There be dragons!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Oedipus and Human Life

The play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles certainly seems to embody the change and alteration held by the ancient world to be the heart of religious experience. But Oedipus also seems to undergo a certain experience of the stages of life as well. Consequently, the play can be taken as a metaphor for entering into that initiated world of self-reflection.The original Sphinxian question of four legs, two legs, three legs gives the stages of man in a protean, riddling fashion. Indeed there are eight stages to human life, paralleling the eight notes of the octave in music.

The Ages of Man
  1. Ut: Birth
  2. Re: Infancy
  3. Mi: Youth
  4. Fa: Adulthood
  5. Sol: Initiate
  6. La: Adept
  7. San: Master
  8. Ut: Death (which is a second birth)

Oedipus suggests that he meets with Laius (his father and king of Thebes) at a place where three roads meet. This meeting at the triskelion in which Oedipus kills the old man represents the meeting of the young adult with the "father figure" of imposed rule or law in his life. Somewhere that three roads meet we encounter the other – the father figure of imposed laws – and we kill it, rebel, and do our own thing – and immediately we engage in the pull of the earth, the way of all flesh, becoming wedded to our mother in the feminine powers of the natural self. Only when we come awake to the horrors of our own life, the pain we inflict, the suffering we have caused, do we actually gain eyes to really see what we are. For the first time we encounter ourselves and it blinds us, dazzles us, terrifies and sets us on a new path of discovery and discovery and discovery; one encounter with The Other after another equaling eight total encounters in spirallic path of repetitions.

But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

- St. Paul
1 Corinthians 13


All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

-William Shakespeare
As You Like It
Act 2; scene 7

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

- William Wordsworth. 1770–1850
The Rainbow

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

-John 21:18

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