Oedipus The King

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Based on the analysis of Erich Auerbach, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King creates a distinction between foreground and background similar to the Old Testament due to temporal and spatial locators, the character’s background, and the ability to interpret the story; as a result, the text achieves its tragic effect through the interpretation of the story. In Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, Erich Auerbach makes a distinction between foreground and background by comparing Homer’s The Odyssey to the Old Testament. When presenting his thesis, Auerbach describes foreground as “externalized, uniformly illuminated phenomena, at a definite time and in a definite place, connected together without lacunae in a perpetual foreground;…show more content…
When explaining the distinction between foreground and background, Auerbach claims, “And this procession of phenomena takes place in the foreground— that is, in a local and temporal present which is absolute” (pg.7). Whenever an event takes place in Homeric writing, the event’s description always takes place in the present due to the syntax that introduces it. On the other hand, the characters in Oedipus the King interrupt the explanation of events causing a shift in the temporal and spatial locators to go between the past and the present. For example, Sophocles writes of the discussion between Oedipus and the Messenger regarding Oedipus’s past and his ankles. The Messenger explains, “And you got your name from that misfortune too, the name’s still with you” (ll.1135-36). In which, Oedipus responds, “Dear god who did it? Mother? Father? Tell me” (1.1137). Throughout the conversation, the Messenger cannot divulge much information without Oedipus shifting the readers back to the present so he can inquire more details. The reader has to wait for the Messenger to continue to finally understand Oedipus’s history, causing suspense. When introducing his principle of foreground and background, Auerbach explains, “Subjectivism-perspectivistic procedure, creating a foreground and background, resulting in the…show more content…
When explaining the purpose of classical stories specifically, Auerbach states that Homeric poems serve “to make that delight [in physical existence] perceptible to us” (pg.13). Homer intended his work to entertain the audience and not receive interpretation since an unknown background to understand does not exist. On the other hand, when contrasting the purposes of classical and Biblical narratives, Auerbach claims, “We are to fit our own life into its world, feel ourselves to be elements in its structure of universal history” (15). Although the reader is aware of the fictitious nature of Oedipus the King, the themes of fate versus free-will still exist for the readers to apply to themselves. Throughout the story, Oedipus changes who is responsible for the curse on himself and Thebes. For example, when Oedipus begins realizing that Laius is his father, he cries, “And all these curses I- no one but I brought these piling curses on myself!” (ll.906-907). However, towards the end of the story, Oedipus blames Apollo by stating, “Apollo, friends, Apollo—he ordained my agonies—these, pains on pains” (ll.1467-68). Since Sophocles never reveals who is to blame for Oedipus’s problems, the readers have to interpret the story to whether they have free will or is their destiny

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