Some Comments and Interpretations
Oedipus is the patron saint of philosophers, scientists, poets and artist, of all truth seekers. There are numerous versions of the myth. They vary somewhat but all of them tell of an Oedipus who goes from a status of the prideful hero, master of the city of Thebes to his decent to that of outcast and the cause of everyone’s misfortune. Oedipus was both guilty and innocent. His error was that he became entangled between the different generations. His essential violation was incest, the universal taboo. He was his father’s rival for his Mother’s affection.
Familism was everything in Greek culture. Oedipus had done two of the worst possible deeds within Familism: kill the Father and sleep with the Mother. There is more then just the incest taboo involved here.
Poor old Oedipus… to solve the riddle of his origins he has to face a truth too awful to bear. Oedipus feels guilty; responsible for the curse that lead to the slaying of his Father therefore turns on himself.
He is an inspiration for mankind, as he must come to know the truth at whatever cost. Oedipus knows "the truth is out there". It is better to have knowledge and pain then to have ignorance and bliss. The climax of the Oidipodia eventually becomes the extinction of the family, which comes when Oedipus's own sons kill each other - fratricide. Sophocles makes Oedipus not only intelligent, but one who also demonstrates strength and courage, loyalty to Thebes and loyalty to the truth.
There is also the obvious religious message that "one cannot escape your fate".
Aristotle believed this to be the finest tragedy because the protagonist's recognition of the truth coincides with a reversal of his fortunes. Some plots are simple while others are complex. In simple action there is a single and continuous plot wherein a change in fortune doesn't happen through "discovery or reversal". The results are inevitable or probable. A discovery is most effective when it coincides with reversals. A reversal is a situation in which the hero's actions have consequences directly opposite to his intentions and expectations, irony. All tragedy involves a change in fortune. In a simple plot this is gradual, in a complex plot it is catastrophic.
Freud and his Oedipus Complex
In the 20th century the word Oedipus suggests a psychological complex. It was first introduced in 1899. The theory asserts that the individual have repressed desires for sexual involvement with the parent of the opposite sex while having a feeling of rivalry with the parent of the same sex.
Freud stated that a person with healthy personality is one which the three components of personality are balanced. The three components being the Id, ego and superego. If the components are unbalance it was considered disintegrate. If there was a minor imbalance it is considered neurotic. the ID is hard drive for pleasure. It is the portion of a personality that is not under conscious control.
Freud first introduced this complex in his book 'Interpretation of Dreams'. The complex is a group of repressed desires: love, hate, guilt, sorrow - these four make up the ambivalences 'swamp' most are in.
In Oedipus's case there is love and hate, desire and revenge. The Mother is the object of love, the Father the object of hate. It was interpreted by Freud that he was his Father’s rival fro his Mother’s affection. This complex he believed formed the bases for all unconscious processes.
Both Oedipus and Laius used defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the anxiety of the oracles. Laius used denial, projection and rationalization. When the Gods warned him that his son would kill him he simply denied it, released his dangerous impulses through disguised activity (placed him on the mountain) and then went on to justify the whole thing by saying he didn't himself murder anyone. He just left him on his own. Oedipus still had the remote chance of living. Note the passivity of Laius.
Oedipus too used denial when he heard the oracle: “You will kill your own Father and bear children with your own Mother”. "No" was his response. He used plenty of repression as well as physically moving away to a new city, instead of going back to Corinth he goes towards Thebes. This is not unlike children who move away from home thinking they are going far away only to later realize they really haven't left home emotionally only physically.
He tries desperately to avoid the inevitable. He didn't want to be considered abnormal, but does anyone? Why would he ever do something his conscious mind told him that he would never do? He didn't even remember killing Laius until he was reminded of it. How else can one live a happy, moral life except through these defenses, if you have murdered someone? This then is where the Guilt Complex comes from that Freud spoke about. It isn't really Oedipus's fault that all this has happened. Oedipus tried to do the right thing by moving away to prevent killing his Father out of guilt only to have more guilt put upon him.
In the Hesiod tale, Homer refers briefly to the Oedipus story. Homer already knew parricide and incest.
Is Oedipus guilty of any crime? Did he knowingly perform these two crimes…? No. They were outside his control. His own Mother set the chain of events in motion.
Oedipus now believed in the Gods as he now accepts what the Gods did to him and in this way proves to himself and to the audience that the universe does have meaning. He now has the new belief that "Chaos doesn't rule". Oedipus faces up to the chaos of the universe. Oedipus becomes the detective eager to unlock his own secret.
The threat of having to give up the deep seated and heavily invested wishes of an exclusive relationship with a parent, often evokes fear and apprehensions. There is the typical rage which marks the failure of fulfillment of such intensely held aim, associated with any period of development, are characteristic of the Oedipal period. It is the time of the highest aspiration of childhood. The child discovery that the great expectation of the Oedipal period comes to nothing, forces a sense of despair. Freud wondered whether this set the prototype for subsequent depressions. Future depressions harkens back to the serious loss the failed Oedipus wishes represent. It is the most significant injury to self-esteem that the child will experience. As a reaction an unconscious severity of self-criticism ensues. At the end of this phase, latency begins and its chief characteristic is a heightened superego, which of course is turned towards it. The typical resolution of this period is the passionate acquisition of skills and learning, from the defeat of his Oedipus wishes. What was lost personally is to be gained socially. As the narcissists resorts more and more to his magical power, one thing he may never give up is a final defeat of his Oedipus complex, there becomes a repression of this central experience of defeat, a hopeless longing. The beginnings of life’s great achievements all follow on a colossal failure. To succeed emotionally the child must continually recover from the repeated and often deep narcissistic injuries naturally associated with his growth and development.
In the Oedipus triangle, the child’s aim is a brutal triumph over a rival. It is the betrayal and its insult. The vengeance comes from being humiliated, by being humbled. All violence and self-destruction comes from humiliation, the horror of ridicule. It comes form the passion to be loved. To be loved justifies both treachery and killing. When the son places ambitions above the Mother she is rendered useless. Condemned to a life he loathes, helpless and forsaken he becomes blind with rage. It is the lost hope of being loved, he feels abandoned, and without it life is empty. Even at the risk of being ruined he must restore his self-esteem. From the deep injury he suffered. To recover he turns to aggression, the angry defense, to vindication. As the one who suffers he will bring anguish to the ones who torment him. They regain self-respect and the respect of others.
The Oedipus complex has at times simply shortened to the “nuclear complex”.
Notes on Jocasta
In Euripides’s Phoenicia she is still alive at the time of the expedition of the Seven against Thebes. In this play she commits suicide with a sword over the bodies of her sons.
Since the founding of religion the gods have sought to test humans. Jocasta was one sent by the God, Apollo to test Oedipus's faith and conviction. The way she does that is by spreading disbelief of the Gods to those around her.
Oedipus Rex was Sophocles attempt to show the Greeks that they could not avoid the dealings of the Gods, or if they do they will be forced to conspire against the very people they should love the most. Jocasta was, in this a way a victim. When she becomes aware of the truth of the earlier prophecy before Oedipus was born she realizes the truth and also her punishment and in desperation kills herself
Jocasta could be seen as a victim in Oedipus Rex, but more importantly she is catalyst for Oedipus' own victimization. The Gods tested the king of Thebes through her.