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The Many Functions of Tiresias in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex

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Introduction

19 September 2002 The Many Functions of Tiresias in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex The minor role of Tiresias fulfills several chief purposes in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, all of which are necessary in guiding the play through to its tragic ending and the completion of the prophecies. Tiresias primarily functions as the catalyst ultimately responsible for the provocation of Oedipus' venomous jealousy, a vital factor in the play's progression. The calm and confident Tiresias also acts as a foil for Oedipus through his dramatic difference in character, which allows the reader to see Oedipus for who he really is and realize that it was he who brought about his own downfall. Lastly, the wise prophet who functions as an authoritative father figure to the authority-threatened king (Lesser 147-148) helps make the motif of fathers, all of whom Oedipus sees as threats, evident. This motif of father figures is strongly supported by Tiresias, unveiling one of the prophet's main functions in the play. The motif of father figures in the play is significant due to the fact that Oedipus is known primarily for killing his father and marrying his mother (after which the "Oedipus complex" is named) as both of the prophecies foretold; it only makes sense that Oedipus would in some way rebel against all of the father figures in the play. ...read more.

Middle

highlights each of their personality traits to the reader allowing us to see Oedipus for who he really is: a contentious, and envy-driven tyrant. It is imperative that the readers clearly see these traits within the king and recognize that these unfortunate characteristics of Oedipus' aid in fulfilling the prophecy resulting in Oedipus' ultimate downfall. This realization by the readers is cleverly achieved by including a wise and respected prophet, whom the reader can compare with Oedipus, who, in contrast, is hotheadedly immature and spontaneous by nature. An example would be when Tiresias first comes to Thebes. He knows the truth about Laius' murder and, at first, seems concerned for all involved in the situation. Feeling that it would be best for everyone, he decides not to share any information he knows. In the following quote, the prophet attempts to persuade Oedipus not to pursue this issue any further, clearly revealing Tiresias' concern for the common good, "O, send me home. Take up your load and I'll take mine. Believe me, it is better so...I'd rather keep you and me from pain. Don't press me uselessly, my lips are sealed" (Sophocles 35). Tiresias is mature in his decision to keep the truth concealed; he wants what is best for everyone and uses common sense toward his goal whereas Oedipus continues to be shrouded in the misconception that the knowledge of Laius' murderer will somehow lift the plague from Thebes. ...read more.

Conclusion

As the king's frustration grew, he insulted Tiresias repeatedly, even accused him of Laius' murder (Sophocles 36). Tiresias' response to this was not what Oedipus wanted to hear at all - Oedipus is Laius' killer, "...The rotting canker in the state is you...I say, you murdered the man whose murderer you require." This intensely incites Oedipus' anger, which causes the second half of the play to begin. Oedipus, bent on disproving Tiresias' words, sets out even more intently to learn the truth about both the murder of Laius, and later about his own heritage, all in response to the conversation he has had with the prophet. The role of Tiresias thusly functions as the catalyst responsible for thrusting the second half of the play into motion by driving Oedipus on his quest to discover the truth about Laius' demise, which, in turn, finally leads to Oedipus' thirst for the truth about his own past. The inventive, multifaceted role of Tiresias is essential to the play's thematic scheme, clarity, and plot. Tiresias is used as a building block that helps support the motif of father figures throughout the play. He is used as a foil to assist the reader in clearly recognizing and distinguishing Oedipus' significant character traits, and finally, Tiresias is used to advance the plot as the primary catalyst responsible for the events leading to the tragic ending. The author's ingenious use of this role was both clever and extremely effective. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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