The Role Of Fate In Oedipus Rex

Essay, Research Paper

Fate plays a cruel role in the lives of everyone related to Oedipus. Not only was Oedipus’s life condemned from the start, but the lives of his four children were also ill fated. The entire bloodline, beginning with Oedipus, met a tragic end or led a tragic life through no fault of their own. If not for fate, the lives of Oedipus and his entire family could have been much better off.

The whole debacle started with the birth of Oedipus. Oedipus was the only child of Laius and Jocasta, king and queen of Thebes. They took Oedipus to the oracle at Delphi to have his prophecy read. The oracle prophesized that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. In order to prevent this from happening, Laius and Jocasta pierced Oedipus’s foot and ordered a shepherd to abandon him on a mountainside. The shepherd pitied the child and gave him to a herdsman from Corinth. The herdsman then gave the child to Polybus and Merope, the childless king and queen of Corinth. They adopted him and raised him as their own. Oedipus grew up thinking he was the prince of Corinth. He heard rumors that he was not the natural son of Polybus and Merope, so he went to consult the oracle of Delphi to find the truth. The oracle repeated the same prophecy that was told to Laius and Jocasta. Thinking that Polybus and Merope were his parents, Oedipus left Corinth. Fate then stepped in and Oedipus met an old man accompanied by several servants at a crossroads. The old man was Laius, on his way to Delphi. Since both men were proud, they refused to step aside so the other could pass. Laius attacked Oedipus, who killed him and all but one of the servants. Not realizing that he had fulfilled half of his terrible prophecy, Oedipus continued on his way to Thebes. Upon arriving at Thebes, Oedipus was confronted by a great Sphinx. After answering the Sphinx’s riddle and ridding Thebes of the monster, Oedipus was considered a hero. When the people learned of Laius’s death, believed to be the fault of bandits, they made Oedipus their new king. Oedipus eventually had four children: Eteocles, Polynices, Ismene, and Antigone. This fulfilled the other half of his horrible fate. Eventually Oedipus learned of what he had done was consumed by despair. After finding Jocasta hanging from the ceiling, Oedipus shouted that he could no longer bear to see his shame and gouged out his eyes with the brooches on Jocasta’s dress. Oedipus was eventually banished from the city of Thebes, and wandered around Greece, unaccepted because of the curse that was thought to be on him.

Eventually Oedipus made his way to Colonus. He requested to see the king, Theseus. It is revealed to Oedipus by Ismene that a new prophecy has been told. The city that possesses the grave of Oedipus will receive continued good fortunes. She then warns that Creon knows of the prophecy and will try to force Oedipus back to Thebes. Theseus then enters and treats Oedipus respectfully. He agrees to protect Oedipus from Creon and allow him to live in Colonus until his death. Oedipus promises that Athens will be rewarded. Fate again interrupted Oedipus’s life at this juncture. After living a life full of suffering he decided to rest in a grove of trees. It just so happened that the grove was a sacred place for the city of Colonus. Oedipus then met with Theseus and was allowed to stay in Colonus in peace. He was not there long but at least he died with a small degree of honor. Unfortunately, fate was not so kind to the rest of Oedipus’s descendants. Before he died Oedipus prophesized that his two sons, who abandoned him for a chance at the throne of Thebes, would kill each other in battle. They were made co-rulers of Thebes, but each wanted complete rule. Eteocles won over the people and was able to exile Polynices. Polynices then went to Argos and raised an army to invade Thebes. As predicted by Oedipus, Eteocles and Polynices met on the battlefield and killed each other. Creon was once again made king of Thebes. His first act as king was to give Eteocles a state funeral. He condemned Polynices as a traitor and would not allow his body to be buried. Antigone would not allow this to happen and defied Creon by burying her brother. Creon was astonished by Antigone’s defiance and ordered her to die. With Antigone’s death the legacy of Oedipus was complete. Not only was one life full of suffering, but those of his children were also.

If not for fate, much of the despair in the lives of Oedipus and his children could have been averted. Oedipus and Laius were both far too stubborn for their own well being, that much is true, but it was fate that brought that bundle of pride together in the first place. Fate is also responsible for Oedipus’s glory in death. It just so happens that he stopped to rest in the grove at Colonus. Colonus was ruled by the Athenians and King Theseus. The compassion of Theseus towards Oedipus allowed him to die with a bit of dignity. Fate can also be held responsible for the meeting of Eteocles and Polynices on the battlefield. The odds of both of them surviving to combat each other in a huge battle could not have been to good. If fate had not played it’s hand, one of them probably would have died somewhere else on the battlefield. Antigone and Ismene seemed to be innocent victims of the fates of their father and brothers. Neither of them did anything wrong, yet neither of them had any happiness in their lives. When they were small children, their mother hung herself and Oedipus poked his eyes out. Antigone wasted her life leading her blind father around, sharing in his misery. Ismene had live with the fact that she was inbred and her family was cursed by the gods. Eventually Antigone’s life ended in despair to. She was separated from her fianc and died as a traitor to the state. Oedipus and his lineage were ill fated from the start and never really had much of a chance.