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Fate or Free will that is responsible for Oedipus' downfall

Fate or Free Will? Which one is responsible for Oedipus’ downfall?
In Greek tragedies, one of the most significant features is prophecy which predetermines the life
or future of the hero. Prophecy is oftentimes connected with the role of fate in determining ones’
future. The concept of fate for ancient Greeks signifies a terrifying, unstoppable force. In
Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, fate has been a topic or issue that has been brought up several times as
the reason for everything that happens to Oedipus. It can be said that in this play, fate is an
important factor to determine the flow of the story and also acts as a barrier to Oedipus’ free will.
According to the theory of fatalism, everything is predetermined where Gods decide everything
and human beings do not have any chance of free will. Long before the beginning of the play,
before birth of Oedipus, his father and mother heard the prophecy from the Oracle of Delphi that
their upcoming son will kill his father and marry his mother. Therefore, after his birth; they decided
to starve him to death for which they gave him to a shepherd and ordered him to leave the baby on
a mountain. To ensure that the baby cannot crawl, they also made a wound in his foot with a pin.
Everything they did was only to avoid the unfortunate event. There acts may seem came from free
will but they were directed by Gods so that the prophecy can be fulfilled.
Oedipus however survived as the shepherd gave him to another shepherd of Corinth who took him
and gave to Polybus, the king of Corinth. Polybus was childless and so he raised Oedipus as his
own son. From Oedipus’ survival to being adopted by Polybus, everything went on according to
the will of Gods.
When Oedipus came to age of a youth, he also heard the rumor of the prophecy that he will kill
his father and marry his mother. As he didn’t know that Polybus was not his real father, he left
Corinth and came outskirt of Thebes. In the crossroads, he got himself engaged in a dispute with
Laius, his real father who was heading towards Delphi to find a cure to get rid of the Sphinx.
Sphinx was ravaging the city of Thebes by asking riddle and whoever was failing to answer, it
killed him. This Sphinx, Laius coming out of Thebes to find a cure and Oedipus meeting Laius in
a crossroad and then engaging in a dispute with him, everything happened out of fate as decided
by Gods. Oedipus was hot tempered just like his father and so he murdered him unknowingly.
Later, he solved the riddle of the Sphinx for which it killed itself. When he entered Thebes, he was
welcomed as a hero and later given marriage to Jocasta, his real mother as Laius was dead and
Queen needs a King.
Till here, Oedipus had nothing in his hand. From killing his own father to marry his own mother,
everything happened according to the will of Gods. But his being blind at the very end and
requesting Creon to either banish him or sentence him to death, can these be considered as will of
Gods? No, they cannot be considered as they were not part of the prophecy. They came because
of Oedipus’ error in judgements.
After Creon’s coming back from Delphi with the message of the Oracle which said the reason of
plague in Thebes is the murdered of former king Laius still alive who needs to be punished;
Oedipus could have searched for another solution. But he did not rather went on to find out the
murderer. This happened from his own will, not from the will of Gods.
Again, when Tiresias suggested him not to seek for the murderer, he did not listen to him. Tiresias,
the blind prophet, knew everything and also knew what will happen for which he forbade Oedipus.
But Oedipus was a rash tempered person who had strong determinism to fulfil what he wants.
Therefore, despite Tiresias’ denial, he forced him to speak out the truth by threatening him for his
life. When Tiresias said that it was Oedipus who murdered his own father; he could have let it go
considering it as a mad man’s word but rather he continued his quest to seek the truth. These
actions are not from the fate but from his own will.
When the first messenger of Corinth came with the message that Polybus is dead, Oedipus found
relief that he has not killed his own father. However, he never stopped there. He continued to find
out his real parentage despite Jocasta’s forbiddance. At a point, Jocasta realized that Oedipus was
the son whom she and her first husband Laius left to die when second messenger from Corinth
came with the message that Polybus was not his real father. Oedipus still went on to verify this
from the shepherd of Thebes. These actions are definitely from Oedipus’ free will. These cannot
be decided by fate since fate only fulfilled the prophecy.
After verifying the truth, Oedipus felt guilty and ashamed. When he found the news of Jocasta’s
suicide, he had to take action. He could not look on the people out of shame and the guilt he
committed though unknowingly. Therefore, he blinded himself which ultimately brought the
downfall of Oedipus. Later, he requested Creon to either banish him or sentence him to death.
After discussing the various facts of the play, we can clearly differentiate which part of Oedipus’
life were fated and which were from his free will. It is quite evident that killing his father and
marrying his mother came from the fate since being raised, meeting his father in crossroads, killing
him, solving sphinx riddle and then marrying own mother; everything was part of the prophecy
hence fate. But after that, when he became king, it was in his own hands. Every decision he took
after becoming king came from his free will. Though hot tempered, deep inside, he was a good
king and therefore, he wanted to save his country from the plague for which finding and punishing
the murderer of former king was necessary. But in this quest, he found himself guilty which
ultimately brought his downfall. Therefore, it can be said that, Oedipus’ downfall came only from
his free will where fate plays no part.