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

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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courtier shouted out that the prince was Ònot his fatherÕs son.Ó Oedipus, doubt

gnawing at his mind, traveled to Delphi to discover whose son he truly was.

Apollo, however, did not answer his questions, but rather showed the youth Òa

future great with pain, terror, disaster....Ó The oracle foretold that Oedipus

would kill his father and couple with his own mother. Oedipus sought to

escape the prophecy by fleeing Corinth, since he still believed that Polybus

and Merope were his parents. However, during his flight, he killed his true

father, Laius, in an act of rage, thus quickly fulfilling half of the prophecy. After

saving Thebes from the menace of the Sphinx, Oedipus married the Queen of

Thebes, Jocasta. Oedipus still believes that his parents are living in Corinth,

unaffected and invulnerable to any of his actions. However, by marrying

Jocasta, his real mother, he has fulfilled the other half of the oracleÕs

prediction. Oedipus spends much of the play believing that he is still in danger

of somehow killing his father. When a messenger comes from Corinth to give

Oedipus the news that King Polybus has died, the King of Thebes at first

thinks that the oracleÕs prophecy meant that his father would die of longing for

his son. However, Oedipus now believes himself free of the more frightening

part of his supposed destiny. He even deems the oracleÕs words to be

Ònothing, worthless.Ó Upon further consideration, however, Oedipus raises his

fears of the incestuous part of the prophecy. Jocasta seeks to console him by

stating that Òchance rules all our lives.Ó It is the messenger from Corinth,

however, that confirms OedipusÕ deepest doubts by telling the King that 2 he

isnÕt MeropeÕs biological son. OedipusÕ attempt at avoiding the oracleÕs

prophecy actually fulfills the prediction. Oedipus might as well have accepted

his fate, because there was no way that he could have circumvented it. The

prophet TiresiasÕ prediction concerning OedipusÕ discovery of the murder's

identity and the Theban KingÕs subsequent reactions is also unavoidable.

                    

 

After Oedipus continues to press the reluctant prophet, at times threatening

him for the murdererÕs identity, Tiresias declares that Oedipus is his own ruin,

his own disgrace. The prophet of Apollo continues, predicting both OedipusÕ

flight from Thebes and his blindness. Tiresias predicts that Òno man will ever

be rooted from the earth as brutallyÓ as Oedipus. The furious King of Thebes

mocks the prophet, calling his prophecies nothing but Òriddles, murk, and

darkness.Ó Oedipus simply discounts TiresiasÕ foretelling, but he does, of

course, fulfill them. After the he learns the truth about his parents and his

tragic past, Oedipus runs through his palace in anguish. At first he seeks a

sword with which to kill himself, but he sees JocastaÕs body Òhanging by the

neck,Ó he rips off her brooches and repeatedly stabs his own eyes. Oedipus is

not considering TiresiasÕ prophecy, but is rather acting through a haze of

anguish, shame, and guilt. Oedipus easily convinces Creon to banish him,

thus completing the rest of TiresiasÕ prediction; the former king is now blind

and in exile. Oedipus discounts TiresiasÕ prophecies, but, predictably enough,

ends up fulfilling them himself. Ancient Greeks watching a performance of

Oedipus Rex would realize that the charactersÕ attempts to circumvent their

destinies as related by oracles were futile. Both Laius and Oedipus 3 seek to

avoid fate, but instead act in ways which only prove the prophets correct. The

irony generated by the characters seeking to avoid their destinies, however,

adds to the playÕs tragic suspense and conclusion.

 
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