“Oedipus the King” by Sophocles

The Greek artistic works in terms of cultural aspects are intrinsic and wonderful. The peculiarities of genre form and the performance, as it is, adored viewers much. The culture and the society at most points reflect each other. In other words, artists and creative people of the epoch describe the essence of human beings in their inner conflicts. This is the attempt to make people closer to their psychological features of character. The example of Oedipus the King is one of the examples of psychological approaches in ancient literature. Due to the efforts of the “Farter” of psychoanalysis this theme got more points for discussion. In this respect the depth of a man’s psyche provides an observer with more glimpses at the potential of individuals for doing restricted things. The analysis provided in the paper intends to work out the problem of a deep psychological perspective realized on the example of Oedipus the King. The paper is structured in the form of a critical approach toward the play and how Freud estimates it. The world of a man’s psyche is a mystery which can be explained on examples of the past and current deeds of people.

As long the mankind exists, the inner reflections of individuals represent their real intentions. This assumption is fair throughout the history of the mankind. The institution of family is the domain where the highest priorities of reason should dominate. It is the place where people should gain more of good. Also it is the place where goodness should dominate over evil in the outside world. Looking at the figure of Sophocles, one may fairly note the mastership of the dramatist to implement the technique of irony and equivocal meaning of Oedipus’s statements. In this case the flow of the development of actions can be predicted by viewers. Fagles et al (1984) look at the statements and deeds of Oedipus, as if they have an additional sinister sub-sense.

In this equivocal perspective two particular features provide a line of disorders in psyche, namely: murder and incest. Oedipus kills his father and sleeps with his mother. The logical evaluation by Sigmund Freud would suggest that the case of Oedipus is the reason of his intentions. His pathway led him toward what was restricted and seemed as total madness. In this respect the great concernment of Freud according to the example of Oedipus was stimulated by unintentional urge of the king. In Freud’s discussion on Oedipus case the idea of at once intentional and unintentionally urge of the protagonist toward his parents. The opposition in a man’s love toward father and mother is realized in terms of the complexes which human beings have. The hatred of Oedipus toward father and the love toward mother is at a core of discussion. Freud promotes an appropriate background toward rational approach as of Oedipus: “There must be something which makes a voice within us ready to recognize the compelling force of destiny in the Oedipus, while we can dismiss as merely arbitrary such dispositions” (Freud, 1973, p. 262). This is why the phenomenon of Oedipus should be judged upon as the case of natural feeling of a male child toward parents.

The reasonable outcome of al story, when Laius is killed and Oedipus occasionally sleeps with his mother, is the point when the truth comes to the protagonist. Freud’s position regarding to the play is straightforward. Downing (2005) admits that the idea of “family romance” and motives to find out what a man needs from an inner perspective is the central for Freud. Freudian estimation of Greek literature and antique tradition points out the tripartite division of a man’s major impulses into ego, id, and super ego. This is why the concernment of the philosopher was attached to the theme of incest.

An ordinary observer would possibly think over so high reflection of Freudian theory on the Oedipus the King. A fair question is why it is so unique for psychoanalysis? The thing is that this example is particular because Oedipus did not know the real essence of his motives and intentions. In other words, he was blind until the truth became apparent to him due to the prophet. Thus, the psychological reinterpretation of the myth is based on the Oedipus and his moral inner observation of what is happening to him and to his surrounding. The moral part is not supreme in this discussion, because it may turn an observer’s attention off. Conversely, the portion of psychiatric explanation of Oedipus deeds is illustrated in Freud’s works.

Hence, the idea of the Oedipus complex is outlined, as a result of Freudian observation of the problem. This means that the inner devotion of a son toward his mother represents a menace to his father. It is so because a father becomes a competitor to son. Thus, the hatred may simply appear and then overgrow into the conflict of greater scope. In terms of Oedipus it is the murder. In this respect the psychological approach touches upon Freudian theory: “Freud asserts that the identification has nothing passive or feminine about it; a passive or feminine identification would mean that the son wanted to become the object of his father’s desire” (Girard & Gregory, 2005). In conversation with Creon Oedipus demonstrates his recognition of bad motivation imposed in him primordially but with subtle evaluation of the situation:

Creon: We suspected as much. But with Laius dead
No leader appeared to help us in our troubles.
Oedipus: Trouble? Your king was murdered – royal blood!
What stopped you from tracking down the killer
Then and there (Fagles et al, 1984, p. 166)?

The hypocrisy of Oedipus demonstrates his unrealized survey on the reality of his true family. The truth will come later to him, when he pokes out his eyes after the moment of enlightenment. However, this place in the play then leads to the discussion with Jocasta and another truth which makes Oedipus insane. Thereupon, it is vital to state that his blindness is related with the occasional situation. He never knew that the prophecy of the oracle will take place in his life even when he escaped from his alleged parents. Oedipus was caught into a trap which destiny prepared to him.

From the psychological point of view it is a case when an individual is trapped in his real intentions about parental identity. In other words, Freud claims the deeds of Oedipus, as something that should be treated rationally without points to rebuke Oedipus. The hidden motives of people are restricted by the morality and societal approach. As a result, the tragedy of Oedipus may happen to every man who still covers his intentions. Freud (1973) notes that people never get to the point of their identity and the peculiarities of their psyche as well: “Like Oedipus, we live in ignorance of these wishes, repugnant to mortality, which have been forced upon us by Nature” (263)… In fact, the sexual tension of a hero in the play demonstrates his sexual need to be positively evaluated by the object of his adornment, meaning Jocasta. She gave him two sons and two daughters. She also was devoted to him. However, the trouble of plague was the point from which the real tragedy appears. The scenes of conversation between Oedipus and Jocasta introduce a reader with the changes in personal attitudes which appear between two. The destruction of their lives emerges since they realize the scope of wrong actions made by both. Oedipus finally recognizes his implication to murder of Laius. Jocasta realizes that he is her son. Furthermore, Oedipus tragically apprehends his incest with real mother. All in all, it is an obvious example of the psychological trauma inflicted by both.

Thus, it is necessary to work out whether the situation could be solved positively? The thing is that after Oedipus was suggested to be the king of Thebes, much time passed. The feelings of both Oedipus and Jocasta were strong. They are not emotionless. They are able to develop their devotion and adornment toward each other. On the other hand, the influence of cultural and traditional variables of the society rejects such amoral attitudes of people. That is why blame is guaranteed from the side of individuals following such approach. Thereupon, Freud wants just to point out the essential peculiarity of the Oedipus complex. The play demonstrates the rationality of his theory. The essence of suchlike intentions in family between son and mother was known to Sophocles. In terms of contemporary development of the society it should be mandatory perceived by modern society. Individuals go their particular way in life. However, no one is insured from being involved in the kaleidoscope of restricted inner intentions. “It is the fate of all of us, perhaps, to direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and our first hatred and our first murderous wish against our father” (Freud, 1973, p. 262). It is vital to note that Sigmund Freud gives a theoretical explanation of the case. His thoughts lead to hypothesis about the nature of a man. The Greek mythology helps him in this urge. Moreover, certain claims of Freud that Oedipus really had righteous motivation consider rational evaluation. It is a part of individuals’ way to approach toward parents. It is a scheme of psychological development applied to children. Every male individual goes through this phase in emotional background, according to Freud. Such fate is inevitable.

The example of Oedipus is the most successful and convenient prerequisite for estimation of the psychological grounding of children’s behaviors. In fact, this myth helps adults understand the patterns which may emerge as of male children. The depth of analysis touches upon its acknowledgement by other philosophers and scientists in the field of psychology. Jung, Fromm and others pointed out the natural existence of such an urge among people.

One more psychological reinterpretation of the play considers the scene when Oedipus is not aware of his implication to the murder of Laius. He hesitates to understand due to the evidence of witnesses of the crime. He tries to make up his mind in order to realize whether it was him, but he fails to think so. This moment is the distinctive representation of peoples’ hesitations as of admitting their devotion to mothers and hatred toward fathers. This moment in the play shows the apathy of Oedipus. Realizing the fact that Laius is his father and he killed him, he should then get to the point that his lovely Jocasta is his mother. Such a logical chain leads toward disastrous outcomes. In fact, the outcome of Jocasta is hanging. The end of Oedipus is physical blindness due to self-infliction. He suffers from the fact that it is he who was trapped into destiny’s fatal end. The chorus in the play is the means for Oedipus to correlate his efforts toward good intentions. However, the result is well-known. In the play it is represented through the singing:

Leader: Where’s she gone Oedipus?
Rushing off, such wild grief…
I’m afraid that from this silence
Something monstrous may come bursting forth (Fagles, 1984, p. 223).

Monstrous effect can be achieved when an individual rejects to acknowledge his sinful nature colored with particular feelings toward parents. The sexual constituent of human relationships should be taken for granted even when applied to the family. Freud highlights this fact. The archetypal patterns represent the characterization of Oedipus, as son and husband. The effect of this considers the probability of exile, but Jocasta’s death stops him. His fate is outlined at this moment. In terms of Freudian observation it is the point of doom for those who reject Oedipus complex being already involved in its domain. The points of identification and desire are merely evaluated by Freud in his attempts to rationally point out and designate the paramount catalysts for the problem. The only difference between Oedipus and contemporary people is inn the fact that the literary character made every attempts to displace his father and to sleep with his mother unintentionally. He does not clearly realize this until the culmination of the play. This, in fact, is the background to think of unintentional character of Oedipus complex. Being unintentional this psychological prerequisite exists in boys and may give rise toward further conflicts. The concept of childish dreams is shaped in turn. This means that there is a bilateral character of a boy’s dream about having sexual relations with his mother and about dreamer’s father being dead (Freud, 1973). Thus, these two intentions are imposed into the plot and main idea of the play by Sophocles.

To sum up, the psychological reinterpretation of the Sophocles’ play Oedipus the King is the representation of men’s devotion to their mothers and opposition to their fathers. The Freudian theory is implied in this respect. The thoughts of the philosopher and psychoanalyst give a close explanation of Oedipus in terms of his passions. Sigmund Freud interprets the myth, as the signal for humanity about the age-old essence of such peculiarity among individuals. He insists to take Oedipus complex for granted, as the natural flow of boys’ attitudes toward parents.


Downing, C. (2005). Preludes : Essays on the Ludic Imagination, 1961-1981. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.

Fagles, R, Sophocles, MacGregor, B. & Knox, W. (1984). The three Theban plays. New York: Penguin Classics.

Freud, S. (1973). Abstracts of The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. Translated by Rothgeb, L. New York: International Universities Press.

Girard, R. & Gregory, P. (2005). Violence and the sacred. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.