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Fate vs. Free Will: Re-examining the Belief through Sophocles’ Oedipus the King Essay

Fate has always been the central argument in almost every Greek drama known to human civilization. Mankind has always been convinced that we cannot go against the tide, as all things are bound to happen, waiting to happen, and will happen. We have always been a believer of oracles, the fanfare of fortune-tellers, we hold our breaths to what the cards will tell of our fortune and our future.

But if this is to be believed, then we are unwittingly giving up our free will, our right and capability to make decisions, we are giving away our logic and our right to draw our own lives, but rather, giving it all up to a greater force, an invisible hand that commands us to do what we ought to do. In the interest of discussion and deep philosophical reckoning, may I ask, is life, as unpredictable as it is, drawn by fate or by free will? Oedipus the King, one of the three Theban plays written by Sophocles, has been the center of many discussions on this topic.

The question of whether fate or free will contributed to the downfall of Oedipus poses a great many questions to scholars and common folks alike. The question is an unwitting examination of our own lives, are we the products of the choices we take, or victims and collateral damages to a greater, unfolding plan. Fate, has been defined as the will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do (Webster 128). By essence, we as common folks cannot choose our own undertaking but rather, just follow whatever it is that is bound to happen.

Oedipus life has been marred by the predictions and indications of the Delphian Oracle. He, together with Laius and Jocasta, gave tremendous weight to what fate has instructed them to portray. And in their efforts to change what has been written, they have fallen victims to their own destiny, entangled with the cobwebs of lies and deceit that they made to cover up what their own personal flaws and fears. It is interesting to know and to reckon, however, that the oracle says the son will kill his father and mate with his mother, what if the child that was delivered was a daughter and not a son?

Or it would have been a quick and quiet solution if Jocasta or Laius himself killed the baby and not just delegate it to a servant, thus avoiding the case of insubordination, which proved deadly for all the characters involved. Or, they could have just raised Oedipus by themselves, in their own guidance, within their very reach, for no moral man shall kill his own father and have a relationship with his own mother. In shorter terms, there could have been many alternatives, many ways, many options, which could have been effective and could have prevented the tragedy that has befallen the House of Laius.

Free will could have worked things out in this tangled story of murder and incest. Logic could have outwitted the fates that are conveniently believed to direct our destinies. But then, some may think, this is still a gamble on the things to come. Again, let me cite another story, this time in the form of a short story by Mark Twain, aptly entitled Luck. It has clearly illustrated how a man who lacks luster in any field, became an illustrious and decorated military officer. He has been pursued, day by day and year by year, by a most phenomenal and astonishing luckiness (Twain 64).

This fictional character, Lieutenant General Lord Arthur Scoresby, seems to have all the luck in the world, transforming the worst of blunders into the most brilliant and astonishing of all the military tactics. To romantics, it seems that the universe has conspired to give him the best of fortunes and enjoy the best of life. But again, let me ask, for purposes of reckoning and discussion, what if poor Scoresby “choose” other field and not enter the world of military, where outwitting and counter outwitting the enemy is a practice?

Or, what if the reverend, instead of helping him, just let him fail his subjects I the military school? A choice has been given to the reverend, but alas, he choose to undertake the road that led to the unthinkable and unlikely success of the stupid man. His own choice, then, it is safe to say, has catapulted the General to his place in history. Force, or the lack of it, is an underlying factor in this topic. Oedipus has always known he will one day kill a man that is father, therefore, he should have prevented himself to kill any man, be it a stranger or the man he has believed all along to be his father, King Polybus.

Nobody forced him to kill anyone, or at least, no other hand guided the sword that killed Laius but his own. He has been warned that he will one day commit and incestuous relationship with his own mother, then, he should have prevented himself from marrying any woman, be it any woman or the woman he has believed all along to be his mother, Merope. He, therefore, has guided his own undoing. Oedipus, therefore, is the only one responsible for fulfilling the prophecy, for in no page of the play did I find that any other hand or force guided him to do as he did, but his own choice, his own free will.

The knowledge of the murder and the incest should have warned him and equipped him with a list of what not to do in his life, but instead, he let his own flaws draw his destiny. The question of fate and free will is an age old problem, and the solution will not be found in the endless debates, lustrous academic and para-academic discussions, or literary discourses. Our lives, whether we believe it or not, are products of our choices, we are of our own doing, or undoing.

If we allow ourselves to believe that, like the planets in the universe, lifeless and dull, we are drawn to follow a certain order, then, we practically give up our right to life, our freedom, our individuality, but instead, we accept that we are common, unspecial, and nothing more than a dry leaf mercilessly thrown around by the wind, we are nothing but a stone that will forever remain at the bottom of the sea, or up in the mountains, that we are at the mercy of someone we don’t see. Lastly, let me just share, not a quote or a passage, but a law that has been proven time and time again, authored by the great Sir Isaac Newton.

Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. I believe, no other external force is at play, but that, which we call “ourselves”. Works Cited Cohen, I. Bernard and George E. Smith. The Cambridge Companion to Newton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Dodds, E. R. “On Misunderstanding the Oedipus Rex. ” Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. New York: Chelsea House, 1988: 35-47. Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. New York: Dover Thrift Editions, 1991. Twain, Mark and Justine Kaplan. The Signet Classic Book of Mark Twain’s Short Stories. New York: Signet Classics, 1985.


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