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In Greek tragedy there is often the theme of fate, about how one can try to avoid it, but

will never succeed, with every attempt being a futile one resulting only in the prophesised events coming true. Any hint of freedom of choice is an illusion, and once fate has been chosen then only option is walking down the road given, regardless of the choices made. However, the steps taken to reach the final destination are still important. Oedipus fate was not entirely brought on by himself. Laius, Oedipus father, had angered the gods during his reign, and so his family was cursed, setting the events of the play i nto motion. Even before Oedipus came into existence, he had already been cursed, born to live a life dictated by his fathers legacy. Though the prophecy will come true, the many aspects of life that the prophecy may affect are not dictated by any type of script, and so are entirely up to the will and choice of the protagonist. It is unjust to proclaim that Oedipus burden is his fault in any fashion. One cannot commit crimes before they are born, no matter what the circumstances may be. Only later does Oedipus curse himself, though unknowingly On these accounts I, as for my own father, Will fight this fight, and follow out every clue, seeking to seize the author of his murder (Oedipus, 12). In a similar fashion, it is not through any fault of Oedipus that he was thrown out of Thebes as a child. Both these events occur during Oedipus infancy, and in human society babies, especially infants, represent the most innocent aspect of humanity, supposedly incorruptible and incapable of malevolence. It is unfair to say then that Oedipus was justly cursed, as at the age of three days old he had committed no heinous crimes, yet he was fated to live a life destined for misery, destined to live as an unhappy product of Jocasta Where she brought forth, unhappy, brood on brood, spouse to her spouse, and children to her child. (Second Messenger, 47). Much later on in the play and in Oedipuss life, Oedipus follows through with another section of the prophecy and proceeds to murder his father, although at that moment Oedipus had not realized the identity of the man, and would not for some time. The audience is led to believe that during the time from Oedipus birth leading to that moment, his wrongdoings had not been significant enough to merit any mention, and so logically it would be assumed that the murder of Laius was not Oedipus punishment, but rather it was Laius final punishment To Laius once there came an oracle, I do not say from Phoebus self, but from his ministers, that so it should befall, that he should die by a sons hands, whom he should have by me. (Jocasta, 28). A important detail to note however, is that while none of the transpired events had been Oedipus fault, they were all dictated by the prophecy. Every single event had been predicted, and set in stone since before the beginning of the play. The fates of Laius and Oedipus overlapped each other up until Laius death by Oedipus hands. Both Laius and Oedipus follow the same timeline, with Laius curse outliving Laius death, instead being passed on to Oedipus, even from the very dawn of Oedipus existence. Laius had heard about the prophecy involving Oedipus murdering him, and so he took the necessary steps to try and elude it, something he believed he had accomplished, even up until his death, as did Jocasta While from our sons birth not three days went by before with ankles pinned *Laius+ cast him out (Jocasta, 28). When Oedipus has his first conversation with Tiresias, Oedipus refuses to acknowledge Tiresias words about the events that had already transpired , choosing to instead call Tiresias a liar. This then incites Tiresias to comment on Oedipus future Blind instead of seeing, and poor for wealthy, to a foreign land, a staff to point his footsteps, he shall go (Tiresias, 19). This is foreshadowing the very near future of Oedipus life, as events that Tiresias had mentioned in the conversation had already transpired, and so the events that hadnt happened were more than likely to come true. The endless but unfruitful struggle against fate is a theme very evident in Oedipus Rex. Oedipus was found and subsequently raised in the household of the King and Queen of Corinth the son of Polyses of Corinth, and of a Dorian mother, Merope (Oedipus, 30) , but he decides to leave when he hears of a prophecy

dictating his fathers death through his hands. In his attempt to avoid his destiny and walk a different path, he instead ends up doing exactly what the prophecy predicted. Even though everything goes according to the prophecy, there are many things that transpire that the prophecy does not describe, that the characters dictate entirely through their own free will. Laius death is an example of an event that had to occur because of the prophecy, but caused many other events to happen, none predicted by the prophecy. Is Oedipus responsible for Laius death? Oedipus is physically responsible, being the sole perpetrator of the murder, but to hold him truly accountable in every sense of the word for Laius death would be overkill. After Laius death however, Oedipus becomes ruler of Thebes, leading to the main events of the play, something not directly described by the prophecy. During Oedipus conversation with Tiresias, he needlessly angers the blind seer, leading the seer to develop a hostile attitude to Oedipus, and turns Tiresias into an enemy. This is evident especially in the tone of Tiresias speech But know, there is not one of all mankind that shall be bruised more utterly than you (Tiresias, 18). Oedipus, through his personality, causes many events in the play that could otherwise have been avoided altogether. By insisting on following through with his interrogation of the shepherd, even at the behest of Jocasta not to, he almost directly caused her suicide. She becomes enraged with Oedipus near the end of play Woe, woe, unhappy! This is all I have to say to thee, and no word more, for ever! (Jocasta, 40), becoming bitter not only because of the truth of the incest, but also that Oedipus had to go so far as to be certain of it. Nowhere in the prophecy does it specify the death of Jocasta, nor did it even specify that Jocasta would ever find out about the incestuous relationship. All of the above comes directly from Oedipus, with no influence from fate or destiny. In a play designed around the inevitability of fate, there are still some things that Oedipus can be blamed for, and rightly so. After Oedipus argument with Tiresias, he comes to the false conclusion that Creon is the one to blame for Tiresias supposed treason. He seeks out Creon and thereby also makes an enemy of Creon You display your spleen in yielding; but, when your wrath passes bound, are formidable! Tempers such as yours Most grievous are to their own selves to bear, Not without justice (Creon, 27), accusing him of being disloyal, and a traitor. This comes back to bite him at the very end of the play, where Creon becomes ruler of Thebes, with Creon having no sympathy to the dishonoured Oedipus. Oedipus Rex is a textbook example of Greek tragedy. By the beginning of the book, Oedipus has already been fated to do a great number of things, some of them already done. The majority of the play is dedicated to looking at the steps Oedipus takes to fulfill the prophecy, but one thing is abundantly clear: Oedipus has no direct control over the actions dictated by the prophecy. No matter what roads he takes, he cannot diverge from the path of the prophecy. No matter what actions he takes, he will always be in the hands of fate, bound by the words of the Oracle. However, there are many relationships and side effects caused by Oedipus that the prophecy makes no mention of. This is the aspect of personal choice that Oedipus is actually in control of, that he can take responsibility for. In this case, they are all caused by Oedipus personality, where in his blindness and pride he destroys his relationship with the people close to him.

Sophocles. The Theban Plays. Trans. Sir George Young. New York: Dover, 2006. Print.

Choices and Fate


Eric Ma