Oedipus' Real Complex
Oedipus' Real Complex That Oedipus, in Sophocles' play, suffered not at all from his eponymous complex cannot seriously be disputed. The Oedipus of Oedipus the King has no interest whatsoever in marrying his mother and killing his father and in fact creates his destiny only by avoiding it. Still, the story of Oedipus that Sophocles gives us does yield a complex of sorts. The real Oedipus complex, for Sophocles, is the ability to believe the worst possible thing. Consider: Oedipus' demise begins with Creon's report that Thebes harbors Laius' murderer, and Tiresias' claim that Oedipus is an incestuous parricide. But Creon, admittedly corrupt(ible), is hardly trustworthy, and Tiresias has already proven himself unequal to the Sphinx; Oedipus knows these facts, but, unable to control his own fears, fails to pursue their implications. Oedipus' presence in Thebes was motivated by a drunk calling him a bastard at a party; the alcoholic utterance sent him ultimately to Delphi, to an oracle always ambiguous, to a god who evades Oedipus' questions and only adds to his fears. Oedipus misses glaring contradictions: Creon says that the servant of Laius who reported the former king's death arrived in Thebes while the Sphinx was still active, and claimed that thieves had killed Laius and the remainder of his party; Jocasta told Oedipus that the man returned and found Oedipus ruling on the throne. Both claims cannot be true, but the alleged (if contradictory) evidence, and the subsequent arrival of a messenger from Corinth and the appearance of the shepherd who attended Laius and (mirabile dictu) was the very man who once gave away an unidentified infant from the palace, overwhelms Oedipus and sets him to his self-blinding. A moment's analysis saves Oedipus, or at least his eyes, but his disposition does not allow him that moment.
Keywords: Sophocles, Oedipus, Tragedy, Freud
Profe. Joseph Wilson
Professor of Classical Studies, Department of Foreign Languages, University of Scranton