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Free Will in Oedipus Rex Essay


Do You Really Do What You Want?

The battle versus fate and free will is a topic on which many Greek tragedians wrote. The events that take place in Sophocles Oedipus Rex show an intrinsic relationship between mans free will existing within the cosmic order, or fate. The Greeks believed this lead the universe in a unifying way. Both fate and free will play a key role in the eventual destruction of Oedipus; although Oedipus ends up being a victim to his fate, he was not necessarily controlled by it. It was said by the oracle of Apollo at Delphi that Oedipus was destined to kill his father, and marry his mother. Although Oedipus does everything in his free will to make this prophecy fail, fate wins in the end. His past actions were determined by fate, but the things that he did in Thebes were out of his own free will. This means that Oedipus, through his free willing search for truth, came to his demise in fulfilling the prophecy he was trying to avoid. Sophocles reveals this truth primarily through Jocastas strong faith in the power of free will, Oedipus hubristic attempt at avoiding fate, and through the use of dramatic irony.

In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus mother and wife, Jocasta, has a strong sense of faith in the ideology of free will. Sophocles includes this dynamic to reinforce the truth that fate will always be victorious over free will. Jocasta says: You now, free yourself from these matters; /listen to me and learn why nothing mortal/can show you anything of prophecy. (735-738). She says this to Oedipus when he begins to impugn his belief in free will, claiming that fate may be too powerful to escape. Jocasta is expressing her disbelief in fate and disclaiming the prophecies made by the gods. This is a strong statement of blasphemy considering she is the queen of Thebes. However, she ironically contributes to fates victory by foiling that statement with the details of the prophecy given to Laius, Her dead husband and Oedipus father, by the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. This contributes to Oedipus loss to fate by giving him the details of the prophecy he needed to consequently discover his fate. Jocasta, having her strong faith in the free will ideology, becomes very excited for Oedipus, her son, to hear about the death of his adopted father, Polybus: Listen to this man, and discover in his words/where the august prophecies of God have come. (979-980). Jocasta soon comes to her own realization that fate does conquer over free will but she still has a strong desire to keep it hidden from Oedipus. This is shown when Jocasta states: Unlucky man, may you never know who you are! (1095). When all is said and done, Jocasta comes to realize that fate does in fact rule over free will and she, instead of fighting for liberty from it, accepts the fact that fate is unconquerable and mourns for the truth.

In addition to Jocastas strong belief in free will, Oedipus seems to have a constant battle with fate. He seems to have the belief that through the active exercise of what appears to be free will, that ones true fate can be avoided. Also, as he ironically curses himself, Laius murderer, he states his belief in the fate that had brought him to his kingship: since chance/has driven me into that ones powers; however, Oedipus later believes in free will in his attempts to find the truth as to the prophecy placed on his life. The scene in which Oedipus war against his fate is most predominant is the scene between himself, and Tiresias, the ironically blind seer. While Tiresias is telling Oedipus the truth as to his fate, Oedipus seems to be refusing to accept his fate which has so obviously presented itself. Even while withstanding Oedipus hubristic arguments, Tiresias still insists that it had been Oedipus that had forced him to speak the truthful words that Oedipus was refusing to accept: You did! For you forced me to speak unwillingly! (337) I would not have come here, if you had not called me. (455). Tiresias also states: No, for fate will not befall you at my doing;/Apollo is enough, who works to see this done. (396-397). Tiresias is telling Oedipus that this is not Tiresias doing but that of the god Apollo. Although Oedipus mostly throughout the play exhibits his belief in free will, his faith in fate is also shown. This is predominantly shown when Oedipus speaks of visiting Merope: but my fear is of her who lives. (1015). Although Oedipus spends countless banks of energy in his attempt to escape his fate, he is still unable to see the truth. This is evident even in the end as he claims to have chosen to blind himself and that it was not fate, however, Tiresias had already predicted that of his blindness which Sophocles adds to further reinforce the strong power of fate over that of free will.

Sophocles utilizes a great amount of dramatic irony between the story of Oedipus and the audience. He includes this ti emphasize the idea of fate. The traditional Greek audience would have known the story of Oedipus and would have been perfectly aware that when Oedipus curses the murderer of king Laius, he is cursing himself and confirming his own fate. One ironic line that Oedipus says regarding his unknowing self is:

I ban this man, whoever he is, from all land

over which I hold power and the throne.

I decree that no one shall receive him

or speak to him, nor make him partner

in prayers to the gods or sacrifices,

nor allow to him holy water (240-245)

This would have been ironic in the sense that the audience knows Oedipus is banning himself and confirming his own eventual downfall into fate but he doesnt know it. Oedipus also ironically says that he will ban the murderer even if he is his own blood family! All of these things contribute to his eventual fall into fate by allowing Oedipus to continue his search for the truth ironically which creates the sense that even when were not aware of your fate, it is still the path we follow unwillingly.

Due to Jocastas faith in free will, Oedipus attempts to escape his fate in search for the truth, and the dramatic irony within Oedipus Rex, Sophocles reveals that fate is something that always proves to be victorious over free will. From Jocastas realization, to Oedipus ironic self-cursing, Sophocles achieves his main focus in revealing the theme that no matter what is attempted to avoid ones fate, they will fall back into the roadway of fate in the end regardless.

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