A Criticism of a Criticism of Oedipus Rex
However, during his rule, Thebes is inflicted ith a curse that, according to Apollo, could only be lifted if the murderer of King Laius was found and persecuted. Oedipus then dedicates himself to the discovery and persecution of this alleged murderer. He questions a series of citizens, one of which was a blind prophet. This blind prophet, Teiresias, tells Oedipus that he, the current king of Thebes, was responsible for Laius’ murder at a crossroads.
Oedipus, upon hearing this news, becomes bothered and begins questioning not only others, such as Creon, a messenger, and a shepherd that witnessed the murder, but also himself. Jocasta decides to accept this fate as truth and kills herself; while, shortly thereafter, Oedipus accepts the fate, as well, and gouges his eyes out, exiling himself from Thebes. Although generally accepted as a play of fate, many people have made criticisms against this claim. One critic in particular, Kurt Fasso, in his criticism “Oedipus Crux,” believes this fate was not truly Oedipus’ – he Just accepts it as his own.
His criticism is valid, for it touches on points that do in fact prove his theory, in a single persuading and convincing piece, particularly concerning the discrepancies urrounding Laius’ death and the actual identity of the man that Oedipus killed. Fasso makes a point to prove that Oedipus did not kill King Laius at the crossroads; he may have only killed an ordinary old man. After a long argument with Creon, Oedipus became angered, for he was being accused for the murder of Laius. Jocasta proceeded to speak to him to see what was troubling him.
It is during this point that Jocasta reveals the details surrounding the death of Laius. Being presented with the appearance attributed to Laius on the day of the murder, Fasso places emphasis on the plainness of the “kings” garb and carriage. He doubts that a king would be adorned in such a nondescript fashion. The carriage is described to be “plain,” (Sophocles, 755) with no royal markings at all. Being plain is unfit for a king – even if he is apparently traveling incognito. This is especially true with Laius describing the purpose of their Journey as an “embassy,” a basis for diplomatic relations, not hiding.
Therefore, this plain clothing and carriage could not be those of a king. Fasso goes on to bring to light that, rather than a regal staff, the supposed “king” was holding a “two-pointed goad. ” (Sophocles, 809) This goad is used articularly to herd cattle. However, those of status tended to carry fine wooden staffs. Even Oedipus himself wielded a staff against his highway foes. Once again, this brings into question the true identity b hind this “king. ” His point is very much valid and agreeable.
A factor worth noting is that Jocasta describes the amount of servants accompanying Laius as being “but five,” (Sophocles, 753) contrary to what, according to Oedipus, “would suit a prince. ” (Sophocles, 752) In matters of diplomacy, even if incognito, kings would, of course, need much protection, so as to avoid conflict and usurpation. It is rather foolish to risk the life of a king at the expense of his people. Such little protection and great risk, leads one to doubt whether the old man that Oedipus killed at the crossroads was even a king to begin with.
With the identity of the king in question, one must also question the identity of his entourage – the “herald” in particular. There was no indication that the man walking in front of the carriage was even a herald in the first place, as Oedipus and Jocasta had suggested. While Jocasta was recounting the report of Laius’ death to Oedipus, she made aware the company that followed the king. Oedipus then recounted his meeting at the crossroads. From the evidence provided, Fasso doubts that the “herald” was actually a herald.
Oedipus makes no account of anything being said or heralded by the man in front of the carriage – only that he wanted to “thrust” (Sophocles, 805) him out of the road by force. The “herald” made no attempt to order him to move out of the way. A herald is supposed to be a messenger, one that announces and proclaims decrees in a clear voice. He would, at least, respond with some verbal feedback. Therefore, other than by position, there is nothing that can truly warrant the “herald’s” identity, ffirming the validity of Fasso’s point.
Along with a lack of verbal proof, there was no visual proof as well. The man had no attire or representation that tied him to being a herald for royalty. Oedipus merely identified him as a herald, for he “led the way. ” (Sophocles, 804) One can infer that since he identified the “herald” only by position, there was no other visible evidence that led him to that conclusion. Ergo, again, there is no way to prove the “herald’s” identity, thus pointing back to the fact that the man he supposedly heralded for could not have been Laius.
Along with iscrepancies in identities, there were also discrepancies surrounding the number of subjects that accompanied Laius. The narrated histories of Laius’ death, as told by Oedipus and Jocasta, do not meet, for differing amounts of people are mentioned. Amidst their recounting of Laius’ death, Oedipus and Jocasta told each other of the supposed number and identities of those that followed the king on his Journey. In his criticism, Fasso puts particular emphasis on the amount of people said by each person. Jocasta recalls there to be five or six people.
However, Oedipus was only met y three people: a herald, the coachman, and an old man who was supposedly King Laius. “Three people” is not the same as “five or six people. ” This major discrepancy leads to the inference that Laius may have been on a different carriage entirely. Oedipus said that he killed “all” (Sophocles, 813) of them, so, unless they were hiding, or Oedipus Just could not see them, it is unlikely that there could have been five or six people on the carriage that he encountered, showing that Fasso’s point is indeed valid.
By the chance that there were indeed five or six persons, and the others fled fter Oedipus thought he killed them all, one could deduce that there would have been other witnesses to call upon pertaining to the murder, had Oedipus listened to the original number of people said by Jocasta. Therefore, this could not be the case, for the shepherd was the only witness called. The concept of fate in Oedipus Rex is otten a concept that governs the reader’s interpretations ot events. There are, however, many critics, such as Kurt Fasso, that dismiss this concept, and remain open toward all possibilities, contesting fate’s role in the story.