Oedipusthe King: Free Will vs FateThe events in Oedipus the King, writtenby Sophocles, show an underlying relationship of man’s free will existingwithin the cosmic order or fate which the Greeks believed guided the universein a harmonious purpose. Man was free to choose and was ultimately heldresponsible for his own actions. Both the concept of fate and free willplayed an itregal part in Oedipus’ destruction. Although he was a victimof fate, he was not controlled by it. Oedipus was destined from birth tosomeday marry his mother and to murder his father. This prophecy, as warnedby the oracle of Apollo at Delphi was unconditional and inevitably wouldcome to pass, no matter what he may have done to avoid it.Order now
His past actionswere determined by fate, but what he did in Thebes, he did so of his ownwill. From the beginning of this tragedy, Oedipustook many actions leading to his own downfall. Oedipus could have waitedfor the plague to end, but out of compassion for his suffering people,he had Creon go to Delphi. When he learned of Apollo’s word, he could havecalmly investigated the murder of the former King Laius, but in his hastiness,he passionately curses the murderer, and in so, unknowingly curses himself.
“Upon the murderer I invoke this curse- whether he is one man and all unknown,or one of many- may he wear out his life in misery or doom! If with myknowledge he lives at my hearth, I pray that I myself may feel my curse. “(pg. 438; lines 266-271)In order for Sophecles’ Greek audienceto relate to the tragic figure, he had to have some type of flaws or anerror of ways. This brought the character down to a human level, invokingin them the fear that “it could happen to them.
” And Oedipus certainlyis not one without flaws. His pride, ingnorance, insolence and disbeliefin the gods, and unrelenting quest for the truth ultimately contributedto his destuction. When Oedipus was told (after threatening Teiresias),that he was responsible for the murder of Laius, he became enraged andcalls the old oracle a liar. He ran away from his home, Corinth, in hopesof outsmarting the gods divine will. Like his father, Oedipus also soughtways to escape the horrible destiny told by the oracle of Apollo. The choruswarns us of man’s need to have reverence for the gods, and the dangersof too much pride.
“If a man walks with haughtiness of hand or word andgives no heed to Justice and the shrines of Gods despises- may an evildoom smite him for his ill-starred pride of heart!- if he reaps gains withoutjustice and will not hold from impiety and his fingers itch for untouchablethings. When such things are done, what man shall contrive to shield hissoul from the shafts of the God?” (pg. 452; 975-984)Oedipus’ unyielding desire to uncover thetruth about Laius’ murder and the mystery surrounding his own birth, ledhim to the tragic realization of his horrific deeds. Teiresias, Jocastaand the herdsman tried to stop him from pursuing the truth.
Take for examplea part of the last conversation between Jocasta and Oedipus. After realizingthat the prophecy had came true, Jacasta begs him to just let the mysterygo unsolved for once. “I beg you- do not hunt this out- I beg you, if youhave any care for your own life. What I am suffering is enough. ” (pg. 461;1158-1161) Oedipus replies, “I will not be persuaded to let chance of findingout the whole thing clearly.
” (pg. 461; 1166-1167) He is unable to stophis quest for the truth, even under his wife’s pleading. For it is in hisown vain that he must solve the final riddle, the riddle of his own life. Upon discovery of the truth of his birthfrom the herdsman, Oedipus cries, “I who first saw the light bred of amatch accursed, and accursed in my living with them, cursed in my killing. “(pg.
465; 1300-1303) Oedipus knew that his fate had indeed come to passand feels cursed by it. The chorus then sings an ode on the sorrow of lifeand the tragic fate to which even the most honored, like Oedipus are ultimatelysubject. “What man, what man on earth wins more happiness than a seemingand after that turning away? Oedipus you are my pattern of this, Oedipusyou and your fate! Luckless Oedipus, whom of all men I envied not at all. (pg.
465; 1305-1311)At the end of this tragic story, when Oedipusgouges out his eyes, the chorus asks him what god urged him to blind himself. Oedipus replied, “It was Apollo, friends, Apollo, that brought this bitterbitterness, my sorrows to completion. But was the hand that struck me wasnone but my own. ” (pg.
467; 1450-1453) He claimed full responsibility forhis actions. Oedipus was guilty of killing his father and marrying hismother, but perhaps the true sin lay in his overzealous attempt to raisehimself to the level of the gods by trying to escape his fate. The choruschants about how in prosperity, he was envied by all men, he was honoredhighest above all honors, and how he won happiness by pride (by slaughteringthe Sphinx, and by trying to deceive the god’s will. ) But, how ultimately,Odipus was judged for it, causing a reversal of fortune in his prosperouslife.
The fact that Oedpius’ motives for killinghis father, Laius, and wedding his mother, Jocasta, it does not take awayfrom the horrific nature of the crimes. When he tears at his eyes withhis Jocasta’s broach, Oedipus is accepting the full burden of his actsand knew that he must be punished for his sins. Therefore the last actof destruction was caused by Oedipus’ free will, but his tragic fate cameabout because of the nature of the cosmic order ( that every sin must bepunished) and role of the gods in human affairs. The chorus concludes this tragedy by warningthe Greeks, that the only way to happiness is through humility and respecttowards the gods, (qualities which Oedipus lacked, and ultimately led tohis destruction.
) They also warn not to take anything for granted, or suffera fate like that of Oedipus. ” You live in my ancestral Thebes, beholdthis Oedipus,- him who knew the famous riddle and was a man most masterful,-not a citizen who did not look with envy on his lot-see him now and seethe breakers of misfortune swall him! Look upon that last day always. Countno mortal happy till he has passed the final limit of his life secure frompain. ” (pg. 470; 1643-1670)