An Analysis of Physical and Mental Blindness in Oedipus the King by Sophocles

In Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, the running theme of blindness–whether physical or mental, unknowing or willful– takes center stage throughout the play. The main character Oedipus is completely oblivious (blind) to the mess his life has become until, ironically, he actually physically blinds himself.

His father, King Laius of Thebes tosses the baby Oedipus out after hearing a bleak prophecy from an oracle. Laius is told that his son will murder him and marry his own mother, Jocasta. Oedipus, after being found and cared for by the King and Queen of Corinth, receives the same prophecy and exiles himself in order to spare his “parents.

” On the road Oedipus murders Laius and soon finds his way to Thebes and marries Jocasta, completely unaware of the significance of his actions. Throughout the story the “knowledgeable” Oedipus’ ignorance, along with that of Jocasta, holds strong until the blind prophet Tiresias helps to clarify things for them. As proven by the characters in Oedipus the King, true blindness not only comes in the form of sightlessness, but in the form of ignorance.

Oedipus exiles himself from his own kingdom because of the foreboding prophecy he is given from a blind prophet, Tiresias. His prophecy states that he is destined to kill his father and marry his mother: “You are fated to couple with your mother, you will bring/ a breed of children into the light no man can bear to see–/you will kill your father, the one who gave you life!” (Sophocles 205).

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Oedipus, as a tragic hero, suffers from intense arrogance and decides to hoodwink the gods and distance himself from the city he believes he is destined to corrupt. His belief that he successfully outsmarted the gods is the basis on which the rest of the blindness lies. Once he leaves Corinth, he feels untouchable and that is why he doesn’t notice the prophecy unfolding around him. Oedipus was named for the strange scars on his feet which, with some thought given, could have easily been recognized by both himself and his mother wife as proof of his being left to die as an infant.

Also, it’s strange that the events of his life after leaving Corinth don’t remind him of his prophecy, such as his random and brutal murder of a passerby and his marriage to the much older Queen Jocasta. With such a horrifying fate hanging above their heads, Oedipus and Jocasta display little fear or consideration, which leaves their ignorance to act for them. The blatant lack of caution on their part leaves them far more blind than anyone who lives without actual eyesight, like the prophet Tiresias. Tiresias is the exact opposite of Oedipus in the sense that he sees not with his eyes, but with his knowledge. He is a physically blind prophet who gives Oedipus significant information twice in his life, the first being his prophecy.

While most other characters are fully equipped with their eyesight however lacking in insight, Tiresias is physically blind but quite aware of everything going on around him. His character ties the entire theme together. Jocasta’s and Oedipus’ ignorance and willful blindness are only one side to the intricate highly symbolic theme presented in the play. Tiresias displays the opposite traits. He lacks his physical sight but his knowledge is seemingly endless. Tiresias is more aware of Oedipus’ blindness than he is: “you mock my blindness? Let me tell you this/ You with your precious eyes/ you’re blind to the corruption of your life” (Sophocles 183). His character symbolizes insightfulness without the need of eyesight, adding more depth to the idea that no matter what is seen, knowledge comes only with understanding.

Once Oedipus and Jocasta finally accept the truth of the horrid choices they’ve made and the lives they have led, they find that they can’t handle it. Jocasta promptly hangs herself in a passionate rage of regret and pain. Once Oedipus sees the woman he loves, dead due to a fault of his, he decides he must unsee everything he has done. The messenger describes his gruesome death: “He rips off her brooches, the long gold pins holding her robes–and lifting them high, looking straight up into the points, he digs them down the sockets of his eyes, crying, “You see no more the pain I suffered, all the pain I caused!” (Sophocles 237). Blindness in Oedipus the King is a constant theme running through each scene and every character.

Both aspects of blindness, physical and mental, drive the story and cause almost all of the problems present. Tiresias’ physical sightlessness does little but enhance his wisdom. Jocasta’s love for Oedipus and willful blindness keep her from realizing the sick, sad truth of what has become of her life. Oedipus’ extensive lack of insight, on top of his hubris, are his tragic flaws. The outcome of Oedipus’ life truly is a tragedy and once he is fully aware of what his ignorance has caused for himself and the people around him, he can’t help but try to go back to his blissful blindness.

Works Cited

  1. Sophocles. “Oedipus the King.” Trans. Theodore Howard Banks. Three Theban Plays:Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus. New York: Oxford UP, 1956. 159-251.Print.

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An Analysis of Physical and Mental Blindness in Oedipus the King by Sophocles. (2023, Apr 22). Retrieved from

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