IN the plays of Sophocles, especially Oedipus Rex. There are references to various gods, goddesses, but the names that recur most often are those of Zeus, Apollo, and Dionysus. Zeus was the chief of the Greek gods and was especially connected with prophecy. Apollo also was the patron of oracles and the chief of the Greek oracles at Delphi was the high priest of Apollo. Dionysus has special relevance to the Theban plays since there was believed to be his birthplace. Since Sophocles himself was an Athenian, references to Pallas Athena are also understandable. To all intents and purposes, however, it is Apollo who rules the world of Sophocles plays and in Oedipus Rex, many of the names of this god occur. (Sophocles Philosophy)
Sophocles Conception of the Gods
It seems that Sophocles regards the gods to be all-powerful but not willfully malignant. Although it is very difficult to know the view of Sophocles himself from the plays, in Oedipus Rex, at least, the gods are not considered to be arbitrary. They are ruled by Necessity and Fate. Although the punishment they visit upon erring mortals may be excessive. It is connected with the crime and is never without a case.
Appearance of Freedom
Apollo does not force his will upon the characters but allows them at least the appearance of freedom. If not real freedom. What husband, and in a certain way this is well-founded. ON the other hand, Messenger comes absolutely by his own choice. In fact, he has offered himself for this mission because he will get the extraordinary reward from Oedipus by telling him۔ It was he who was responsible for his upbringing in the royal family, and thus, indirectly, for his present good luck.
On the other hand, the Theban shepherd brings his will and is loath to answer the king’s questions. Yet in one way it is Apollo who sends both of them and the coincidence which brings these two shepherds together. So that no doubt is left about Oedipus being the supposedly dead Theban prince. There is no room for believing that the characters are puppets in the hands of the gods. All the same, we are conscious of a divine plan behind human actions. (Sophocles Philosophy)
One view especially that of older cities has been that Oedipus Rex is a tragedy of fate and that the human beings in it have no volition of their own. Prominent among such critics is C.C. Bowra. According to him, Apollo marks Oedipus for this victim right from the beginning. In his, his views Apollo who sets in motion, at every stage, the evens, prophecy, which is as good as the word of Apollo himself, leaves Oedipus no escape. The oracle is quite unmistakable, for Laius has also even told quite the same thing concerning his son.
The words of Tiresias also endorse it. This view rests on a misconception. The words of the oracles predict the future, but they do not compel Oedipus or others to follow a particular course of action. They are free to choose what they like. Therefore, far as Oedipus Rex is concerned, it is a play, which emphasizes character rather than fate.
Arrogance and Blasphemy
In Sophocles’ plays, arrogance and blasphemy against the gods are always punished. The most important example is in Oedipus Rex where the Chorus seems offended by Jocasta and Oedipus’s ridicule of the oracles and earnestly prays that such blasphemy may be punished by the gods. Due reverence to the gods is the theme of Oedipus at Colons. The Athenian people are horrified when Creon prepares to defile the sacred grove and carry away Oedipus. Oedipus curses him for his cruelty and impiety and we see this curse being fulfilled in Antigone. In the last of the Theban plays, Creon thinks of his own decree. More important than the age-old laws of the gods. Especially of the god of the under word about proper respect being paid to the dead body. Tiresias points out the Creon that he was being impious and that such impiety will inevitably find its punishments.
“…. Ere the chariot of the sun
Has rounded once or twice his wheeling way,
You shall have given as of your own lions
To delay, in payment for death – two debts to pay
One for the lie that has been sent to death
The life that you have abominably entombed
One for the dead still lying above ground
Unburied, uncolored, humblest by the gods below”
Teiresias makes it clear that this is the doomed punishment for Creon’s own sins, and that nothing can alter it now. Creon tries to escape the doom by setting about to release Antigone and bury Polynices, but that is too late. (Sophocles Philosophy)
Suffering of the Innocent
The most baffling thing in Sophocles’ plays is that the innocent suffer as much as the guilty so often. Does it mean that the gods are unjust? One cannot be certain of the belief of Sophocles for being the great artist that he was, he confines himself to the artistic problem and does not even imply a metaphysical statement. However, he certainly emphasizes, in play after play, the transistorizes and unimportance of human life, and the pervasiveness of suffering. According to the critic:
“In Sophocles’ tragedies human suffering visits the innocent as much as does the guilty, and he who suffers is, therefore, not automatically guilty. The poet tends to sharpen the edge of suffering, he does not, especially not in his later works accept it as a punishment or retribution; rather he emphasizes the innocence of the victim… And despite this treatment, the poet still demands an acceptance of the hero’s suffering. And so we find in this works no testing theodicy, no investigation into the cause of suffering, but the conviction that suffering is inherent in human nature. ”
Human and the Divine Law
Sophocles leaves little doubt that wherever there is a conflict between the human law and the divine, it is the divine law, which deserves to be observed. Creon is willfully indifferent to the laws of heaven and pays a dire penalty for his transgression. He goes to the extreme in his use of statecraft and is guilty of blasphemous defiance of piety. The comment of the Chorus on the tragedy of Antigone and Harmon and the suffering of Creon may be regarded as an indication of Sophocles’ own views.
Sophocles own attitude to the gods and religion is so far as we can have an inkling of it in the plays, its that of a devout believer, who believes that due reverence must be paid to the gods and that human beings must not only be prepared to pay the full price of all their sins but also to embrace suffering even when they do not believe that themselves are at fault.