Sophocles' Oedipus Rex
Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex has fascinated readers for over two millennia with its tale of a man who falls from greatness to shame. The enigmatic play leaves many questions for the reader to answer. Is this a cruel trick of the gods? Was Oedipus fated to kill his father and marry his mother? Did he act of his own free will? Like the Greeks of centuries past, we continue to ponder these perennial questions. Part of the genius of Sophocles is that he requires a great deal of mental and spiritual involvement from his audience.
The search for the truth behind the story involves all of the characters. There is hardly a scene or conversation in which the theme of sight and blindness is not in one way or another discussed and this is central to an understanding of the play. The meaning goes much deeper than might be suspected; it is easy to say that Tiresias is blind but can actually see and that Oedipus can see but is actually blind. While this is important, it is but the starting point. Within the theme of sight versus blindness, Sophocles explores the definition of sight, the concept of eyes being the direct pathway to the heart, and the importance of eye contact in order to show that sight and blindness reflect a deep search for truth and reality.
Exploration of the Definition of Sight
At the very beginning of the play, the audience recognizes that not only can Oedipus see in a physical sense, but also he has some unusual ability of perception (Bloom 33). The people of Thebes revere their king because he saved them from the Sphinx by solving the supposedly impossible riddle. It is only natural that they bring their problems to him again and expect that he will be able to save them from the plague by discovering the pollution in the land. Unfortunately, the Thebans are unaware that Oedipus is blind in a dangerous way. By presenting his audience with this paradox at the start, he quickly gives sight a more than physical meaning.
The paradox of sight is central to an understanding of the play and Sophocles quickly establishes that Oedipus has physical sight and that Tiresias is physically blind. As the king and the seer converse, it becomes apparent that sight and blindness on the physical level are not what is important. Tiresias has the spiritual sight that Oedipus lacks in his own figurative blindness and Tiresias accuses him of this when his patience has been tried:
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.”
The blind seer goes on to predict that Oedipus will one day be physically blind and depend on the same sort of staff he mocked Tiresias for using. The physical darkness in which Tiresias lives does not hinder his perception of the truth, but Oedipus...