Persistence of Fate: The Unmaking of a King
(a position paper on Sophocles Oedipus Rex)
Persistence of Fate: The Unmaking of a KingOedipus: Think of it: I have touched you with these hands, These hands that killed your husband. What defilement! Am I all evil, then?
The inevitability of Oedipus fate defines his innocence of the crimes he committed because he just finds himself in a world of predetermined future where fate persists and where existing laws are not fully understood.
Overview of the Drama
Great values on the quest for knowledge, for the truth, prevailed on Ancient Greeks. It is not surprising that Greek dramas reflect the Greeks conceptualization and expression of ideas, especially their ideas of what is true and vital in life. This is evident in Greek tragedies where life is imitated seriously and completely. It allows for the artistic presentation and representation of life at its worst. Greek tragedies simultaneously showcase and pursue the truth by eliciting strong emotions, understanding and, sometimes, even more questions from people. These are exactly what Oedipus the King, one of the most popular Greek tragedies, does. It raised question about what is morally right or wrong, what and how things go under our moral responsibility, how free is free will, is there determinism, can free will and determinism coexist, how powerful is divine authority, how can knowledge shape you or
destroy you. These are only some of the questions that arise from Oedipus the King which made it a popular, interesting, and controversial Greek Tragedy. Oedipus the King or Oedipus Rex is written by Sophocles, one of the three Great Greek Tragedians, Aeschylus and Euripides being the other two. Oedipus Rex is a perfect example of a classical Greek tragedy which features a noble, dignified hero who undergoes a change in fortune from good to bad due to an error or frailty called hamartia. Reversal of intention and dramatic irony is also clearly executed in line with the main catastrophe in Oedipus Rex. Oedipus, our tragic hero, in some way or another has all of the four characteristics of a tragic hero. He is noble, proper in terms of ability in internalizing societal norms, consistent in what he does or says, and universal or true to life. It is not hard to feel for him and actually feel his downfall when the most important characteristic of a tragic hero consumed him his tragic flaw - which comes in the form of hubris or extreme arrogance and pride.
The tyrant is a child of PrideWho drinks from his great sickening cup Recklesness and vanity, Until from his high crest headlong He plummets to the dust of hope
He started off with a noble deed, the justification of the previous kings murder and the salvation of the town from the plague. But due to fates play, along with reversal of intention and extreme pride we ended up watching the unmaking of a king, hope
going up into flames and turning into dust. How it happened and why, starts the train of questions that rain down from Oedipus Rex. Is Oedipus downfall a consequence of his individual actions or is it really the ending of his predetermined fate?
The play opened with a priest leading a bunch of other people to ask King Oedipus to find a solution to the plague that slowly kills the town of Thebes. They look up to Oedipus so much since he freed the town from the sphinx by solving its riddle and he has become a wonderful king to all of them. It is later known that Oedipus has already sent Creon, the brother of his wife Jocaste, to oracle of Apollo to ask for solution for the plague. Creon went back with the news that the banishment of King Laios murderer will end the plague. Oedipus immediately took on the job of finding the murder not only to stop the plague but also to save himself from the threat the murderer may pose against him. He issued a policy statement that stated the law and punishments that would be charged against the murderer. To speed up the search, Teiresias, a fortune-teller was brought in. He refused to answer Oedipus questions but Oedipus was persistent. In the end, he said that Oedipus is the murderer whom he seeks and that he is living in shame with his family. Oedipus became furious and started mocking Teiresias blindness, accused him of being unpatriotic, and being part of Creons plan of bringing him down. This eventually led to a shouting match between Oedipus and Creon but Jocaste came to break it up. In order to prove that fortune tellers like Teiresias are fraud, Jocaste ended up telling the unfulfilled prophecy of her baby with Laios. Their baby was predicted to kill Laios and marry her. She said they left their baby to die in the woods and that Laos died in the hands of robbers in the place where three roads meet. Oedipus asked which three roads as reality hits
him that he might have been the one who killed Laios. Oedipus then tell them about the prophecy that predicted he will kill his father and marry with his mother; the prophecy that made him leave home and encounter strangers on a place where three roads meet, strangers who he killed. Oedipus convicted himself as the murderer of Laios. Just as he was planning to banish himself, a messenger came to inform them that his father from Corinth died and that he, Oedipus, is adopted. Another realization came and it came in hard. Jocaste finally realized what happened Oedipus is her son that they tried to kill in the woods. She ran into her bedroom, screaming. She locked the door and a few minutes later, Oedipus came in, and broke down the door. He found Jocaste hanging-dead. Oedipus took the body down, then removed a pin from her dress. He stabbed it again and again into his eyes, complaining how blind he had been all this time. The play ended with the chorus saying that the real absence of pain would only come with death.
A couple of scenes into the drama, we saw the dilemma of Oedipus his free will fighting against his predetermined fate, his pursuit for knowledge fighting against his reluctance/arrogance to accept the truth.
Free Will vs. Determinism
Oedipus has the freedom to decide bravely or to play the coward, to deal justly or to do evil, but whatever his decisions or desires, the transcendent destiny works its inexorable will.
(Thorslev, Jr., P pp. 21).
Free will is the power of human beings to bring goals, or desires into existence. It is a kind of self determination wherein our every action is determined by our purposes (Kane, R. pp. 2). It is the ability of a human being to convey personal choice, choose among alternatives based on ones desires and values. Oedipus often uses his free will to exercise his right to acquire more knowledge regarding the cause of Thebes plague, the murderer of King Laios, and later on in finding out the roots of his true identity. According to Thorsley, Jr. (pp. 8), when we exercise our free will, the products are free acts for which we are causally responsible. In this sense, Oedipus tragic reversal of his fortune can be attributed to his past actions and its consequences. In other words, he can be held responsible for the crimes he committed murder and incest. But then, the term free, free will, free act, and freedom are problematic because there will always be the question of how free is free.
Thorsley Jr. then added that freedom is the absence of external constraints that impedes the realization of ones desire or purpose. He also defined free acts as acts that must originate purely from the self free acts are expression of oneself. Oedipus decision to leave Corinth did not originate from himself alone, a prophecy made him to do so. Also, his intention of escaping his prophecy was impeded by the fact that his adoptive parents did not tell him the truth of his birth this is an external constraint that he has no control over with. By these, his act of murdering his father and sleeping with his mother could not be attributed as an act of free will. Moreover, he could not be held responsible for these acts which are not entirely his own.
On the other hand, determinism or the existence of destiny means that people shares activities toward the conscious or unconscious realization of a goal. If it is Oedipus fate to kill his own father, then his father is a necessary part in Oedipus life in order for that destiny to happen. The fulfilment of this destiny could happen even if it is no ones desire or intention as oppose to free will that entails purpose/ intention in every action. From this argument alone, we could deduce that Oedipus murder of King Laios is not done out of free will because he has no intention of killing his father. Had he known that Laios is his father, he would not have killed him.
Oedipus Rex showed a tragic story on which both of free will and determinism coexist. This is possible because although our future or our end is predetermined, we design our own course of life that leads to that end (Thorslev, Jr., P pp. 12). As Teresias said it in the drama:
You weave your own doom
Hobbes also adds, as cited in Kane (pp. 7), that we are free to do what we want or need; however, our needs and wants are determined by antecedent circumstances or causes or in the much broader sense by the Gods. Oedipus is free to escape from his fate but that escape was determined by the Gods specifically by Apollo. If that prophecy had not been made, no intention of fleeing Corinth will be made, no murder of King Laios could have occurred. But since the Gods want this kind of end for Oedipus, they provided him with an intention, with a choice. How Oedipus will carry out his choice base on free will determines
how he will meet his end, how he will accomplish his fate. The Gods will dictate what picture we will draw but the design will always be up to us.
It is Oedipus fate to k