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Prophecy in Oedipus Rex

Instructor: Rachel Noorda
This lesson looks at prophecy in 'Oedipus Rex', a Greek tragedy written by Sophocles. Find out how King Oedipus's efforts to avoid having several chilling prophecies come true lead to death and ruin in this classic play.

Defining Prophecy

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. 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.

Overview of Oedipus Rex

In Oedipus Rex, the title character seeks the advice of an oracle, 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 by 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.

The Prophecies

Key prophecies in Oedipus Rex include: 1) Laius will be killed by his son, 2) Oedipus will marry his mother and 3) Oedipus will go blind. Let's see what role Oedipus plays in making them come true.

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.

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