Good Sleeping And Wakefulness In Oedipus Essay Example
At the beginning of Oedipus the King, a plague has descended on Thebes. To ancient societies, plague was not a medical problem, it was a curse, a form of damnation from the gods for particular transgressions. As a religious matter, the priests are asking Oedipus to discover the cause of the curse and fix it. Oedipus is aware of his responsibilities and, like a good politician, assures everyone that he is on top of things, telling the crowd “I was not sleeping, you are not waking me.” (67). He wants everyone to know that he is not isolated from their concerns and problems. He is well aware of the plague and has already sent Creon, his brother-in-law, to seek guidance from the oracle at Delphi. Creon has returned and Oedipus wants his people to know he is being proactive. However, Oedipus is sleeping, and is not awake to the reality of the prophecy that is plaguing Thebes.
Oedipus has his share of problems, but he is a good king, who is respected by his people, whom he refers to as his “children.” (63). He already saved Thebes from the Sphinx and has proven himself as a noble hero and a good king. However, something very bad is happening to Thebes. There is plague, crops are failing, the people are starving. Again, Oedipus must stand up and save the city. However, Oedipus is the murderer and true cause of the plague, and his ignorance does mean he is “sleeping” on his people. When it comes to the prophecy, he is not awake. Creon has learned that the plague will be lifted when the murderer of King Laius is brought to justice. Oedipus is the cause of all of Thebe’s problems. The rest of the play is about hos own journey of self discovery. The killer he is hunting is himself, and his denial and rejection of the truth is in fact a sign that he is sleeping and not awake to the reality of his relationship with his mother.
Kings are usually isolated and Oedipus is no exception. He is adored by his people almost like a god. The priest tells him, “You are not one of the immortal gods, we know/Yet we have come to you to make our prayer/As to the man surest in mortal ways/And wisest in the ways of God” (35). He is close to a god-like figure, which is never a good thing. As a tragic hero, the reader can already sense that Oedipus is about to begin a long and steep fall from grace. His own ego causes him to “sleep,” and although he has heard rumors about his mother, he never thinks he could be the cause of all the problems facing his city. Oedipus is both blind and asleep, which are used as symbols to represent his self-centered and stubborn unwillingness to accept the ugly truth.
However, Oedipus is also blinded by his own love for his people. He has a parental duty to care for the people of Thebes – his “children.” Perhaps he is unable to sleep, because of the burdens of his responsibilities. He tells the Priest that “It is for them I suffer, more than for myself” (55). The people, rely on him for their very survival. In the prologue, the Priest is reminding him of his role as savior and hero to the people: "You saved us from the Sphinx, that flinty singer, and the tribute. Therefore, O mighty King, we turn to you: Find us our safety, find us a remedyThink how all men call you Liberator for your triumph long ago"
Oedipus also believes his people deserve the truth. Creon advises him to hear the news from Oracle in private, but Oedipus insists that everyone should hear the news. Despite his weaknesses, Oedipus is a good ruler.
Ultimately, when Oedipus tries to assure his people that he is not sleeping, that he is aware of the curse, he is really only foreshadowing his own downfall. He promises that he find the killer and “bring what is dark to light” (80). However, he has not paid attention to what has been going on around him. He has ignored the signs that pointed to the truth, started a family with his mother, and acted according to his ego. He even killed his own father in an ancient road rage incident. His sleeping symbolizes his own willful ignorance about his past. The story is even more tragic because Oedipus is a noble and caring ruler, and is actually the cause of the misery of the people he is trying to protect.
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