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October 06, 2006

Monika's Oedipus Quote Commentary

“If I could, I would have walled my ears so they heard nothing,
I would have made this body of mine a wall.
I would have heard nothing, tasted nothing, smelled nothing, seen nothing.
No thought, No feeling. Nothing.
So pain would never reach me anymore.” (pg 87, line 1801)

This quote is part of Oedipus’ response to the “Leader’s” questions about why he made himself blind. Repetition plays a very powerful role in this quote. By repeating the phrase “I would have,” in a set pattern and the word “nothing,” potent emphasis is given to Oedipus’ misery, internal regret, and unwillingness to witness his actions. Oedipus is telling his audience that he would do anything to escape from the reality that he was forced to create by the gods. The beginning of this verse starts with “If I could, I would have,” which tells the reader that he would have done whatever was in his own power to mentally shut out the consequences of his destiny and in a way take back control of it. His quote also conveys a sense of his own powerlessness because by saying “If I could, I would,” we understand that there was nothing he wouldn’t have done to regain control. The fact that even at this stage Oedipus would be willing to physically hurt himself in order to get back control of his life shows how determined he is to be the sole writer of his own life story. One question that comes to mind is why Oedipus feels so responsible and guilty for his actions that he feels such enormous and unbearable pain (which he would do anything to escape from) while at the same time knowing that he is not directly responsible for what he did, because if there was any way possible to do things differently he would have.

Posted by monikade at October 6, 2006 02:07 PM

Comments

This passage pays particular attention to the senses-- Oedipus claims that if he could, he would make his body a wall and shut down all of his senses. This makes me think about the power that we have over our own lives. Oedipus wishes to be the writer of his own story, but as we all know, this is impossible. He is unable to control fate, and moreso, he appears to be unable to control his own actions (because he ends up doing the very thing that he sets out to avoid doing). Thus, Oedipus in this passage resorts to the one thing that he does have some control over: his body. He knows that he can cut off his own senses, as is proven when he blinds himself. However, I wonder if Oedipus is really successful in taking power over his life through this action, or if he is merely involved in a futile attempt to feel powerful?

Posted by: burkmar at October 8, 2006 04:59 PM

Good observations.

With regard to your question, "One question that comes to mind is why Oedipus feels so responsible and guilty for his actions that he feels such enormous and unbearable pain (which he would do anything to escape from) while at the same time knowing that he is not directly responsible for what he did, because if there was any way possible to do things differently he would have." I am not an expert on the Greek world, but from what I've read, the Greeks did not make the distinction between an act itself, and the intention behind the act, that we tend to make. So, someone would have been deemed guilty of a terrible act anyway, irrespective of whether he intended to commit it or not, as long as he had somehow ended up committing it.

Posted by: bhattach at October 8, 2006 11:47 PM

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