Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles: Fate over Free Will

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Whether “fate” or “free will” is in control of our lives has always been

a highly questionable controversy—even today. Many of those with religious views

believe there is a higher power that has a predestined plan for each one of us and

our life is not in our own hands at all. If we knew our fate, do we have the power of

free will to change our future? In the play, Oedipus, fate becomes the determining

factor of Oedipus’s life and even with “free will”, there was no way to prevent his

inevitable destruction. Oedipus is guided and shaped at every point by the actions

and beliefs of others, who act as unwitting agents of his tragic destiny.

The play opens with Theban subjects praying at Oedipus’ altar for relief

from the plague. They beg and plead with him to lend his greatness to their

aid. “..Oedipus, king, we bend to you, your power… we beg of you, best of men,

raise up our city!” (161) He is sympathizing with the worshippers, when Creon

the queen’s brother enters the scene. Oedipus has sent Creon to the Oracle to find

a remedy for his city’s troubles. Creon would like to share the message with him

private, but the brash king will not listen. He says, “Speak out, speak to us all I grieve

for these, my people, far more than I fear for my own life.” (163) Creon is forced

to comply to his king’s wish & relates the fateful message. According to the Oracle,

Thebes’ troubles are punishment for harboring a murderer, the killer of Laius,

Oedipus’ predecessor.

Upon hearing this, Oedipus launches into a fervent oratory in condemnation of this

man, and warns all who will listen about the consequences of harboring him or

trying to hide him from his search. “So daring, so wild”, h...

... middle of paper ...

...unding riddle. In

so doing wins the hand of his mother Jocasta in marriage and brings the reader up to the

time of the start of the play.

At no point in his life leading up to the dramatic climax is Oedipus truly

free of the bothersome hands of fate. All along the way, his actions and judgments

are predicated on what someone did before him. This is almost by definition NOT

free will at all. The decision-making left to him is no more consequential than whether

to doggie-paddle or breaststroke in a furious sea. Whether it was a lie, or a chance

encounter with a lowly shepherd, Oedipus is himself shepherded towards his

unavoidable conclusion. Gouging out his own eyes was Oedipus’ first action in life

as free thinking, self-determining man.

Works Cited

Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Classics 1984
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