. And most importantly i would want to know whether the performance was good or not instead f it being painfully horrible and everyone telling me that it was great and i should pursue it as a career.
Obviously Oedipus’ situation is a little more inconvenient that being bad at singing and not knowing however the reason why I would choose to know is because I would hate being so ignorant about who I am all along. I would hate no knowing who i am and my true nature as well as that of my marriage. Oedipus might have had a ‘horrible’ life however from the Greece’s till now people learn from his story still. There wouldn’t be much to learn about someone oblivious and happy anyways, but there is lots to learn from someone miserable but cult.
5. What is rock bottom?
Often we contemplate what success would look like, how many cars, clothes, invention we could do however we barely ever consider what the worst worst worst case scenario would be: Oedipus Rex challenges that. Arguably at the end of the play Oedipus has reached rock bottom, he has lost his home,wife, rank, daughters, father and sight. Is becoming Oedipus the worst thing that could happen to you? It’s interesting that this play was written in Ancient Greece but what rock bottom looks like hasn’t changed. Try to visualise what living without the people and things Oedipus lost, or even better doing so for a short period of time (I am in no way encouraging you to gouge your eyes out but maybe wearing a sleep mask would be better hahah). I am suer that this will make anyone who tries it grateful for everything they have. Especially as in lockdown we can feel stuck at home unable to leave with our relatives this exercise is extremely relevant.
6. How do we minimise OUR CHANCE of hitting rock bottom?
As the story of Oedipus shows, just as he was escaping Corinth to avoid killing his father and sleeping with his mother, he did just that and was heading to Thebes were he married his mom. Therefore some things that will contribute to us hitting rock bottom aren’t under our control, in fact most things aren’t. However whether we get in unfavourable circumstances but consider that rock bottom is totally up to us. Something that Stoics practice is controlling our emotions, not suppressing them but controlling them. They decide whether it is the best thing to do to despair and hate oneself or whether feeling grateful for these negative experiences and learning from them is better for them. If you think you are at your lowest ever now think again about what happened to Oedipus and whether worst things could happen to you and how those would feel like, secondly choose how you can actively feel and change the way your perceive the negative in your life.
7. Key lessons to learn:
- We could all be Oedipus.
- We can choose how we react to bad things in our life.
- There is no rock bottom.
- Choose truth over ignorance.
- Don’t worry about what isn’t under your control.
- Make sure you reflect before doing or saying things that are under your control.
- Crimes can be bad because of the action done but also for the circumstances.