I'm interested in alternate readings of Oedipus Rex, as opposed to the orthodox modern position embedded in Philosophy since Freud. I've noticed, that the wikipedia entry on Sophocles treatment of Oedipus Rex has:

The science revolution attributed to Thales began gaining political force, and this play offered a warning to the new thinkers. Oedipus (symbolized reason) destroying the sphinx (symbolizing the gods) and being cursed through a misunderstanding of the gods (the oracle)

Unfortunately the article is missing the citation where this comes from. Does anyone have a reference where this is more fully discussed?

One reason as to why I'm interested in alternate readings is because as Deleuze said:

The history of philosophy plays a patently repressive role in philosophy, it’s philosophy’s own version of the Oedipus complex: ‘You can’t seriously consider saying what you yourself think until you’ve read this and that, and that on this, and this on that.

The IEP entry on Aristotles Poetics notes that:

It makes no sense to say that Oedipus’ passion for truth is a flaw, since that is the very quality that makes us afraid on his behalf.

  • Anti-Oedipus might not be the worst place to start, I suppose. :)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 19:30
  • --In passing, some of the larger concerns around this are addressed to some degree in What is Philosophy?; i.e., about the way philosophy (historically, etc.) plays this perverse role of an image of thought which effectively prevents thinking...
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 19:31
  • @Weissman: I can see why he raises this question given the quote above. What do you mean by 'image of thought' you've used it before. Is it a Deleuzan term? Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 19:37
  • It's often kind of hard to say with Deleuze, since he energizes/catalyzes so many terms from the arts and sciences, or uses 'old' philosophy terms and phrases in new ways! --But yes, the place to go for image of thought stuff in Deleuze is Difference and Repetition, the third section of which IIRC is just called "The Image of Thought"
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 19:38

2 Answers 2


Chesterton offers one alternate reading of Oedipus Rex. In his book The Soul of Wit, Chesterton compares Oedipus to Macbeth, saying that Oedipus is the supreme pagan Tragedy because of its focus on fate, whereas Macbeth is the supreme Christian Tragedy because of its focus on free-will and sin. This theme of fate is the point of Oedipus Rex for Chesterton, and not our hidden sexual desires (as Freud would say), nor is it about reason defeating the gods (as the Wikipedia author says without citation).

The play of Macbeth is, in the supreme and special sense, the Christian Tradegy; to be set against the pagan Tragedy of Oedipus. It is the whole point about Oedipus that he does not know what he is doing. And it is the whole point about Macbeth that he does know what he is doing. It is not a tragedy of Fate but a tragedy of Freewill. He is tempted of a devil, but he is not driven by a destiny [as Oedipus is driven].

Seems to be a debatable point, but there is one possible different view.

In any case, I just take Deleuze's quote to say that students of the history of philosophy are fated to love our own intellectual ancestry.


I do not see that Sophocles in "Oedipus Rex" takes an adverse stance against the Greek myths. First, because I could not name any passage which supports the claim. Secondly, because the Greeks of the 5. century BCE considered most of their myths as real as we today consider historical events.

In any case the sphinx does not represent the world of the Olympic gods. At best, it represents the chtonic goddess. The Olympic gods are represented by Apollon who is highly estimated by Oedipus.

Oedipus is the paradigm of a rational man. He is convinced that rational investigation can answer - and possibly solve - all problems. But according to Sophocles the scope of rational investigation in human life is limited.

I prefer to read the play, written at about 430 BCE, as a reply to the Greek enlightenment initiated by the sophistic philosophers of this time.

You recall that Freud created the term Oedipus complex from this play. Iocaste expresses this thought (verse 981f.): How oft it chances that in dreams a man Has wed his mother!

  • Sure, I was trying to highlight the parallel between an enlightment reaction now (or so it's said) and in Greek antiquity. Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 21:26

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