Nov 10, 2017 in Literature

Vision and Blindness in Oedipus Rex

It goes without saying that Sophocles had the confidence to confront the idea of vision in relation to blindness. According to literature, vision was a symbol of the pursuit of knowledge and the subsequent ability to dissect difficult concepts. For example, it would have been replaced with words like truth, prophesy or even oracle without significantly altering the meaning. In the literature, Neoptolemus and Antigone are both said to have acquired immense knowledge about the world, and therefore not described as blind. This implies that the word blind is used to refer to people who are yet to understand certain concepts about the world or in the process of acquiring knowledge. In this case, they would be referred to as blind people undergoing treatment. It becomes clear that blindness, being a strong visual metaphor, is intentionally used in the passage to denote limitations to humanity. They basically imply those things that are beyond human understanding or to least, a section of humans. In the case of Women of Trachilis, characters like Hylos show improvement from partial knowledge to full understanding of the concepts at hand over time. However, the full understanding or acquisition of knowledge comes a bit too late such that it does not succeed in averting an impending calamity. Notably, Jocasta emphasizes that human capabilities are limited by nature. For instance, the fact that no one can be able to predict with certainty what is going to happen days ahead only point to this nature of humanity. It is in this regard that Oedipus talks about defining his destiny over time and compares some part of his life to a transition from human blindness to total insight. This makes it quite clear what blindness meant in the passage (Dawe, page 8).

Although the idea of sight permeates every part of the play, the reader only gets to understand its meaning when prophet Teresias takes a place on stage. In fact, the audience would always miss this bit of the play, making it difficult for them to understand the play better. In most cases, the play would have to be revisited quite a number of times so that the exact meaning could become clear to the audience. This stemmed from the fact that the audience would not perfectly understand the meaning of the play if they did not catch the meaning at this bit. Essentially, the play was designed such that one cannot easily decipher the actual meaning of the play from the events going on in the play. For instance, Teiresias is said to be literally blind unlike other characters in the play. However, he can clearly see the kind of horror that has bedeviled Oedipus’ life. On the other hand, Oedipus has a clear eye sight but cannot realize beforehand the ill fate that god has placed ahead of him. Thus, he lives his life as though nothing is about to happen to his life. This also showed that blindness referred to in the play had nothing to do with physical sense of sight. Rather, it was a symbol of knowledge that is only available to a select few. That is why Oedipus could not win against Tereisias given that he had human ability while Teiresias had some superhuman abilities. It is therefore evident in the play that gods were not humans as exemplified by their extraordinary “sight”. It is worth noting that they could see much better than humans who had their eyes even though they did not have eyes themselves. It certainly placed gods in a hierarchy slightly higher than normal humans (Dawe, page 12).  

It is up to much later in the play that Oedipus gets eyesight to enable him see through the terrible fate that lay ahead of him. Sophocles, in a classical way, emphasizes this by noting that the king had to prick his own eyes. This is attributed to the fact that Oedipus felt vulnerable and easy to be manipulated by his distracters. In fact, some of the danger that lay ahead of him were purely due to his own evil actions that had come back to haunt him. It bothered him that he had suddenly lost “his eyesight” at a time that he really needed it. It certainly made him feel too vulnerable to look up to the future with confidence. Indeed, he was right to think that anything could happen to him that would significantly harm his life. Blindness and vision are related to the theme in the sense that they represented opposite divides in classical humanity. While blindness represented stupidity and social vulnerability, vision symbolized knowledge and social awareness. It can, therefore, be concluded from the play that Oedipus represented the limitations of humanity while Teiresias represented the overwhelming knowledge by the gods. Instead of going through suicide, Oedipus chooses to blind himself to symbolize the fact that fate can be altered through simple life steps. Having started with stupidity, he ends up an intelligent fellow by physically blinding himself (Dawe, page 1).

In conclusion, it goes without saying that Sophocles had the confidence to confront the idea of vision in relation to blindness. According to literature, vision was a symbol of the pursuit of knowledge and the subsequent ability to dissect difficult concepts. Although the idea of sight permeates every part of the play, the reader only gets to understand its meaning when prophet Teresias takes a place on stage. In fact, the audience would always miss this bit of the play, making it difficult for them to understand the play better.

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