The Greek culture is a major influence on many traits of the world today. Greeks were one of the first civilizations to come up with the idea of a democracy, a type of government that is currently used in the United States and many other parts of the world. In addition, the Greek community is credited with starting the competitive, world renowned event known as the Olympics. Not only has the Greek culture influenced modern things as government and sporting events, but it has also been a prototype for modern literature. Grecian authors were very capable of capturing the Greek way of life in their works. Sophocles' work, Oedipus the King, is a prime example of a Greek collection that reveals the ideas, beliefs, and values of the culture. Sophocles emphasizes the Greek culture's traits by showing the struggle between freewill and the boundless grip of fate, through Oedipus' pride, arrogance, and overconfidence, and through his inability to clearly see the truth.
Sophocles imbeds Oedipus' life with opportunities to demonstrate freewill and with the results of fate, to over-exaggerate the Greek's belief of how life is predetermined. Oedipus first learns that fate is inescapable when he is told by the prophet in Delphi that he "is fated to couple with [his] motherâ€¦[and] kill [his] father, the one who gave [him] life" (Sophocles 873-75). His actions of leaving home to avoid the oracle merely fulfill the prophecy in the end. The choices that Oedipus makes are pointless because there is no avoiding fate. Although it may seem that Oedipus is restricted by his fate, this is not completely true. Oedipus has freewill and willingly makes the choices that complete the foretelling. He chooses to seek out the truth of his past, to run away from Corinth, to kill the man he met at Phocis, and to become King of Thebes and take the queen as his wife. None of this was predestined by the Gods or in Oedipus' prophecy, yet these choices are what enabled it to be completed. Though Oedipus believes that his choices are allowing him to circumvent the prophecy, fate itself remains unyielding causing Oedipus to wind up with the same outcome. Oedipus' failure to avoid his own fate emphasizes a basic relationship between freewill coexisting within fate which Greeks believed governed their lives and the world.
Oedipus' tendencies to display traits of pride, determination, and arrogance speed up the completion of the prophecy leading to his destruction. In all actuality, if Oedipus had not been so determined to alter his fate and evade the oracle, he would not have fulfilled it. When Oedipus first comes into contact with King Lauis and his men at Phocis, he "strike[s] [them] in anger" because of the fact they would not move aside for him nor he for them (Sophocles 891). Oedipus' pride overwhelms him and his quick-temper, and lack of recognition of their status cause him to kill the entire group. The results of his actions cause Oedipus to unknowingly take a step towards fulfilling the prophecy that had been told to both him and his birth parents. His overconfidence also influences his actions. The fact that he feels he needs to "bring it all to light [himself]" and that he is "the land's avenger by all rights, and Apollo's champion" shows an abundance of confidence that exists within him (150-155). This excess of confidence causes Oedipus to make decisions on impulse before he thinks of the repercussions. Oedipus' characteristics are major contributors to his downfall. If Oedipus had just retained his pride, confidence, and determination during various points in his life, his untimely demise would have been lengthened.
Oedipus' inability to clearly see the truth paves the way for his downfall. Sophocles is constantly referring to peoples' sight and ability to see because in the play vision symbolizes knowledge and understanding of one's surrounding or situation. The priest tells Oedipus to "look aroundâ€¦ [and] see with your own eyes," which could be better explained as an instruction to see the truth and gain insight on the situation by observing all the facts (Sophocles 28). Oedipus seems to lack the ability to see clearly which influences his decisions to dig deeper and deeper to uncover the legitimacy of his birth and of the prophecy. Additionally, another clear example is when Tiresias, the blind prophet, states that "to see the truth when the truth is only pain to him who sees" is terrible (359-360). Tiresias is merely saying that by revealing the reality of the situation the one who realizes it will only be caused sorrow, grief, and pain. Oedipus' being "blind to the corruption of [his] life" eventually causes his failure and destruction because he is unable to perceive what his actions and decisions have caused his life to be (471). Oedipus commits no negative actions to receive his prophecy and dreadful fate, yet due to his blind knowledge of the legitimacy and truth of his life, it concludes with his failure and destruction.
The story of Oedipus reveals many aspects of Greek and human culture as a whole. Initially, the idea of running away from fate is proven to be impossible through Oedipus' attempts to escape his foretold future because in the end his life is still left in ruins. In addition, the play illustrates some of the values the ancient Greek culture acknowledged - honesty and a solid relationship with their gods. Oedipus, as a character, emphasizes the notion that living creatures are not merely puppets that roam the world with a predetermined life, but people whose choices eventually lead to the same end result. Ultimately, the play demonstrates how, to the Greeks, human intelligence and freewill were not enough to conquer fate. Sophocles stressed how the Greek culture believed that fate and destiny could not be altered as their lives can be attributed to a higher being or force. To the Greeks, regardless of individual attempts to change fate, the end result will still be the same, demonstrated by Oedipus and the fate he encounters. In contemporary society, there are people to turn to, such as psychics, to play the same role Apollo did to Oedipus. Whether the psychic tells the truth or lies, many people tend to believe a psychic's foretelling and will expect it to happen. But at the same time, the lesson from Oedipus is that truly knowing the future can only bring out the worst; if everyone knew what bad things would come about in their lives, there would be no drive to live and see what the future holds. It is the not knowing and the thought of being able to set their fate and destiny which continues to motivate people to continue living and to make changes for a better future.