The importance of the hero in the philosophic aspect is hard to underestimate. If to circle out a character that both deserves pity and arises fear, Oedipus Rex should be the perfect example. Sophocles’ tragic hero is not only a protagonist of a myth and an example of personal revenge, but also a symbol of ideas of the famous philosopher, whose concepts seem to have connection to Freud’s psychoanalytical interpretations. Thereafter, the objective of the following paper is to discuss Sophocles’ Oedipus and Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero.
The famous philosopher Aristotle has laid the literary criticism foundations of Greek tragedy through his “Poetics” by demonstrating a specific example that people actually have a tendency to observe their favorite heroes who have courageous traits and suffer from severe destiny traps and unhappy faiths. The myth is about a protagonist named Oedipus Rex who has had to kill his father and marry his mother. Sophocles was an idealist who believed that fate was a will of God. His tragic heroes had one common quality – fortitude. Moreover, the creation of great personalities is the common feature in most of the writings.
According to the myth, Oedipus Rex was trying to find truth about his parentage, and the story revealed that the protagonist was to die due to the possibility of having killed his own father. Still, he was pitied and was adopted by another family, while the time had passed and the destiny brought him to meet his mother and murder the old, evil and arrogant man who tuned out to be his father. According to Sophocles, once a person turns out to be obstinate and proud, God sends a punishment, which has happened to the protagonist.
Oedipus Rex is a symbol of many concepts - son, hero, leader, and, definitely, a sign of moral values that conflicts with personal interests, which eventually can be wrong. The protagonist has later realized another prophecy, which has arrived after the discovery that he has married his biological mother. The tragedy of the character is related to the fact that despite the best intentions, he ends up suffering various types of misfortunes. He is a perfect example of a tragic hero, because he faces all the difficulties in life due to his lack of awareness and knowledge.
Aristotle has made an attempt to explain the characteristics of such individual and his ideas are related to crucial effects of the development of the emotional attachment to the tragic hero by the audience and the fear of the audience regarding what might befall the hero. Moreover, the audience pities Oedipus Rex due to his deep moral sufferings. Aristotle has introduced such concept as “refining”, which is about the connection the observer establishes with the tragic hero through his own prism of the difficult ethical issues he or she experiences. According to Aristotle, Oedipus Rex has not only met, but also exceeded the characteristics and features, which are relevant to tragic heroes. Thus, the readers eventually respect him as “the larger and better” version of their own individualities. It is important to mention that, according to Aristotle, the perception of Oedipus Rex was different from other heroes, as he was the son of royalty. Besides being a son of famous people unofficially, other famous king has adopted him, which makes his personality even more valuable for the society. Besides the inherited respect, he has also been given a right to dominion, which adds additional emotional respect from the side of the audience.
It is important to mention that the notions of face and human life through Greek perception have been troubling the audience for many years, while the feelings of fatalism and justice have been producing a feeling of emotional satisfaction and drama at the same time. The actual aim of the writer is not to provide the readers with the understanding what the tragedy is, but to build an emotional connection through which individuals would be able to experience the difficulties that heroes face throughout their life paths. Aristotle has claimed that happiness is the end of the human endeavor, which is not necessarily gained through the good fortune and luck, but is obtained through the activities that soul has to undertake in order to make real observations in life and achieve a certain result. Moreover, according to Aristotle, every man possesses an inborn intellectual vision, which might cause a conflict with emotional guidance and behavior. Thus, the lack of prudence and the lack of knowledge can be the reasons why the most successful people face sufferings and misfortunes. Moreover, Oedipus Rex is a perfect example of the real antithesis of the ideal man defined by Aristotle, and he fits perfectly under category of a tragic hero.
Aristotle believes that all the characteristics that define a perfect tragic hero fall under the framework of behavior of Oedipus Rex due to certain reasons. The first one is the presence of the two major emotions known as pity and fear, which are also experienced by the audience while looking into the fate of the protagonist. The feeling of pity arises when the audience notices that, despite his intentions, the hero faces a tragic event and kills his father as well as marries his biological mother. On the other hand, the fear arises once the readers come to understand that such situation might happen to them as well. As mentioned before, everything has happened due to the unawareness of the real facts, which is a situation that has a high likelihood of happening to any person. Sophocles has managed to portray his hero as person who has human features and has an innate futility as well as the weakness of the human endeavor, while he cannot manage to go against the events that the universe has destined him to experience. These characteristics are the most common features of Oedipus Rex, who is depicted as a victim of fate, who has eventually discovered his corruption. Thus, the tears that come out of his eyes are part of self-punishment. The castration is a symbolic event that depicts a ‘price to pay’ for the incestuous sin.
The audience feels sorry for Oedipus Rex due to the sufferings he has had to undergo and due to the fact the he really is powerless to fight the prophecy because of his moral believes. Going back to the childhood of the protagonist, he was to die, as his own father believed that he would face death from his own son and sent the kid to be murdered in the forest. The events that have followed next are seen as something to be celebrated by the audience, because the child has not been killed and the farmer who has found it has given it to the royal family for the adoption and upbringing. This is when the feeling of happiness and pity combine, as there is nothing crueler in the world than being wanted to be killed by your own father. Moreover, the expected start of a better life for the protagonist turned out to become the beginning of his further sufferings. Moreover, it was a start, which led to a grim ending for his mother and father as well. Thus, the audience experiences the feeling of pity when Oedipus Rex kills his father.
The great sense of pity towards Oedipus is also born in the audience when he commits something opposite to suicide, which is blinding himself. This action serves as a surrogate death, which has a very strong effect of intensifying the sufferings. The protagonist provides comments about his blindness and the darkness around him, which are not only related to his psychological ability, but also to lack of emotional foresight to prevent what has happened. His sufferings cannot end as he is not dead by definition, but his normal life has come to an ending, as he has received the worst of the two worlds of death and life, which makes audience to feel even sorrier for him. Moreover, unlike the sufferings of the other heroes in the story that end when the play is finished, Oedipus experiences no ending to his grief and misery. The audience experiences greater pity towards him, as suffering becomes an integral part of his everyday life and can never stop.