Sophocles’ tragedies produced a profound impact on the development of European theatre and literature. At the same time, it should be said that his works perfectly reflect the epoch in which the artist lived and worked. In fact, the research of works created by Sophocles may reveal considerable changes that took place in the ancient Greek society and, in this respect, his characters, such as Oedipus are particularly worthy of research because they may be viewed as revolutionary in a way. At this point, it is possible to refer to Bernard Knox, who researched in depth the works of Sophocles and one of the main characters of his works, Oedipus. Basically, Bernard Knox views Oedipus as a very challengeable character, who symbolizes the dramatic change that took place in the ancient Greek society and which Sophocles actually described in his works. It should be pointed out that one of the most important problems Bernard Knox is focused on is the problem of the relationship of gods and men in the ancient Greek society and the role of hero.
On analyzing ideas of Bernard Knox, it should be pointed out that he stands on the ground that Oedipus, the character created by Sophocles, is a representative of the new generation of Greeks which challenges traditional values and is about to break down the existing biases and stereotypes. In fact, it is obvious that Oedipus is quite different from other people. In this respect, his high social status which he gains after the murdering of his own father, is only a partial explanation of his power and his difference from other ancient Greeks. What makes him really different from the rest of ancient Greek society is his relation to gods. Bernard Knox points out that practically from the beginning of the tragedy, Oedipus is equated to gods.
However, the perception of such an equation is different. What is meant here is the fact that Oedipus views himself as really equal to gods, while other characters tend to view him as the first man, rather than a man who is really equal to gods. The latter view is, to a significant extent determined by the actual situation and beliefs that dominated in the ancient Greek society at the moment when the tragedy was created. To put it more precisely, gods were traditionally associated with some supernatural power, while human beings were traditionally viewed as weak and unable to resist to the power of gods. In such a context, it was simply unthinkable for ancient Greeks to think about the possibility of a man being equated to gods since in god-man relations the latter was traditionally subordinated to the will of the former, to the extent that gods practically played by men as toys.
Nevertheless, Sophocles challenges this postulate by means of the creation of Oedipus, a hero character. However, it should be pointed out that Sophocles does not really rejects traditional ancient Greek views on gods and men, instead, he rather depicts the contradiction that existed in the society at the epoch in regard to the role of men, their power and abilities. At this point, it is important to underline that Oedipus does have a great power, which no other person has in his kingdom. He is a real tyrant that rules his country and all people obey to his will. Such a power makes him closer to the almighty Olympian gods, but, nevertheless, it does not make him really equal to them, though Oedipus prefers to view himself as the only human that is equal to gods. In such a way, through his main character, Sophocles develops the idea that a man is the measure of all things.
However, the view on man in the ancient Greek society is basically defined by quite a different idea, according to which it is god that is a measure of all thing, but this view is apparently based on traditional beliefs of ancient Greeks, which Oedipus attempts to shatter. In fact, he violates numerous ancient Greek laws and exercises the absolute, unlimited power in his kingdom. In such a context, he really seems to be equal to gods and, therefore, it is possible to believe that he is right in his attempts to challenge the power of gods. But the new, revolutionary view on a man as equal to gods is undermined by the tragic fate of Oedipus. In fact, prophecies of the Oracle basically turn to be true and, when they are fulfilled, Oedipus blinds himself in a punishment for his sins.
At this point, Jocasta comes to the assistance to Oedipus in his efforts to debunk the stereotypes about the inferiority of men compared to gods. She argues that gods do not have and do not need any prophecies and, therefore, oracles cannot be profits. In fact, she the fulfillment of prophecies rather as a chance, a coincidence that has nothing in common with foreseeing power of oracles. In such a situation, a chance becomes a powerful argument in support of Oedipus position and a serious challenge to the power of gods.
Moreover, Oedipus has never given in. Even after his self-blinding and the loss of his tyrannous power, he still produces a significant impact on his environment. In other words, even after the loss of power and formal authority, Oedipus is still able to influence other people. Bernard Knox points out his internal spiritual power, which makes other people to obey and respect him. In such a way, Sophocles apparently indicates to the presence of the great power within human beings, which may remain unnoticed, when a man has a great political power, but, which becomes obvious in the most difficult periods of his life.
Nevertheless, the ending of the tragedy rather depicts Oedipus defeated. In spite of all his power, he could hardly avoid his own fate defined by gods. This is why it is possible to estimate that in the opposition between a man and gods, Sophocles rather tends to the maintenance of traditional views and beliefs, though he also indicates to the possibility of the appearance of heroes among humans who can challenge the power of gods.
In conclusion, it should be said that Bernard Knox lays emphasis on two major themes in Sophocles’ tragedy, namely on the greatness of gods and on the greatness of a man. In fact, Oedipus apparently symbolizes the greatness of a man, who attempts to challenge gods and become equal to gods. On the other hand, there are gods and oracles whose prophecies interpreting the will of god tend to come true.