In shaping his dramatic theory, Aristotle surveyed the drama of his time and developed certain concepts regarding the nature of the tragic hero. The tragic hero must be an important person with a character flaw that causes him to make a great mistake leading to tremendous suffering and a fall from his high status. The tragedy derives from the fact that none of what occurs is the tragic hero's fault, for the tragic flaw predetermines his actions and seals his fate. This is the pattern found in the plays of Sophocles, among other playwrights of Ancient Greece. The world of Sophocles is a world of myth brought into the human realm, and the tragic vision derives from the conflict between the actions of human beings and the requirements of the gods:
Compared with the Homeric epics, Athenian tragedy reflected a more conscious sense of the gods' metaphorical significance and a more poignant appreciation of human self-awareness and suffering. Yet through profound suffering came profound learning, and the history and drama of human existence, for all its harsh conflict and wrenching contradiction, still held overarching purpose and meaning. The myths were the living body of that meaning, constituting a language that both reflected and illuminated the essential processes of life. (Tarnas 18)
Throughout the play, Oedipus insists on the importance of knowing the truth and speaks as if he himself is able to see the truth when it is presented to him. He sees others as hiding the truth from him, notably Teiresias, whom he describes in terms that really apply to himself, telling Teiresias that the truth "has no strength / for you because you are blind in mind and ears / as well as in your eyes" (Sophocles lines 370-372). At this stage, Oedipus is blind in mind and ears and will later be blind in his eyes as well, and one critic explains the meaning of this transition:
Spiritual blindness is equated with obduracy and arrogance--hubris -- and towards the end of Oedipus Rex, the physical blinding is already encouraging new insight, awareness, and compassion. When Oedipus could see, he beheld the piercing light of Greece, but he had then less understanding of his fate, less inner vision, and less humility than he is beginning to achieve after he loses that flooding, outer light. (Green 2-3)
The Chorus at the end echoes what Oedipus said earlier, telling him that he is gone "To a terrible place whereof men's ears / may not hear, nor their eyes behold it" (Sophocles lines 1313-1314). This image involves both blindness and sight, recognizing that now that Oedipus sees the truth, he has immersed himself in a world of darkness, though in a sense he has always lived blind in a worked of darkness because he has failed to see.
The centrality of the gods is evident as Oedipus has seen himself as favored by the gods, and that idea is part of his excessive pride. Now that he has had the truth revealed to him, he states, "But now I am hated by the gods" (Sophocles line 1519). He has failed in the world and wants to escape from the world as much as possible equating the world with his sense. He has blinded himself, and he would be removed from other sense as well, asking Creon, "Drive me from here with all the speed you can / to where I may not hear a human voice" (Sophocles lines 1436-1437).
The story of Oedipus is a lesson in the damage caused by pride, and his punishment is truly terrible for a crime predicted and inescapable. He serves as an example to others, which may be why the gods used him and punished him for a crime he could not avoid, perhaps as a waning to those who could avoid the sin of pride and would do so now that they see the punishment.
Green, Janet M. "Sophocles' Oedipus Rex."
The Explicator, Volume 52, Issue 1 (1993), 2-3.
Grene, David and Richard Lattimore (eds.). Sophocles: Volume II. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.
Payne, Robert. Hubris: A Study of Pride. New York: Harper Torchbook, 1960.