Fate in Oedipus the King
Sophocles was one of the greatest Greek playwrights presented the most delightful work of the human civilization – the tragedy “Oedipus the King”. Sophocles was a person that stood in the centre of the plot and determined the theme of the tragedy – the theme of moral self-determination of the personality. Furthermore, Sophocles reveals the theme of the universal scope: who rules the destiny – the God or a person himself. Looking for an answer to eternal question the main hero Oedipus has left his native town and practically doomed himself to a certain death. (Bagg 1982)
The downfall of Oedipus the King was fated by the Gods and he was unable to change his destiny. It is apparent that the first question in the play is the question of fate. It is true that all the actions of Oedipus were formed by a virulent divinity. For example, Oedipus was foretold by the Gods to kill his own father and to get married with his own mother. It is seen from the play that exactly the Gods willed him to do everything he didn’t want to. He was foretold by the Gods to kill his own father and to get married with his own mother. He found, as he thought, the right decision to leave his house. But he didn’t understand the most important thing: the Gods determined the common aspect of person’s destiny, its direction and one of the possible versions of future reality. The other things depended on the person and its personality. The destiny could be changed in some situations but the results would be the same as the Gods had foretold. (Berg 1988)
Oedipus was shown by the prophecy of the Gods that he was capable to kill his father and to marry his own mother. And because of this prophecy he had always be on alert and had to conceal the awful abilities which were inside him. But he took everything too literally and didn’t see the real truth. And only in the last moment – in the moment of mental discernment he understood how fool he had been. And in the result he put out his eyes. Thereby he expressed the main idea of the tragedy: it is the God who rules the destiny and the person is only an instrument. The fate and inevitability are nothing compared to a person who understands and realizes his own moral and spiritual essence.
It is apparent that the first question in the Oedipus the Kind is the question of Fate. It is true that all actions of Oedipus were formed by a virulent divinity. It is obvious from the play that exactly the Gods willed him to do everything he didn’t want to do. It was something like complete unaware obedience. Oedipus was shown to be free at his choice and his ways. But simultaneously all these choices led him to an inevitable results and even to a catastrophe. Not only Oedipus but all other characters were greatly influenced by the Gods and the verbal text of play confirms that fact. It is easy to say that all the events of Oedipus life were fated. It was the permanent allusion of a demonic force which made this fate vivid and powerful. (Bagg 1982)
All Oedipus’ actions expressed his impetuous insight and complete sympathy, the intolerance and impatience of his nature and the expansiveness of his mental grasp. It is seen that the sense of divinity constrained all the present and all the past events. The author concentrated his attention on the difference between the Oedipus’ ability to keep his welfare due to his wise actions and the truth that his life was fated or willed by the divine powers which can’t be seen and suspected by the hero.
In times when Sophocles lived it was common to think that the person’s fate was connected with a God or demon. And they determine happiness or misery of person’s life. And it is a matter of fact that a person could be completely devastated by God or demon. It is related to Oedipus destiny. A person could be also blessed and supported by the God, i.e. a person was protected by divine forces. (Gide 1950)
There were two images in the play which explained the presence of a God and demon in the play: it is an image of the storm and hunting. The image of the awful storm endangering a city was rather similar Greek image. However, the image was deepened by its importance of impressive Sophocles’ design. The storm seemed to be awful image suggested the real power. And human imagination and freedom of action could defend against an intimidating divinity or indifferent nature. It was mention that Oedipus was really convinced that his problems and troubles were similar to storm and that he had to survive. But Oedipus did not ride out of a storm with the help of human cleverness. He was simultaneously the weapon and the target of a God. One more image of the same effect was the hunt. Oedipus naturally connected himself with the hunter; because he was trying to find the murderer. When he revealed his own possible guilt, the image of that hunt turned on him, and he became the sacrifice and he would be hunted by the God and demon. (Bagg 1982)
It was mentioned that Oedipus always prayed Gods for a good luck and safety. He didn’t want the future to be very dark and vague. He believed that gods would help him to cope with difficult times, especially with the plague embraced the whole city. Oedipus wasn’t asleep because of this catastrophe. He was sure he could rely on Gods. There were two puzzles put before Oedipus: the source of plague and the murderer of Laios. So it was something similar to hunt foretold by the God. He looked for symbols and tokens sent from the Gods to help him to find all the clues to these puzzles. It proves Oedipus’ intelligence. He thought that all obscure and vague can be seen. Oedipus the King was always confident that all invisible can be seen and it controls the actions of the heroes. (Gide 1950)
Oedipus was shown like being free at his choices and his ways. Nevertheless, all the events in his life were fated. Oedipus was completely sure he was the master of his life; he had the complete power over it. He stood apart from all people surrounding him. That was the main reason why Gods decided to show him that his life was in their power allowing him to be only a pawn in his own destiny. The success with Sphinx, for example, was connected with the Gods’ actions providing Thebes with everything needed. Nevertheless, Oedipus thought it was fully his success and Gods bore no relation to it. He attributed this success to himself committing one more mortal mistake – being too self-assured.
It was mentioned that the last hope for Oedipus was Kithairon. He was the last element in his puzzle. So Oedipus was fated by the God to kill his own father and nobody could change this prophecy. All his suggestions and actions taken in order to find the truth were the expressive evidence of his character. It was seen from the play that Oedipus was rather intelligent, suspicious, and politically active and he acted and reacted very quickly.
Oedipus quickly found the plot of Laios murder. He didn’t believe that the ex-king could be killed by the bandits or robbers. He thought it was a real conspiracy and thus he decided to act and react alone. He used to be in the centre of all situations and things. He considered himself to be an individual in the centre of his deeds. He controlled these things and wasn’t a part of the group. (Berg 1988)
At the very beginning the Gods were closer to Oedipus and the people than in the end. For example, people were praying to gods to stop the plague, because they were sure that only Gods were capable to do that. They stood over people and were the only source of power and help. They could either help people and Oedipus or destroy everything. But in the end it was obvious that people referred to Gods less and less often. Oedipus’ life is a real expression of a deep and dark chasm in human life. The Gods were a bad luck to him which led to the gap between reality and visibility.
In the end Oedipus became an object of awful interest and curiosity. He was even called the cursed and sacred. And nobody supported him in his horrible isolation. Oedipus turned out to be evil and unhappy and he had to carry a heavy burden during all his life. But there was one action he willed and did by himself without outside power. When he revealed truth of his life he decided to live his native town as he couldn’t cope with new reality which was killing him mentally. (Bagg 1982)
Bagg, Robert (ed.). (1982). Introduction. Oedipus the King. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.
Berg, Stephen (ed.). (1988). Oedipus the King. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gide, Andrae. (1950). Two Legends: Oedipus and Theseus. New York: Knopf.