Oedipus: Fate vs. Free Will

In Oedipus the King, one of Sophocles most popular plays, Sophocles clearly depicts the Greeks popular belief that fate will control a mans life despite of mans free will. Man was free to choose and was ultimately held responsible for his own actions. Throughout Oedipus the King, the concept of fate and free will plays an integral part in Oedipus’ destruction. Destined to marry his mother and murder his father, Oedipus was partly guided by fate. This prophecy, as warned by the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, was absolute and would inevitably come to pass.

As for free will, Oedipus actions, temper, impulsive nature and pride (hubris) as well as his erroneous judgment (hamartia) all contributed to his eventual downfall. At the beginning of the tragedy, Oedipus was made aware of his destiny. Immediately after receiving the news, Oedipus fled Corinth and headed for Thebes thinking he could escape his fate. Unknowingly, Oedipus had just begun to walk the path that led to his downfall. Shortly after, he killed his father Laius and later married his mother Jocasta.

These actions proved that his life was predetermined by fate and that he was unable to change it. Years later, Oedipus is informed of the plague that has struck Thebes, and is asked to help in the matter. Oedipus could have waited for the plague to end, but feeling pity for his suffering people, he sent Creon to Delphi where he was to plead before Apollo to relieve the curse that had fallen on their land. Instead of investigating the murder of former King Lauis, Oedipus took matters into his own hands and cursed Lauis murderer.

Not knowing he was the murderer, Oedipus had now cursed himself. “Whoever he is, a lone man unknown in his crime or one among many, let that man drag out his life in agony, step by painful step I curse myself as well if by any chance he proves to be an intimate of our house, here at my hearth, with my full knowledge, may the curse I just called down on him strike me! ” (606) Oedipus journey in search of Laius murderer has merely helped the prophecy become reality. His ignorance, pride and remorseless quest for the truth ultimately contributed to his destruction.

An explicit example can be seen when Oedipus was told (after threatening Tiresias), that he was responsible for Laius murder. Oedipus became enraged and called the blind prophet a liar. Oedipus thought he could overcome the gods, but in fact, his every action moved him closer to his destiny. Upon unearthing of the truth of his birth from the shepherd, Oedipus cries out, O god all come true, all burst to light! O light now let me look my last on you! I stand revealed at last cursed in my birth, cursed in marriage, cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands. 31).

Oedipus now knew that his fate had indeed come to pass, and feels cursed by it. Due to the crimes he committed, Oedipus punishes himself (free will) by stabbing his eyes with one of Jocastas brooches. Overall, Oedipus achieves his foremost sin when he attempts to raise himself to the level of the gods by trying to escape his fate. Oedipus accepts full responsibility for his acts and knows that he must be punished for his sins. It is therefore why his tragic fate came about.

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