Greek tragedies often establish free will and fate as the driving forces of the conflict. In Oedipus the King, written by Sophocles,
Lauren Lazar September 27, 2005
Paper #1 English 7- Prof. Hedin
Greek tragedies often establish free will and fate as the driving forces of the conflict. In Oedipus the King, written by Sophocles, Oedipus, the son of king Laius and Jocasta, has free will which ultimately leads him to finding out his fate. Oedipus’ freedom is what guides him to his destiny. The choices that Oedipus makes determine how fast or slow he is going to find out about his fate. It is possible for him to not have found out about his fate at all. It is his free will that determines some of his actions. There are several instances when Oedipus’ freedom allows him to make choices that were not prescribed in his fate. Oedipus chooses to find Laius’ assassin. In addition, he takes his punishment upon himself. His learning of his past leads to his downfall and the outcome of his life.
Oedipus was born to king Laius and queen Jacosta. Upon his birth the king is informed by an oracle that their son is going to grow up and murder his father and marry his mother. To protect himself and his wife, the king sends him away to be killed. However, Oedipus is saved by a shepherd and brought to the home of a married couple, who raises him as their own. Years later, while traveling through the countryside, Oedipus is confronted by a man that he ultimately kills. The man he killed was his father, king Laius (this was set up to be part of Oedipus’ fate). Continuing his journey, Oedipus meets the Sphinx who tells Oedipus a riddle. When Oedipus solves this riddle, he is given the honor to be the king of Thebes and the husband of Jocasta. Thus, Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother. He has now fulfilled his destiny.
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Later, the city of Thebes becomes plagued. The God Apollo mandates from the heavens that the only way to rid the plague that haunts the city, is to find out who murdered Laius. “Relief from the plague can only come in one way. Uncover the murderers of Laius, put them to death or drive them to exile” (349-51). Oedipus, determined to rid Thebes of the plague, searches to find out who the murderer is. Tiresias, a blind prophet who knows the whole story, but is vowed to silence, advises Oedipus that a search for the murderer may not be prudent. “How terrible to see the truth when the truth is only pain to him who sees! I knew it well, but I put it from my mind, else I never would have come” (359-62).
Oedipus’ free will is exhibited when he chooses to search for Laius’ murderer. It was in Oedipus’ fate to murder his father and marry his mother. It wasn’t in his fate that he was going to find out that he murdered his father and married his mother. Clearly, it was his choice that he made that leads him to learning about his cruel twist of fate.
When finds out that he murdered his father and married his mother, Oedipus chooses to punish himself out of the immense guilt he feels for his acts.
Oh, but if there is any blood-tie
between Laius and this stranger… 900
what man alive more miserable than I?
More hated by the gods? I am the man
no alien, no citizen welcomes to his house,
law forbids it, not a word to be in public,
driven out of every heart and home. 905
And all of these curses I, no one but I
brought down these piling curses on myself!
And you, his wife, I’ve touched your body with these,
the hands that killed your husband cover you with blood
This is an act of Oedipus’ free will. He chooses to be punished for the sins that he has committed. He is filled with pain and chooses to suffer as a consequence of his actions.
Next, Oedipus decides to interrogate the shepherd so he can learn about his past. He blames the Shepherd for saving him instead of leaving him to die. Once Oedipus hears the whole story, he can’t handle the truth.
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, 1310
cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands!
Oedipus acknowledges that it was his fate that explains the past. To punish himself, he stab himself in his eyes with Jocasta’s brooch. “You’ll see no more the pain I suffered, all the pain I caused!” (1406-07). Oedipus knew that he would not be able to examine the world anyway, so he took it upon himself to blind himself. Oedipus could not bare the shame of his life.
Shortly after blinding himself, Oedipus then decides that he can longer stay in Thebes and thought it would be the best if he was exiled.
What can I ever see? 1475
What love, what call of the heart
can touch my ears with joy? Nothing,friends.
Take me away, far, far from Thebes,
quickly cast me away my friends.
this great murderous ruin, this man cursed to heaven, 1480
the man the deathless gods hate most of all!
To Oedipus, it was pointless to stay in Thebes, the city in which he felt such great passion about. At the beginning of the play, before the murderer was even found it was planned that the murderer was going to be exiled. It wasn’t fate that decided that he would be exiled after finding out about his sins.
In conclusion, it is true that Oedipus’ fate was written before he was born. His choices that he made, lead him to finding out about his fate. Oedipus is a victim of circumstances beyond his control. If Oedipus didn’t choose to search for the murderer of Jacosta’s former husband, king Laius, it is very possible that Oedipus would have never found out about the fulfillment of his fate. Oedipus could have gone on with his life as a confident and happily married king. It was Oedipus’ freedom of wanting to know that lead him to his downfall.