Why Oedipus Rex was a Good King

The human society has, since time immemorial been crowned by a wide
range of literary giants. Indeed, a number of authors, playwrights,
artists and even poets have gained immense popularity, with their works
carving a niche for them and ensuring that their names do not die. It
goes without saying that different writers, authors and poets have
varying degrees of popularity, with their works attaining varying
magnitudes of relevance and success in the societies within which they
were written, and even in the future generations. Needless to say,
literary works are composed in an effort to shape the course of human
beings in a particular society through outlining the ills that plague
that society, as well as providing new ideas as to the ideal ways of
doing things. While numerous literary works have remained relevant
across generations, none has arguably proved to be more timeless than
the Athenian tragedy by Sophocles called Oedipus the King. First
performed in 429 B.C, Oedipus the King was the second in Sophocles’
three Theban plays (Dawe, 2006). It chronicles the life of a man called
Oedipus Rex, who fulfils the oracle prophesied on his life pertaining to
killing his own father and sleeping with his own mother. It is worth
noting that Oedipus Rex eventually becomes the King of Thebes, but
ultimately realizes that he had fulfilled this prophecy and eventually
ends up old and blind. While there may be varying ideas as to the
qualities of Oedipus as the king of Thebes, it is evident that Oedipus
Rex was a good king.
First, it is significantly commendable that Oedipus was extremely clear
as to the people he would not want to hurt. In essence, he made a
decision that was extremely uncomfortable for him in an effort to
protect his “parents” (Thomas & Osborne, 2004). When he, as a young
man, was told that about the oracle about his life and the prophesy that
he would eventually kill his father and get married to his own mother,
he chose to leave the comfort of his own home in an effort to prevent
the oracle’s prophesy from being manifested as true (Smith, 2005). It
goes without saying that he is sad about leaving his homeland and the
people that he loves and calls his own. However, his action was a
reflection of the selfless decisions that he is forced to make in an
effort to protect his own parents (Hall, 1994). Indeed, this is the mark
of a true leader one who makes decisions, not because it is convenient
for him or her to make them but because it is the right thing to do
(Dawe, 2006). Indeed, his decision to leave the homeland proved him to
be a selfless individual and underlined the fact that he cares more
about other people than he cares about himself. Of course, it is
ironical that his efforts to protect his parents actually lead him to
fulfilling the oracle as he is unaware of his status as an adopted child
(Thomas & Osborne, 2004). Unfortunately he comes across his own father
while trying to prevent the fulfillment of his prophecy, upon which a
disagreement ensues leading to the death of his father (King Laius) and
a number of his servants (Smith, 2005). This fulfills the prophesy of
the oracle, as he is eventually crowned the king of Thebes, the country
whose king he had killed.
In addition, King Oedipus proved to be extremely attuned with the needs
and desires of the people that are under his rule. Not only does he have
the capacity to see their needs and desires, but he is also quick to put
in place the necessary effort so as to meet their needs. This is
portrayed when he saves the city from the curse of the Sphinx (Hall,
1994). After he had fought King Laius and his servants, Oedipus came
across the Sphinx, a winged lion that had the head of a woman. The
Sphinx would ask anyone who passed by that path a question and, if he or
she was unable to give the correct answer, the Sphinx would eat them
(Foster, 2003). Oedipus, however, gives the correct answer, in which
case the Sphinx throws itself down a cliff thereby freeing the city. On
the same note, when the Oedipus is crowned the King, he strives to
determine the cause of a plague ravaging the city (Thomas & Osborne,
2004). Apollo’s Oracle states that the plague has been caused by the
gods, who are angry because the death of King Laius is yet to be avenged
(Smith, 2005). Of particular note is the fact that Oedipus vows to
ensure that the death is avenged and even puts a formal curse on the old
King’s murderer, whoever he was (Foster, 2003). He assures the people
that he would strive to ensure that the murderer is punished (Hall,
1994). This marks him as a good leader who strives to solve the problems
that plague his people and makes efforts to make their lives better.
In addition, it is evident that King Oedipus is a man of his word. Not
only does he strive to look for the murderer of the old king, but he
also makes sure that he punishes him. Unfortunately, the Apollo informs
him that the murderer is none other than he, King Oedipus. This is,
undoubtedly, a defining moment for the King of Thebes who has strived to
ensure that he prevents the fulfillment of the oracle that was placed on
his life after he was born. He has the option of asking that the
information is kept under wraps so that he can quietly get out of the
city and escape the wrath of destiny, thereby saving the city (Dawe,
2006). However, King Oedipus is not one to make decisions based on
convenience or simply to profit himself. Indeed, his heart is simply
with his people and he does things that would ensure that they live
comfortable lives even in cases where such decisions would be extremely
taxing on him or his own life. This is exactly what he does upon
realizing that he is the person who killed King Laius, in which case he
is the cause of the plague (Smith, 2005). Indeed, he keeps his word
about promising the people that the murderer would be punished
irrespective of his position in the society. He runs from the palace and
gorges his eyes out as a punishment to himself for murdering the king
(Foster, 2003). This is, essentially, bound to assuage the goods and,
therefore, eliminate the plague that they have brought to the city. King
Oedipus’ capacity to make uncomfortable decisions that would benefit
the people even when he would be on the receiving end is undoubtedly a
mark of a good king.
Dawe, R.D. (2006). Sophocles: Oedipus Rex, revised edition. Cambridge :
Cambridge University Press.
Foster, C. T. (2003). How to Read Literature Like a Professor. New York:
Smith, H. (2005). Masterpieces of Classic Greek Drama. New York:
Hall, E. (1994). “Introduction”. Sophocles: Antigone, Oedipus the
King, Electra. New York: Oxford University Press
Thomas, J.E. & Osborne, E. (2004). Oedipus Rex: Literary Touchstone
Edition. New: York: Prestwick House Inc.