Sight Beyond Sight
Sight is an important idea in the play, Oedipus the King. There are two characters which most prominently portray the contradicting ideas of blindness and sight. Although Tiresias’ eyes have failed him, it is Oedipus who is blind. Sophocles has Oedipus look down upon Tiresias’ handicap, but Tiresias has knowledge that Oedipus longs to have revealed to him. In his rage, Oedipus cannot see but continues to plunge forward into the darkness of the unknown. His friends and family cannot stop him from his descent into the preordained will of the gods and the darkness which follows. There is a paradox with the lines of Oedipus; Tiresias is blind but represents vision, and Oedipus has sight but cannot see the clarity of his own identity. The two men seem to weave and dance in and out of the confining strictures of blindness and sight, and there are three movements within that dance.
Tiresias must be led to his encounter with Oedipus, and the audience is forced to understand the misfortune of the poor man. He is forced to be led by a boy. Oedipus initially praises Tiresias. “Though your eyes can’t see it, your mind is well aware of the plague that afflicts us. Against it, we have no savior of defense but you, my Lord.” At this point, it is the audience that finds Tiresias lacking but Oedipus who understands the man’s wisdom. As Tiresias refuses to enlighten the king of his own downfall, there is a shift; the audience begins to understand the soothsayer, and Oedipus starts to doubt. The king, who once saw Tiresias a savior, now throws taunts and jeers at the man. “Oh, truth has strength, but you have none. You have blind eyes, blind ears, and a blind brain.” The first movement, as Tiresias flows from blindness to sight, has taken place.
Oedipus takes up the next movement, as he slowly and painfully cultivates an understanding of his identity. Through seemingly no fault of his own, Oedipus cannot see who he truly is and what horrific acts he has already committed. Tiresias begins to chip away at the stony façade which Oedipus has surrounded himself within. “You are the plague. You poison your own land.” The king’s blindness pushes him to accuse Kreon of betrayal. However, Kreon asks Oedipus to listen and understand reason. The king replies, “I reason in my own interest.” This sort of thinking is what keeps Oedipus blind to the swirling truth around him. It is not until many witnesses have been called and many stories corroborated that the king finally begins to open his eyes. As his eyes opened to the truth, Oedipus cries out. “It was all true. O light! Let this be the last time I look on you.” Oedipus moved from an uncomfortable darkness to an unbearable light as he was forced from blindness to sight.
The third movement takes place as Oedipus makes a decision regarding his newfound vision. The next time that the audience sees the king, he is being escorted by a servant. Oedipus remarks of his blindness, “Darkness buries me in her hate, takes me in her black hold. Unspeakable blackness. It can’t be fought off, it keeps coming, wafting evil all over me.” Although it is clear to the audience that Oedipus is now blind, the horror behind the empty sockets has yet to be revealed. Then, the king tells us how he lost sight. “But the hand that struck these eyes was my hand. I in my wretchedness struck me, no one else did. What good was left for my eyes to see?” There is a clear shift in Oedipus’ way to thinking. He pushed and pressed so hard to finally be able gain true sight. However, when he finally received that vision, he could not bear to keep it. “If I had eyes, how could they bear to look at my father in Hades? Or at my devastated mother?” It is here that Oedipus makes a choice to step back into the confines of the blinding darkness.
Three different movements , all part of the same symphony, accompany Tiresias and Oedipus and bind them in a cycle of blindness and sight. Tiresias’ eyes did not function properly, yet he was able to see and understand the truth of Oedipus. Oedipus was blind to his own identity, yet he forced those around him to bring clarity of vision to him. Upon receiving his much sought after lucidity, Oedipus chooses blindness to the light of vision. Throughout the entirety of the play, Sophocles forces the audience to take a hard look at what vision and blindness truly mean.