In Sophocles’ play, Oedipus the King, there are Oedipus continually tries to abscond his destiny, and in a bigger sense, edification. Only by trying to escape his fate does he realize that his efforts are futile. Likewise, in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, the prisoner struggles to comprehend his old life and assimilate with his new life. Both pieces of work exhibit protagonists who must register that they are ignorant in order to have a greater understanding of the world and their lives. Appreciation and/or understanding of Oedipus the King can be enhanced by application of the main point(s) of “Allegory of the Cave” and by consideration of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.
Joseph Campell’s Hero’s Journey usually starts with the hero’s departure of his home or place in which he is comfortable. Oedipus the King has a double departure in that he leaves his home of Thebes as a baby and then later leaves his home of Corinth as an adult. Oedipus also does not believe Tiresias after being told, “I say you are the murderer you seek” (Sophocles 1048; Episode 1). Similarly, Socrates states, “And if someone even forced him to look into the glare of the fire, would his eyes not hurt him, and would he not then turn away and flee (back) to that which he is capable of looking at? And would he not decide that (what he could see before without any help) was in fact clearer than what was now being shown to him?” (Plato Stage 1). Both passages show how a person becoming privy to new information may reject it with all of their heart. The foreshadowing of Oedipus’s words, “In truth, but not in you! You have no strength, blind in your ears, your reason, and your eyes.” gives the reader insight that he too will go blind (Sophocles 1048; Episode 1). Departing can often be easier for characters than initiation as protagonists love to get away from their normal lives.
Second in Joseph Campell’s Hero’s Journey, initiation often portrays the hero’s hardships that he or she must face in order to come home and be loved by all. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus’s hardship presents itself early in the play; he tries to deny his fate even as more evidence seems to point towards his guilt. When Oedipus discusses the murder of Laius with Jocasta, his story appears to align with Laius’s death, but Jocasta reminds him that it is not fact until heard by the lone survivor of the retinue (Sophocles 1056-58; Antistrophe 2). Such actions would correspond with “…would not the one who had been dragged like this feel, in the process, pain and rage? And when he got into the sunlight, wouldn’t his eyes be filled with the glare, and wouldn’t he thus be unable to see any of the things that are now revealed to him as the unhidden?” (Plato Stage 2). Both characters are awestruck at the idea that they were ignorant of the real worlds around them. Now that the information was introduced, it was only a matter of time until the heroes came to know it as truth. Finally, the reader approaches the return.
The return of the hero, being the finale to an arduous trek, is a healthy mix of closure and bittersweetness. Oedipus’s return is when he proclaims, “Ah! All of it was destined to be true! Oh light, now may I look my last upon you, shown monstrous in my birth, in marriage monstrous, a murderer monstrous in those I killed” (Sophocles 1066; Episode 4). The prisoner definitely has a bittersweet return as he is killed by those whom he attempts to save, yet it is better that he makes an attempt, rather than returning to the darkness forever (Plato Part 3). Perhaps a more tragic ending than the prisoner’s would be the one of Oedipus. To chose blindness and be able to see so clearly exudes irony. Living out the rest of his life as a beggar, and being cursed by himself, Oedipus Rex comes to an end and so does Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey is an integral part of action/adventure storytelling. Oedipus is no different; he leaves his home in Thebes as a child, grows as a man and learns of his fate, and then returns home only to be a prisoner of his destiny. The perfect example of the Hero’s Journey would have to be the plight of the prisoner. The prisoner escapes the cave, learns of the sun and other objects, and returns to teach the fellow captives of his revelations. Not only are Oedipus Rex and “Allegory of the Cave” related by the Hero’s Journey, but also by the inability to escape their kismet. Though neither of the protagonists had a hamartia, they were damned from the start. The admiration and/or discernment of Oedipus the King can be enhanced by application of the main point(s) of “Allegory of the Cave” and by consideration of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.
- Plato. “Allegory of the Cave.” Translated by Thomas Sheehan. Stanford University, 27 March 2018, http://web.stanford.edu/class/ihum40/cave.pdf
- Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing, Compact Edition. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Robert Zweig. 6th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2015. 1039-74. Print.