Thursday, May 27, 2021

Betraying the Queen: Response or Responsibility

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The people of Thebes say "Destiny guide me always"(55) at one point in the play, Oedipus, which leads one to wonder why a servant would attempt to defy fate, making a grave mistake leading to an even more devastating ending for the one he chose to save. Although ordered by his queen to leave baby Oedipus in the woods to die, the servant shows responsiveness and a belief in the interconnection among people by giving the baby to a friend to take care of him.

The servant was not bought, but born and raised in the palace of Thebes. After he lied to the queen about his actions he was promoted to bodyguard. He lies again to the queen about the murderer of her husband later in the story and is again rewarded by being able to retire as a shepard in the mountains. He's known as "a trusty servant, if there ever was one" (14), but shows no guilt for his actions. If only the queen knew the deceit he used, she might not see him as such a trusting servant but a puppet master for tragedy. Sophocles makes the shepard a bad guy in the play, even though his pity seems noble, because Greek culture praises responsibility not responsiveness. Greek culture would want him to be always loyal to his master. He knew of the prophecy that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. Therefore he betrays not only his queen but also Apollo, a god of divinity, by giving in to his pity.

Responsive would be defined as sensitive and quick to respond. These are the exact characteristics shown by the servant when given the baby. He "pitied the little baby" (10) and in turn "saved him for this, this fate" (104). Being brought up in the palace he should have all the more reason to have abandoned Oedipus. It should be fair to say he was feeling very sensitive that day. He did not take care of the baby himself, though, but rushed to give him to a fellow shepard, not really sure of what would come of him. He was quick to respond failing to make a sure decision on what would come of the baby but let his emotions control him. A responsible person would have fulfilled his obligations.

A responsible person would also have been trustworthy and reliable. Responsibility is being able to be called upon to answer for his acts or decisions. Oedipus calls upon the older servant after the little baby had become king. Oedipus asked him for the truth only to find resistance. The shepard tried to avoid the question until he is physically threatened. He tried to avoid the responsibility.

He portrayed his world as one and could not bear to harm an innocent baby no matter what his better intuition told him. He felt the interconnectedness between humans. He felt his actions, or lack of, would have a direct and negative affect. He chose guilt over regret.

Some might say he acted responsible because he showed integrity. He followed his code of values by not letting someone die. The servant was raised in the palace, though. One's values come from his environment and how he is raised. It can't be denied that his code of values lay closely with his master, queen, and his home. He acted against his values but with his emotions.

So the fate of the great man, Oedipus, the seeker of truth, solver of the Sphinx's riddle, is settled by a man who didn't tell the truth until he was forced to. A man who gave in to his emotions. A man who acted in a completely responsive way against his better knowledge, his master, and his culture. A man who in no doubt wished to Apollo that he had died that day with Oedipus.

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