The Tragedy in Sophocles Oedipus the King - Essay Prowess

The Tragedy in Sophocles Oedipus the King

The Tragedy in Sophocles Oedipus the King

The Tragedy in Sophocles Oedipus the King


Aristotle’s contributions to the literary arts are as significant as those he made in a wide range of subjects like metaphysics, ethics, rhetoric, logic, politics, physics as well as biology. In the literary work titled Poetics, one comes to an intricate understanding of the ancient scholar’s deep comprehension of the concept of tragedy (Belfiore 53). His definitions continue to serve as a basis for which any existing piece of literature is categorized as a literary tragic tale. This essay aims at presenting a comparative analysis providing good reason why Oedipus the King is appreciated as a perfect tragedy relative to Aristotle’s guidelines.

Tragedy According to Aristotle

There are situations in life which face a certain individual to which friends can only attribute to a tragedy. In Poetics, Aristotle’s definition of tragedy is not as straightforward as desired though divisible into more easily comprehensible parts (Belfiore 53). For instance, the first phrase of Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, “imitation of an action that is serious complete and of a certain magnitude” elucidates on what a reader ought to expect from reading such a narrative (Part VI para 2). This implies that a literary piece must bear the capacity to transform from happiness to a sense of misery in the course of an action. It has to avail ample time through which the various parts contained therein morph into an animate whole. Language similarly bears embellishments enabling parts of the narrative to be expressed through verse while others employ song in a rhythmic manner that progresses harmony ((Part VI para 2)). The audience also has to embrace the actions expressed as forming notable actions in the mind thus compelling on to express pity as well as fear as it unfolds. The narrative ought to bear the capacity to present a catharsis as the hero within the tragedy moves towards a person of who tragically suffers inexpressible agony due to poor judgment (Belfiore 259). The essence of tragedy as Aristotle underscores is thus based on six enabling elements; plot, diction, character, spectacle, thought, and song.

Oedipus the King

Ancient Greece was the abode of many deities who were believed by all people to accord the gift of prophesy to a few distinct individuals referred to as oracles. Sophocles weaves the narrative Oedipus the King around this belief system and particularly focuses on the mysterious twists of fate that are only seem to plague members of high society such as the royalty (Zerba 145). The author carefully creates a plot that commits the fate of King Laius and his Queen, Jocasta to one of pain emanating from each character’s expression of free will. For instance, though a prophet promises that King Laius will die by the sword of his son yet his quest is to “who so among you knows the murderer by whose hand Laius, son of Labdacus, died” (Part 1 line 242-244). The protagonist is Oedipus who by reason of unrivalled wisdom is accorded the hand on the queen of Thebes who is essentially his biological mother. In accordance with the plot as a critical element in Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, Sophocles provides one that is rich in detailed action, commits to a well-defined timeframe as well as place. The plot is initiated through song from elders and a priest beseeching the king to act against a plague that continued to ravage through the kingdom, one where “while black Death grows rich in groaning and in lamentation” (Part 1 line 33-34).  Oedipus emerges as one bearing a noble Grecian persona for his wisdom, bravery, and complicated past though he is also one given to pride and a short temper. Though a dignified man, he is by no means a perfect individual as murder seems to be the only way he chooses to overcome real or imagined adversity.

The audiences are introduced through song into an atmosphere that spells tragedy, an imminent demise of an entire city caused by a man who killed the previous ruler yet is still living within it. It is Oedipus himself who is in the quest to know “who so among you knows the murderer by whose hand Laius, son of Labdacus, died” (Part 1 line 242-244). Fear and pity in accordance to Aristotle’s guidelines in Poetics is thus expressed early on. Catharsis is presented in an increasingly agitated manner as the principle character’s birth, early childhood, and eventual accession to kingship follows from one tragic twist of fate to another (Zerba 76). King Oedipus as a person of high social standing falls prey to a tragic flaw by reason of an inclination to pride. In numerous occasions, arrogance emanates from his adopted diction and his train of thought which further fuels the tragic wave of events. for instance, “have his bed and wife that once was his, and had his line not been unfortunate we would have common children—(fortune leaped upon his head)—because of all these things, I fight in his defense as for my father” where his high social stature blinds him from the truth (Part 1 line 280-284). However, to the audiences who are able to at least discern the development of the story in light of the spectacle and choruses are drawn into a sense great pity for the king given that his birth was in essence a starting point of a life that could only culminate in great emotional pain and anguish. Though the moral order adhered to by the Greek demanded for truth and justice, it is possible to discern that Oedipus unfolding tragic life was prophesied well before his birth. The plot comes to a close as the King is justified by truth to subject himself to suffering till death in an effort to purge own irrevocable sins. Fortunately, justice comes with a form of respite for the people of the kingdom as the plague also ends.


From this comparative analysis of Aristotle’s definition of tragedy and the Sophocles’ work, Oedipus the King, one is able to determine the accuracy with which it is considered bearing all formative elements. As presented, the main character clearly comes out as a tragic hero in an exquisitely developed plot that captures the sentiments of the Greek cultural beliefs. The catharsis therein is developed through song, diction, thought, and spectacle that evoke emotional pity and fear. The twists of fate compel Oedipus to seek retribution which only he can serve compelling viewers to gain some form of pleasure in that justice and truth prevail thus ridding the city of a profound plague.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Poetics. Translated by Samuel Henry Butcher. New York City, NY: Hill and Wang, 1961. Accessed 2 Mar. 2018. <>.

Belfiore, Elizabeth S. Tragic pleasures: Aristotle on plot and emotion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton university press, 2014.

Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Translated by David Grene. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Accessed 2 Mar. 2018. <>.

Zerba, Michelle. Tragedy and theory: The problem of conflict since Aristotle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.