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The Ancient Greeks loved the tragic heroes portrayed in theater. Sophocles, one of the greatest Greek playwrights, tells the tale of a king named Oedipus in his Greek tragedy, Oedipus the King. Oedipus exemplifies everything a Greek tragic hero should be: he is a person of extreme importance who suffers from a fatal flaw and his own grave errors or mistakes, but also learns from these afflictions. Apollo, the God of Truth, proclaims that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother. Both Oedipus and his father, Laius, try to deceive the Gods and create their own destiny, but to no avail. Laius, the king of Thebes, and his wife, Jocasta, leave their son at the bottom of a mountain near Thebes with his feet bound, believing their baby boy will die there. However, a shepherd finds Oedipus there and the baby is passed into the arms of Polybus, King of Corinth, believes is his birth father. Oedipus flees Corinth to escape his retched fate and becomes King of Thebes, after eliminating the city’s troublesome Sphinx. While attempting to discover Laius’ murderer, Oedipus slowly begins to realize that Laius was his father, he was the man who murdered him, and he is now married to his mother, Jocasta. In the process, the audience also watches as the tragic tale of a Greek hero unfolds.

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Being the king of Thebes, Oedipus is obviously a man of extreme importance – the first essential characteristic of a Greek tragic hero. Secondly, he possesses the major flaw of most of these heroes – hubris. After solving the riddle of the Sphinx, Oedipus feels invincible. He is the man who saves the city and is now the king, to whom everyone must bow down. He condescendingly refers to his people as “[his] children” and proudly recalls his title “Oedipus the Great”. He truly believes he himself can save his people again from the latest plague: “by myself and for myself I’ll break the plague.” Not only does he blatantly disrespect Tiresias, an elderly prophet, by calling him a “miserable old man”, but he also cries out, “You can’t hurt me!”. In the fourth episode, he even believes he “may play the prophet.” In his eyes, nothing can stop him, because he is “Fortune’s child.” In his actions with others and over-exuberant feelings about himself, Oedipus displays the tragic flaw that will be his downfall.

In his own mind, Oedipus is greater than the gods. This false ideal results in several actions that lead to grave mistakes. He thinks that he can out with the gods by ring to escape his own destiny. Another mistake is to seek the truth so adamantly. Tiresias promises the truth “will come out in time.” However, Oedipus demands the truth immediately. When Tiresias eventually states, “the murderer of the man whose murder you pursue is you,” Oedipus throws a fit of rage, unable to fathom this possibility because it is not the “truth” he wants to hear. In the third episode, Jocasta realizes the truth and pleads with Oedipus, “yet be persuaded, please. Do not proceed.” Yet, Oedipus persists. His two major mistakes – defying the gods and relentlessly pursuing the truth- give him the third characteristic of a tragic hero.
When Oedipus finally learns the truth and accepts it as reality, he suffers terribly. In addition to facing the reality of killing his father and marrying his mother, he find Jocasta dead, after she kills herself. He loses both his mother and his wife in the same instant. His voice fills with horror, and in despair he cries out, “wicked, wicked eyes! Go dark for all time blind to what you never should have seen, and blind to the love this heart has cried to see.” Oedipus gouges out his eyes with Jocasta’s pin. He punishes himself into a world of darkness where he alone can feel the anguish of the truths. Lastly, as all Greek tragic heroes do, Oedipus learns from his horrible catastrophe. The audience sees a once conceited king as now a humbled servan of the gogds. HE views himself as a “son of sin and sorrows,” and says, “My load is mine.” Oedipus realizes he is alone: “deserted, dark.”

Clearly, the unfortunate series of events in the life of Oedipus classify him as a Greek tragic hero. His role of importance, fatal flaw, grave mistakes, terrible consequences and the lessons he learns are all the necessary attributes. The King of Thebes falls because of hubris, his demand for the truth, and his defiance of the gods. These tree of the five necessary characteristics force Oedipus to fact the harsh reality of his situation, the suicide of his mother-wife, and his eternal darkness in the humility he learns.

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