Debate with other literary critics.

My analysis of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Bust of Sophocles at Musei Capitolini.

Image via Wikipedia

Hey guys,

Today’s post focuses around my analysis of the characters Oedipus, Jocasta and Creon in Oedipus Rex.  Hope you enjoy it!

Destiny and Free Will

Destiny– the predetermined, usually inevitable or irresistible, course of events (dictionary.com)

Free willthe doctrine that the conduct of human beings expresses personal choice and is not simply determined by physical or divine forces (dictionary.com).

In Oedipus Rex the idea of destiny is the most important theme of the play.  Oedipus, Jocasta and Laius all try to escape their destiny and take matters into their own hands.  For example, Oedipus flees Corinth because he was fated to kills his father and marry his mother.  Laius and Jocasta knew that it was prophesied that the newborn would kill Laius and marry Jocasta and therefore they ordered Oedipus to be killed so they could escape their fate.  Fate seems to be foreboding in this play and there seems to be a lack of free will with the characters.  The characters have a false sense of free will and try to take matters into their own hands, but they are unable to escape their fate.  We can see the gods playing a role in this play, but they play a different role then they did in the Odyssey.  In the Odyssey gods and goddesses directly affected the outcome of each character, but in Oedipus Rex the gods seem distant from the characters.

“Teiresias: True: it is not from me your fate will come.  That lies within Apollo’s competence, as it is his concern” (Davis 912).

It is interesting to note that Apollo decided Oedipus’ fate because he is a god of prophecy and truth.  Apollo decided not to change his fate and therefore Oedipus is doomed since his birth.


Q: Do you think Oedipus would still have killed his father and married his mother if he was not fated to do so?

Q: Do you believe in the idea of fate or do you think people have free will?


Another important theme in this play is the unwillingness to accept the truth.  Oedipus, Laius and Jocasta spend their whole lives running from their fate for they know it will be disastrous.  If Oedipus denies the prophecy he feels he can gain control over the situation even though he knows it to be true.  Oedipus even mocks Teiresias who tells him his fate and speaks unkindly of this messenger of the gods.  Teiresias however is telling the truth no matter how hard Oedipus tries to deny it.

“Listen to me.  You mock my blindness do you?  But I say that you, with both your eyes, are blind: You can not see the wretchedness of your life, nor in whose house you live, no, nor with whom.  Who are your father and mother?  Can you tell me?  You do not even know the blind wrongs that you have done them, on earth and in the world below.  But the double lash of your parents’ curse will whip you out of this land some day, with only night upon your precious eyes” (Davis 913).

In this prophecy Teiresias even foreshadows that Oedipus, in his grief, will stab his eyes out and wander aimlessly.

Q: Do you think Oedipus would have stabbed his eyes out if he accepted his fate or was this also fated to be?  


Though we see little of Jocasta’s character, except at the end of the play, she plays a significant role in the story for she ordered the shepherd to kill Oedipus when he was a child.  In the play she plays the role of wife in that she tries to console her husband and son by saying that the prophecies are not true.  In the end, she seems to realize before Oedipus that the prophecy did come true and tries to hide this information from Oedipus.  At this point she is playing the role of the protective mother who does not want her son to be hurt by the truth.  She will stop at anything to comfort him and in way comfort herself.

“Iocaste(Jocasta): Why should anyone in this world be afraid, since fates rules us and nothing can be foreseen?  A man should live only for the present day.  Have no more fear of sleeping with your mother: how many men, in dreams, have lain with their mothers!  No reasonable man is troubled by such things” (Davis 932).

Jocasta is trying to tell Oedipus that fate should not determine ourselves and we should not dread what is to happen.  She is promoting the idea of carpe diem, or seize the day, and not to worry about the future.  There is a sense of irony in these lines for she and Oedipus both are troubled by the knowledge they receive later in the play.  Again, Jocasta seems to also want to protect herself and put the prophecy out of mind.  The truth though becomes unbearable for her and she kills herself because of her tremendous guilt.

Q: Do you find Jocasta to be a likeable character?  Was it unjust for her to try to have Oedipus killed as a young boy?


Creon, though more of a minor character in Oedipus Rex, becomes an important character in Antigone and in Oedipus at Colonus.  He is a type of man who desires order and stability above anything else, which is why we do not see him question Oedipus’ rule (eNotes.com)

“Creon: Would any sane man prefer power, with all the king’s anxieties, to that same power and the graces of sleep?  Certainly not I.  I have never longed for the king’s power-only his rights.  Would any wise man differ from me in this?  As matters stand, I have my way in everything with your consent and no responsibilities.  If I were king, I should be a slave to policy” (Davis 918).

In the two other plays though this same man grows hungry for power and suffers for it in the end.  Sophocles seems to be showing his audience that power can destroy a man and that rulers can make the same mistakes as their predecessors.

Thanks for reading!



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One thought on “My analysis of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

  1. Pingback: Letter from Kreon to Jocasta ["Oedipus The King" by Sophocles] « Writerfingers

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