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A Theme Of Fate Vs. Free Will In Oedipus Rex

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Fate is often a heavily debated topic as some believe that humans can deviate from one’s predetermined fate and make it their own. However, others, especially those who have strong religious beliefs, may argue that fate is set in stone by a higher power beginning from one’s birth to their death. The ancient Greeks were highly dependent on the ideology of gods, goddesses, and fate. Thus play writers much like Sophocles often write tragic plays that revolve around the theme of fate versus free will, such as Oedipus Rex. Oedipus, the tragic hero of this play, suffered major consequences due to his predetermined future. Oedipus’ bashful nature was the foundation of the downfall of Thebes. Being ignorant of the truth, Oedipus attempted to avoid his future, but it was ultimately a truth that he could not escape. In addition, Oedipus’ arrogance led him to believe he had outsmarted the gods and fate. Oedipus is a victim of fate as constant evasion of his foretold future led him down a path of self-destruction, attesting that one’s destiny is inevitable.

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Oedipus is known to be bashful, at the beginning of the play, he had killed an unknown traveler as this individual had annoyed him causing Oedipus to let his anger control his actions. After he becomes the King of Thebes for getting rid of the Sphinx that was terrorizing the city, Thebes succumbed to diseases and natural disasters. Oedipus eager to solve the issue for his people and he was informed by an oracle that “there is an unclean thing,/ born and nursed on our soil, polluting our soil, which must be driven away, not kept to destroy us”. However, Oedipus soon learns that the man he had killed was his father. Thus ironically, Lauis, father of Oedipus and the late king of Thebes had tried to run away from this foretold future by ordering a shepherd to leave Oedipus to die. In the end, all of that resulted in nothing as he was still killed by Oedipus as the identity of his father was unknown to him. Dramatic irony is also present when he found out that he was the impurity causing the city of Thebes despair, which was all due to his irrationality. The ignorance of the consequences of his actions and allowing his anger to control himself not only lead him to fulfill one of the prophecies presented to him, but also caused pain to others. Oedipus is a clear representation of how “irrational thinking is related significantly to . . . anger,” as his anger towards the unknown traveler caused him to strike against him, ultimately killing the old man. In addition, the diseases and natural disasters happening with the city of Thebes can be interpreted as symbolizing evil deed . Near the middle of the play, Oedipus confesses that he had committed a grave sin as it is revealed to him that “he is sinful in his begetting,/ ssinful in marriage, and sinful in shedding of blood”. Overall, the consequences brought upon Thebes due to Oedipus’ bashful nature reminds individuals that the ability to control one’s irrational thoughts can prevent them from ruining their lives and the lives of others.

Being as irrational as he was, Oedipus was also blind to the truth, ignorant of his past, bringing him back to his fate which his parents had tried to avoid. At the beginning of the play, Oedipus found out that his parents were not his true parents and the words of the oracle about how “his life was clouded with the presage of disaster. . . as he was destined one day to kill his father, and become his own mother’s husband. ” Oedipus was more than eager to avoid this prophecy however not eager enough to uncover the truth as he believed he was the son of the king and queen of Corinth. He sought to prevent the prophecy from happening thus he fled to Thebes to prevent himself from killing his parents however he encountered his biological father and killing him, unaware of the truth. Oedipus uses his ignorance to explain the reasons for killing Lauis as he claims that “he whom I killed. had sought to kill me first. The law/ Acquits me, innocent, as ignorant, of what I did”. His lack of knowledge caused him much pain and others around him. “ Oedipus is someone who violated the most sacred of Nature’s laws and thus incurred the most horrible of all pollutions; but did so without knowing the consequences, for Oedipus knew not what he did”. Hence, if Oedipus had sought the truth earlier he would have understood the weight of his actions, avoiding this situation altogether and perhaps even being able to change his fate. However ignorant Oedipus might be, he was also deaf to the words of others, perhaps the reason why the truth was unclear for him. When confronted by the blind priest, Teiresias, Oedipus was told that “the killer he is seeking is himself”, but Oedipus did not believe him. Oedipus concluded that Cronas and Teiresisas are conspiring against him, framing him for the death of Lauis. Teiresias continues to advise Oedipus the dangers of ignorance as he is “living in ignorance of his own undoing”, proclaiming that his lack of knowingness of the truth is leading him to his downfall. In addition, it is evident that “Oedipus excuses his past many times by claiming ignorance of facts and impotence before fate”, thus he is simply using ignorance as an excuse to justify his actions and undoing. However, when finding out the truth at the end of the play, Oedipus could not bear the embarrassment and shame thus causing himself self-harm by gouging his eyes out. The possibility of avoidance of Oedipus’ downfall was possible if he had sought to figure out the entirety of the truth before the prophecy was fulfilled, however, it was fate that leads him to be ignorant concluding that ignorance is inevitable in human beings.

In ancient Greece, gods were known to be feared and worshipped, however, Oedipus’ character defies those norms. He is arrogant, leading him to believe he was above all, including the gods and fate. In the play, Oedipus received word that his foster father, King of Cronith who he believes is his real father, had died, but by natural causes – old age. This brought relief to Oedipus as he believed that he had outsmarted the gods and evaded his fate as he was not the cause of his father’s death. Ironically though, his real father, Laius, had already been killed by him. However keep in mind that the theme of gods and fate is recurring, especially the repetition of the Gods punishing those who have sinned as Teiresias has warned Oedipus that “he will leave to Apollo what concerns the god”. Teiresias is suggesting that earthly power, such as Oedipus and his biological parents’ attempts to avoid their fate, is irrelevant in the face of divine influence which is referring to the gods.

Oedipus has also boasted about being so powerful such that he is “counts himself as the son of Chance, the great goddess, the giver of all good things — so that he will never see himself disgraced”. Chance, also known as “Tyche In Greek mythology, the goddess of chance, with whom the Roman Fortuna was later identified; a capricious dispenser of good and ill fortune”, is said to be veiled. This is because she is will bring good luck or bad luck unbiased of who it is. By claiming he is the son of Fortune, he views himself as a being of greatness as he does not know who his true parents are. Dramatic irony once again is in play as he believed was that he was under the guidance of Fortune, but rather than favoring him, he was destroyed by it. Thus, even though Oedipus tried so hard to avoid fulfilling his prophecies, fate ultimately remained unchanged and ultimately punished for attempting to avoid it. When he realized he was the murderer of Laius, he exclaimed “forbid, forbid, you pure and awful gods, that I should see that day!”. Revealing the gods as pure and deserving of reverence, such that failure, on the part of mortals to render them praise, would ostensibly culminate in the destructive wrath that the Chorus, although obliquely, are anticipating”. Supporting the fact that this was due to his rebelliousness against the gods, he was ultimately punished and suffered the destiny he was foretold to live through. Oedipus’ overall arrogance towards beings of higher power supports the idea that undermining the power of fate can lead one to believe in one’s presumptions of being a being of absolute power.

The inevitability of fate led Oedipus to his downfall despite factors leading him to deviate from his foretold future, attesting that one can not escape from the grasps of destiny. The irrationality that fueled most of Oedipus’ actions. Oedipus’ unwillingness to seek the truth earlier. As well as his presumptuous belief in that he was of greatness far more than the gods were factors that influences Oedipus’ deviation from his future but also brought him back. Deviation from one’s path to the branching ones caused by an individual’s actions does not lead to a new path, but rather back to its original path as illustrated through Sophocles’ character design of Oedipus. As well as repetition of higher power and their absolute will. This concludes that no matter how much individuals try to change their fate, there is a higher power that prevents them from doing so, supporting that tampering with destiny will not change their fate and will only cause more suffering.

10 October 2020

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