Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Blog-end Adlib: [IV] Tiresias’ Revenge (28)
Deconstruction of Thebes in Progress; early March, 2012.
© Eso A. B., 2012

 The riddle of the Sphinx was so simple that any child should have been able to answer it. Instead, it was pretended that the answer would take a “hero” to answer.

When the passing traveller could not answer the Sphinx’s simple question, we are told that he-she was killed and then eaten.
So why would anyone ever walk the road that led past the Sphinx?

The answer to these questions and doubts is that “the riddle” was part of a profound and ancient ritual, that ritual being the sacrifice of children.

The answer to the Sphinx riddle, just in case someone does not remember it, was “man”. At the start of life, he-she crawls on all fours, while grown men and women walk on two legs, but when old walk with the aid of a walking stick.

One may, however, also wonder if “man” is the answer that quite suits the occasion. Since I ‘rewrote’ Sophocles play, I have always believed that the answer should have been “everyman, everywoman” or simply “I”, or if the Sphinx heard “I do not know”, he-she would bellow with a roar: “YOU!”

On the other hand, how can one answer a riddle with an “I” or “you”? The riddle as stated by Sophocles does not answer to either of the above answers.
To arrive at the answers “I” or “you” takes a riddle that is more complex than the one that appears in Oedipus Rex. Indeed, my answer is that it takes the whole play, the entire plot, to arrive at “you”.

So, with such a riddle in mind, this is how I have ‘rewrote’ Oedipus Rex Rewritten:
There was an ancient custom that if a King wished to pass on the kingship to his son, he had to expose his son to the elements, when but a few days old, for the length of a night on top of a mountain. In King Laius case, the mountain was called Mt. Citheron.
King Laius wife, Queen Iocaste, however, objected to the custom. She was shocked over the ‘inhuman’ (to use terminology of our times) idea of exposing her infant son to the risk of death. When the King insisted, the Queen pretended to go along, but instead of exposing her son, Oedipus, to the elements and ‘wild things’, she had a trusted person, a shepherd, deliver Oedipus to her sister Meirope, who was Queen in Corinth, a neighbouring kingdom. Iocaste had her servants find an aborted or  still-born baby, the dead body of which, she took up Mt. Citheron. The next day, she used this baby as evidence that her child had not survived the night; that the Gods had not chosen to protect him. Thereafter, Queen Iocaste bore no other children, or if she did become pregnant, aborted them (with an atheist’s matter of factness) in favour of her son Oedipus at Corinth.

Of course, Queen Iocaste still wanted to see her son Oedipus on the throne of Thebes. To accomplish this, she had a plan: 1] Prince Oedipus would be persuaded to seek his fortune beyond the confines of Corinth; 2] he would discover his father, King Laius, buying a wagonload of children to be sacrificed; 3] in self-righteous fury, he would kill his father; 4] he would then kill the child-eating Sphinx; 5] he could do the former only with the connivance of Tiresias, the high priest of the Sphinx’ Temple; 6] Tiresias told Oedipus of the one weakness, the ‘Ahilees heel’, of the Sphinx, after exacting from Oedipus a promise that with the end of children’s sacrifices, he would become a sacrifice himself (to himself); 7] Oedipus rewards Tiresias for his demand by burning out the priest’s eyes with fire brands; 8] Oedipus arrives at Thebes a hero of the people; 9] Oedipus marries Iocaste, his mother and becomes King of Thebes; 10] he forgets all about his promise to Tiresias to sacrifice himself.

11] As a result of Oedipus not keeping his promise or making arrangements with Tiresias as to when he would sacrifice himself to himself, Thebes begins to suffer a plague. The plague is a curious one: though he is King, Oedipus is lacking a king’s authority. While everyone in the kingdom defers to him, no one is persuaded quite trust him. Perhaps the best example of the lack of trust is Creon, Queen Iocaste’s brother, who with every passing day—and with Oedipus’s cooperation--becomes an ever mightier oligarch.

12] Tiresias uses Creon’s greed as his tool of revenge. When it becomes generally perceived that Creon will not be stopped from becoming ever wealthier, the entire court of Thebes begins to plot a power grab, each for him and herself. The community of Thebes increasingly suffers from the plague of distrust, and with each passing day fall increasingly apart.

13] When matters have gone from bad to worse, Tiresias arrives at the court of Thebes and reveals to King Oedipus that it is he who is guilty for the social disintegration, and that only his self-sacrifice will save Thebes. Upon hearing the truth, King Oedipus puts out his eyes. For making the truth known, Tiresias is killed by Queen Iocaste.

14] In the end, the only survivors of the holocaust at the Theban court are Princess Ismene, King Oedipus’ youngest daughter, nanny of King Oedipus’s children Iananna, and King Oedipus himself. It is at this point that King Oedipus resolves, to fulfil his pledge to Tiresias, by asking his daughter Ismene to take him to the top of Mt. Citheron.

15] After King Oedipus dies on the mountain, and frightened Ismene runs down the hill with the news, the community of Thebes is freed from the curse of having no one of authority over them. It is there and then Princess Ismene promises the community of Thebes that she is resolved to die at the age of eighty-one (9x9), and the Thebans install her as their ruler.

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