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Butterfly Impact Theory in Oedipus Rex and The Odyssey

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Argumentative Essay

A butterfly flaps its wings in Chicago and a tornado occurs in Tokyo. The butterfly effect, the theory is an idea that a small change can make much bigger changes happen, that one small incident can have a big impact someday. In Greek literature, a greater part of the writing has elements of the butterfly effect theory throughout the stories. But in the realistic world, scientists do not believe anything that is not factual, provable, or visible to the eye. While Greek literature pieces such as The Odyssey and Oedipus Rex prove the butterfly effect theory to be true, Scientist Simon Laplace feels differently.

The main character of Oedipus Rex had a fate that was inevitable and hinged off of his actions. Oedipus, the king of Thebes, realizes that a terrible curse had ensued the Kingdom of Thebes, so he sent his brother Creon, to seek advice from Apollo, the god of truth and prophecy. Creon tells Oedipus that the curse will be dismantled if the murderer of the former king Laius is established and convicted. Oedipus subjects a series of citizens who were forced to cross-examination, including a blind prophet named Teiresias, who then reported dreadful news to Oedipus. “You have your eyes but see not where you are sin, nor where you live, nor whom you live with. Do you know who your parents are ? A deadly footed, double striking curse, from father to mother both, shall drive you forth out of this land with darkness on your eyes, that now have such straight vision. When you shall learn the secret of your marriage which steered you to a haven in this house, - - haven no haven, after the lucky voyage? Misery shall grind no man as it will you” ( Sophocles 482-501). Teiresias has just told Oedipus that he indeed is the murderer of Laius, and the domino effect of events that will happen once he finds out that his whole life is existentially a lie, that only misery awaits him. The lineup of these events can be connected to the butterfly effect theory because they are small events that lead to a big impact in the future. Oedipus finds out that his parents were Laius and Jocasta, which leads to Jocasta hanging herself for having sexual intercourse and offspring with her once-abandoned son. Oedipus then blinds himself, bringing darkness to his eyes that once had such straight vision, in horror and despair and is exiled from Thebes. His small actions led to his miserable demise, even though it was an inevitable fate, for it was prophesied. Considering the butterfly effect, if Oedipus’s fate was not for seen, would he still have had the same finality?

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Scientist, Simon Laplace believes that the butterfly effect conflicts with the idea of nature and probability. Simon Laplace was a French scientist whose paintings became important to the development of mathematics, statistics, and philosophy. Laplace is remembered as one of the greatest scientists of the time, occasionally referred to as the French Isaac Newton. The writer of the butterfly effect theory, Edward Lorenz, challenges Laplace who states “ Unpredictability has no location in the universe ”(Vernon 5). If predictability had no area in the universe, and all laws of nature had been recognized, then not anything would stay familiar to human beings. Predictability is the constant repetition of a scenario or action or the capability to understand in advance what to expect. Assuming that predictability was prevalent throughout everyday life, no crimes would be committed for all the cops could predict when it would happen. No student would have bad grades for they could predict what the test questions would be and the answers. The element of predictability is a part of life, and without it the element of surprise would cease to exist, meaning everything would be known. The butterfly effect is a component of unpredictability that is needed to run everyday life. The saying “actions lead to consequences” is based off of the element of unpredictability, which is based off of the butterfly effect. The unknown is what the world revolves around, what would be the point of life if people knew everything already?

The main character of The Odyssey had a fate that was avoidable but was solely based off of his impulsive decisions. Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, has been away from his homeland for 10 years after the Trojan War and is struggling to return home. In Odysseus's absence, his wife, Penelope, has been plagued by detrimental suitors, and his son, Telemachus, has matured. Odysseus and his group undergo many trials: they encounter monsters, witches, and gods, and are delayed multiple in instances. On his voyage of returning home, Odysseus and his group of men encounter an island known for the Cyclops they habitat and take shore to go look for food and other resources necessary for their survival. While on the island Odysseus encounters a Cyclops by the name of Polyphemus. Polyphemus makes a show of hospitality at first, but very soon turns hostile and eats two of Odysseus’s men, also holding the rest of Odysseus’s men and Odysseus hostage for future meals. Odysseus wants to kill Polyphemus but knows otherwise and executes a plan, that includes escaping on the underside of goats and blinding said Cyclops. Once the plan is carried out Odysseus and his men escape the island, unknowing to the curse that Polyphemus has just sent to be put upon them for their impulsive decisions. “ Hear me, Poseidon, blue-maned Earth-Holder, If you are the father you claim to be. Grant that Odysseus, son of Laertes, May never reach his home in Ithaca. But if he is fated to see his family again And return to his home and own native land, May he comes late, having lost all companions, In another’s ship, and find trouble at home” ( Homer 9-526). Odysseus’s actions against Polyphemus resulted in a time lengthening curse that got put on him to take even longer to get home and make it even more miserable. The curse put on him affected the actions he took and fit in with the curse for it was put upon him and was in play. The first sign of the curse was his men being disobedient and opening a bag of winds they were not supposed to open, pushing them back on the sea to Aeolia where they had started. They had lost all the progress they had made, which lengthened the amount of time needed to get back to Ithaca, for they had to start over on their voyage. The butterfly effect is shown clearly as for his actions towards Polyphemus led to the delay of his homecoming. Instances like this kept happening throughout the ocean voyage back to Ithaca making it extremely difficult to get back easily, if only Odysseus’s had not gone on the Cyclops Island to get necessities, if only he hadn’t stabbed Polyphemus in the eye, maybe he would’ve gotten back to Ithaca faster. Odysseus’s fate was avoidable but was unpredictable and as a result of the Butterfly effect. If people put more thought into their impulsive decisions what would be the difference in the outcome, and how would that change your fortune?

While Greek literature pieces like The Odyssey and Oedipus Rex show the butterfly impact theory to be correct and effective, Scientist Simon Laplace feels differently. Oedipus and Odysseus show how your actions cause consequences, even now that is a saying people use currently, for it applies to everything. If Simon Laplace was alive right now, he would realize that unpredictability is what holds life together, and without it everything would already be known. The butterfly effect theory is the sensitive dependence on introductory conditions in which a small change in one case can result in large differences to a later case. The theory is not only shown just in Greek literature but in all aspects of life, if one looks closely enough.

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Butterfly Impact Theory in Oedipus Rex and The Odyssey. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 4, 2023, from
“Butterfly Impact Theory in Oedipus Rex and The Odyssey.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022,
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Butterfly Impact Theory in Oedipus Rex and The Odyssey [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 18 [cited 2023 Dec 4]. Available from:
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