Destiny, Fate, Free Will and Free Choice in Oedipu

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King Laios and Queen Iocaste of Thebes have a son named Oedipus, but they receive disturbing news from loyal servant Teiresias. Teiresias informs them that their son will kill his father and marry his mother. In an effort to prevent this prophecy from coming true, the king and queen decide to abandon their baby on a distant mountain. The couple instructs a servant to bind the baby’s ankles and leave him on the mountainside to die. However, instead of following these instructions, the servant gives the baby to a shepherd with orders to take him far away. Thus, King Laios and Queen Iocaste take these actions in order to avoid their predetermined fate.

Attempting to eliminate their son due to feeling threatened by his existence, the parents’ plot is unsuccessful. The infant boy is rescued by a shepherd and presented to King Polybus and Queen Merope, who are unable to conceive children. Raised as their own, Oedipus constantly battles with doubts regarding his true lineage. Despite disregarding the accusation as mere drunken ramblings, it continues to plague him. Eventually, Oedipus decides to seek advice from the Oracle concerning his origins. The Oracle discloses his destiny: he will murder his father and marry his mother. However, the Oracle does not address Oedipus’ initial inquiry about finding his biological parents. Disturbed by this revelation, Oedipus resolves never to return home or see Polybus and Merope again while they are still alive. Fleeing in an effort to evade his predetermined fate, he encounters a horse-drawn chariot on his journey. They forcefully divert him off the road and as the charioteer passes by, Oedipus strikes him causing the man’s fatal fall from the carriage.

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The story of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles begins with Oedipus arriving in Thebes and becoming the King. He solves the enigma of the Sphinx, marries Queen Iocaste, and together they govern the prosperous city for a long time. However, King Laios and Queen Iocaste were fearful of a negative fate. According to Iocaste, “Laios once received an oracle (I won’t say it came directly from Phoibos himself, but at least from his representative) that he would be killed by his own son – our son!” (Oedipus Rex, 36). To prevent this prophecy from coming true, they decide to abandon their baby boy. As described by the Shepherd: “I was ordered to expose it because there was a prophecy that the child would kill his own father” (Oedipus Rex, 62). Iocaste confirms this action by saying, “But before three days had passed since the child was born, the King pinned its ankles together and left it to die on some distant mountaintop” (Oedipus Rex, 37).

These lines illustrate the profound fear of fate shared by Iocaste and Laios. Their fear is so intense that they would go to the extreme of killing their own child. While Queen Iocaste believes in fate, she doubts the ability of prophecies, oracles, and soothsayers to truly foresee the destiny of others. Throughout the story, she expresses her skepticism towards prophecies. “Thus, Apollo never caused that child to kill his father, and it was not Laios fate to die at the hands of his son, as he had feared. This is what prophets and prophecies are worth! Have no dread of them” (Oedipus Rex, 37). “No. From now on, where oracles are concerned, I would not waste a second thought on any.” (Oedipus Rex, 43). “Listen to what this man says, and tell me what has become of the solemn prophecies He has come from Corinth to announce your fathers death.” (Oedipus Rex, 47). In these three passages, Iocaste clearly proclaims her disbelief in prophecies. On the other hand, Oedipus holds a different belief regarding soothsayers, prophets, and their predictions about fate.

“The god did not answer my question and instead spoke of other things. Some of what he said was clear, but full of misery and was dreadful and unbearable. He said that I would sleep with my own mother and have children that everyone would turn away from, and that I would kill my own father. Hearing this, I ran away. From that day on, I saw Corinth only in the stars that descended in that part of the sky, as I continued on my journey to a land where I would never encounter the adversity predicted by the oracle (Oedipus Rex, 41). Even when Teiresias informs Oedipus that he is the murderer of King Laios, Oedipus remains firm in his beliefs about prophecies. He questions Teiresias’ audacity by saying, “Who taught you shamelessness? It is not in your craft” (Oedipus Rex, 18). Oedipus believes that Creon manipulated Teiresias into making such an outrageous claim rather than rejecting the prophecy itself. In my opinion, this demonstrates a great respect for the gods as Oedipus listens to the soothsayers and prophets, and follows their guidance despite being unable to escape his fate.

Queen Iocaste is convinced that fate is predetermined and cannot be altered. She supports this belief with the line, “Why should anyone in this world be afraid because fate rules us anyway” (Oedipus Rex, 49). Although there are other instances in the text where she expresses this idea, the aforementioned quote succinctly captures her perspective. On the other hand, Oedipus initially does not share this belief and believes that fate can be controlled. However, as he continues to evade his destiny throughout his life, he realizes that his fate is beyond his control. In the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, uncontrollable fate is a prevailing theme. Regardless of the efforts made by King Laios, Queen Iocaste, or Oedipus to change their fates, it only seems to hasten the manifestation of their predetermined destinies.

Both Oedipus and Queen Iocaste have different views on the validity of the oracle’s prophecies. However, the differences in their beliefs do not matter as they both cannot change their fate. This raises an interesting question: “Do you want to know your fate or let life unfold naturally?” Oedipus, unlike Queen Iocaste, is someone who desires to know his fate. He believed that he could control it and spent his life avoiding the terrible prophecy, only to unintentionally fulfill it. Despite being aware of what awaited him, Oedipus foolishly believed he could find a way to escape it.

Queen Iocaste, however, acknowledged that fate was uncontrollable but chose to embrace the natural unfolding of life and accept her destiny as it came. She lacked belief in prophecies and tragically lost her first son due to one, which is why she opted to disregard them. If I were in Oedipus’s position, I would acknowledge the prophecies but probably not adhere to them. In my perspective, what is the purpose of living if you already know the outcome will be unfavorable? When considering Oedipus’s life, it resembles concluding a mystery novel only to restart from the beginning for its resolution. What significance does it hold to invest such effort into something?

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Destiny, Fate, Free Will and Free Choice in Oedipu. (2018, Dec 07). Retrieved from

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