Themes

Guilt and fate

One of the most important themes in the play Oedipus the King by Sophocles is that of guilt and fate. The discovery of the truth (the solution of the riddle concerning the murderer of Laius) is accompanied by Oedipus' destruction, but also vice versa: at the moment of his destruction, Oedipus and becomes the knower and seer of his own fate. This also raises the question of his guilt. 

It is remarkable that Oedipus, after the entire truth has swept over him like a flood, does not apply the term "guilt" to himself. Instead, he refers to himself as "such wretchedness," again referring to the term with which the chorus also labels him when he says, "Alas, alas,[...] such wretchedness" (ll. 1558-1559). He is never accused of being guilty. Not even Creon accuses him, although he agrees with Oedipus that the gods now hate him.

If one looks at Sophocles' play Oedipus at Colonus, the presumption of innocence can be confirmed. Here, Oedipus stresses his innocence in several passages, for example, when he states: "I have brought the worst upon myself, you strangers, brought it upon myself against my will, God should know: None of this was of my own choosing." (Oedipus at Colonus, v. 521ff.).

Within the secondary literature it is suggested to apply to Oedipus not the term "guilt" but that of "hamartía". This term describes an equally terrible and staining act without subjective guilt. The consensus is that Oedipus has indeed done "terrible things" (v. 1327). The injustice, the murder of his own father, and the violation of the incest taboo cause Oedipus to despair of himself and ultimately lead him to blind himself or take away his eyesight the moment he realizes what he has done. 

As far as the subject of incest is concerned, another aspect remains to be clarified: Jocasta’s own guilt. In a conversation with Oedipus, she points out to him that he looks very much like Laius. Moreover, it can be assumed that she must have noticed that the young man she has married and with whom she fathered four children has an important physical characteristic: the swollen foot which gives his name. This s...

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