Fate vs Free Will of Oedipus the King

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The conflict in the story of Oedipus revolves around the question of whether free will or destiny from the gods has more control. While fate seems to have power over Oedipus, he still maintains his own freedom to choose. The play explores whether it is ultimately fate or free will that shapes the characters’ lives. Both factors are present in the play, but it is through their own choices that Laius, Jocasta, and Oedipus bring about their downfall. Their actions determine what happens to them in the future. Those who believe in destiny also believe in the ability to change it through free will. In my opinion, fate does exist, but individuals still have the ability to make decisions for themselves.

The ancient Greeks believed that their lives were controlled by the gods and had great faith in following their instructions. They also believed that people could be as free as the gods who ruled over them, meaning that if the gods were free, so too were the people. Jocasta and Laius serve as examples of individuals exercising their own freewill, ultimately determining their tragic destinies. Through their choices, they demonstrated that it was indeed their own freewill which shaped their fate. Despite acknowledging that their fate was predetermined, Oedipus’ parents utilized every ounce of freewill they possessed in an attempt to change what lay ahead for them.

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The belief in the power of fate led them to believe that killing Oedipus was the only way to escape their predetermined destiny. If the Oracles had not told King Laius about Oedipus’s prophecy, he would not have ordered his servant to kill Oedipus. As a result, Oedipus would have known his real parents and never committed matricide or patricide. When Jocasta discovered that she had unknowingly married her own son and had children with him, she chose to willingly end her own life rather than being forced.

True security can only be attained by individuals who are fully conscious of their destiny or completely oblivious to it. In the case of Oedipus, once he becomes aware that his fate involves murdering his father, he promptly takes action to prevent it by running away from those whom he believes are his parents. However, in a state of panic, his choices inadvertently result in the actualization of his prophesied fate. This outcome is not influenced by external forces or the desires of gods; rather, it is solely due to Oedipus’ own decisions that lead to the fulfillment of his foretelling. If he had possessed knowledge about the truth, he might have potentially avoided this tragic consequence.

Oedipus could have made wise decisions in his life if he had been enlightened. However, his lack of knowledge and refusal to change prevented him from achieving good fortune. His strong desire to discover the truth about his existence ultimately caused his downfall. By challenging his predetermined fate, Oedipus committed a fatal error that led to his own demise. He disregarded the warnings he received and left Corinth with the intention of protecting what he believed were his biological parents, unknowingly fulfilling his own destiny. If Oedipus hadn’t placed faith in “fate” or dismissed the warnings, none of these unfortunate events would have transpired.

Despite the opportunity to avoid it, the protagonist’s pessimistic mindset led him to make a catastrophic choice. His negative reaction to being forcefully moved aside by a man at the junction ultimately caused the unexpected deaths of both the caravan and Thebes’ king, who coincidentally turned out to be his biological father. Oedipus, angered by this dismissal, acted rashly and brought about the fatalities of not only his own father but also everyone else involved. In ancient times, it was customary for caravans to push pedestrians away as they journeyed along the road.

Although fate played a role in Oedipus killing his father, it was ultimately his own free will and attitude that caused him to kill Laius on that particular day and in that specific manner. Had he been more wise and calm, he could have made a different choice and avoided the prophecy of patricide. The decision to travel to Thebes initially was an exercise of his free will. Ironically, instead of attempting to escape his destined path, he unintentionally fulfilled the prophecy by bringing himself closer to his biological parents.

Jocasta pleads with Oedipus to reject the belief in a predetermined destiny and not to fear what has been predicted. She implores him to cease his pursuit of the truth, saying, “Stop in the name of god, if you value your own life, abandon this search! My suffering is enough. Listen to me” (Line 1603-1605). In the end, fate was confirmed when it was revealed that the entire prophecy had indeed come true. Although she initially believed she had killed her own son, Jocasta reasoned that he could not have been the one who murdered her husband and therefore concluded that the prophecy must have been untrue.

The woman unknowingly married her own son, believing he had died after being taken away. When she discovered the truth, she felt immense guilt for marrying her son and having children with him, ultimately leading to her suicide. In contrast, Oedipus was determined to quickly solve the mystery of King Laios’ death. Ironically, it was revealed that Oedipus himself was responsible for the city’s troubles, prompting him to investigate their origins.

Despite accurately predicting the truth about the murder, Teiresias, who is physically blind, was accused by Oedipus of being the perpetrator. This irony highlights how Oedipus, with his sight intact, remains ignorant while Teiresias possesses insight. Expressing his curse upon Laios’ murderer to Creon, Oedipus declares that whoever committed the crime should suffer a life filled with agony and pain.

This passage contains a dual meaning as Oedipus curses the murderer of Laios, not knowing that he is actually the one responsible. After discovering the truth, Oedipus gouges out his eyes as he realizes that his efforts to defy fate have led to this tragedy. Recognizing the enormity of his actions, he acknowledges, “You, you’ll see no more pain I suffered, all the pain I caused! Too long you looked on the ones you never should have seen; blind to the ones you longed to see, to know! Blind from this hour on! Blind in the darkness, blind!” (Lines 1402-1411).

Despite his attempts to avoid his destiny, the protagonist ultimately fulfills the prophecy, leading him to acknowledge the futility of trying to prevent one’s fate. The irony lies in Oedipus serving as both a hero and a curse; he saves Thebes by solving the Sphinx’s riddle but is cursed due to his own choices. Throughout my reading, I contemplated whether Oedipus, Jocasta, and Laius were mere puppets of the gods or masters of their destinies. Ultimately, I realized that they believed in the power of fate but it was their own decisions that ultimately led to their downfall.

Despite their belief that they could not escape their destiny, it was their responsibility to fulfill it. Oedipus, who was initially a king, ultimately became a blind beggar. He expressed his feelings by stating, “What good were eyes to me? Nothing I could see could bring me joy.” (Lines 1473-74). Eventually, Oedipus confessed to both himself and the people of Thebes that his dreadful choices led to his horrifying fate. He said, “Now loathed by the gods, son of the mother I defiled coupling in my father’s bed, spawning lives in the loins that spawned my wretched life. What grief can crown this grief?”

Oedipus, determined to uncover the truth, disregarded the warnings of others and persisted in his quest. Despite his efforts to change his fate, his actions inadvertently led to its fulfillment. In his mind, he believed he was not accountable and lacked free will. “I’d have never come to this, my father’s murderer–never been branded mother’s husband, all men see me now!”

Oedipus, now despised by the gods, feels burdened by his incestuous actions and the consequences they have brought upon him. He fathered children in the same body that gave him life, causing immense grief and suffering. This sorrow is solely his to bear, as it is his predetermined destiny. Oedipus identifies himself as the one who has endured this anguish. He believes he is innocent and not completely controlled by fate. To summarize, Oedipus possesses the ability to exercise free will and make his own choices, even though he is a victim of fate.

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Fate vs Free Will of Oedipus the King. (2016, Nov 13). Retrieved from


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