A prophecy is a statement about a future event. Prophecy and unavoidable fate go hand-in-hand, especially in Greek tragedies. No matter how hard characters try to escape these prophetic statements, fateful outcomes prove unavoidable.
In Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, the main character, King Oedipus, tries very hard to avoid his fate, but instead ends up playing a crucial role in making not just one, but several prophecies come true. In the process of trying to escape his future, Oedipus becomes the victim of a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is, indeed, when everything someone does to avoid an outcome they believe is certain ends up leading to the very outcome they were trying to avoid. Let's take a quick look at the plot of Oedipus Rex before delving into the prophecies that play a key role in this Greek tragedy.
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Oedipus Rex Overview
In Oedipus Rex, the title character seeks the advice of an oracle, which is a person who predicts the future, when his kingdom, the city of Thebes, is threatened by a plague. According to the oracle, the only way to avoid the plague is bringing the murderer of King Oedipus's predecessor, Laius, to justice. Oedipus's wife, Jocasta, was married to Laius at the time he was killed. To save his city, King Oedipus decides to find Laius's murderer.
Oedipus is outraged when Tiresias, a blind seer, accuses him of killing King Laius. However, Jocasta tells him to ignore and not to worry about Tiresias's prophecy because based on her own experience, she doesn't believe it to be true.
Key prophecies in Oedipus Rex include:
- Laius will be killed by his son
- Oedipus will marry his mother
- Oedipus will go blind
Let's see what role Oedipus plays in making them come true.
1. Laius Will Be Killed by His Son
Prior to the opening of the play, the Oracle at Delphi prophesied to King Laius and Queen Jocasta that Laius's son would kill him. When Oedipus is born to Laius and Jocasta, Laius orders him killed, and Oedipus is left on a mountain to die. After Oedipus is saved by a shepherd and raised by another king, he also learns that he's destined to kill his father. To avoid his fate, Oedipus leaves home.
On the road to Thebes, Oedipus runs into Laius on the road. During a moment of chariot road rage, they get in a fight, and Oedipus kills Laius.
2. Oedipus Will Marry His Mother
The Oracle at Delphi also prophesied that Oedipus would marry his mother. By running away from his father and mother, Oedipus tries to escape his fate, not knowing that the couple who raised him were not his real parents after all. When Oedipus finally locates the shepherd that saved him on the mountaintop, he learns that Laius and Jocasta are his biological parents. When Queen Jocasta realizes that she has married her own son, she kills herself.
3. Oedipus Will Go Blind
Tiresias also prophesied that Oedipus would end up blind, ''clad in beggar's weeds'' and hobbling around with his staff in a strange land. After Oedipus discovers that he himself is Laius's murderer and that he has married his own mother, Oedipus is so horrified by what he has done that he takes a pin from Jocasta's gown and stabs himself in the eyes. At the end of the play, when Oedipus is blind, banished, and begging, he realizes that the prophecies have come true.
All right, let's take a moment or two to review. In Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, prophecies, or predictions about future events, are used to move the plot forward. In this Greek tragedy, oracles, or people who foretell the future, predict that Oedipus will kill his father, marry his mother, and go blind. As part of a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is when everything someone does to avoid an outcome they believe is certain ends up leading to the very outcome they were trying to avoid, Oedipus learns about the real circumstances surrounding his birth and destiny while trying to save his kingdom from a plague. After discovering that he killed his own father on the road to Thebes and that the widowed queen he married was actually his own mother, Oedipus blinds himself with a pin.
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Prophecy in Oedipus Rex
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