When we look at situations that occur in our lives every day, we tend to think that maybe the end result was destined to happen and foreseen many years ago, perhaps even before our birth. Even so, we remain aware of the fact that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. ” Hence, our actions can have some bearing on our lives, whether the effect is adverse or desirable. Sophocles’ Oedipus the King is a play representing a Greek belief determining the fate of men. The Greeks firmly believe that they are bound to any prophecy made by the gods.
With this in mind, one would initially agree that “moira” is solely responsible for determining Oedipus’ fate. However, after a thorough analysis of Oedipus’ character we see how his actions play a significant part in determining his fate. Additionally, we see how pride, curiosity, and a harsh temper influence his tragic outcome. In the play, Oedipus is fated to murder his father and marry his mother. His parents, Laius and Jocasta, try to avert the oracle by sending their son away to be killed, but he is actually raised by the king and queen of Corinth.
As a young adult, he was told the prophecy and in fear, he fled Corinth, after which his encounter with a group of travelers resulted in him killing and old man who was actually his birth father, King Laios. Upon arrival at Thebes he solves the riddle of the Sphinx, and almost immediately he was bestowed the title of King. Shortly after, he was wed to Jocasta, his birth mother. The fulfillment of the prophecy occurs when he has four children with his mother. Although the main action of the story does not take place until years after Oedipus was made king, the background is essential to its interpretation.
From the beginning of this tragedy, Oedipus engaged in many actions which eventually lead to his own downfall. Oedipus could have waited for the plague to end, but out of compassion for his suffering people, he had Creon go to Delphi to search of help. Through this action, he illustrated his good judgment as king. Additionally, when he learned of Apollo’s word, he could have calmly investigated the murder of the former King Laius, but in his hastiness, he passionately curses the murderer, and unknowingly, curses himself. Upon the murderer I invoke this curse- whether he is one man and all unknown, or one of many- may he wear out his life in misery or doom! If with my knowledge he lives at my hearth, I pray that I myself may feel my curse. ” (Sophocles682-683). Pride is a critical component in the factors which determined Oedipus’ outcome. In the opening lines of the play he praises himself, “I Oedipus whom all men call the great. ” (Sophocles676). His display of pride can be interpreted as arrogance if used in the wrong context. His obsession with himself led him in the pursuit of the truth about his life and ultimately, results in his downfall.
The chorus warns us of the dangers of too much pride. “If a man walks with haughtiness of hand or word and gives no heed to Justice and the shrines of Gods despises- may an evil doom smite him for his ill-starred pride of heart! – if he reaps gains without justice and will not hold from impiety and his fingers itch for untouchable things. When such things are done, what man shall contrive to shield his soul from the shafts of the God? ” (699). In the same way, temper is a contributing factor to his demise. To illustrate, Oedipus often exhibited a terrible temper, especially during disagreements with Creon and Teiresias.
For instance, in a conversation with Teiresias he said to him, “Indeed I am so angry I shall not hold back a jot of what I think………. Had you eyes I would have said you alone murdered him. ”(685). By the end of the play, when everything has been revealed; we see Oedipus evolve into a man of great self-loathing, and his temper is still strong. He demonstrates this when he shouted, “Take me away….. the most accursed….. whom God too hates above all men on earth. ” (711). For Oedipus, pride, temper, swiftness and suspicion, along with his pursuit of the truth comprise the fuel that ignites the fire which outlines Oedipus’ tragic ending.
The events in Oedipus the King display an underlying relationship of man’s free will existing within the fate which the Greeks believed guided the universe in a congruent purpose. Man is free to choose his own path and is ultimately held accountable for his own actions. Both the concept of fate and free will played a vital part in Oedipus’ destruction. Although he was a victim of fate, he was not controlled by it. Oedipus was destined from birth to someday marry his mother and to murder his father. This prophecy, as warned by the oracle would inevitably come to pass, no matter what he may have done to avoid it.
His past actions were determined by fate, but what he did in Thebes; he did so of his own will. Towards the end of the play, when he is brought the news of his parentage by the messenger, Oedipus experiences peripeteia, “a reversal of circumstances”. This includes not only changes to his character, but also more external changes; he becomes privy to information he was previously ignorant of. When we reflect on our lives thus far, the past and present, we realize the impact and influence our actions have towards our future.
Sometimes a sudden reversal of circumstances caused by a previous action has an opposite effect from the doer has intended. To illustrate, the wrongs Oedipus committed in his former life turned out to be the actions that shaped his future. Although he tries to avoid the prophecy and change his course of actions, his curiosity leads to a startling discovery- the discovery of his sins. Sophocles poses the question, “How much do humans control their fate? ” In the play we see how, through his own actions, Oedipus has shaped his future and influence the outcome of his fate and realized that there is no escaping true destiny.