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The Wounded King Motif in “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles
THE WOUNDED KING MOTIF
Tragedy as a genre has transformed. From the Greek tragedies such as Oedipus Rex; to Shakespeare’s dramas, and contemporary plays. They might differ in content, but they all share the same elements. In his book Poetics, Aristotle considered that a good tragedy had to be an imitation of life. Tragedies are meant to be serious stories that convey an actual meaning. A good tragedy, like the one we are analyzing, is able to evoke sadness; pity, and fear among its viewers. Strictly speaking, a good tragedy causes catharsis, which means purification.
Sophocles was no stranger to the concept of catharsis, and he used that resource in the play. He has been considered as one of the greatest Greek playwrights, and his fame transcended Greece. He was deeply involved with Athens cultural life, participating in dramatic festivals, and directing the City chorus. He rose to fame during the fifth century B.C., in what has been called the “Pericles Century”, or the “Athenian renaissance” (Nda & Akpan 11)
In this essay, we shall speak of the motif of the “wounded king”. However, what is that motif we are speaking about? There are several instances on which we could find that topic. For example, blindness is one of the underlying themes in the play. However, that blindness is not only physical but also intellectual. In the play, blindness, and the wounds that caused blindness are a capital part of the action.

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In the same way, the issue of sight, and wounds becomes an important component of the play. The situation ensued after Oedipus wounds himself, that is the tragedy in the play.
Strictly speaking, the wounded king motif is related to the moment where Oedipus, upon seeing Jocasta dead, decided to blind himself as to stop seeing his fate. After Oedipus appearance, the Chorus said “Poor wretch, what madness came upon you! What evil spirit leaped upon your life to your ill-luck—a leap beyond man’s strength! Indeed, I pity you, but I cannot look at you though there’s much I want to ask and much to learn and much to see. I shudder at the sight of you.” (Sophocles 1490)
After seeing his wife and mother, Jocasta hanging from a noose, he decided not to see as a way to shy away from the horrors of life. In many moments of the play, vision is treated metaphorically, as a way to speak about knowledge or insight. Also, his blindness does not only come from his lack of eyes. He has been blind for his entire life. Blind by lies that hurt him deeply, wounding his soul and dragging him to madness.
Another instance of the motif of wounds in the play appears when Oedipus parents, after hearing a prophecy saying that their son would one day kill his father, decided to pierce his feet and send him to the mountains. One day, when Oedipus is a man, he discovers the truth from the mouth of a messenger who found him, bounded by ankles “I loosed you; the tendons of your feet were pierced and fettered, —“ (Sophocles 1175). His destiny would mark him, as in ancient Greek the word Oedipus means swollen foot. It seems that his name and his destiny would always try to chase him, no matter what he did to leave that past behind.
Also, it is important to note that his scarred feet are also a symbol. Oedipus sport the symbol of suffering; he has been marked to suffer since the day he was born. His destiny was to suffer and to be ignorant of the truths surrounding him. That is a vital element of Greek tragedies, as men are often powerless against the forces of destiny who have marked men to individual feats. Oedipus, as many tragic heroes such as Ulysses, has been marked by fate to suffer. He was meant to be a king, yes, but his path would not be exempt from pain and suffering.
However, we consider significant highlighting the issue of ignorance in the play. Oedipus feels comfortable ignorant of his precedence; he never wonders aloud about his birth, nor tries to obtain the truth using his power as a king. In the same way, his wife –and mother- Jocasta, who should have known about the identity of Oedipus from the moment he killed his father. That is why we aim to emphasize the issue as wounds as not only a physical motif. Instead, we consider that those wounds are also spiritual, as upon knowing all the truths that have been hidden from him, Oedipus can do nothing but to blind himself; as a way to show that he has been blind his entire life.
CHARACTERS AND THE MOTIF
We have spoken about Oedipus and his relation to the theme. Now, we shall talk about the principal characters and their involvement in the wounded king motif.
Jocasta. At the beginning, she tries to make peace between Creon and Oedipus. However, the most important moment in the play is when she, after hearing the prophecy, decided to leave her son to a potential death. In ancient Greece, abandoning unwanted children was not frowned upon, as they believed that if the child is meant to live, it will. At the end, before her dead when she says “O Oedipus, God help you! God keep you from the knowledge of who you are!” (Sophocles 1220) She is revealing that she already knows he is her son and wants to spare him from the truth, as not to make the man’s wound greater, and hurt him further. She acts like a mother; it can be seen that her last act as a mother, before hanging herself is that; hiding the truth from his son.
Teiresias. Tiresias is the oracle, a blind prophet who tells Oedipus that he is the man he is been looking all along. When Oedipus mocks him for being blind and not seeing the truth, the prophet says “Since you have taunted me with being blind, here is my word for you. You have your eyes but see not where you are in sin, nor where you live, nor whom you live with. Do you know who your parents are?” (Sophocles 480). By saying this, Tiresias reveals to Oedipus that he already knows the truth. He knows Oedipus killed his father and married his mother. He tries to hide the truth, but it is not an act of kindness. Instead, he hides the fact only because he wants Oedipus to find it for himself. To suffer the pain on experiencing his true story. Tiresias might be blind, but he sees even further than those who have functioning eyes.
We have decided not to address the rest of the cast since they do not have a definite position in the motif we are exploring. Most of the characters are profoundly ignorant of the situations that happen to them. That is why, we only decided to speak about those who are truly involved. Not even Laius, Oedipus father is aware that it is his son who killed him.
CONCLUSION
As we can see, Oedipus Rex is a play where family plays a primary and pivotal role. It is to preserve their family ties that Jocasta and Laius decided to cast their son away. It is because of his desire of knowing about his true origins that Oedipus leaves Corinth. The play shows us the weight of tradition and superstition in the people’s minds. Although Jocasta did not believe much in prophecies, her husband did, and he was punished for his actions, finding death at his son’s hand. In the same way, it is shown in the play how ignorance can harm more than weapons. All the figurative and literary wounds Oedipus suffers in the play are because of ignorance. As cliché as it sounds, what Sophocles was trying to teach is that a person cannot keep a family together with lies. The way to be truly together is to stand united and face the consequences of our actions.
That is why family ties are so important in this play. Even at the end, when Jocasta realizes she was married to her son, she decides to act as a mother one last time, and keep hiding the truth from his son, as not to harm him.
Works Cited
Nda, U., and M. Akpan. “Sophocles and Shakespeare: A Comparative Study of Classical and Elizabethan Tragedies.” Greener Journal of Art and Humanities 1.1 (2011): 11-20. University of Uyo. Web. 21 July 2015. <http://www.gjournals.org/GJAH/GJAH PDF/Ndah pdf.pdf>.
Sophocles and Greene, D. “Oedipus the King.” Kafkas University. Web. 22 July 2015. <http://abs.kafkas.edu.tr/upload/225/Oedipus_the_King_Full_Text.pdf>.

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