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The Problem of Relocating
The Dislocated in Sophocles’ Oedipus
|by Prof. R. K. Bhushan|
“The play quintessentializes misfortune; it is an epigram in ill-luck.”
Man is dislocated here and all his life’s constant and persistent strife is his determined attempt to relocate himself to the place of his ambition and dreams. The entire tenor of this pursuit, relentless or effortless, is decorated with frustration and faith, sureness and success, fall and rise, humiliation and achievement, disgrace and denial. This is always the pre-determined fate of all the high and the low, mighty and the meek, princes and the paupers; and all other millions in mortal form. Who can achieve ataraxy – lauded essential to be happy? Reconciliation born of complete surrender and hard-gained faith alone is the true wisdom needed to fulfill life. All else is futile and fruitless. And when relocation is in sight, we leave with the solace of setting out on our way to relocation. The tragedy of Oedipus, unexcelled in its meaning and amplification and perhaps the richest in drama, ethics, psychology, biology, sociology, philosophy and metaphysics, and even in religion, is the most ideal in history of world drama. The Greek masters and the masses were fully acquainted with the story of King Oedipus but Sophocles’ dramatic competence and potentiality have lent to it the status of unchallenged glorious pinnacle.
“Oedipus is a world-wonder in his suffering, in his peculiar destiny he is freak. He is a man selected out of millions to undergo this staggering fate; that is why his story is so fascinating. It fascinates because it is so rare; because on any rational assessment his story- as far as we are concerned- is impossible…. Circumstance has its practical jokes and its sinister-seeming moods, but a concatenation of malevolences on this scale is an absolutely unparalleled thing.” - A.J.A. Waldock: Drama of Dramas: The Oedipus Tyrannus
The very essence of Sophocles’ dramaturgy and, for that matter, its earned greatness, in handling the conspicuous confrontation between men and gods ( whatever be the position of men-only men, men as men or men higher than their species or men assuming or equating themselves to be gods)- for that purpose, gods as destiny (visible or invisible- visible in Oedipus and invisible in Antigone and Electra, is definitely to face the reality of life in a truthfully realistic manner in realization of what human powers and prowess can be and how far these can be wronged consciously out of which emerges the realization of the supremacy of the Highest Order and Harmony and the humility of the highest temporal authority and will.
In “King Oedipus”, the Chorus in the 5th Ode says -
Destiny dislocates man to carry on the game of the gods who want unquestioning submission to their known and unknown will. Man does his best to relocate himself without any sense or burden of guilt. Oedipus’s strife reveals what disasters and damnation may befall man even in simple quest of simple truth of his parentage. Destiny further confounded him by answering his curiosity and the trap was well-patterned and woven till the man of golden opinions was enmeshed as the foulest and the filthiest to an unparalleled realization and affliction to be endured till eternity. Solving one riddle entangled him in other riddles that redefined his role and responsibility as a redeemer and ruin. Destiny gave him the illusion of having been relocated to fulfill his role as a caring and loving king, husband and father only to be muddled in total shame and the gravest sin. Oedipus, with cascade descending in scarlet rain from his eyes, says to the Chorus -
Every infamy, shame and disgrace is the pre-dominant fate that cleverly and cunningly conspired against Oedipus to this location by the continuous chiaroscuro of dislocation and relocation to be located thus! What a play for the festive occasion Sophocles wrote! And Sophocles doesn’t offer any solution; he doesn’t even think remotely of doing so but wants us to accept life and its bare truth with a sense of unconditional submission to His Will and feel reconciled. We are marginalized on the boundary lines of life and must not give ourselves the cause of our suffering and misery. Pride, simple or human or godly, incenses us to dislocate ourselves from our destination and the aftermath offers to us a picture of dark ruin wrapped in agony and torment. Helpless and enraged man challenges to wait who did it forgetting that we are -
And also -
The game of dislocation and callous desertion began with the birth of Oedipus and there was no going back- Citheron, the majestic mountain became the nestling bed of the foster-mother for the infant prince with “riveted ankles”. From there again, he was dislocated into the house of Corinthian father, Polybus, and Dorian mother, Merope till located into the illusion of his parentage. The irresistible curiosity to know the truth of his parentage, he goes to Pythos and returns more non-plussed. The game of dislocation gained further momentum and Oedipus earnestly and honestly made vain attempt to avoid the sin and crime –
And he fled away- “putting the stars/ Between me and Corinth, never to see home again……”
He is cynical about his absolution even. What is lotted cannot be blotted. Rightly said! Time couldn’t belie it. How can Oedipus? Albin Lesky says -
He says again,
It gives to us a psychological convincingness about the supremacy of the gods and the simple moral and social truth is that we, as humans, must not give in or give up. Life is fulfilled only if we make a persistent effort to assure ourselves that we are doing the right and we mean nothing against our creator and preserver, notwithstanding the painful reality of Oedipus that those who attempt to know or scrutinize the unknown, the unknowable and the inscrutable ways of the predominant destiny, howsoever earnest or solemn, must be dislocated so terribly that it becomes an eternal lesson. In all humility, we have to accept whatever be His Will- the only way to be happy. Of course, in His Happiness! We are nobody to exercise the sacred faculty of reason to pass judgement on Him or His Ways. Sophocles’ triology of Oedipean plays - Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone - emphasizes the absolute problem of relocating the dislocated. Destiny alone determines what the princes or paupers are to be and what is to become of them.
After the self-blinding by Oedipus- What a harvest of ignorance! - the process of dislocation continues as willed by the Supreme Will. The sons of Oedipus- Eteocles and Polynices -
were tragically relocated in death only leaving behind their sisters- Ismene and Antigone- to face further the wrath of dislocation. Creon ,too , can’t escape the clutches and claws of the same destiny with his son and wife gone. This triology has an invincible sense of the event the vibrancy of which inspires admiration and reverence in us. E. F. Watling is at his best when he says -
How Supreme is the Will of God and how unchallengeable and eternal are the laws of the Divine, can be best seen in “Antigone” when Antigone dares King Creon -
The Chorus in the 3rd Ode says -
The whole house of Labdacus is grueling under the unending burden of tragic dislocations and nothing has helped them relocate themselves- the whole is a story of ruin one after the other till even the whole progeny of Oedipus is dislodged and dislocated with none to scream, none to mourn and none to remember! The Chorus says in the 5th Ode -
The Messenger also awakens us to the futility of man’s strife to relocate himself and to the realization of his humble position in the pre-ordained scheme of things -
Finally, we are left with no other option than to feel the transcending influence in all its serenity and sense of triumph after dealing with this problem in the Oedipus plays of Sophocles. We don’t experience any frustration or disgust or depressing emotion, though distressed we feel at times and that distress too is elevating. We are not angry at the gods, whoever and whatever they are; we don’t find Oedipus guilty or a sinner in all that has happened; and the tragic atmosphere illumines us in and out. From the darkest and the reddest in Oedipus Rex, we move on to Oedipus at Colonus and experience the blissful calm and tranquility, though the Chorus says -
And the Chorus concludes -
Though “this event” refers to the death of Oedipus at Colonus, yet, I feel, that this speech should have concluded the triology as the story of the curse on the house of Labdacus ends with the end of Antigone. The words of Teiresias to Creon come as a final resolution and reconciliation -
The problem stands resolved when we feel relocated in our dislocation, in mythology, religion or literature, in complete acceptance of and surrender and submission to His Will and the ungrudging reconciliation that ensues!
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