Explain the ways in which the Delphic Oracle fulfills the archetypal role of “Herald” in Oedipus the King.

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The archetypal role of 'Herald' summons the hero to action and adventure, and the Delphic Oracle plays it flawlessly throughout the plot. The Delphic Oracle guides all of Oedipus' acts by both overt and indirect means.

Oedipus is the king of Thebes, and he is facing a catastrophe because the city is in the grip of a plague and is on the verge of being destroyed. The king dispatches his brother to the Oracle of Delphi. He reports that the best way to end the outbreak is to find out who killed Laius. What follows is a murder mystery that reveals treasured truths from the king’s past. It emerges that the king killed Laius; that Laius was his father and that he, the king, eventually married his, the king’s, mother. Throughout, the Delphi Oracle is present.


The Delphic Oracle is the one who sets the events rolling when he tells Creon that lifting the plague would necessitate finding Laius’ murderer. It is that first direction that makes the story possible and in this aspect, the Oracle has already played the archetype. Reading the story shows that without the Oracle’s goading, the questions would not have been asked at that particular moment. The hero had no intention of resurrecting the issue. It is, therefore, clear that the Delphic Oracle played the ‘Herald’ in the story.

Indirectly, one can also see that in a way, the Oracle also created the events that eventually led to the prophecy being fulfilled. It is the Oracle who told Oedipus as a young man that he would kill his father and marry his mother. It was a warning that made Oedipus run away and then eventually do what he was pre-destined to do. One can say that the Oracle in a way created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Without the warning at that point, it is conceivable that the young man would never have run away. If he had not run away, he would not have killed his father and married his mother.

Also indirectly, it is the Oracle that controlled the prophet Tiresias. The blind predictor was summoned by the King and eventually confirmed the prophecy. Significantly, he warned that the king was destined to be blind. When the king discovered the truth, he did indeed gauge his eyes out. It is conceivable that the idea of deliberately blinding himself might have come from the prophecy. The predictor might have deliberately inserted the idea in the king’s head. What is not in doubt is that in this way the Oracle directed the king’s actions.


The play is the one that reveals on shock, awe, and a rollercoaster of emotion as the reader follows the changing story. The writer, in creating the Delphi Oracle, inserts a director into the play without making it obvious. The Delphi Oracle knows it all so it must have known what the king had discovered. It also out to have known because the oracle is the source of all prophecies in the land. Seeing the Delphi Oracle as the archetypical ‘Herald’ was not straightforward but once seen it becomes quite obvious. Behind every action of the story’s hero was the oracle directing events.

November 03, 2022




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