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Was it the tragic fate of murdering his father and marrying his mother, or the free will of trying to escape and avoid this horrific oracle that led to the demise of the beloved King Oedipus? Some may believe that people have the free will to determine how their life will play out; others believe that everyone’s life is predetermined and our actions are controlled by just that. In the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, fate played a very important role in the life of Oedipus and the characters around him. While Oedipus was free to try and escape his fate, we ultimately are left to find that fate played a greater role and that Oedipus could not run from himself.
As demonstrated in Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles, while free will is a part of human nature, there is also predetermination of one’s fate. According to WordReference.com, fate is defined as an event (or a course of events) that will inevitably happen in the future set forth by a higher power. Since birth, Oedipus was cursed to someday murder his father and marry his mother, as foretold by the oracle of Apollo. Oedipus’s birth father, Laius, was also affected by this fate and thus tried to get rid of Oedipus when he was a baby to try and escape this fate. Laius and his wife, Jocasta, then abandoned baby Oedipus on a mountain with his feet nailed together with spikes and left to die. Later, Oedipus was discovered by a kind shepherd and given to a nearby King and his wife to be raised as their own. Laius’s attempt to change fate was ultimately a failure and further led to the fulfilling of the prophecy. This was just one of the examples of how no matter what you do to avoid it; your fate will ultimately come true in time.
This prophecy was willed by the gods to come true, no matter what Oedipus or King Laius did to avoid it. As Oedipus grew to become a man, the prophecy set forth once more. Before Oedipus left Corinth, he was determined to discover who he really was. He was made aware of his destiny, and this ultimately influenced his actions. Oedipus’s actions did not lead to his destiny, knowing his destiny, led to his actions. For Oedipus, just knowing that his destiny led to the detestable acts of killing his father, whom he thought was the king of Corinth, and marrying his mother, was enough for him to leave Corinth and try to escape this fate, but Sophocles demonstrates how trying to outsmart one’s fate will only convey one to it. Unknowingly, by leaving Corinth, Oedipus had begun the path to fulfill the prophecy. Oedipus indeed was afraid of fulfilling his horrible fate, so he was determined to change it. As Oedipus is traveling to get as far away from Corinth as possible, he encounters an elderly man on a crossroads and kills him; unknowing that it was King Laius, who was actually his birth father, thus fulfilling half of the prophecy. As Oedipus gets closer to the city of Thebes, he encounters the Sphinx and solves her riddle, alas saving the city of Thebes, becoming king, and marrying his birth mother, Jocasta, completing the prophecy.
Sophocles shows us that Oedipus’s free willed actions cannot defeat fate, no matter how hard he tried. As the years passed by, we come to find that the city of Thebes is engrossed in a horrible plague that is troubling the citizens, so they come to King Oedipus for help. Oedipus has come to believe that he has outsmarted his destiny because he has not returned to Corinth since he left, so how could he possibly have killed his father and married his mother? We know from earlier in the story that Oedipus is confident in the prophets because he sent his brother-in-law, Creon, to find out what they can do to save the city. Creon returns and tells Oedipus that they must find the murderer of Laius to end the plague. Oedipus realizes that this is the fate of his city and he also knows little can be done about it. When Oedipus hears the news, “all will be well,” (pg. 222) he replies, “Of course, but what were the God’s words? There’s no hope and nothing to fear in what you’ve said so far.” (pg. 223) Oedipus trusts the words of Apollo, so he sets out to find the murderer of Laius only to find out that this will lead him a step closer to his fate.
As Oedipus is accused of his fate by the prophet, Tiresias, he becomes angry. He then accuses the prophet of trying to conspire against him with Creon, and tries to banish him from Thebes. As things become tense in the house of Oedipus as everyone slowly realizes the truth of Oedipus’s destiny, things start to get hectic. Oedipus’s wife and mother, Jocasta, commits suicide when she realize what has happened, and Oedipus blinds himself by sticking two pins in his eyes because he cannot bear the truth. Oedipus even states, “Go dark for all time blind to what you never should have seen, and blind to the love this heart has cried to see” (pg. 256). He speaks of the consequences that he has faced due to fulfilling the prophecy. Oedipus has learned that no matter what his actions were, he could not avoid his fate.
As was presented in Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles, fate, rather than free will, played a very important role in the life of Oedipus and the characters around him. Sophocles demonstrated to the readers that although free will is indeed in human nature, your life is ultimately predetermined and there’s nothing a person can do to change it. If a prophecy is willed by the gods to happen it shall happen, and free willed actions cannot and will not defeat a person’s fate.
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