When tragic or happy events occur in our lives or others, most people come to the conclusion that it was meant to be or in other words fate. In Oedipus the King, was it the concept of fate or free will of man that decided the outcome of the play? Fate and free will are two opposing ideas that Sophocles seamlessly blends into the play. Sophocles ultimately leaves it up to the audience to interpret the reality behind this argument. In Ancient Greece, fate was considered to be a part of life. Every aspect of life depended and was based upon fate. Sophocles took a direct standpoint on the entire concept of free will. Free will is that ability for a human being to make decisions as to what life he or she would like to lead and have the freedom to live according to their own means and thus choose their own destiny. Mankind has free will and can alone decide how their life turns out. Both the concept of fate and free will played an integral part in Oedipus’ destruction. Although he was a victim of fate, he was not controlled by it. In the play “Oedipus the King”, many have mistaken free will for fate. But it would be wrong to consider “Oedipus the King” as a tragedy of the fate in which man has no free will. While Oedipus and those around him consider “fate” the source of Oedipus’ problems, Oedipus’ decisions show the audience that it is he who is responsible. Many events in this play prove this very statement, like the shepherd’s betrayal, Oedipus’ curiosity, and Oedipus blinding himself.
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Firstly, it was the shepherd’s betrayal that set this tragedy in motion; even though this fact is given to the readers before the play, it was let out towards the end. This decision of the shepherds was clearly not fate but his free will, he choose not to kill Oedipus, he wasn’t forced to make this decision; it was his own choice that lead him to it. The messenger clearly states the shepherds decision in the play when he asks the shepherd this question, “Well, then, tell me this. Do you remember giving me a child, a boy, for me to bring up as my own?” (Sophocles 65). In this quote the shepherds’ intensions are clearly shown and after a bit of denial the shepherd himself blurts out the truth, “In pity, master. I thought he would take it away to a foreign country- to the place he came from. If you are the man he says you are, you were born the most unfortunate of men.” (Sophocles 69). Here it is clearly proven that is was the shepherd’s choice, his free will that made the decision which ruined the lives of many.
Secondly, Oedipus’ curiosity to find the truth about himself and the situation is what lead to ruining himself in the end. With the thought of helping his people, Oedipus opened an investigation of King Laius’s murder, and to solve the mystery, he seeks advice from Tiresias, a blind prophet. He was very adamant about learning the truth. Even though there was constant pleads from others to stop this nonsense, he still willingly went on for more answers. For example: when Queen Jocosta pleaded him to stop his foolishness, “In God’s name, if you place any value on your life, don’t pursue the search. It is enough that I am sick to death.” (Sophocles 60). Oedipus never gives up on his quest and he refuses to stop searching for the truth even when Jocasta repeatedly attempts to suppress his curiosity. Oedipus reacted terribly to Jocasta because “With a clue like this?”, the one that he found, to “Give up the search? Fail to solve the mystery of my birth?” was just “Never!” an option for him (Sophocles 60). Even after Queen Jocosta’s plead Oedipus still decided to go on making the consequences the product of his own free will and not fate.
Lastly, Oedipus blinding himself is clearly free will as he blinded himself with his own hand; it was his own action and therefore his free will. Like it was explained in the play, “he ripped out the golden pins with which her clothes were fastened, raised them high above his head, and speared the pupils of his eyes. “You will not see,” he said, “the horrors I have suffered and done. Be dark forever how -eyes that saw those you should never have seen, and failed to recognize these longed to see.” (Sophocles 73). Mind that this final tragic event occurred after all the decisions made before, like the shepherds betrayal, and Oedipus’ curiosity which then lead to him blinding himself all his own free will.
In order for Sophocles” Greek audience to relate to the tragic figure, he had to have some type of flaws or an error of ways. This brought the character down to a human level, invoking in them the fear that “it could happen to them.” And Oedipus certainly is not one without flaws. His pride, ignorance, insolence and disbelief in the gods, and unrelenting quest for the truth ultimately contributed to his destruction. In the end it was free will that brought Oedipus to his tragic fate. Oedipus is presented with a series of choices throughout the play, and his arrogant and stubborn nature push him to impulsively make the wrong decisions, the decisions that ultimately lead him to his downfall. Nor would the shepherd betray King Laius and Queen Jocosta, nor would Oedipus keep on asking questions, and nor would he blind himself. He was responsible of his own actions and that almost cost him his life, and led to his exile from Thebes. It can be concluded that only one statement is clear in my books, that fate is only determined from freewill.
Sophocles, Oedipus the King. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2005. Print.
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