Socrates' quote "The unexplained life is not worth living" in relation tp "Oedipus the King"
Possibly Socrates? most famous quote is ?The unexamined life is not worth living?. He could have meant and number of ideas from this statement, however it is particularly significant to Oedipus the King. What can be derived from this statement is that it is bad to live in ignorance. But Oedipus is not only ignorant to his birth status, he is ignorant towards the truths that Tieresias and Creon tell him as he refuses to believe either of them. Still there is Tieresias? quote that has been spun into our everyday use of phrases and cliches: ?When ignorance is bliss, ?tis folly to be wise?.Line 440
Twice in the story of Oedipus, both before the play was set and during it, Oedipus was living in ignorance. Yet, he was happy, in Corinth he was the accepted son of polybus and Merope and respected by the people. This is proven when the messenger tells him that the people want him to be king. In ancient Greece monarchs were elected by popular vote and only death or great fault caused another election. In Thebes he was respected and admired as king, loved by his wife and children. This is also proven in theway he talks to the Thebans and the way people like the chorus and the priest talk to him. In either case, if Oedipus had continued to live as he did, he would have lived a long and happy life, never discovering the sevret of his birth or oven caring. But then again, there would be no story.
Ignorance would have suited Oedipus fone, so this quote isn?t true to Oedipus, but it is significant. When Oedipus pursued his ancestry it in the end undid him and everything he accomplished. But like the Socratic thinker, Oedipus though that his life would be better off if he knew, thus the search. ?Let all come out however vile! However base it be I must unlock the secret of my birth!? Lines 1075-6 Later, when Oedipus is blind and knows the truth, he says ?Now found all evil and evil born? Line 1392
Still, if Oedipus had not ventured from his adopted home, would anything that had happened in the play come about? What becomes of his fateful journey from Corinth to seek the truth leads to the downfall of an entire city ad family line. If he had not left Corinth then he would not have killed King Laius, the sphinx would not have descended on Thebes, he would never have fulfilled the prophercy and life would have gone on.
Even if he had not solved the riddle the story would not continue, as Oedipus would have been slain then and there by the sphinx like all the other who didn?t solve the riddle. Tieresias mocks Oedipus in the play by insulting his gift for riddle solving:
Oedipus: You dare taunt me with the gift that is my greatness?
Tieresias: Your great misfortune and your ruin.
Oedipus: No matter! I have saved this land from ruin, I am content.
Tieresias is right throughout the play, one is better off without knowing something that could cause them harm. Like the old adage: ?What you don?t know can?t hurt you?. But Oedipus doesn?t believes this.
Which brings me to the second point, what Tieresias predicts is true though Oedipus refuses to believe it. Even when Tieresias presents it to him unadorned, in the barest of facts as possible. He in act goes out on a tangent in disbelief and accuses Tieresias of being in league with Creon.
This might seem far fetched to us but look at it from this perspective. A man brings his brother, who is a priest to meet his boss a well-known influential politician . The man excuses himself for a few minutes and leaves the room, when the man has left the priest accuses the politician of murder and adultery. The politician, will either think that the priest is nuts, or that his employee and the priest are up to something.
While we cannot blame Oedipus for reacting as he does to Tieresias? outburst, he does refuse to listen to Tieresias? argument, the same with Creon?s lengthy, and believeable, speech on why he doesn?t want to be king, Oedipus only says ?I know I am right? Line 633 And even when Jocasta tries to convince him when Creon tells the gods to kill him if he is ever found in the act of such a deed he refuses to yield. Who knows, theatre or no theatre Oedipus could have strangled Creon then and there if the chorus had not intervened. It is the chorus, and only the chorus that convinces Oedipus to back down ?Your voice, and not his has won my mercy? Lines 672-3
Surprisingly, when Oedipus raves on why he is blind and how he wishes he was dead, he does not say that he never had the gift of solving riddles, nor does he say he wishes he never found out the truth. And even to more of a surprise, Creon forgive Oedipus; accusations at the end of the play and it is he who helps Oedipus in the end when even his ally the chorus has rejected him.
So really Oedipus did himself no good by examining his life. Contrary to the Socratic quote Oedipus? life was better when he was in ignorance. However, like most pieces of classical literature, if it wasn't for this there would be no story. Ignorance is bliss until you tamper with it.