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Epistemology and the Legend of the Sphinx in Oedipus Rex - Research Paper Example

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Epistemology and the Legend of the Sphinx in Oedipus Rex

The idea of pharmakos in Oedipus Rex is embodied in the interaction between the sphinx and Oedipus and how the sphinx guards and reveals knowledge. Pharmakos is the idea that there is a duality to things; that an item can be both a cure and a poison. The sphinx is used as a pharmakos in Oedipus Rex because not only does her physical appearance portray a duality, but also her riddles conceal knowledge in their ambiguity, but also in a sense, reveal truth concerning Oedipus and the Greek society. Epistemology Epistemology can be defined as the branch of philosophy that looks at the nature, origin, methods, as well as limits of human knowledge. It seeks to answer the question of how to distinguish true knowledge from false knowledge. One of the outstanding epistemological problems in Oedipus Rex is the ambiguity presented in terms of the nature and extents of Oedipus’ knowledge about his true origins (Carel 103). Many philosophers have argued that Oedipus may have been too ignorant to figure out facts about his past. However, at the beginning of the play, his intelligence is well portrayed when he is the only man who has the ability to solve the riddle of the sphinx. This ambiguity brings forth the vagueness of the extent to which Oedipus can and should be held responsible for his actions, which are: killing his biological father and marrying his own mother. Sophocles tells the story of Oedipus in reverse: he starts with the ending and goes to explain how it happened. According to the oracle, the plague that has befallen Thebes will find no cure until the person responsible for the murder of King Laius is found and expelled from the city. Oedipus starts an investigation to reveal the murderer, but this investigation quickly turns into an investigation of Oedipus’ real identity. Initially the epistemology lies around finding an answer to the question “who did it”, but this changes course to the question “who am I?” (Foster 22)The psychological journey of discovery takes up much of this story. Knowledge is supposed to end with gratification and satisfaction. However, in this story, epistemology led to a discovery that was more tragic than the events that led to the discovery itself. The Sphinx The word sphinx comes form the Greek verb which when translated means “to squeeze” or to tighten (Gosse 65). Some historians however argue that the word is a corruption of the Egyptian word “shesepankh” which translates to “living image” (Zivie-Coche and Lorton 9). In Greek mythology the Sphinx is represented as having a serpent’s tail, a lion’s hunches, a large bird’s wings and a woman’s breast and face. This malevolent creature is normally characterized as being merciless and treacherous. She is the demon of bad luck and destruction and kills and mauls those who fail to correctly answer her riddle. According to myths, the sphinx was the guardian of the gates into the City of Thebes. To be allowed entry, one had to correctly answer her riddle. The riddle is “which creature has four legs in the morning, two at midday and three in the evening, and the more legs it has, the weaker it is? It is said that no man had ever been able to give a correct answer to the riddle (10). Oedipus was the only one who gave the correct answer which was ‘man’. After Oedipus gave the correct answer, the sphinx is said to have been infuriated and she killed herself. The original purpose of the sphinx ...Show more
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Summary

Epistemology and the Legend of the Sphinx in Oedipus Rex Oedipus Rex is a King of Thebes who is renowned for his intelligence and ability to solve all manner of riddles. When he arrives in Thebes, there is a plague in the city, but he saves it by solving the riddle of the sphinx…
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