Discourse of Atheism in Oedipus Rex

In several dialogues and actions shown by the characters in Oedipus Rex, it is worth noticing that the concept or idea of atheism surfaces frequently.

While Sophocles periodically refers to the Greek gods, they are not the main movers in the play. Far from having an active role as they once had in the Illiad, the gods and goddesses are relegated as objects and deities of worship by the characters.

In the play, Jocasta reflects on the irony of fate and destiny, and openly states that because of the dilemma they are in, it is not impossible to think that the gods do not exist at all. In several instances, the role of fate and destiny overrule the common belief in the gods.

It is because of these dialogues, actions, and implied ideas that Oedipus Rex is in a way, a revolutionary form of literature. Instead of focusing on the Greek religious beliefs, the play focuses on man and his actions. By placing man’s destiny solely in his own hands, Sophocles takes away the divine power of the gods in controlling man and his fate.

This was a radical departure from ordinary Greek literature which held that man is controlled by the will of the gods and goddesses. The simple patronage of Oedipus Rex by many Greeks was a sign that not all took to the idea of divine beings directing their lives.

In later times, Plato himself would criticize the presence and behavior or the gods in Greek mythology and literature. He would argue that their actions were immoral and unacceptable. But prior to that, the fascination with the concept of man and his destiny defeated the question of morality.

Also, by investing on the idea that Oedipus had a concrete hand in his own demise, the gods and goddesses are taken from the equation of human life and are altogether disposed of as mere icons who were powerless.

One indication of this discourse of atheism are the pleas and prayers of Jocasta and Oedipus in their times of turmoil. They pray to the gods, asking for help and clarity and yet, they failed to achieve success. The play then, implicitly shows that there were indeed, no such things as gods and goddesses.

By a thorough analysis and study of Oedipus Rex, we are able to distinguish minute yet significant ideas which will eventually shape minds and empires for generations to come. By opposing the Greek standard and structure of literature, Sophocles was able to conceive a new form of thinking.


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