Oedipus: Protagonist, Not Hero

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Oedipus: Protagonist, Not Hero Sophocles’ protagonist in the Oedipus trilogy is one of the most complex characters in Greek drama. Though he is presented, in many ways, as a hero figure, he is by turns cynical, selfish, self-aggrandizing, and melodramatic. He is certainly deeply flawed, and the reader or viewer is conscious of this throughout the reading or seeing of the play. Though Oedipus is the “hero” of the cycle of three plays, he is fundamentally selfish and ruthless, and ultimately blinded not just physically by his own hand, but emotionally and symbolically, by his own arrogance as well. One of Oedipus’ last speeches in “Oedipus the King” is particularly telling regarding this point. Oedipus is speaking of the major events of the play, which have already taken place. He has blinded himself because he has inadvertently killed his father and had an affair with his own mother. He speaks to characters on stage, but is also speaking, as is the usual form in Greek tragedies, in soliloquy. He says: “Do not counsel me any more. This punishment That I have laid upon myself is just. If I had eyes, I do not know how I could bear the sight Of my father, when I came to the house of Death, Or my mother for I have sinned against them both So vilely that I could not make my peace By strangling my own life. Or do you think my children, Born as they were born, would be sweet to my eyes? Ah never, never! Nor this town with its high walls, Nor the holy images of the gods” (Sophocles 71). It seems that Oedipus meant to make an example of himself by gouging his own eyes out. He is, in a way, martyring himself via this extreme and painful punishment. The self-mutilation and subsequent blindness are supposed to be a punishment for killing his father, marrying his mother, and thus bringing a curse upon Thebes. Oedipus had promised at the play’s opening
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