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Interaction of Man Free Will and Fate in Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

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In Oedipus Rex, written by Sophocles, the play shows an intertwined interaction of man free will coexisting with fate which at the time Greeks at the time believed guided everything and everyone else in a balanced purpose. Women and men were free to make and decided their own decisions and at the end was ultimately held accountable for their own actions.

The concepts of both fate and free will played an important part in Oedipus’ destruction. Even though he was a victim of this fate that was placed on him, he was not controlled by it. Oedipus since the beginning was destined from birth to one day marry his real mother and to murder his real father. This prophecy, as warned by the oracle of Apollo at Delphi was unconditional and inevitably would 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 in present, he did so of his own free will.

From the beginning of this play, Oedipus took many, many actions leading to his inevitable downfall. Oedipus could have waited for the plague to end, but out of compassion for his suffering people and can’t bear to see them that way , he had sent Creon to go to Delphi to consult the oracle of Apollo. After when Oedipus learned of Apollo’s word from Creon, he could’ve investigated the murder of the King Laius, his father, more calmly and precise but in his carelessness, he passionately curses the murderer, and in doing so, unknowingly curses himself because he’s the murder. “Upon the murderer I invoke this curse whether he is one man and all unknown, or one of many may he wears 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.” (Oedipus Rex)

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So as for Sophecles’ Greek audience to have some relation to Oedipus, the tragic figure of the play, he had to have some flaws or error of ways. This kind of brought the character down to a level relative to us, placing or invoking in them this type of fear that whatever “it could happen to them.” And Oedipus is certainly not one without flaws. His pride, ignorance, insolence and disbelief in the gods, and unrelenting quest for the truth ultimately contributed to his destuction. When Oedipus was told, that he was responsible for the murder of his father, he became angry and called the ancient oracle a liar. He ran away from his home, Corinth, in the hopes of outsmarting the gods divine will and trying to escape his fate. Just as his father, Oedipus sought out different ways to escape the inescapable fate told by the oracle of Apollo. The chorus warns us of man’s need to have reverence for the gods, and 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?” (Oedipus Rex)

Oedipus’ inflexible desire to uncover the truth about Laius’ murder and the mystery surrounding his own birth, led him to the tragic realization of his horrific deeds. Even though Teiresias, Jocasta and the herdsman tried to stop him from pursuing the truth in the fear of how he’ll react. For example a part of the last conversation between Jocasta and Oedipus. After realizing that the prophecy had come true, Jocasta begs him to just let the mystery go unsolved for once. Oedipus is still not able to stop his relent on his quest for the truth, even under his wife’s pleading. For it is in his own vain that he must solve the final riddle, the riddle of his own life.

Upon the discovery of the truth of his actual birth from the herdsman, Oedipus knew that his predestined fate had really come to pass and he feels horrible about it. The chorus then sings an ode on the sorrow of life and the tragic fate to which even the most honored, like Oedipus are ultimately subject. “What man, what man on earth wins more happiness than a seeming and after that turning away? Oedipus you are my pattern of this, Oedipus you and your fate! Luckless Oedipus, whom of all men I envied not at all. (Oedipus Rex)

At the end of Oedipus's tragic story, when he gouges out his eyes, the chorus asks him what god urged him to blind himself. Oedipus replied, “It was Apollo, friends, Apollo, that brought this bitter bitterness, my sorrows to completion. But was the hand that struck me was none but my own.” (Oedipus Rex) In the end he claimed full responsibility for his actions. He was guilty the murder of his father and marrying his mother, but maybe the real sin lyes in his overzealous ways to raise himself to the levels of the gods by trying to escape his fate. But, ultimately, Odipus was judged for it, causing a reversal of fortune in his prosperous life.

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Interaction of Man Free Will and Fate in Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from
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