Oedipus’ and Socrates’ Road to Truth
The pursuit of truth is like a maze, embedded in a maze and then embedded in another. Only once one solves the primary outer layer is one able to move onto the secondary one and so on towards the center. Each man on the search has a path unique to himself, making wrong turns and retracing steps.
Oedipus and Socrates are two characters on the journey, going their own way to try and find the truth they seek. Oedipus begins his searches for the murderer of Laius on a path of determination, unwavering in his pursuit, commanding the people to “tell everything” or be driven from Thebes. His resolve is the willpower of a king, as a protector of his people, there is no personal connection to the truth other than that it will save his city. When Tiresias claims to tell the truth while Oedipus was ignorant of it, the pursuit become more intensive and personally motivated. In this stage, Oedipus’ arrogance is driving his search, for lack of knowledge of the truth is a flaw to Oedipus, a sign of “cowardice and stupidity”. When he finally comprehends his own role in his hunt, the dynamics change once again and his determination to find truth is guided by necessity to disprove it. Oedipus’s relationship with truth and his desire to find it alters as its pertinence varies. When he is personally unconnected to the quest for truth, Oedipus is firm in his will to uncover it. However, when the relationship changes nature, so does Oedipus’ reactions, abruptly changing from determination to reveal the truth to determination to refute it.
Oedipus’ road to truth is in constant evolution, from external determination as a king, to internal determination as man with fear. Socrates is the reverse, in a constant path of calmness in contrast to Oedipus’ franticness. For Socrates, the search for truth is always about necessity because it is crucial to who he is as a philosopher. Socrates’ whole life is based on his search for wisdom and the beauty of the search for increased wisdom. The process is the beautiful part of truth, the exciting and engaging aspect. While arrogance drives Oedipus, gratification of exploration pushes Socrates. He craves truth and feels that it is needed, is driven by the unknown, and loves what he lacks in knowledge. Socrates believes he knows nothing and therefore has nothing to lose in his hunt and pursuit of the truth.
On the contrary, Oedipus is frustrated by what he lacks and angered when he feels as if he is not the most knowledgeable. He believes that he should know everything and therefore suffers when he does not. Socrates sees truth as essential to his character while for Oedipus it is a threat. Because Oedipus has trouble confronting his ignorance, he tends to search for different kinds of truths in a diverse number of ways. When he believes the truth does not concern himself, Oedipus is calm, collected and in control, following methodical procedures to find truth. In the beginning of his mission to solve the plague, Oedipus does the rational thing and sends Creon to the Delphi oracles to discover the causes of this curse. Then, in an equally logical manner, summons Tiresias, the prophet who will supply him with the truth. However once the search becomes personal and Oedipus realizes he is at its center, he shuns logic and instead obtains a new twist of logic to avoid the truth. First he denies Tiresias’ answer that he himself is the curse by claiming that Creon paid off Tiresias to tell him such “calumnies”. Then he shuns the incriminating evidence that he killed Laius at the crossroads because the oral story is that a group of bandits killed Laius, not a lone man. Oedipus does not comprehend the possibility that the story could be mistaken and it was indeed a single man, himself. He rejects the truth once more as the man he thought was his father dies, and Oedipus, who “never laid a hand on spear against him” is temporarily absolved.
Even in the past, Oedipus has had tendencies to use logic as a way of self-preservation from harmful truths; for when he goes to the oracle at Delphi, even though he knows he was unhonored in what he went to learn, he didn’t persist because it saved him the more painful truth of knowing that his parents were not his biological parents. In the present, he searches for other theories to what is being presented, like the theory that Creon has bribed Tiresias to tell him he is Thebes’ curse. Oedipus then recognizes his flaws and abandons it for one he believes to be stronger, that a group of robbers killed Laius. Oedipus reveals a personal procedure where he calls for the truth, even against the warning of others wiser than him like Jocasta, only to then rebut it by crafting other possible solutions. Oedipus receives the truth almost immediately from Tiresias, but then moves further and further away from it through his perverse logic. These other solutions act as detours in Oedipus’ path to truth, slowing down his journey.
Socrates is the opposite, using a wide range of solutions to push him closer to the truth. Through his use of questioning, Socrates is able to eliminate hypotheses surrounding the subject matter until he finally gets directed to the correct path. His method is similar to the earlier style adopted by Oedipus: logical, rational, and controlled. Socrates is not hasty in his journey to discover the truth, instead taking time and being patient to analyze all concepts and then tear them down through contradictions. Socrates journey for truth has a set method of eliminating other possibilities as a way to set him on the correct true path. Oedipus’ path becomes similar to that of Socrates when he finally overcomes his aversion to notions that do not please him and he finally accepts the worst of possibilities. For Oedipus, the proof is the fact that there are no more other possibilities; he has eliminated the other potentials and now he must finally face what he has been avoiding. For Oedipus it is only accepted once proven undeniable. For a moment, Oedipus takes upon himself the role of a god, a role the Chorus has been both reluctant and eager to allow him to do. Oedipus is so competent in the affairs of men that he comes close to dismissing the gods, although he does not actually blaspheme. At this early moment, we see Oedipus’s dangerous pride, (which explains his willful blindness and, to a certain extent, justifies his downfall). Oedipus sizes up a situation, makes a judgment, and acts, all in an instant. While this confident expedience was laudable in the first section, it is exaggerated to a point of near absurdity in the second. His story shows the inability of humans to escape their fate no matter how hard they try, which ultimately shows the audience that the truth is inevitable. Oedipus learned that he was not above the oracles and that he was susceptible to death, failure and weakness. The duration of the play is focused on Oedipus ignoring the truth based on physical aspects like the death of his non-biological father and the physical bribery of Tiresias. When he finally does receive the power of the truth, he decides to blind himself, removing the tangible distractions that beleaguered him and therefore allowing him to rely on the higher truth as opposed to earthy ones. The ending of the play reverses the dynamic of proof. Senses are concrete to Oedipus prior to his self-blinding. He believes that once man is able to surpass the limitations of physical needs is he able to reach the levels where he acquires true wisdom.
While physical diversions plague Oedipus initially, for Socrates they have never been a barrier, rather a stepping-stone towards the truth. His dialectic method ensures that once he can no longer eradicate a theory, the result is the end and therefore correct. The verification is one of analytical nature, for if it makes sense and cannot be further refuted, then it must be the final stage and truthful in context. This totally contrasts Oedipus, who needs the physical confirmation or disconfirmation in order to accept a truth and once accepted, it is unchangeable. Primarily Oedipus and Socrates seem to differ entirely in their pursuit and reaction to truth. Nonetheless, it seems while Socrates is set in this methods and connection to truth, Oedipus the King is a story about a man’s changing this relationship with truth. Initially his path is the same as that of any humans: fanatical and emotion filled. But as he progresses his path becomes more stable and God like, concerning higher truths and avoiding physical distractions. Oedipus starts as the opposite of Socrates but at the end, Oedipus seems more similar to Socrates, both strategically and mentally. He alters, blinding himself while freeing himself conceptually and recognizing that his previous methods where flawed. Socrates is the goal and Oedipus is on his way to reaching it.
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