OedipusD. T. Suzuki, a renowned expert on Zen Buddhism, called attention to thetopic of free will in one of his lectures by stating that it was the battle of”God versus Man, Man versus God, God versus Nature, Nature versus God, Manversus Nature, Nature versus Man1.
” These six battles constitute an ultimatelygreater battle: the battle of free will versus determinism. Free will is thatability for a human being to make decisions as to what life he or she would liketo lead and have the freedom to live according to their own means and thuschoose their own destiny; determinism is the circumstance of a higher beingordaining a man’s life from the day he was born until the day he dies. Freewill is in itself a far-reaching ideal that exemplifies the essence of whatmankind could be when he determines his own fate. But with determinism, a manhas a predetermined destiny and fate that absolutely cannot be altered by theman himself.
Yet, it has been the desire of man to avoid the perils that hisfate holds and thus he unceasingly attempts to thwart fate and the will of thedivine. . Within the principle of determinism, this outright contention to divinemandate is blasphemous and considered sin. This ideal itself, and the wholeconcept of determinism, is quite common in the workings of Greek and Classicalliterature. A manifest example of this was the infamous Oedipus of The ThebanPlays, a man who tried to defy fate, and therefore sinned. The logic of Oedipus’ transgression is actually quite obvious, andOedipus’ father, King Laius, also has an analogous methodology and transgression.
They both had unfortunate destinies: Laius was destined to be killed by his ownson, and Oedipus was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. This wasthe ominous decree from the divinatory Oracle at Delphi. King Laius feared theOracle’s proclamation and had his son, the one and only Oedipus, abandoned on amountain with iron spikes as nails so that he would remain there to eventuallydie. And yet, his attempt to obstruct fate was a failure, for a kindly shepherdhappened to come upon the young Oedipus and released him from the grips of death. The shepherd then gave the young boy to a nearby king who raised him as his own,and consequently named him Oedipus, which meant “swollen feet. ” Upon Oedipus’ascension to manhood, the Oracle at Delphi once again spewed its prophecy forth,this time, with the foretelling that Oedipus shall kill his father, whom hethought to be the king that had raised him as his own, and marry his mother.
Oedipus, like Laius, was indeed frightened of such a dire fate, and thusresolved to leave his land and never return, so that the prophesy may not befulfilled. Oedipus tried to travel as far away from home as he possibly could,and along his journey, he crossed paths with a man who infuriated him with hisrudeness. Oedipus killed the man without the knowledge that that man was indeedhis father Laius and ultimately, half of the prophecy had been fulfilled. Andwhen he came to Thebes, the remaining portion of the prophecy was fulfilled ashe became the champion of the city with his warding off the Sphinx, hencewinning the hand of his own mother Jocasta in marriage. Together they bore fourchildren, and Oedipus’ dire fate had been fulfilled, all without his knowledge.
The Theban Plays begin with a plague that ravages the city of Thebes, andOedipus sets out to find the cause. At length, he discovers that he himself isthe cause for he was guilty of both patricide and incest. When that realizationis manifested, the utter shock and disgust of the horrific situation causes thetormented and disillusioned Oedipus to blind himself of a self-inflicted wound2. According to some scholars, this was the retribution he paid for his crime, butothers would argue that Oedipus had no choice in the matter and simply hadfulfilled his destiny.
The latter argument seems to be more convincing becauseOedipus does not consciously know of what he was doing at the time, and thus,his crime was not entirely premeditated. And one cannot condemn ignorance nomore than one can realistically condemn good intentions, for Oedipus was bothtruly unaware of what he had done and of no desire to harm whom he had thoughtto be his parents. In the aspect