Oedipus the King Essay

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The Number Three
Outlined by Aristotle’s praise in the famous Poetics and reflecting upon his definition of tragedy, Sophocles’ play, “Oedipus the King”, is seen to be a benchmark for a “model tragedy” in modern day culture. It revolves around a complex plot structure with various conflicts converging and weaving together to leave an audience with a catharsis, or emotional release that leaves viewers with a helpless sense of guilt. From the time Oedipus was born, he was faced with unavoidable doom of becoming his father's murderer and husband to his mother. Throughout the course of the play, Sophocles uses symbolism to address vital moments to connect with the meaning of the prophecy. A key symbol addressed by the text is the symbol of the crossroads. It represents the foreshadowing of the tumultuous reunion between Laius and Oedipus. The crossroads’ use in the play allows readers to uncover a deeper meaning that goes beyond the words of play and allows for a multitude of perspectives in which “Oedipus the King” can be interpreted in to fit into modern day culture. The crossroads embodies a critical moment in which Oedipus and his father, Laius, reunite. Taking a step back from the play, it is important to understand the context of the term “crossroads” in the play. Indeed it is specific place where separate roads converge to form an intersection. However, a crossroads is also a metaphor used when individuals have reached important points in their respective lives and are faced with crucial decisions that can impact the rest of their lives. Metaphoric roads or paths signify various decisions with separate outcomes. The text states that Oedipus comes to “the place where three roads join" (Sophocles 968). Robert W. Rix, a literature analysis professional from Copenhagen University states that the three roads, “figuratively translate the point in which Oedipus can embrace his destiny or veer away from the prophecy. Readers can conclude Oedipus may have the free will to take charge of his life in spite of the supposed prophecy” (Rix 134). The prophecy outlines that Oedipus’s life is full of doom. On the contrary, the crossroads opposes this notion by offering Oedipus different options or “paths” to take. The text states, “There were three highways/Coming together at a place I passed;/and there a herald came towards me, and a chariot/Drawn by horses” (Sophocles 968). Interestingly, the crossroads is where three roads converge. Why are there three roads? By definition of a crossroads, could not there by more roads than three? For instance, suppose there were four or five roads that came together, it is still in fact a crossroads. Sophocles chose to use three roads not by coincidence. According to Robert W. Rix in his journal “Was Oedipus Framed?” Rix argues that, “the number three might be significant in Oedipus's life. I perceive the number three as possibly being the representation of Oedipus himself” (137). Apart from Oedipus’s role as the King of Thebes, he has three identities from a family aspect. Oedipus is a son, father and husband. However, Oedipus does not play these roles in a typical traditional family structure. His wife is also his mother while his children are his siblings. Oedipus emphasizes this point in the text as he recognizes his true identities as " father, brother, and son" (Sophocles 968). The notion of “three” crossroads may also signify Oedipus’s wife, Jocasta as she, similar to Oedipus, plays three familial parts as “bride, wife, mother” (Sophocles 971). As a result, the three roads may mean a foreshadowing of what is to come for Oedipus. Each of these paths represent a different part of him. “A Thinker at the Crossroads” suggests, “Three familial connotations attached with Oedipus and Jocasta haunt them through the duration of the play and is a stern reminder of the incestuous interrelations within their family” (Cybulska 18), This argument confirms the predictions of the oracle. Another