the murderer of Laius, he could have neglected the word of god, but his sense of piety and justice required him to act. Teiresias, the herdsman and Jocasta each tries to stop him from his inquiry but he cannot live with such a dark mystery overshadowing his life. He also need not have urged the reluctant herdsman so forcefully but both his curiosity and his desire for unveiling the truth made him persistent to uncover the ignorance in which he had lived so long. No oracle has fated him to find out the truth. What ruins him is his free will to discover the facts on grounds of his loyalty to Thebes, his pride, curiosity and overall his longing for truth.

Innocent suffering

One of the first questions that springs to mind when reading the story of Oedipus is why does an innocent man has to undergo such undeserved suffering? How can Sophocles be a truly pious man if he portrays such an agony for mankind, for which divine powers are responsible? What intention lies behind such a hopeless message? The answer seems easy as long as we do not look at the play through Christian spectacles but apply Greek 5th century standards. To the Christians it is an essential part of piety to believe that God is just. Not so for the Greeks. When reading the Iliad, for example, or in fact most Greek tragedies, it becomes clear that the gods are not at all "good and just". Instead, very often the gods treat the human race most cruelly being primarily governed by selfish principles (such as revenge, pride or displaying power). Innocent suffering was in fact a reoccurring theme in Greek literature. This, however, is not an answer but only an explanation why Sophocles was able to portray the gods in such a bad light. The answer to such questions of undeserved suffering goes much deeper into religion and into man's psychology than one might expect at first sight.

There are a wide range of stories in religious mythology that rely on this very point: undeserved suffering. Some medieval Jews are said to have believed that God had given one just man to each generation, who suffered a terrible fate through no fault of his own, knowing that his suffering is unjust. The misery of such an innocent man was thought to somehow lighten the burden of the rest of mankind. Many other Greek tragedies similarly depend on a certain amount of innocence in the main character's part as, for example, Antigone, Hippolytus, or Ajax as well as in later literature such as in Shakespeare's Hamlet or in The Trial by Kafka. Such numerous examples raise the question why undeserved suffering is such a popular theme. Thomas Gould answers this question with the Passion of Christ, which is a disputable and impudent and yet an illuminating example. Passion means something that is done to Christ as opposed to something that he did and can thus be compared to the supernatural powers, which originate the suffering in Oedipus Rex. From the Christian point of view Christ was entirely undeserving of such humiliation and suffering. Additionally he was thought to experience these sufferings with pain and anguish. As the Bible says Christ has sacrificed himself innocently for mankind. For, if we believe that Christ had died on the cross without any unpleasantness, we would not have been moved to such an extent. In fact we know that he feared, just for a moment, that his father might have abandoned him and the fact that Christ had to undergo such pain and fear, though he deserved nothing but good, is believed to psychologically relieve the rest of mankind from guilt. The same attempt of explanation can be applied to Oedipus. He innocently had to undergo the worst of agonies and for comparative reasons the average spectator would assume his own fate to be much easier to bear. Unmerited misery, in Thomas Gould's view at least, is thus more than simply a reinforcement of the audience's pity. From a psychological angle there awakens a feeling of relief concerning one's own fortune.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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