Oedipus: Oracles and Uncontrollable Fate
King Laios the ruler of Thebes, has a son with his wife Queen Iocoste. His name is Oedipus. The soothsayer Teiresias, a loyal servant to the King and Queen tells them some disturbing news. Teiresias tells King Laios and Queen Iocoste that their son, Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother. The king and queen make a decision to take the baby boy up to a mountain far away from the town. King Laios gives the baby to a servant and instructs him to bind the babies ankles and leave him on the mountain side to perish. The servant follows his instructions but instead of leaving the boy on the mountain side he gives him to a shepherd and makes him promise to take the boy to a far away place.
This is how King Laios and Queen Iocaste try to avoid their fate. They are threatened by the existence of their son so they try to have him killed, to end their problem. However this plan, almost foolproof does not work. The shepherd brings the baby boy back to his city and gives him to King Polybus because the King and Queen could not have a child.
Oedipus grows up as the son of Polybus and Merope. When Oedipus was a young man he was told that he was not his father’s son. He tires to dismiss this horrible accusation as that of a drunken man, but it always bothered him. One day Oedipus decides to go to the Oracle to see his knowledge of Oedipus’ birth.
The oracle tells Oedipus his fate is the death of his father by his own hands and that he will marry his mother. He does not answer the original question Oedipus asked as to who his true parents are. Upon hearing this Oedipus decides to leave the city and never return as long as his parents (Polybus, Merope) are still alive.
Oedipus is running from his fate as he leaves the city and heads far from there. On his travel down the road he encounters a chariot drawn by horses and they force him off the road, and as the charioteer went by Oedipus hits him, the man swings back. Oedipus hits him with a blow that knocks him out of the chariot, and the man falls dead to the ground. Oedipus continues his travels, he comes to a city called Thebes.
After solving the riddle of the Sphinx, Oedipus becomes the King of Thebes and marries the current Queen, Iocoste. Oedipus and Iocaste start a family and rule a prosperous city for many years.
At this point in the life of Oedipus, is where the story Oedipus Rex by Sophocles starts. As I write this I am assuming that you know the rest of the story and I will be providing text from the story so if you are not familiar with the story you can still follow along.
King Laios, and Queen Iocaste feared fate that was not favorable to their happiness. Iocaste speaks of that fear of fate. "An oracle was reported to Laios once (I will not say from Phoibos himself, but from his appointed minister at any rate) That his doom would be death at the hands of his own son- His son born of his flesh and mine!…"(Oedipus Rex, 36) As described through the next quotes The King and Queen sent the baby boy to die.
Shepherd: "I was told to get rid of it… It was said the boy would kill his own father."(Oedipus Rex,62) Iocaste: "But this child had not been 3 days in this world before the King had pierced the babies ankles and left him to die on a lonely mountain side."(Oedipus Rex, 37) These lines powerfully demonstrate the fear of fate held by Iocaste and Laios, such great fear that they would kill their first born child!
Queen Iocaste certainly feared and believed in fate but she does not believe that prophecies, oracles and soothsayers could see the fate of others. Many times in the story she says things which pronounce her disbelief in prophecies. "Thus, Apollo never caused that child to kill his father, and it was not Laios’ fate to die at the hands of his son, as he had feared. This is what prophets and prophecies are worth! Have no dread of them…" (Oedipus Rex, 37) "No. From now on, where oracles are concerned, I would not waste a second thought on any." (Oedipus Rex, 43) " Listen to what this man says, and tell me what has become of the solemn prophecies… He has come from Corinth to announce your father’s death." (Oedipus Rex, 47) In these three passages Iocaste clearly states that she does not believe in prophecies.
Oedipus, has a different opinion on the theory of soothsayers, prophets, and their prophecies of fate.
"The god dismissed my question without reply; he spoke of other things. Some were clear, full of wretchedness, dreadful, unbearable: As, that I should lie with my own mother, breed children from whom all men would turn their eyes; and that I should be my fathers murderer. I heard all of this and fled. And from that day Corinth to me was only in the stars descending in that quarter of the sky, as I
wandered farther and farther on my way to a land where I should never see the evil sung by the oracle… (Oedipus Rex, 41)
Even when Teiresias tells Oedipus that he is the murderer of King Laios. Oedipus stands true to his belief of prophecies by saying "Who taught you shamelessness? It is not in your craft"(Oedipus Rex, 18) Although Oedipus is saying that Teiresias is not telling the truth, he thinks that Creon put Teiresias up to say such an unbelievable thing. He is not saying that he does not believe the prophecy. This shows great reverence to the gods in my opinion, to listen to the soothsayers and prophets, and heed their word even though he could not avoid his fate.
Queen Iocaste believes that fate is preset and cannot be changed as supported by this quote, "Why should anyone in this world be afraid because fate rules us anyway…" (Oedipus Rex, 49) There are other instances in the text where she refers to this idea but the previous quote is very clear and concise.
Oedipus on the other hand does not believe that fate is uncontrollable, until he reaches the point in his life where he has been running away from it for his entire life and still is affected by his fate.
Uncontrollable fate is a fact in the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. No matter what King Laios, Queen Iocaste, or Oedipus did to try and change their fate, seemed to make it easier for their fate to become a reality. Although the views on the validity of the oracles prophecies differ between Oedipus and Queen Iocaste, I don’t think it really matters because there is nothing they can do about their fate anyway,
However it brings up an interesting choice they made. "Would you like to know your fate? Or just let life take its course and let you fate fold out in front of you?"
Oedipus is a person who would like to know his fate because I think Oedipus thought he could control his fate, he spends his whole life running from this terrible prophecy and he ran straight into it. Oedipus did know what was coming for him, he just thought he had found a way around it.
Queen Iocaste on the other hand knew that fate was uncontrollable but she just wanted to let life take its course and just let her fate come out as she went along in life. She did not believe in anything the prophecies had to say. She lost her first son because of a prophecy. This is why I think she chose not to listen to them.
I think that if I were put into Oedipus’ shoes I would believe what the prophecies had to say but I don’t think that I would have listened to them. The way I look at it is this: What is the point of living your life out if you know the end is going to be bad? Every time I think of Oedipus’ life I think of reading the last chapter of a mystery and then read the entire book from the beginning to the end. What is the point of doing all that?
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