Oedipus Rex as the Ideal Tragic Hero of Aristotle

Oedipus Rex is one of the classical and tragic stories narrated by Sophocles. Throughout the story, Oedipus is a King who faces many challenges which seem to be classified as a tragic flaws of life. After he was born, his parents prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother. To avoid that, the parents pinned him in the desert and left him to die. However, a shepherd took him and delivered him to their King. After many years, Oedipus joined the army which went to fight in his parental kingdom and unwittingly killed his father. Ideally, Oedipus struggles to be away from the evil of life but seems that doom invites itself each day. Based on Aristotle’s tragedy of theory, tragic heroes are un-perfect but hold tragic flaws.

Predominantly, Aristotle is a philosopher who likes to theorize drama regarding the flow of tragedy. The young King Oedipus’s life was full of classical tragedies that are based on his birth prophecy. To compare King Oedipus’s tragic heroism to Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, there must be an examination of the qualities and circumstances that led to the problems. Specifically, Aristotle states that a tragic hero must be a high-position person who lives life in prosperity but falls into misfortune due to poor character. A term referred to as “Hamartia” is used to describe the protagonist’s weakness based on their tragedies. On the first Aristotelian principle of tragedy, the character must be powerful and intelligent but never a perfect person. Looking into King Oedipus, as powerful as he won many battles and was hailed from two powerful royal families.

Consequently, the depraved moral expectation shows how some tragic flaws were unjustifiable such as in the case of Oedipus. However, Aristotle argues that even though the story shows him as a tragic hero who was never perfect, Oedipus was full of self-righteousness and pride. Therefore, in his position, he is just clueless and fails like a common man. In which the human position makes us realize the tragedy, Aristotle disregards the case stating that Oedipus ought to use his position and intelligence. Furthermore, the case of Oedipus sees to highlights how an influential man like him would commit errors in their cause of judgment and end up suffering fatal consequences. After Oedipus kills his father, he marries his mother unknowingly and sires two daughters. This aspect emphasizes the tragedy of his fate, which comes from his qualities and circumstances and is not subject to his control.

Most importantly, Oedipus was a good King but as a great man in society, circumstances led him to a tragedy. As a good king of their time, Oedipus refers to his people as his children. Moreover, the character devotes himself and his reign not only to avoiding evil but also to fighting it. Oedipus is extremely concerned about the problems of his people and is also in a constant search for truth, which also adds to the tragedy of his fate. In particular, when the plague broke out, Oedipus does not sleep and seemed to suffer alone for the whole city. He avoids communicating with people through messengers, preferring direct contact with them, as he is extremely concerned about the situation. Oedipus is glorified as a wise ruler who is well-versed in the ways of the gods and the affairs of mortals. Thus, he gained his power not only through his ancestry but rather because of his reason and intellect. Oedipus always became the salvation of his people, it was he who solved the riddle of the Sphinx.

Oedipus appears as a morally developed personality and a role model in this regard. He is adamant in his search for truth as well as the welfare of people. It is noteworthy that despite his confidence in his understanding of reality in the desire to avoid his unhappy fate, he also fears committing wrong actions. Oedipus also respects the oracles who predicted this path for him, despite their opposition. In the end, the character surrenders to fate, but his moral fortitude in the search for truth underlines his purity. However, these aspects also highlight the lack of Oedipus – hamartia.

The story of how Oedipus resists his fate and tries to change it shows his inner flaws. Arrogance and overconfidence, as well as a belief in the ability to control life around him, lead to his collapse. As noted, Oedipus trusts his understanding and perception of reality, which often leads him to errors of judgment. In this case, his vice consists precisely of this, since his excessive pride leads him to a false analysis of his situation. Oedipus overestimated his abilities and decided based on his judgments to challenge not only the gods but also fate itself. With all this, he kills a man who could potentially be his father and also marries a woman who could very well be his mother. Oedipus does not doubt these aspects, he is blinded by his pride and does not assess the situation fairly.

If we consider the behavior of Oedipus in the framework of the understanding of Sophocles, we can conclude that he does not approve of such aspirations. In particular, Sophocles believed that giving too much importance to the human potential of understanding and shape life was a kind of vice of his contemporary society. Thus, the author of the myth emphasizes that it is wrong to fight for one’s destiny which leads to tragic consequences. This story is a moral and moral admonition to the contemporaries of Sophocles, who probably began to attach excessive importance to human actions within the framework of their destiny.

Perhaps Oedipus could have avoided his fate by taking certain measures to warn himself against tragic events. First of all, he needed to evaluate the prediction itself and protect himself from the fulfillment of its aspects. So he could swear not to kill an elderly man or marry an elderly woman. However, Oedipus does not assess the situation but succumbs to the impulses of his blind pride and excessive faith in his abilities. Although he is a great man, he is in a stalemate, which underlines his tragedy. Notwithstanding all his merits, he is unable to get what he wants due to the circumstances and features of his character.

He is heroic due to the struggles he has to overcome from birth but also holds a pitiable character where his pride led him to the weakness that destroyed his position in society. In this case, Oedipus’ fate started from his birth and there is no different situation that would have prevented the circumstances. Despite his intellectual and moral development, Oedipus is still prone to committing wrong and illogical acts. This aspect allows the reader to identify himself or herself with him as a morally intermediate character who has no control over all aspects of his destiny. This position of Oedipus emphasizes his tragedy since the tragedy of his fate is inevitable due to the paradox of life itself and the world. Oedipus can be well aware and understand the world around him, but he lost sight of his essence and nature, which led him to fall.

Within the framework of Aristotle’s philosophy of Ethics, a wise and rational person, the hero of ethics, is an ideal character for life. At the same time, the impulsive and flawed hero of the Poetics of Sophocles within this paradigm is the ideal character for death. Aristotle views Oedipus as a tragic character since he is unable to balance the impulses of his nature with facts and reasoning. Oedipus, as Sophocles showed, is unable to direct his emotions in the necessary direction, which he would define by an impartial analysis of the situation. On the contrary, he is prone to rash actions that ultimately lead to collapse and the fulfillment of a tragic prophecy. As Aristotle, Sophocles emphasizes that it is important for a person to look for a reason in everything and evaluate his position to find the optimal solution.

The Oedipus Rex drama may sound overly fatalistic to the modern reader, but it portrays the ancient Greeks’ vision of destiny. In this case, Sophocles did not seek to teach the reader about moral behavior and perception of life. However, this story is instructive, as it evokes poetic compassion for both the character and ethical reflections on the nature of his actions. According to Aristotle and based on his ethical principles, the ultimate goal of a person is to achieve happiness throughout life. However, this state is not attainable through the acceptance of the gifts of fortune, but rather through a constant intellectual and logically justified perception of reality.

Within the framework of this assumption, a wise person realizes his position and evaluates circumstances, and also balances his natural impulses according to logical reasoning. Thus, a person needs to systematically direct their emotions and will to achieve certain goals. This process leads to the construction of lasting happiness that does not depend on external circumstances and cannot be interrupted. The ethical character always does the best within the proposed circumstances, basing judgments on the analysis of the situation. Oedipus in this case is not an ethical character but shows a tragic example. His happiness is completely dependent on external factors since he is prone to emotionally impulsive actions that do not lead to the achievement of goals as described by Aristotle.

In conclusion, Oedipus’s life portrays how life is a paradox of situations that may be inevitable but one has to be strong. Aristotle uses Oedipus’s tragedy to expound on the rationality of life conceptions. He asserts that Oedipus complied with the Aristotelian tragedy requirements but through his pride, he falls into the flaws. Subsequently, the end of human life should be based on happiness but reflecting on Oedipus’s tragic life, there is no true reason for living. By principle, Aristotelian studies help to illuminate how a person’s morality and fate led to tragic flaws that become hard to overcome. Even though Oedipus was a noble person who was expected by society to be happy, his life is full of tragedies that bring misfortune and sadness.

Work Cited

Barstow, Marjorie. “Oedipus Rex as the ideal tragic hero of Aristotle.” The Classical Weekly 6.1 (1912): 2-4.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. InfoBase Publishing, 2006.

González, José M. “The Aristotelian Psychology of Tragic Mimesis.” Phronesis 64.2 (2019): 172-245.

Lear, Jonathan. “Testing the limits: the place of tragedy in Aristotle’s ethics.” Aristotle and moral realism. Routledge, 2018. 61-98.

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