Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Often times in literature the authors refer to the fate versus free will debate. Their thoughts about the answer reflect in their writing style. In Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, Oedipus' parents hear a prophecy from an oracle about their son murdering his father and marrying his mother. They decide the best course of action is to kill him, however, the person sent to rid of Oedipus shows him mercy and leaves him to be found without checking to make sure he was truly dead: "Laius had the feet of this child bound and pinned. Someone tossed it in a mountain wilderness. So there. Apollo didn't cause this boy to be his father's killer. Laios didn't bear the terror he feared from his son. That's what the words of the prophecy defined" (Line 717). Unfortunately, he had no idea that his actions were going to set the prophecy into motion. As Oedipus grows up and hears his fate, in order to avoid the consequences, he leaves his home to stay away from his "parents". Oedipus seems to believe in the prophecy and yet, later in the play, he denies the validity of it. Sophocles plays with the concept of fate versus free will using the character Jocasta, Oedipus' wife/mother. When Oedipus brings in a blind man, Tiresias, to reiterate the prophecy, Jocasta tries to convince him he has nothing to fear because the account was false: "Then thou mayest ease they conscience on that score. Listen and I'll convince thee that no man hath scot or lot in the prophetic art. An oracle once came to Laius declaring he was doomed to perish by the hand of his own son, a child that should be born to him by me... As for the child, it was but three days old, when Lauius, its ankles pierced and pinned together, gave it to be cast away by others on the trackless mountain side...Such was the prophet's horoscope. O king, regard it not. Whate'er the god deems fit to search, himself unaided will reveal" (Lines 707-725). Jocasta convinces Oedipus to disregard Tiresias' warning, but Sophocles cleverly inserted irony into her statement by having her point proven by the use of a prophecy that will eventually come true. In the end, Oedipus realizes his actions caused the prophecy to come true anyways. So was Oedipus' life destined from the start or could his actions changed the outcome? The way in which Sophocles presents the idea suggests that fate played a bigger part and actions could not change the prophecy, just the order or the course it takes. Another factor to consider is Greek culture. Throughout many pieces of literature, prophecies and oracles are prominent and always come true. Generally, this is because the Greeks placed strong beliefs in destiny. One other question to consider is whether the prophecy would have come true if Jocasta and King Laius had no knowledge of what fate had in mind. Could it be possible that they could have avoided the tragic curse? Maybe, maybe not. One thing's for sure, the readers would be just as in the dark as the characters.