Destiny, Fate, Free Will and Free Choice in Oedipus the King - A Puppet on a String

Destiny, Fate, Free Will and Free Choice in Oedipus the King - A Puppet on a String

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Oedipus – A Puppet on a String  

Gather closer around the fire, children; tonight is the night I tell my tale, of queens and kings, huge she-monsters and evil gods. You all know that story, the story of Oedipus, the man doomed to kill his father and marry his mother, his life a twisted strand in the ball of the Fates. But do you know what happened afterwards?

Oedipus drifted, feeling his way through Greece, filling his remaining four senses with the delicate scent of the olive tree, the rough touch of the rocky outcrops, the sound of waves crashing and the tangy bitter taste of wine. After a time he found himself in Crete, home of the famous Labyrinth of King Minos, although by this time both King Minos and the Minotaur had long since left this world. Minos' daughter, Ariadne, ruled the rocky isle.

Oedipus winced at the sharp stones under his feet and followed the ever increasing babble of the city. Suddenly he felt a sharp stone sting his side. "Ja, beggar, we don't need any more of the likes of you around here!"

Oedipus cringed. "Please sir, forgive me," the once proud king murmured. He moved towards the palace where he hoped he would receive a more hospitable welcome.

A wealth of scents greeted Oedipus' nose as he ambled down an alleyway: the tang of citrus, the bitter scent of unwashed people and the crisp smell of linen drying. As he approached the palace gates, Oedipus began to wonder how he would gain entrance. In answer to his thoughts, a male voice said, "You'll never get in here, you filthy peasant. Best go beg for a crust amongst the other sewer rats."

The swish of linen followed, a scent of delicate perfume, and a female voice saying, "Antikretes, shame on you! Be hospitable. Why, this could be Zeus Himself in disguise."

"If that's Zeus then I'm Aphrodite's girdle."

"That's enough. I don't usually do this but there's something different about him. Show him to a room."

"Yes, Majesty."

"Oh, Your Royal Majesty," began Oedipus, suddenly realising whom he was talking to, but he was already being led away.

That night Oedipus had a strange dream. He could see again, and he was sitting on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. Beside him was a beautiful woman with strange but wonderful eyes.

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She had a helmet on, and in her right hand she held a spear. "Oedipus, the gods have decided that you have suffered enough. To end your misery and return your sight, go to the centre of the Labyrinth, search out the horn of the Minotaur hidden there, grind it to a powder, add it to wine and drink it." Then like the waters of Charybdis, Oedipus felt himself sucked back down into his body.

As Eos stroked her rose-tinted fingers across the sky the next morning, Oedipus slunk through the palace. He felt his way around corners and down steep staircases until he came to the entrance of the Labyrinth. The passageway before the black trapdoor was eerily quiet. Oedipus felt he could nearly see the ghostly shades of the long dead youths that had died there.

After hours of stumbling about in the stale air and darkness (eyesight would be no help here, thought Oedipus ironically), he found what must be the centre. Dropping down on all fours, he scrambled in the dust among the occasional splintered bone, until his hands fell on something smooth. It tapered to a tip, and Oedipus knew it was the horn of the Minotaur. Hurriedly he pulled out a wine flask and ground the horn into the liquid. But before he took a sip Oedipus began to wonder whether it was the right thing to do. Wasn't he to suffer for his sins? But what sins were they anyway? Committed unbeknown to him, known only by the cruel gods, as they laughed down on him from Olympus. Defiant, he took a large gulp, then another and another, until he held the flask vertical and the wine dribbled down his chin. "Oh that my first sight should be blackness," Oedipus thought, blinking.

Then he began to make out shapes. The blackness became shades of black, grey and brown. Oedipus felt a curious pulling sensation in his stomach, now full of wine. The grey, brown and black began to spin, spiralling until all was grey, broad sweeping grey. Grey mist. Then the outline of an old ferry, sitting on a vast grey river. A figure, clothed in rags, hunched on the ferry. Oedipus felt the pit of his stomach drop sickeningly, as the old figure asked for an obol. He realised where he was, and with horror remembered Athena's last words:

". . . to end your misery and return your sight . . .
". . . to return your sight . . . and end your misery."


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