Prophecy in “Oedipus Rex” Tragedy by Sophocles


The legend of King Oedipus belongs to one of the most ancient legends of the Greeks. Even Homer wrote about him, and later the myth of Oedipus appeared in the retellings of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. Many ancient Greek poets chose his story as the plot of their tragedies because the fate of Oedipus can be called a nightmare. Perhaps this was the reason for the popularity of the myth. The legend of Oedipus was not inferior in popularity to the stories about the exploits of Hercules or Odysseus. However, the finale of this king’s life can hardly be compared with the fates of these heroes. This work dwells on about the role of the prophecy that overtook the hero of Sophocles Oedipus in the tragedy Oedipus Rex.

The Curse of Oedipus Rex

The king of the city of Thebes, Lai, stole and abused the disciple of the oracle, who transmitted to him knowledge about the world. As a result of his act, he learns a prophecy that says that he will die by the hand of his own son, and his wife will marry him. The king decides to kill the child, which resembles the plot of the myth about the god Kronos, who feared that children might kill him and devoured them so that this would not happen. However, Lai lacked the divine will: he failed to eat his heir. Threfore, fate decreed to punish the offender of the fortune teller.

The baby falls into the hands of a childless king. Childlessness was considered the will of the gods, and if there are no children, then this punishment is necessary. It turns out that the dignitary suffered from infertility only because he had to shelter the subject of prophecy. When Oedipus grows up, he meets the Sphinx who appeared long before Kronos (Lungeli, 2021). All the deities that existed before Kronos combine the features of different animals and humans. The Sphinx destroys the city, constantly devouring the citizens for lack of erudition. When Oedipus solves her riddle, she dies, as it was destined, and the hero has attributed this achievement not to the prophecy but to himself.

The beginning of the plague in Thebes is also a divine punishment which happened according to the prophecy. According to the Ancient Greek philosophy, no one suffers in vain, everyone is rewarded according to their actions or according to the actions of their ancestors (Moss-Wellington, 2021). Nevertheless, no one can escape their prophecy, the rebels are severely punished by the hand of fate. Evil fate initially controls those who think they are deceiving it. By using the Oedipus’s example, it shown that one should not resist the prophecy and contradict the will of the gods because they are wiser and stronger than humans.

The Role of Prophecy in the Image of Oedipus

In the tragedy of Sophocles, the main character is the ruler of Thebes – Oedipus Rex. He heeds the problems of every resident of his city, sincerely worries about their fate and tries to help them in everything. He once saved the city from the Sphinx, and when the citizens suffer from the plague that has fallen on them, the people again ask for salvation from the wise ruler. In the in the narrative of Sophocles, his fate turns out to be incredibly tragic, but despite this, his image does not seem pathetic, but on the contrary, majestic and monumental.

All his life he acted morally: Oedipus left his native home so as not to fulfill the predestined villainy, and in the final part, he asserts his dignity by self-punishment. Oedipus acts incredibly bravely, punishing himself for crimes that he committed unknowingly; his punishment is cruel, but symbolic. He puts out his eyes with a brooch and sends himself into exile, so as not to be near those whom he has defiled by his actions.

Thus, the hero of Sophocles is a person conforming to moral laws, striving to act according to morality. He is king who admits his own mistakes and is ready to be punished for them; his blindness is a metaphor of the author. Sophocles wanted to show that the character is a lackey of fate and prophecy, and every person is just as blind as him, even if they consider themselves sighted (Huang, 2019). People do not see the future; they are not able to find out their fate and intervene in it. Therefore, all their actions are the pathetic throwing of a blind man, and nothing more: this is the philosophy of ancient Greece.

However, when the hero goes blind physically, he develops a spiritual vision. He has nothing left to lose, all the most terrible things have happened, and prophecy has taught him a lesson: if one tries to see the invisible, they can lose their sight altogether. After such trials, Oedipus is freed from lust for power, arrogance, and prophecy-fighting aspirations. He leaves the city, sacrificing everything for the benefit of the townspeople, trying to save them from the plague. In exile, his virtue only strengthened, and his worldview enriched. He is deprived of illusions, a mirage created by obliging vision under the influence of the dazzling rays of power. Exile and prophecy in this case are the path to freedom provided by fate as compensation for the fact that Oedipus covered his father’s debt.

The Role of Prophecy in the Ancient Greek Idea of Man

The tragedy of Sophocles Oedipus rex is based on the myth of Oedipus the King. He permeates it with the most subtle psychology, and the meaning of the play is not even in the role of fate, but in man’s opposition to prophecy, in the very attempt of rebellion, doomed to defeat, but no less heroic. This is a drama filled with internal conflicts and confrontation between people; Sophocles shows the deep feelings of the characters, there is a sense of psychologism in his creation.

Sophocles did not build his work only on the myth of Oedipus, so that the main theme would not be exclusively the fatal bad luck of the protagonist. Together with it, Sophocles brings to the fore the problems of a socio-political nature and the inner experiences of a person. Thus, he turns the mythological plot into a deep social and philosophical drama with the help of prophecy (Wesołowska, 2021). The main idea in the tragedy of Sophocles is that a person under any circumstances should be responsible for their doing. King Oedipus, after he learns the truth from the prophecy, does not expect punishment from above, but punishes himself. In addition, the author teaches the reader that any attempt to deviate from the course outlined above will end in failure. People are not given free will, everything has already been thought out for them.

Oedipus does not hesitate and does not doubt before making decisions, acts immediately and clearly according to morality. However, this principle is also a gift of fate, and the gods have already calculated everything; the prophecy cannot be deceived or circumvented. The mental balance of a person in the tragedy of Sophocles fully corresponds to the genre in which the work is performed: it hesitates at the edge of the conflict and, in the end, collapses.

The Role of Prophecy in Sophocles’ Worldview

Many researchers saw in the tragedy of Sophocles only the assertion of the power of the gods and therefore regarded it as a tragedy of doom, transferring this controversial definition to the entire Greek tragedy. However, Sophocles never portrays his hero as a victim passively accepting the blows of fate (Tariq & Bhatt, 2020). His Oedipus is an energetic and active person who fights for his happiness for the sake of justice and reason. He comes out victorious in the fight, since he deprives his opponents of the right to dispose of a person at their discretion until the end. Therefore, he invents punishment for himself, carries it out himself and overcomes his suffering by this.

The contradiction between the subjectively unlimited possibilities of the human mind and the objectively limited limits of human activity, reflected in the tragedy Oedipus rex, is one of the characteristic contradictions of Sophocles’ time. In the images of gods opposing man, Sophocles embodied everything that could not be explained in the surrounding world, the laws of which were still almost unknown to man.

Therefore, Sophocles cannot ethically justify the gods who subject people to such suffering. The poet has not yet doubted the goodness of the world order and the inviolability of world harmony. In spite of everything, he optimistically asserts a person’s right to happiness, believing that misfortunes and prophecy cannot overthrow someone who defends his rights and fights for them. In the tragedy Oedipus rex Sophocles makes an important discovery that will allow him to deepen the heroic image later. It shows that a person draws strength from himself to help him live, fight and win.


The main problem of the tragedy is the problem of fate and freedom of human choice. The inhabitants of ancient Greece were very concerned about the theme of fate, as they believed that they had no freedom. They were lackeys of the gods, and their fate was predetermined in prophecies. And the term of their life depended on the Faits, which determine, measure and cut the thread of life. Sophocles, on the other hand, introduces controversy into his work: he gives the main character pride and disagreement with the prophecy. Oedipus is not waiting for the strokes of fate; he is fighting it. Despite all the tragedy of Oedipus’ life, in the end he is endowed with spiritual freedom, which he gains by showing courage against the prophecy.

Works Cited

Huang, Y. (2019). Study on the reasons of Oedipus’ tragic fate. International Journal of Education Humanities and Social Science, 2(2), 13-16.

Lungeli, D. (2021). Super-cripple sights: Disable heroes in Raymond Carver’s cathedral and Sophocles’ Oedipus rex. Journal of Arts & Humanities, 3(1), 103-112.

Moss-Wellington, W. (2021). Criminals at play: Oedipus, Rope, and Telltale’s The walking dead. Culture, Theory and Critique, 62(3), 208-222.

Tariq, A., & Bhatt, R. (2020). A critical study of Oedipus rex and the identity of women in ancient Greece. International Journal of English Literature and Social Sciences, 5(2), 517-119.

Wesołowska, E. (2021). The symbolic topography of Oedipus’ life: Some remarks. Symbolae Philologorum Posnaniensium Graecae Et Latinae, 31(1), 341-346.

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