Sophocles “Oedipus Rex”

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    To a disturbing degree though. Here, blood not only damns Oedipus; it seems to deny him agency. His actions are free, but not free since the information he would need to make free choices is withheld from him. He is cursed from birth to enact a punishment ordered by Apollo and to receive punishment for the contract killing. Nothing he does allows him to escape nature; he finally blinds himself to escape the sight of what he has done. Even crueler, Iocasta is driven to kill herself over a curse that clings to her by marriage. In the end, family ties are so strong that none of us can escape them.

    I’m reminded of the blasphemy thread.

    Given that blasphemy back then was exceptionally different from blasphemy today, I’m wondering if the various (Capital-S) Sins didn’t have similar disparity… perhaps even to the point where “intent” was seen as secondary to what was actually done, if not tertiary.

    And if the Sin of Patricide was one of the Big Sins, then of course the Erinyes would come up. That’s what they do.

    With that said, however, it’s hard not to hear echoes of Job in your opening. After we get through the one and a half chapters with special effects, we’re treated to a Beckett play in which the audience gets to see all of the arguments given by God’s “defenders” and how they don’t measure up to the secrets that we were told in the first little bit…

    And we, the audience, get to watch our emotions toyed with as we see exactly how unjust everything that happens to the protagonist actually is… but, quite honestly, God is God and His Creation is His Creation and Rules are Rules.

    The caprice of the Gods was a huge problem for us, the audience, until we got a Devil worth calling “evil”, I reckon…Report

    • Avatar BCChase says:

      “The caprice of the Gods was a huge problem for us, the audience, until we got a Devil worth calling “evil”, I reckon…” – Jaybird

      I think it still is, even with the advent of the Devil. The problem of an omnipotent or even mostly-potent God allowing pain to occur is still one of the prime arguments against belief in theological and practical terms, and it shows quite often in current literature and culture, it seems to me. Even in Job, much of the animus in from the reader is against God for letting this happen to a pious man to prove a point, rather than the Devil for fulfilling his purpose and drive. If we posit a God or Gods with power over the Devil, their caprice will always be a problem.Report

      • Avatar Rufus says:

        “If we posit a God or Gods with power over the Devil, their caprice will always be a problem.” I’ve always had a much harder time with the idea of the Devil than with God. It seems to me very easy to visualize an omniscient and loving Being, but when I try to imagine “Satan”, I just think of the absence of that, which is not much.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Without pushing the “Crazy Jaybird” button and giving my speech about how the evolution of Satan directly co-incided with the evolution of The State’s power over the individual, I’d say that “The Devil” was intended to be a solution to how a loving, powerful God could allow bad things to happen.

          Hey. It’s a war. It’s not God’s fault. He still loves us… but wars have casualties and we aren’t at the end of days yet.

          Of course, thinking about this brings us to about just as many problems as we had with Monotheism… but, on an emotional level, Mani totally makes a great deal of, well, sense is the wrong word… it *RESONATES*. God *IS* good and bad things *DO* happen. Hell, this popped up and was a best seller when Kirshner dressed it up with 70’s language. It still troubles us.

          It’ll haunt us until doomsday.Report

          • Avatar Rufus says:

            I guess the pessimistic flip-side of my beliefs is that it doesn’t really disturb me to think that God is good and bad things do happen, mostly because it’s hard for me to conceptualize His caring greatly about me.

            Incidentally, have you seen “A Serious Man”? It’s a pretty great take on the Job story and I felt much more comfortable with the Coen brother’s answer to why bad things happen to good people, which struck me as being, basically, “Ah, who can say? Embrace the mystery.” Which brings up a thought- do Taoists even think about this question?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Which brings up a thought- do Taoists even think about this question?

              I find that this is where the afterlives are most interesting.

              Christians (WARNING! SWEEPING GENERALIZATION ALERT!!!) generally resort to “His ways are not our ways, someday we will understand, on that day all of our tears will be wiped away and then we will exist the way we always ought to have existed… within Him, eternally.”

              Taoists (and many Eastern Religions) tend toward the “the point is to get off this wheel.”

              The Christians move to Life Eternal and finally understanding, and the Taoists move to annihilation.

              Maybe that’s how they deal with it.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Could reincarnation explain this question by going backwards? Like, “Of course, Job is having it bad now; he must have been a jerk in a previous incarnation”? I’ve never heard that from Hindus. Taoism was the hardest course I took in university, and honestly I remember almost nothing about it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I wasn’t saying that re-incarnation was how they dealt with the caprice of the gods, but that annihilation was.

                “Screw you gods, I’m audi.”, if you will.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Yeah, I heard that. I was just thinking reincarnation might be another way to explain it. I’ve certainly heard hippies say as much. But, definitely, anihilation is another sort of parting gift to make up for a lousy life.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                So when something bad happens, I take the role of my own Eliphaz? Or, indeed, when something bad happens, I do that for everybody?Report

    • Avatar Rufus says:

      Yeah, I was thinking of Job but forgot to talk about it. It’s a really similar story and I think what I find sort of callous in Sophocles is that he doesn’t even think we need an explanation and he doesn’t seem to be particularly troubled himself- of course, Oedipus gets it in the neck; after all, Apollo can do that. I think the idea of a bloodline curse is a way of explaining not so much why bad things happen to good people as the fact that often great things happen to shit heels. I mean, if you’re a slave and the king is a real bastard who lives a long and comfortable life, there’s something reassuring about thinking, “I’ll be dead and won’t see it, but your sins are going to be visited on your kids!” Of course, that all changes when you have such stark options for the afterlife. Even with an afterlife and considering all the explanations, Job’s lot seems pretty unfair. I remember an old joke in which Job pleads for an explanation and God says, “Honestly, Job, there’s just something about you that pisses me off!”Report

  2. “Oedipus vows to find the killer and bring him to justice.”

    Wasn’t this vow a big part of the problem with Oedipus? Back in “olden times”, when you made a vow, it really, really meant something. There wasn’t any wiggle room.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Well, he does fulfill it. He just has a really hard time accepting what he uncovers. Which, given the circumstances, is pretty understandable.

      Incidentally, there’s a David Lynch movie called Lost Highway, in which a man kills his wife and then mentally invents an entirely new identity who didn’t kill anyone. When asked, Lynch has basically said, “I was thinking of OJ”.Report