Haemartia: The Tragic Flaw

October 7, 2002

Word Count – 670

A tragedy of fate, by definition, satisfies the moral sense, it brings forth pity or fear, and it tells a story of misfortune by reversal of situation, all of which are fulfilled by Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Oedipus, the main character of this play, has a serious flaw that is exploited throughout the play. All tragic plays, however, always include a character being portrayed as a hero, only to become a failure at the end. In Oedipus Rex, the Kings major weakness, which led to his downfall, was his reckless behavior. His quick, uneducated decisions made him look like a fool.

Curiosity played a large role in Oedipus’s demise. His yearning to find the killer was only an ironic ending to find that the killer was himself. “You do know something, and will not tell us? Out with it! You no feeling at all,” said Oedipus to a blind man named Teiresias. Fate would eventually show forth, why must Oedipus interrogate the knowledgeable man such as he does? The answer is his outraged curiousity.

After Oedipus’s informative conversation with Teiresias, he meets a messenger who tells Oedipus that he knows that truth of the problem. “What do you mean? In the name of God tell me,” proclaims Oedipus to the messenger. Oedipus, yet again, recklessly badgers a source of information that is bound to come forth through fate anyways. Oedipus is on the break of insanity due to his ignorance and lack of knowledge.


As the play progresses, it seems as though Oedipus already knows the truth, but is only looking for answers to prove himself wrong. His constant badgering is for his own sake, rather than the sake of his city. “You will die now unless you speak the truth… Where did you get him? From your house? Somewhere Else? You are a dead man if I have to ask again.” Oedipus has become a madman at this point, surviving only on information that will soon destroy him. Oedipus once says to the Shepherd, “I am having dreadful hearing. Yet I must hear!” By now, Oedipus is only trying to find a way to prove his self wrong of believing that he was the true killer.

Along with Oedipus’s curiosity comes his reckless behavior, which dooms him to misery and laughter. In the beginning of the play, Oedipus condemns his self by laying out a penalty to the killer of Lauis before the killer has even been identified. “I pray that the man’s [the killer’s] life be consumed in evil and wretchedness. This speech to his city is quite ironic due to the fact that Oedipus will be the killer in the end. He is simply condemning himself.

After the climax of the play, near the very end, Sophocles portrays Oedipus’s recklessness by Oedipus stabbing his own eyes out. He has gone insane, but does this in a fashion that looks as though he is punishing himself. When Oedipus says, “I do not know how I could bear the sight of my own father, when I come to the house of death, or my mother: for I have sinned against both,” he is proclaiming that he stabbed his own eyes out to avoid the shame his parents will bear on him when he dies and meets his parents in the house if death. Another reason for his reckless action was that he could not bear to see


the destruction he has caused throughout his city. “How could I look men frankly in the eye?”

Ironic is a man who went through life fearing his fate, not able to see his misfortunes unfolding before the very eyes he would later destroy. Oedipus Rex was a reckless man, condemned by the fate of the gods from the second of his birth, to the death and possibly beyond into the house of death. Oedipus’s uncontrolled behavior and curiosity brought sorrow into his life and pain to his heart. The irony of this play is immeasurable, yet this is what a tragedy must portray. The play excites pity for Oedipus, yet Oedipus carelessly brought this upon himself. His curiosity and haste doomed himself long before the prophecies could be proven true.