Free Oedipus the King Essays: The Archetypal Tragic Man
According to Greek mythology, the Sphinx, a creature that is part woman, part bird, and part lion, caused famine and disease in Thebes that could be ended only when someone solved her riddle. Oedipus traveled to Thebes and answered the riddle correctly. The citizens of Thebes consider him a hero because he restored harmony to their kingdom. Sophocles alludes to the riddle of the Sphinx several times in his play, Oedipus Rex. Since the riddle is a metaphor for Oedipus' life, it is ironic that he was able to answer the question. His revelation of the riddle of the Sphinx further supports the perspective of Oedipus as the archetypal tragic man.
The sphinx asks, "What has four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs at night?" Oedipus correctly answers "man", saving Thebes from the ...view middle of the document...
As he grows older, he walks on two feet, becoming an independent man, and ruler of Thebes. In his old age, Oedipus must rely on a walking stick because he is blind. Like all humans, Oedipus goes through the three stages of life that the Sphinx mentions in her riddle.
Ironically, Oedipus is able to solve the riddle even though he does not realize that it applies to his own life. Throughout the play, Oedipus has a self-centered, arrogant attitude. In line 245, Oedipus suggests that he is above the common man when he asks the citizens of Thebes to pray to him instead of the gods. He believes that he will never grow weak or need assistance. Oedipus' answer to the riddle is ironic, because he connects the question to man in general, but fails to realize that it applies to him as a man.
Oedipus' revelation of the riddle of the Sphinx supports the perspective that he is an archetypal tragic man. He is a combination of "The Hero" and "The Young Person rom the Provinces". An archetypal hero fulfills a neccesary task and restores fertility, harmony and justice to a community. When Oedipus solves the riddle, he ends the famine and disease that the Sphinx caused, restoring fertility and harmony to Thebes. A young person from the provinces is taken away as an infant and raised by strangers. He later returns home as a stranger, able to recognize new problems and new solutions. Shortly after he was born, Jocasta left Oedipus at the base of Mount Cithaeron to die. Polybus and his wife rescue Oedipus and raise him in Corinth. Oedipus later returns to Thebes as a stranger and solves the riddle of the Sphinx, which no man in Thebes could answer.
The citizens of Thebes consider Oedipus a hero after he solves the famous riddle of the Sphinx. Ironically, he was able to answer the question correctly even though he did not realize that it was a metaphor for his own life. Oedipus' revelation supports the perspective that he is an archetypal hero and a young person from the provinces because he restores harmony and fertility to Thebes.