Through the character of Oedipus in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Sophocles shows the futility and consequences of defying the divine order. In going to the oracle at Delphi, he was informed that he “should lie with his own mother” and “breed children from whom all men would turn their eyes” (42). In addition, he is told that he “should be his father’s murderer” (42). Oedipus, in an attempt to escape his destiny, he flees from Corinth. Oedipus served Thebes as a great ruler, loved by his subjects; but it is his one tragic flaw, hubris, which dooms his existence, regardless of the character attributes that make him such a beloved king.
From the opening dialogue, we sense the character of Oedipus. When confronted by his subjects praying for relief of the plague, he reacts appreciatively. “Tell me, and never doubt that I will help you in every way I can; I should be heartless were I not moved to find you suppliant here” (4) is the reaction that he gives, followed by many others, that give us the impression that he is also an arrogant ruler. He obviously cares for the people in his kingdom by saying that “each of them suffers in himself alone hi anguish, not another’s; but his spirit groans for the city” (5). The pity he feels is rooted not only in his love and sympathy, but his arrogance as well. Perhaps this attitude is duly deserved, for Oedipus had solved the Sphinx’s riddle, an apparently heroic feat, and was seen to be greater than any man, but the leader that he had become, still possessed the hubristic tendencies which doomed him from the time he fled Corinth.
It is impossible to speculate what may have happened to Oedipus if he remained in Corinth. Nevertheless, he attempts to avoid his fate that dooms him to not only to fulfill the prophecy, but also to suffer yet greater consequences. To think that he himself has the power to circumvent the prediction from the Oracle of Apollo, shows that he did not feel humbled before Apollo. Punishment for this lack of faith takes the form of
“A rust that consumes the buds and fruits of the earth; the herds being sick;
children dying unborn all the house of Kadmos is laid waste, all emptied, and
all darkened: death alone battens upon the misery of Thebes” (4)
which Apollo imposes on Thebes, an eventual consequence of Oedipus’s defiance and hubris towards him. (The death of Laios at the crossroads was caused, in part at least, because Oedipus left Corinth. Speculation as to whether Oedipus would have killed him anyway is futile.) The punishment of all of Thebes is infinitely worse than the original prophecy, which involved only Oedipus’ family members.
For the years between the destruction of the Sphinx, and the present time we are left to assume that Oedipus served his kingdom well, however we still see the essence of his original self-righteousness. When Teiresias is brought to him to help for the search for Laios’ killers, his proud arrogance misleads him to contrive a scenario in which Creon desires to assume the throne. “Creon desires in secrete to destroy me!” (21) is the basic conclusion that Oedipus’ hubris leads him to.
While Oedipus is a good man, Sophocles illustrates the strict obedience required by the gods and the code of ethics of the Greek society. The Chorus sings, “haughtiness and the high hand of disdain kept and outrage God’s holy lay; and any mortal who dares hold no immortal power in awe will be caught up in a net of pain: the price for which his levity is sold. Let each man take due earnings ” (46). Regardless of any retribution that may be to Oedipus’s credit towards the divinities, he is still ultimately responsible for each of his offenses, singularly. Jocasta took her life in a relatively painless way, however, Sophocles chooses to have Oedipus blind himself. It is through Oedipus’ debilitated state that Sophocles reveals the moral of the story, that man has no control over his own fate. As he cries, “the god was Apollo. He brought my sick, sick fate upon me” (72), Oedipus comes to this conclusion. Creon replies, “You are now ready to listen to the god” (76). “I will listen ” (77), confirms Oedipus. He continues on to reveal that he somehow understands that he is not fated to die now, but some other time. The wisdom gained through the ordeal has directly exposed him to the power and truth of the gods as well as the acceptance of what he cannot control coupled with the realization of the limits of his own mortal control over the universe.