An alternative look at Jocasta in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex
"Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for
when he is tried, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath
promised to them that love Him."
Since the founding of religion, the gods have sought to test those with
power. Jocasta was sent by Apollo to do just that: to test Oedipus' faith
Throughout the play, Jocasta tested the beliefs of those around her by
feigning disbelief in the gods herself. Though she put up this false front,
she did keep her faith. At the beginning of the scene wherein a messenger
relayed word of Polybus' death and Oedipus' ascension to the throne of
Corinth, we see Jocasta praying - not the act of a disbeliever at all!
Again, in the same Episode, Jocasta carries garlands and incense to the
altar and tries to appeal to Apollo to purify the city of Thebes.
While her faith remains strong, her task from the gods is to test the
faiths of others, especially that of Oedipus, which she does. After accusing
Creon of conspiracy and treason, Oedipus relates to Jocasta the details
of his meeting with Tiresius. Jocasta proceeds to plant doubts of the
gods by telling Oedipus the story of the Delphian Oracle and the circumstances
surrounding Laius' death. Again, after Polybus' death, she excitedly tells
Oedipus that his prophecy was obviously untrue, though it wasn't, and
by doing so she attempts to hint that the oracles - and thus the gods
- are false. By planting this doubt in Oedipus' mind, the gods are able
to test his faith, and his ruling power, through Jocasta - a test which
he fails until it is too late.
Why, then, would Jocasta be forced to perform such a dubious task for
the gods? It is because she tried to avoid an earlier prophecy. By tying
her child's feet together and casting him out, she attempted to defeat
the gods, and this of course angered them. Her punishment, then, was to
test the beliefs of the very child she cast out.
Oedipus Rex was Sophocles' attempt to show the Greeks that
they could not avoid the dealings of the gods, or they may be forced to
conspire against the very people they should love most. Jocasta was, in
this way, a victim. Though it was by her own doing that this penalty was
cast upon her, it was not something she was happy to do, which becomes
apparent when she realizes the truth in her earlier prophecy. It is at
this moment that she becomes aware of her punishment, and in desperation
kills herself. Oedipus Rex is a true tragedy in the sense
that fate and Oedipus' own tragic flaw (his hotheadedness) combine to
bring about his downfall. What makes it that much more tragic, however,
is that the events were, for the most part, out of Oedipus' control. The
chain of events was set in motion by his own mother. He was forced to
leave Corinth (thus trying to avoid his own prophecy), afraid he may bring
harm to the persons whom he loved the most. Scared and angry at the curse
he carried upon his back, who can blame him for being hot tempered? It
is Jocasta, his own mother and wife, that brings the story full circle
by again cursing him, perpetuating a disbelief in the gods.
Jocasta is a victim in Oedipus Rex, but not as much as she is a catalyst
for Oedipus' own victimization. She keeps her faith throughout and tries
to relieve Oedipus of his. Because of this, readers may in turn pity her
and loathe her. But the gods tested the king of Thebes through her - the
main goal of the play - and both he and she failed.