Oedipus- Fate And Free Will Essay, Research Paper
Fate and Freewill
“Oedipus the King”, written by Sophocles between C.A. 496-405 B.C. is an example of Sophocles’ belief that fate controls a man’s life despite his capability of free will. Is life decided by fate, in that there is some master plan for our lives? Do we go through life making chance decisions without purpose? If life is pre-determined by fate, are we responsible for our actions? The Greeks believed heavily in prophecies, pre-determined life, and divine laws. Fate and freewill are explored and brought to light in the play through the main character, Oedipus. Oedipus is influenced by his inner strengths (free will and pride) and uncontrollable forces (fate). While Oedipus has free will to make his own decisions, fate continues to reveal itself in the end. Sophocles shows how no one has control over their life, and that fate is more powerful than evil.
At the moment of his birth, Oedipus seems to have a pre-determined set of events that would lead to his own destruction. Although he has free will, the decisions he makes are set within the limits of fate and end up bringing the prophecy to life. The author suggests that humans have free will, but are limited by higher order that controls our path in life. For example, the God Apollo tells Oedipus, “You are fated to couple with your mother, you will bring a breed of children into the light no man can bear to see-you will kills your father, the one who gave you life!” (844) Here, Apollo reveals Oedipus’ fate and starts him on his path in life. Little known to him, hearing his future leads him closer to his fate. Seconds after hearing Apollo’s words, Oedipus tells Jocasta, “I heard all that and ran. I abandoned Corinth always running towards some place where I would never see the shame of all those oracles come true.” (844) Oedipus believes in prophets, but feels he can avoid pre-determined life by fleeing the city of his second parents. His running turns out to be his first steps down his pre-conceived path in life. Oedipus runs from the prophecy and kills a man at “that very spot where the great king, you say, met his death.” (844) That man turned out to be his father. The author shows how Oedipus’ choices in life did not make a difference in his future. His running from Corinth proved that his life was pre-determined by fate and nothing could be done to change it. His free will and choice to avoid fate actually brought his closer.
Oedipus believes Apollo’s words about his future and leaves Corinth in hopes to change the future, but Sophocles shows how trying to outsmart fate will only lead one to it. In fact, Oedipus wavers between believing in prophets. Oedipus further shows his confidence in the prophets when asks what he can do to help save his city. Oedipus states, “I sent Creon, my wife’s own brother, to Dephi-Apollo the prophet’s oracle-to learn what I might do or say to save our city.” (825) Oedipus receives his answer and declares it as the truth. He does not second-guess what fate has in store for his city and knows nothing can be done about it. After hearing the news that, “all would be well”, Oedipus replies, “Of course, but what were the God’s words? There’s no hope and nothing to fear in what you’ve said so far.” (825) Oedipus accepts what will come of the city’s fate. He trusts Apollo’s words and must find the murderer of King Laius in order to rid the city of the plague. What he doesn’t know, is that the seeking help from the plauge brings him a step closer to his fate.
The author shows us that his free willed decisions and actions cannot defeat fate. Once he left Corinth, Oedipus believed he outsmarted his own destiny. Many years passed and he thought he accomplished everything he could to avoid marrying his mother and murdering his father. While summoning the blind prophet Tiresias to find out the identity of King Liaus’ murderer, Oedipus is put face to face with the harsh reality that he may be his father’s killer. Tiresia warns, ” you and your loved ones live together in infamy, you cannot see how far you’ve gone in guilt.” (833) Here Tiresias reveals that Oedipus and his mother live in sin and has no idea that he has been walking his fateful path despite doing everything he can to avoid it. After hearing his words, Oedipus’ confidence in prophecy changes. He begins to doubt the power of Gods in foreseeing one’s future. Oedipus ignores the prophet and pays no attention to these “absurdities” and “riddles”. He refuses to believe fate has control of his life. Conversations with his wife, Jocasta, Oedipus’ doubts the prophets more. Jocasta tells him, “Listen to me and learn some peace of mind: no skill in the world, nothing human can penetrate the future.” (842) She tries to persuade Oedipus not to believe in prophecy. Jocasta further explains that Laius was killed “at a place where three roads met”. (842) She also tells Oedipus that her baby boy, “wasn’t three days old and the boy’s father fastened his ankles, had a henchman fling him away on a barren, trackless mountain.” (842) She tries to tell him , that her baby was killed and couldn’t have murdered his father. Oedipus reconsiders his belief in prophecy, but it does no good when he realizes that when he fled Corinth, he came across “this triple crossroad” and killed a group of men. This wake up call for Oedipus opened his eyes more to the possibility that prophecy is real and life is predetermined.
So far, the author has shown how man is free to choose and do as he pleases, but cannot escape his own fate. Still disbelieving, Oedipus decides he needs to hear from the shepherd. Jocasta tells Oedipus that it was a band of “thieves” that murdered Liaus and that the messenger, “the lone survivor”, holds the answer. Oedipus tells Jocasta that if he killed Laius, then the prophets were right. Oedipus says, “Else I’m doomed to couple with my mother and cut my father down ” (845) He continues to question why he, a man who makes his own decisions, cannot stray from fate even with knowing the outcome. He asks, “Why wouldn’t a man of judgement say-and wouldn’t he be right-some savage power has brought this down upon my head?” (845) Here, Oedipus says that he is a free willed man, free to do as he pleases, so why should he believe that some higher power has control and decides what will happen.
As we head towards the climax of the play, Oedipus’ decisions seem to have no effect on the outcome forecasted by the prophets. The more truth revealed, more thre fate seems to control his life. Oedipus’ desire to find the truth about Laius’ death and the mystery of his heritage brings him another step closer to the reality of his fortune. He finally meets with the messenger that tells Oedipus that Polybus, the man that raised Oedipus, was “no more your father than I am.” (850) Still wanting more answers, Oedipus questions the messenger who tells him he was a “gift” to Polybus and that he received baby Oedipus from a shepherd. The shepherd admits to giving the messenger a baby, and that Jocasta gave him the child for fear that the prophecies would come true. Hearing this, Oedipus cries, “O God-all come true, all burst to light!” (855) Disgusted and humiliated, he gouges out his eyes. He comes face to face with his prophecy and cannot bear to see it. After all is said and done, he cannot look at himself, nor have anyone look at him. The Chorus believed that some evil “superhuman power” drove him to do it, but Oedipus proclaims, “Apollo-he ordained my agonies-these, my pains on pains! But the hand that struck my eyes was mine, mine alone-no one else-I did it all myself!” (859) We see Oedipus punish himself for his sins. He cannot bear the thought of looking into his “father in the eyes” when he “goes down to hell”, his relationship with his mother, or bear “the sight of his children. Oedipus proclaims, “No, not with these eyes of mine, never. (860)