The courage of Oedipus

Having just led a powerful seminar on Oedipus Rex, in which I was moved to the verge of tears by Oedipus himself, the following words about the pervasiveness of lying in our political and social lives spoke even more loudly to me:

But we can’t just blame the political class. It’s also true that plenty of ordinary Americans simply don’t want to hear the truth. […] In that sense, all of us are complicit in the untruths that permeate every level of American political and economic life.

In spite of his many faults which led him unknowingly to living a terrible lie, Oedipus cannot rest until he knows the truth about himself, about the evil and rash deeds he has done.  When he suspects that he is the murderer who has caused the sickness of the land, he will not cover that up to himself nor let others cover it up for him.  When he begins to suspect the unthinkable, horrific truth of his life, he still must know it in full:

Herdsman:  O God, I am on the brink of frightful speech.

Oedipus:  And I of frightful hearing.  But I must hear.

During our discussion last night, I suddenly got a glimpse of why the God (Apollo) inflicted this life on Oedipus — he knew that Oedipus would have the spirit to pursue the truth, even the difficult truth, in coming to know himself.  And he had the spirit to endure the long life of suffering with that truth, in repentance for his sins and in final submission to the divine plan for his life.

May the habitual search for the honest truth govern all we do in our classrooms and schools.


About Andrew Seeley

Executive Director, Institute for Catholic Liberal Education Tutor, Thomas Aquinas College
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