Before exploring symbolism in Oedipus Rex, let’s define that symbolism is one of the most important literary devices in literature. Symbolism is the use of symbols to express meaning and messages, and it can be seen in many texts. The story of Oedipus Rex is based on the origins of Thebes and describes the life and fate of the ill-fated Oedipus. Sophocles utilizes many symbols within his play to convey his message. These symbols are commonly associated with tragic heroes, who often unwittingly bring about their own destruction.
The Role of Chorus in Oedipus Rex
The chorus is a group that has the role of interpreting what is happening on stage. They also provide some comic relief and moral guidance. The chorus in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex provides the audience with understanding the story as well as lending sympathy to Oedipus as he is an outcast.
Read About: The Role of Chorus in Oedipus Rex
Prominent Symbols in Oedipus Rex
Oedipus Rex is a play that revolves around the story of an ancient ruler of Thebes who unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother, unaware of their familial relation. This is a story with a series of prominent symbols. For one, there’s Oedipus’ absent right eye, which was taken from him by Apollo for being arrogant and insolent. There is also the Sphinx, which represents the dangers found in ignorance and misogyny.
In the play, Jocasta is a woman that has been married to King Laius and she is also Oedipus’s mother. The first time we see her is when Oedipus enters her home after he had just killed Laius. Jocasta’s hair was torn out, which may represent the pain that she feels of accidentally giving birth to her own son.
“A man stands out in the middle of a crowded room. He is surrounded by people, but he is all alone.”
This quote comes from the short story The Lottery and it is about a man’s life. He has always been lonely and he never really opened up to anyone so he was always alone. The man in this story is all alone because he really wants to have a family, but he doesn’t have one so he also represents the pain of loneliness.
The sphinx is a creature with the body of a lion, and the head and breasts of a woman. It asks the question “who would solve me?” and then proceeds to kill those who give an incorrect answer, until Oedipus solves it by answering “man”. In doing so, he not only saved himself from death but also freed the city from the sphinx’s curse.
The City of Thebes
Thebes is the capital city of ancient Greece. The city’s symbol is an ancient shrine that was once a temple. This temple is considered to be the holiest in all of Greece because it houses the statues of Laius, Jocasta, and their son Oedipus.
The temple also holds the legendary Oracle of Delphi, who gives prophecies to all who ask. The Oracle is one of the most important characters in Oedipus Rex because she plays a crucial role in the plot. Oedipus is aware of this, and his life is affected by it.
Religious Symbolism in Oedipus Rex
The latest translation of the play by Sophocles translated by Robert Fagles, has a lot of Christian and biblical overtones. These include the imagery and language associated with the Holy Trinity and how different parts of Oedipus’ body represent different parts of Christ’s body. The play also has imagery and language associated with the Greek gods. For example, the sphinx represented the Greek idea of fate or destiny. The imagery of the play is heavily based on religion, especially Christianity. Also, there are many religious allusions in this play.
The story of Oedipus is one of the most famous Greek tragedies. Although it has many biblical and Christian allusions, there are also many Greek myths that are alluded to or included in this play. It is clearly evident that the play was written with great care and craftsmanship.
Freud’s Interpretation of Symbolism in Oedipus Rex
The play is based on the Greek myth of Oedipus, who unintentionally killed his father and married his mother without knowing their relationship. Freud believed that the main reason this play had survived for so many years is because of its ability to connect to the audiences’ unconscious mind.
Oedipus’ character is a perfect representation of unconscious or irrational power. In the play, Oedipus is described as being unaware of his actions and not understanding his intentions. However, he is capable of rationalizing what he does and acts upon his desires. Freud wrote that Oedipus is
“possessed by the idea of the murder and incest” (pg. 4).
To conclude we can say that Oedipus Rex is full of symbolism. Despite being ancient play, it can be interpreted in many different ways. It is a play of great power and it is also the greatest tragedy written by Sophocles.
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