Attitudes to religion in the play, Oedipus, the King.

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Title: Attitudes to religion in the play, “Oedipus, the King”.

Word Count: 1493

Title: Attitudes to religion in the play, “Oedipus, the King”.

Sophocles’ works are exemplary in that they give us an insight the cultural and social aspects of the ancient Greek society. Like any other society, this one is also founded on the pillars of religion. Through his play, “Oedipus, the King”, Sophocles shows how gods can be villainous and also how the faith in the divinity and in the religious dogmas can be reduced into smithereens, when the God proves himself averse to human interests. It has always been believed that the ancient Greeks were a very religious society. Through this play, Sophocles gives the audience a true vision of the attitudes of the Greek society towards the Gods and their religion. He uses a variety of characters in different circumstances to show different attitudes towards religion in 8th century BC, Greece. 


        One of the main themes that also serves as a dominating factor in driving the plot forward is that of predestination. Since Sophocles “served for many years as an ordained priest of Alcon and Asclepius”, his views on religion are firm. Probably with the play Oedipus the king, he forewarns the public hat it is impossible to run away from one’s destiny. Man proposes; god disposes. Even a man full of valor and volition, such as Oedipus, is nothing but a puppet before the will of the gods. Sophocles’ play is interwoven around the Delphic Oracle, which proclaimed the murder of Laios, by his son, the protagonist, Oedipus. It is interesting to note that unlike other playwrights who prefer to leave such polemical issues, related to predictions and oracles, untouched, Sophocles takes a firm stance and clearly shows that every prophecy made by the gods is fulfilled. Through Sophocles’ portrayal of this Greek tragedy, his firm faith in God and predestination is established. The play shows how a man’s fate will always overpower his life. Even the wisest man Tiresias says, “The truth will come by itself, the truth will come no matter how I shroud it in silence.” (Sophocles 38, line 460). But all this appears contradictory to the modern world where law and order remains blind to religion and renounces every reference to supernatural phenomenon. If a man’s life is predestined, written before he is born, he has no control over what he does, and in such circumstances can anyone ever be held responsible for the crimes he commits? In ancient Greece it was common to find a man absolved and declared innocent if his crimes were justified as acts of sacrifice to please the gods. Sophocles portrays the character of Oedipus as that of a tragic character more than that of a malefactor. He serves as a puppet to the malignant fate. In the play, “Oedipus, The King” we see that the people consider themselves at the mercy of the Gods. They pray to the Gods for all their problems, the most prominent one being the alleged “plague” that strikes Thebes. However we see that different groups of people in the Greek society have different reactions to the Gods and their prophecies.  And the people start losing their faith in the gods when the epidemic continues despite tons of offerings and tributes to appease the gods. Sophocles presents before us the fact that although the theory of predestination swayed the minds of the Greek people, their faith in God and fate was as fragile as gossamer.

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Oedipus has been portrayed as the superhuman savior of Thebes. The common citizens, who come bearing gifts for the palace, look up to Oedipus as a manifestation of God himself. In the first episode Sophocles shows the audience that people of Thebes gather around Oedipus’ altar to offer their oblations. The priest says that there are similar groups of people gathered around the temples of Athena. Does Oedipus wield the same power and influence as Athena? The priest of Zeus praying to Oedipus to help the people of Thebes says, “There was a god in it, a god in ...

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