Oedipus According to Aristotle

Oedipus the King had one of the worst destinies in all of literature. As a young man he learned of his fate to kill his father and marry his mother. Fleeing his family and seeking refuge from his terrible future in a distant state only brought about the actualization of the forecast. Unbeknownst to Oedipus, he had killed his own father and entered the bed of his mother. He lived in this relationship for many years until at last he painfully revealed the blinding truth over the course of one shocking day. Scholars of Greek literature have debated whether Oedipus was a good man who happened to suffer a most unfortunate fate, or if he was in fact a truly bad person, whose fate was only just. In comparison with the writings of Aristotle on The Good, a relative conclusion emerges showing that according to Aristotelian views of good and bad, Oedipus was indeed a good man, and the bad that befell him was a cruel gift from the gods.

In his first dealings with the city of Thebes, Oedipus found them under the curse of the Sphinx. He actually gained his position of King of Thebes by rendering unto the city a great service, namely the salvation of the city from the Sphinx?s plague. Aristotle praised the type of cleverness and practical wisdom Oedipus exhibited in his solution to the riddle as being a component of overall goodness. If it were not for Oedipus virtuous action in saving Thebes, the citizens would have suffered untold disasters at the merciless hands of the Sphinx. After proving his worth as a good man and his concern for the citizens of what was seemingly a foreign city, Oedipus was well liked by the people of Thebes.

The people of Thebes liked their ruler, and he in turn ruled over them in a good and just way, trying to help them in their times of need. Aristotle believed that good in man existed in doing his job well. A good carpenter was one who worked with his wood and built things as best as possible; a good ruler presided over his people justly. Oedipus was a good ruler of Thebes. According to the Aristotelian definition, this is a significant step towards being a good man. Oedipus first demonstrated his ability to be a good leader in his helping the city escape the Sphinx. He continued his leadership in the same manner, doing good for the city and winning esteem in the eyes of the citizens. The premise for the book is that he was trying to rid the city of a second plague. He showed no hesitation to give it his best effort, saying "Indeed I?m willing to give all that you may need; I would be very hard should I not pity suppliants like these." Displaying this willingness to he!

lp his citizens and earning such lofty acclaim as being called "great" or "greatest," Oedipus could not have been a poor ruler or a tyrant. If Oedipus had ruled his subjects poorly, then they would not have addressed him as "great," so he should be viewed as a good leader, one who cared for his charges, one who ruled justly. In this light, Aristotle would have judged Oedipus to be a good man, or more precisely, a good ruler because Oedipus? labor was "for the benefit of others," one of Aristotle?s characteristics of a good ruler.

Similarly, in Oedipus? quest for the truth, he established his goodness under another category of Aristotelian virtue. When warned by Tieresias of the painful news the prophet bears, Oedipus insisted on hearing what he has to say. When Jocasta pleaded with him to stop his interrogation of the messenger, Oedipus replied "I will not be persuaded to let be the chance of finding out the whole thing clearly." When the herdsman balked at spelling out Oedipus? dreadful fate, Oedipus threatened him, saying "If you?ll not talk to gratify me, you will talk with pain to urge you." Oedipus let nothing stop him from his search to discover the truth about himself. Aristotle?s view is that "Both are dear to us, but it is our sacred duty to honor truth more highly than friends." Aristotle holds friends in no low regard, so it is evident that his respect for the truth is very high indeed. In Oedipus?