The Hubris of Oedipus in Oedipus the King



Hubris is defined as excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis. There are many different stances taken on this topic. In a greek tragedy titled Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, the main character, Oedipus, exhibits the act of hubris. Oedipus spent a lot of his time trying to solve a mystery about his parents and childhood. He believes that he is doing a good deed by moving away in order to not fulfill the prophecy which states that he will kill his father, and marry his mother.  Although many critics state that Oedipus’ hubristic personality caused his downfall, hubris did not cause the downfall of Oedipus due to his normal reactions, bad luck, and fairness. 

First, Oedipus does not exemplify hubris based on his normal reactions. Oedipus had what many believe to be a normal reaction when he was told about his childhood. When the messenger had told him that Merope and Polybos were not his real parents, he was upset and angry. This led him to worry that the prophecy that states that he will kill his father, and sleep with his mother could be true after all. Toward the middle of scene 3, the messenger states, “It was another shepard gave you to me”(Sophocles 31, 121). After Oedipus truly comprehended the new and upsetting information, he lashes out and becomes upset. Although many believe that this is an act of hubris, it is a normal reaction to feel unsettled when finding out that one is adopted. Hence, hubris did not cause his downfall, because becoming upset about finding out one was adopted is common.

Next, bad luck played a larger role in Oedipus’ downfall than hubris. Oedipus was born and given up, then he was given a prophecy. As previously stated, the prophecy states that Oedipus will kill his father and sleep with his mother. By comprehending prophecies, they are predictions that many times become true in greek plays such as Oedipus Rex. Oedipus did in fact try everything in his power to make sure that the prophecy did not become reality. He even moved to Thebes and stayed away from Corinth in hopes of his life prediction being false. Yes, Oedipus is over confident in what he does, and yes, he could be considered a narcissist. The article,“Rooting Out Hubris, Before a Fall'' believes that narcissism is a character disorder. But,  it also states, “Hubris, on the other hand, is a reactive disorder”(Berglas). Therefore, the facts also show that Oedipus’ hubristic characteristics did not cause his downfall. 

Finally, the fairness that Oedipus communicates to the audience and to his people show that hubris was not a characteristic of his that may have led to his downfall. When Oedipus finds out that he was the reason for the plague and the man that killed King Laios, he punished himself for what he did by blinding himself. An article in regards to hubris titled, “Effective Leaders Choose Humility Over Hubris” states, “Humility over hubris is a clear choice for leaders who understand that there is substantial evidence for the impact of positive role modeling for producing effective organizational outcomes”(Murell). This is exactly what Oedipus did, instead of blaming it on other things directly, he punished himself.  Also, one that presents extreme pride would not care for anyone but themselves. Towards the end of the play, Oedipus’ children are introduced and when they are taken away, he is very upset. The text reads, “ No! Do not take them from me!”(Sophocles 46, 288). Therefore, although hubris characteristics were presented, they were not the direct cause of his downfall. 

The hubristic characteristics that many believed to see in Oedipus were false. By examining the greek tragedy as a whole, one can comprehend that there is truly not much that Oedipus could have done in order to decrease or eliminate his destiny. His life was crowded with many unfortunate events, including incest, betrayal, murders, and biased gods. Oedipus did what he could in order to protect his people, after all, the entire play is Oedipus trying to figure out who the murderer of King Laios was in order to stop the plague.  Consequently, Oedipus’ life, bad  luck, and being treated unfairly had a larger impact on his downfall rather than his hubristic qualities.