The Exposure to Free Will of Oedipus’ Character
An Individual’s choices and behaviour lead to certain consequences that they face in the end. Many believe in higher powers having control over their actions and fate. Others, however, believe they have control over their actions and the consequences that precede them. In Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Sophocles depicts the Greeks believe that fate controls lives, rather than free will. The concept of fate and free presents an integral part of the protagonist’s destruction. The prophecy declared Oedipus’ future. He, however, followed through with all the necessary actions to fulfill the prophecy all on his own. Oedipus makes several errors and has several weaknesses that ultimately lead him to his misfortune, in which he becomes a victim of free will rather than a victim of fate.
Destined to murder his father and marry his mother, fate guided his path. Oedipus was born to fulfill the prophecy given to Laius and Jocasta from the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. Oedipus was away from Thebes. But his paranoia drove him back to his land. Oedipus’ decisions and rash acts along the way caused his problems. His flee from Corinth, his need to kill the old man, and his lack of clarity, lead him to fulfill the prophecy. This prophecy inevitably would come to pass, but Oedipus’ actions, hubris, hamartia, and impulsiveness lead to his tragic downfall.
Although Oedipus was impulsive, prideful, and extremely confident, he was also determined and courageous. Despite the cruel joke the gods played on him, he had the strength to follow through with his inquiry and get to the bottom of Laius’ murder. He was the king of Thebes. A great leader, but a rash one. He valued honour and integrity, but on the other hand, he was self-centered, overreaching, and overconfident. Oedipus’ character and his stubbornness resulted in unretrievable errors to be made. Oedipus is responsible for the downfall because he makes decisions without carefully thinking them through. The actions he completed due to his character prove his free will.
Oedipus was quick to flee Corinth after a drunkard told him he was not his father’s son. Oedipus became annoyed and wanted answers from Polybus and Merope. He repeatedly asked them the question to ensure he was their son. Oedipus remained suspicious and went to the Oracle to obtain answers. He did not receive the answers he desired. But he was told of the prophecy. In response to his confusion and need to be the hero, Oedipus flees Corinth to save his parents and himself from this cruel prophecy. If only he had taken the time to get more information and perhaps talk to the drunk man, he could have prevented his journey into Thebes. Oedipus willingly decided to leave Corinth without any information or clarification and ended up reaching Thebes to satisfy the prophecy.
Oedipus attempts to prevent the prophecy from coming true and leaves Polybus’ kingdom. When travelling to Thebes he sees his real father, Laius. After getting hit by Laius, Oedipus retaliates and kills Laius. Oedipus’ irrational and hot-tempered nature lead him to complete yet another aspect of the prophecy. Oedipus knew that he would kill a man. He knew that Polybus and Merope may not be his parents. Therefore, without thinking anything through, Oedipus acted. In circumstances where he knew he would kill an older man, he should have avoided any possible quarrels or unnecessary fights. He acted by choice. He did not have to kill the old man, but he chose to, knowing of the prophecy.
Despite his knowledge of the prophecy, Oedipus marries an older woman, around the age of his mother. He married Jocasta, his mother, without investigating her background. He knew she was a widow. The oracle never made it clear as to who his mother was, Oedipus should have taken the time to figure out whether or not he was marrying his mother when he knew of the prophecy. Oedipus ignores the suspicions he had and does not think all aspects of his marriage through carefully. His rashness in character leads to his disaster. At the end of the play, Oedipus agrees that his actions lead him to his problems. He says “If I’d died then, I’d never have dragged myself, my loved ones through such hell.” (Sophocles 1487-1489) This quote proves that he dragged them into this, his actions caused harm to them all. He then continues to say, “I’d never have come to this, my father’s murderer—never been branded mother’s husband, all men see me now! Now, loathed by the gods, son of the mother I defiled coupling in my father’s bed, spawning lives in the loins that spawned my wretched life. What grief can crown this grief? It’s mine alone, my destiny—I am Oedipus!”( 1491-1497) in this, he admits to being in control of his actions. Oedipus wanted the power and honour and did not think of the prophecy when marrying a woman who could be his mother, after knowing he killed a man, this behaviour once again is Oedipus making free choices.
Free will and Oedipus’ character ultimately cause this tragedy. Oedipus is a victim of free will rather than a victim of fate. Seemingly the prophecy controlled his life. But the prophecy would have never been complete had Oedipus thought all aspects of the prophecy through and taken the time to think. All his actions were of his own choice. During no point in the play is he being controlled or forced to take a course of action. He could have stayed in Corinth and had known his “parents” were fine, rather than run off trying to save them. He may have been able to prevent the prophecy. Oedipus’ rashness, pride, and confidence ultimately shattered him and lead to his tragic end. His free will caused his misfortune. Oedipus’ inability to put pieces together lead him to his misfortune. Oedipus’ mistakes and actions define his tragic end. All the choices made by him brought him to Thebes and closer to the prophecy. His misfortune resulted from his predestined freedom.
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