Blindness plays a two-fold part in Sophocles’ tragedy “Oedipus the King.” First, Sophocles presents blindness as a physical disability affecting the auger Teiresias, and later Oedipus; but later, blindness comes to mean an inability to see the evil in one’s actions and the consequences that ensue.
The irony in this lies in the fact that Oedipus, while gifted with sight, is blind to himself, in contrast to Teiresias, blind physically, but able to see the evil to which Oedipus has fallen prey to. Tragically, as Oedipus gains the internal gift of sight, he discards his outward gift of sight. Sight, therefore, seems to be like good and evil, a person may only choose one.
Teiresias, prophet of Phoebus, was stricken with blindness to the physical world, but, as a result, gained the gift of sight into the spiritual world. This great gift allowed him to become a superior prophet, praised by the people as “god like” and as a person “in whom the truth lives.” Therefore, it was no surprise that Oedipus asked the old prophet to come before the people to enlighten them as to who or what the cause of the plague decimating their country was.
What Oedipus was not expecting, however, was that the sin he could not see himself was to blame for the judgement being poured out upon the country. The sin so hidden from Oedipus’ and the peoples’ eyes was quite visible to Teiresias. What Teiresias lacked in his ability to see the world, he made up for in being able to see a person’s heart – a skill that nearly cost him his life after a lengthy argument with Oedipus. Yet what distinguishes Teiresias from the others was his genuine concern for others – a concern that he voiced before demolishing Oedipus in front of the growing crowd outside of the palace. For Teiresias, the choice was simple – he chose to forego his disability and delve deeper into himself in order to find a sight that surpassed his physical limitations, a sight destined for good. Oedipus, on the other hand, was not given such an easy decision. While gifted with an outward sense of sight, he lacked the knowledge of his own sinful actions – his hamartia, so to speak. Oedipus was seeing to others, but blind to himself.
As he fled from Corinth, fearing a prophecy he received from an oracle, Oedipus showed complete blindness to the inevitability of his fate. The murder of his father, Laius, and the subsequent marriage to this mother, Jocasta, further elucidate the extent of Oedipus’ blindness; blind in deed, reason, and consequence. Tragically, Oedipus’ anagnorisis occurs simultaneously with his mother’s/wife’s suicide. With a heart full of despair and a pair of newly opened eyes, Oedipus makes his transformation complete as he exchanges his limited physical eyesight for the spiritual sight possessed by Teiresias.
With this being done, Oedipus also seals his fate – he no longer can serve evil, so his life must hange in order to serve his new master, good. The legendary Sphinx was the only character that successfully possessed and maintained both types of sight. He had the outward gift of sight, which he used in conjunction with his spiritual gift of sight to wreck havoc on the people of Thebes. The Sphinx noticed that the people, while outwardly seeing, were utterly blind to the problems right in front of them. His riddle was his attempt at helping them – though in an unusual way- to shift the focus of their eyes from outward to inward. He balanced the power and responsibility of both types of sight. Sophocles’ used this aspect of the Sphinx to prove that it is in fact possible to possess both types of sight, just not for humans. The only danger in having both types of sight was making sure that the Sphinx served good more than he served evil, a highly contested fact.
In conclusion, the theme of sight dominated Sophocles’ tragedy “Oedipus the King.” The characters Teiresias, Oedipus, and the Sphinx were used to show the different types of sight – physical, spiritual, and both. Overall though, Sophocles used sight as an extended metaphor, in which the prevailing form of sight showed his master – good or evil, of which there can be only one.