Free will and Determinism in Oedipus the King by Sophocles

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Determinism is based off this notion that all events are pre-determined, without influence by human actions. If this is true, we can imply that people do not have free will and thus are not responsible for their actions. In Oedipus the King we see that the dichotomy of fate and free will is hazed by the hyperbole of events, which can make it difficult, but possible, to determine if humans even have free will. Through Oedipus’s flaws and decisions and Sophocles use of the imagery of a crossroad it is apparent that free will can be exercised in a meaningful way.
The play opens, and immediately we see parallels with the start of Oedipus’s overconfident ego, and subsequently the start of his downfall. Creon comes back with news from the oracle and suggests Oedipus should hear it privately, but Oedipus, in his proud glory, insists to hear the news publicly. Upon hearing the news, he is hasty to find the murderer of Laius and even scolds the town for not finding caring more. Oedipus is unable to see how his past actions directly influence the present situation. This blindness contributes to his vehement and steadfast decision to exile the murderer, even if the murderer is a member of the royal family. Thus, Oedipus, not fate, is responsible for his choice to exile to murderer and make it known to the public.
As the play progresses we see Oedipus continuing to exercise free will, but his character interferes in a way that encourages his failure. He summons Tiresias because he seeks the truth about Laius’s death, except Tiresias is reluctant to tell Oedipus. Naturally, Oedipus indicts Tiresias and forces him to divulge the information. Oedipus’s quick-tempered haughtiness surfaces again as a tragic flaw because the result of his behav...

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...to evaluate the presence of free will, it simply leaves it open to the reader’s interpretation.
Overall, Sophocles provides a complex and impractical exposition of the interplay between determinism and free will. Considering Oedipus’s character flaws, and the imagery of a crossroad, one can determine that humans do have a meaningful degree of free will. They are able to create change in their life that is not premeditated; this is part of the human condition. We are not on strict course of fate. For the Greeks and for the purposes of this play fate is a large factor, and its contrast with free will allows us to point out a significant aspect of humanity. Our free will permits us to make mistakes and correct our errors. It allows us to develop as individuals and make choices for ourselves, but with a higher power in mind.

Works Cited

Sophocles, Oedipus the King

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