Destiny, Fate, Free Will and Free Choice in Oedipus the King - Avoidance of Prophecy

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Avoidance of Prophecy in Oedipus Rex

Oedipus Rex illustrates the Greek concept that trying to circumvent prophetsÕ

predictions is futile. The play includes three main prophecies: the one made to

Laius concerning his death by the hands of his son, a similar one directed to

Oedipus, and one made by Tiresias foretelling OedipusÕ discovery of the

murdererÕs identity. Both recipients of these oracles attempt to avoid their

destinies, but both wind up following the paths which the Fates have

prescribed. Laius had received a prophesy which declares Òthat doom would

strike him at the hands of [his] son....Ó Jocasta, in an attempt to ease OedipusÕ

worries, endeavors to defame prophesy in general by describing LaiusÕ

apparent circumvention of the augury. When LaiusÕ son wasnÕt yet three days

old, the king had the infantÕs ankles fastened together, and then gave the boy

to a henchman to be flung onto Òa barren, trackless mountainÓ; Jocasta

believes her son dead. Laius had believed that by killing his only son, he

would be able to avoid the oracleÕs prediction. However, the shepherd

entrusted with the terrible task of infanticide pitied the baby and gave him to

another shepherd, who, in turn, donated the child to the King and Queen of

Corinth. The boy, Oedipus, was raised as the son of King Polybus and Queen

Merope, and still believes himself to be their issue even as Jocasta relates the

ironic story of his own previous Òdeath.Ó Oedipus, of course, finds out that it

was indeed his own, true father, Laius, that he has killed at the crossroads at

Phocis. LaiusÕ attempt at foiling fate didnÕt work; Oedipus killed him because of

a slight insult. Because Laius felt to shameful to kill the infant himself, he took

a risk in hoping that his loyal shepherd would murder the child for him. That

risk allowed Oedipus to live and, therefore, to kill his own father without

knowing his true identity. Had Laius not attempted to have his newborn 1

killed, the boy still would have caused his fatherÕs death somehow, because

the oracles are never wrong, and most Greeks realize thereÕs no way to

escape fate. Oedipus also tries to avoid his fate, which he had received from

ApolloÕs oracle at Delphi. While Oedipus lived as Prince of Corinth, a drunken
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