Essay on Knowledge is Power
The word knowledge or someone who is knowledgeable can mean a variety of things depending on what context they are used. Generally knowledge is considered as a strong tool to have. There is a famous saying that goes something like knowledge is power. When Sophocles wrote Oedipus, Greece was going through a period of great discovery and enlightenment. Incredibly large steps forward were being made in the fields of mathematics, philosophy and science. This lead to curiosity and forcing the people of Greece to look at the world in a different way. However, others may argue that too much knowledge is a dangerous thing, or as another famous saying goes "ignorance is bliss." Throughout history people have been purged and executed as a result of knowing too much. In the case of Oedipus, we learn how his downfall was a result of his knowing what he should not have.
As mentioned earlier, knowledge can signify a number of things depending on the particular context. In order to understand that too much is a dangerous thing for Oedipus, we need to know that the knowledge Oedipus is searching for is himself - a quest for self-discovery. That being the discovery of his real parents and the secret of his birth. Although we all know the legend of Oedipus and his atrocious acts, he would have been perfectly content with himself had he not known the truth about his parents and his birth.
This leads us to question how Oedipus obtains this self-knowledge. Oedipus is an intellectually strong character with an inquisitive mind. We see this through his ability to destroy the Sphinx in solving her riddle. We also see that he has a thirst for the truth through persisting to find the person who is "polluting" Thebes. It is this persistence for the truth that is one of the main factors as to how he discovered the guilty person, or himself. At any time Oedipus could have halted his search and accepted the stories that were being told to him. From the very beginning, from when he was told by a drunken man that his adopted parents were not his biological parents through to Jocasta attempting to persuade him that the prophecy was not true, Oedipus insisted on finding out the truth for himself. This persistence for the truth was a very detrimental flaw of Oedipus.
Oedipus blindness throughout his search was another factor that accounted for his downfall. His blindness to see the future, that being he is the guilty person, his blindness to kill a man when a prophecy foreshadowed it and his blindness in marrying a woman who is old enough to be his mother, knowing again the prophecy. Oedipus even goes as far as mudslinging Teiresias, the blind oracle, for his physical blinded ness when he accuses Oedipus of being the man who kills his father and marries his mother. However it is Teiresias who can see clearly Oedipus downfall and Oedipus who is blind to it. Oedipus later severing out his eyes is a testament to his inability to see.
Knowing now that the knowledge Oedipus seeks is about himself, how is it that this knowledge is dangerous? Firstly the knowledge that his parents in Corinth are not his real parents causes Oedipus to flea the village and en route to Thebes, he kills a man at a place where three roads meet. Then once King of Thebes, through solving the riddle of the Sphinx, marries a woman who could be his mother. At this point there are no consequences of his actions until a plague threatens to kill everybody of Thebes. In calling Teiresias to help sort out the disaster, Teiresias suggests that Oedipus is the one causing the plague. This knowledge causes outrage and an outburst not only towards Teiresias but Creon, a long-time friend and brother of Jocasta. This is dangerous, as Teiresias is known to be a divine being; a human version of Apollo and Creon is an influential, trusted figure of Thebes.
However it is the discovery of his real parents and the secret of his birth that have the direst consequences. On learning of these two facts Oedipus denounces himself as utterly foul, bringing shame upon himself and his family. So much so that Jocasta takes her own life. Shortly after Oedipus gauges out his eyes and is stripped of his children and banished from Thebes. We see at this point that the dangerous thing was himself, or the entire knowledge of himself.
The question still remains however, as to how much knowledge is dangerous to Oedipus. It is true that even if Oedipus unlocked the secret that Laius was his biological father, had he not known that Jocasta was his mother, Oedipus downfall would have been a lot less severe, maybe even non-existent. There are many hypotheticals we could conjure in order to prove that had Oedipus not been knowledgeable to one aspect of his past, he would have remained King and kept his dignity intact. However we know that this could not have been possible, through no work of the gods, but due to Oedipus flaws and his own blindness.
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