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Essay on 'Oedipus the King': Who Told Oedipus His Fate

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Brilliantly interesting and convincingly demystifying was Joseph Campbell’s revelation of the hero monomyth. This revelation is detailed in his prominent work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which Campbell stresses the significance of the hero monomyth present in all heroic myths. And because the monomyth can be identified in any work presenting a hero, similar patterns emerge among the many different myths. These patterns consist of phases and sub-phases of the hero monomyth. And although the main phases can be found in each hero’s story in an expected order (Departure-Initiation-Return), the order of the sub-phases may be guided erratically and the chance of all sub-phases appearing in every myth is unlikely. As such, the purpose of this paper will be to identify the formulaic phases in the heroic stories of Heracles and Oedipus; however, a few sub-phases will be identified in this essay to help understand the main phases—which will be limited in number for they are too abundant and chaotic of order to address entirely in description and explanation.

Thus, by detailing Heracles’s and Oedipus’s departures from their ordinary lives (Departure) to the fantastical worlds and adventures of their stories (Initiation) to the culmination of their eventual return to the traditional worlds they once left (Return), the order of the main phases of the hero monomyth presented by Campbell should be evidently inherent in these heroic myths. Additionally, all sub-phases used will be placed in parentheses in accordance with their respective main phases to provide clarity.

Beginning with Heracles, his Departure —which uses all of Campbell’s Departure sub-phases—is fraught with grief after he unknowingly slaughtered his children from a madness that Hera cast upon him (The Belly of the Whale) for not accepting Eurystheus’s command for him to perform the ten labors (Refusal of the Call) Zeus promised Heracles must complete before becoming immortal. The act of killing his children prompted unfortunate Heracles to recede from his ordinary life, to become cleansed of his misdeed, and to seek the oracle of Delphi for advice (Supernatural Aid). The oracle suggests Heracles accept the labors of the king (The Call to Adventure) and he heeds her advice, accepting his call. The acceptance of The Call to Adventure leads him to the new, unknown world when Eurystheus commands Heracles to acquire the skin of the lion of Nemea (The Crossing of the First Threshold).

From here, Heracles must begin his Initiation. After much sorrow endured from the detachment of his known world due to his loss of children, his transition to his fated call given by Zeus grants him his trials and tribulations (The Road of Trials). These trials consist of the aforementioned lion skin and eleven other tests for Heracles to complete in order to realize and unite his inner frailty with his outer strength and allow him to totally alleviate his past transgressions (The Ultimate Boon).

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And finally, Heracles must face his Return after his last trial is completed, which required him to bring Cerberus, Hades’ pet, back to Eurystheus and then return it back to the Underworld—another example that could be deemed The Ultimate Boon. Upon completion of his final task, Heracles takes on further exploits, despite no longer needing to (Refusal of the Return). Years later, during his Return, Heracles’s wife, in a fit of jealousy, contaminates a tunic with the blood of the poisonous hydra and sends it to Heracles as a present. Upon fitting the tunic, Heracles subsequently writhes in pain from the poison causing him to rip the tunic and his skin off together. This physical pain evokes him to act quickly and drastically by building his own funeral pyre to die upon (Freedom to Live). As the flames are lit, Zeus sends lightning and cloud to Heracles for his ascension to the realm of the gods to become immortal, and at last fulfill Zeus’s wish, has arrived (Apotheosis).

Unlike Heracles, Oedipus’s Departure does not begin as roughly and without the death of loved ones; however, his journey is not without emotional strife and physical anguish. His journey begins when he is persuaded to seek the oracle of Delphi (The Call to Adventure) after being taunted by some of his fellow Corinthians and his adoptive parents failed to answer his queries (Supernatural Aid). When meeting with the oracle, Oedipus is told he would kill his father and marry his mother, so he decides to avoid his adoptive parents entirely to prevent the prophecy from being actualized (Refusal of the Call)—which he believed were his biological parents. Oedipus leaves Corinth and heads to Thebes (The Crossing of the First Threshold). Along his travel to Thebes, he is met with a chariot full of men who meet Oedipus’s anger. Oedipus kills all men except one—including his own father, although Oedipus was unaware of this fact. Soon after, he arrives in Thebes and is eventually greeted with the dead king’s brother’s decree that the one who feels the Sphinx that plagues the city shall be crowned king. The Sphinx poses a riddle (Belly of the Whale) that Oedipus solves to free the people of Thebes from their affliction and take them to the throne.

Upon taking the throne and marrying the queen, he learns later that she is his mother and sets forth a series of unlucky events (The Road of Trials). This act completely sunders his familiarity with the world and himself, and in blinding himself, concludes his transformative stage. From this transformative stage, his Initiation has begun. He is isolated from society and dons the fate of the pharmacies (a “scapegoat” for human indecencies). Oedipus and his daughter Antigonê wander the world after his expulsion from human habitation. In his exile and blindness, Oedipus is no longer blinded by his obliviousness, and his suffering has become his relief from his wrongdoings (The Ultimate Boon).

At last, Oedipus must face his Return. But, his is a difficult one that relies on his daughters’ help (Rescue from Without) as he is a homeless wanderer. And in his last moments, Oedipus accepts his death with dignity as he honors his daughters before disappearing before Theseus without having tears or a whimper (Master of the Two Worlds).

Ending this paper shall see its thoughts returned to its original idea Campbell. For departure from the accustomed comes initiation into the extraordinary and ultimately the return of the hero from his or her journey. No matter which ends we read or see, another is close to following in its steps that shall assimilate the patterns of the hero monomyth the predecessor or brethren myth has left behind. The main phases of the hero monomyth remain constants among the changing faces myths wear as their heroes and the sub-phases that accompany them. And although Heracles and Oedipus have different faces and names and sub-phases, their stories contain and enjoy the same three rudimentary phases of the monomyth. Their journey and all other heroic journeys that have succeeded may well have done so because they serve the same paradigm of the hero monomyth.

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Essay on ‘Oedipus the King’: Who Told Oedipus His Fate. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
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