Poetics

by

Aristotle

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Oedipus Rex Symbol Analysis

Oedipus Rex  Symbol Icon

Sophocles’s tragedy Oedipus Rex, which Aristotle mentions throughout Poetics, symbolizes the superiority of tragedy over other forms of poetry. As the story goes, Oedipus unknowingly murders his father and marries his mother. Oedipus is made king, but his pride keeps him from heeding prophetic warnings. One day, a messenger visits to calm Oedipus’s incestuous worries and ends up confirming his fears instead. Upon realizing what he has done, Oedipus puts out his own eyes in despair. Aristotle cites Oedipus Rex as an example of a complex plot in which reversal and recognition occur simultaneously, which is the best kind of plot for producing catharsis (a reaction of fear and pity in the audience). Oedipus’s change of fortune occurs in the opposite direction at the exact moment he recognizes his true identity, and this tragic change ensures maximum fear and pity. In this way, Oedipus Rex is a near-perfect tragedy that represents the coming together of all components that Aristotle deems crucial to an effective, meaningful poem.

Oedipus Rex Quotes in Poetics

The Poetics quotes below all refer to the symbol of Oedipus Rex . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Poetics published in 1997.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Epic poetry and the composition of tragedy, as well as comedy and the arts of dithyrambic poetry and (for the most part) of music for pipe or lyre, are all (taken together) imitations. They can be differentiated from each other in three respects: in respect of their different media of imitation, or different objects, or a different mode (i.e. a different manner).

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Homer, Sophocles, Aristophanes
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

So there are these two parts of the plot—reversal and recognition; a third is suffering. Of these, reversal and recognition have already been discussed; suffering is an action that involves destruction or pain (e.g. deaths in full view, extreme agony, woundings and so on).

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

We are left, therefore, with the person intermediate between these. This is the sort of person who is not outstanding in moral excellence or justice; on the other hand, the change of bad fortune which he undergoes is not due to any moral defect or depravity, but to an error of some kind. He is one of those people who are held in great esteem and enjoy great good fortune, like Oedipus, Thyestes, and distinguished men from that kind of family.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Oedipus, Sophocles, Euripides
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

It is possible for the evocation of fear and pity to result from the spectacle, and also from the structure of events itself. The latter is preferable and is the mark of a better poet. The plot should be constructed in such a way that, even without seeing it, anyone who hears the events which occur shudders and feels pity at what happens; this how someone would react on hearing the plot of the Oedipus. Producing this effect through spectacle is less artistic, and is dependent on the production. Those who use spectacle to produce an effect which is not evocative of fear, but simply monstrous, have nothing to do with tragedy; one should not seek every pleasure from tragedy, but the one that is characteristic of it. And since the poet should produce the pleasure which comes from pity and fear, and should do so by means of imitation, clearly this must be brought about in the events.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Oedipus, Sophocles
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

(Clearly, therefore, the resolutions of plots should also come about from the plot itself, and not by means of a theatrical device, as in the Medea, or the events concerned with the launching of the ships in the Iliad. A theatrical device may be used for things outside the play—whether prior events which are beyond human knowledge, or subsequent events which need prediction and narration since we grant that the gods can see everything. But there should be nothing irrational in the events themselves; or, failing that, it should be outside the play, as for example in Sophocles’s Oedipus.)

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Medea , Euripides, Sophocles, Oedipus, Homer
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

The best recognition of all is that which arises out of the actual course of events, where the emotional impact is achieved through events that are probable, as in Sophocles’ Oedipus and the Iphigeneia (her wish to send a letter is probable). Only this kind does without contrived tokens and necklaces. Second-best are those which arise from inference.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Oedipus, Iphigeneia, Odysseus, Sophocles, Euripides, Homer, Orestes
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Probable impossibilities are preferable to implausible possibilities. Stories should not be constructed from irrational parts; so far as possible they should contain nothing irrational—or, failing that, it should be outside the narration (like Oedipus’ ignorance of the manner of Laius’ death) and not in the play itself (like the report of the Pythian Games in Electra, or the man who comes from Tegea to Mysia without speaking in the Mysians). Saying that the plot would have been ruined otherwise is absurd; plots should not be constructed like that in the first place. But is one does posit an irrationality and it seems more or less rational, even an oddity is possible; the irrationalities involved in Odysseus’ being put ashore in the Odyssey would be manifestly intolerable if a second-rate poet had composed them, but as it is the poet conceals the absurdity with other good qualities, and makes it a source of pleasure.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Oedipus, Orestes, Odysseus, Homer, Sophocles
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

Furthermore, if the objection is that something is not true, perhaps it is as it ought to be; e.g. Sophocles said that he portrayed people as they should be, Euripides as they are. That is the solution to use.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Oedipus, Sophocles, Euripides
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

Tragedy has everything epic does (and it can even make use of its verse-form), and additionally it has a major component part music and spectacle; this is a source of intense pleasure. […] Also, the end of imitation is attained in shorter length; what is more concentrated is more pleasant than what is watered down by being more extended in time ( I mean, for example, if one were to turn Sophocles’ Oedipus into as many lines as the Iliad has).

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Sophocles, Homer
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
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Oedipus Rex Symbol Timeline in Poetics

The timeline below shows where the symbol Oedipus Rex appears in Poetics. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6. Plot: Species and Components
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
...that seems likely and that follows logically from the story’s previous events. Aristotle cites Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex as an example: a messenger brings Oedipus news meant to calm his fears that he... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...one in which recognition and reversal occur at the same time, as they do in Oedipus Rex . There are many kinds of recognition. Recognition can come about because of inanimate objects,... (full context)
Chapter 7. The Best Kinds of Tragic Plot
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...mention of the events, as it does to those who are told the plot of Oedipus Rex . Producing catharsis via spectacle is “less artistic,” Aristotle argues, and doing so relies on... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
...killing her children. However, pitiable actions can also be performed in ignorance, as in Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex . Pitiable actions can also be imitated by characters who almost perform a terrible act... (full context)
Chapter 8. Other Aspects of Tragedy
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...of recognition comes from the plot—the course of events—and it is probable, as in Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex and the Iphigeneia (Iphigeneia’s letter, Aristotle points out, “is probable”). This is the best kind... (full context)
Chapter 12.  Comparative Evaluation of Epic and Tragedy
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...more pleasant than what is watered down by being extended in time.” For instance, if Oedipus Rex were as long as the Iliad, it would be much less impactful. Lastly, there is... (full context)