The roles of free will and fate in a person’s life are discussed in literature since ancient times. Oedipus the King is one of the most famous tragedies by Sophocles, which is developed to discuss this conflict in detail. The tragic destiny of Oedipus can be explained from two different perspectives. On the one hand, Oedipus is a victim of the gods’ will and prophesied fate. On the other hand, the downfall of Oedipus is a result of his wrong decisions. Even though the role of fate and prophecy is significant in influencing the life of Oedipus, the king’s destiny can be discussed as a direct result of his actions, choices, and decisions.
Oedipus is described in the first lines of the tragedy as a hero who can protect Thebes from all the threats, but the king is rather vulnerable to fight against his fate and dramatic prophecy. Thus, the significant role of the prophecy is accentuated in many lines of the tragedy.
Tiresias emphasizes the impossibility to avoid prophecy while accentuating the king’s impossibility to see obvious things, “You have your eyes but see not where you are / in sin, nor where you live, nor whom you live with. / Do you know who your parents are?” (Sophocles 413-415). From this perspective, a range of choices made by Oedipus prevents him from seeing the things about their true nature, and his further downfall becomes supported by his choices.
Although the dramatic fate makes Oedipus suffer and fall, the king chooses this path as a result of many decisions. According to Dodds, everything that Oedipus “does on the stage from first to last; he does as a free agent” (Dodds 42). Thus, the destiny of Oedipus is the unique combination of fate-bound events and a series of choices made by a free man.
Dodds notes that the main cause of Oedipus’ fall is not his fate because “no oracle said that he must discover the truth – and still less does it lie in his weakness; what causes his ruin is his strength and courage, his loyalty to Thebes, and his loyalty to the truth” (Dodds 43). Oedipus knows his fate, but it is a series of his actions, which leads to the tragedy because the king has the free will not to act or focus on changing his life. From this point, the knowledge of his fate provides Oedipus with a certain range of choices, but only Oedipus can build his destiny.
The conflict between free will and fate is still important to be discussed while being placed in a larger context of popular literature. Not only Oedipus tries to cope with the possible consequences of the prophecy. Such a literary character as Harry Potter also pays much attention to finding the ways to decrease the impact of the prophecy on his life. Thus, the conflict of fate and free will can be discussed as the conflict produced by the knowledge of the fate and by a series of the person’s choices and actions which can be oriented to avoiding the fate or accepting it. If Harry Potter accepts his fate, Oedipus is oriented to avoid it, and he makes the wrong choices from the first steps. Accentuating the necessity to accept the fate, Jocasta notes in the tragedy, “Do not concern yourself about this matter; / listen to me and learn that human beings / have no part in the craft of prophecy” (Sophocles 707-709). The tragic irony of Oedipus’ life is in the fact that if Oedipus accepts his fate, there is a chance to avoid it.
It is possible to assume that there are many paths for a person to choose, and this choice is a result of the person’s free will. Furthermore, there are also many events and situations which can be discussed as key ones in people’s lives, and these key life moments can be prophesied. A person can have some control over his or her life while making daily choices.
However, there is always a thread which leads a person according to fate. From this point, the control over the life and future is real only while focusing on the actions here and now, but this control is rather hypothetical while speaking about the person’s fate. Thus, Oedipus’ everyday choices lead him to his fate, but his reaction to the situation and his blindness are only the results of the king’s free will.
While discussing the conflict between fate and free will, it is possible to note that a person cannot learn whether his or her actions lead to changing the dramatic life events or make them closer. The tragedy of Oedipus described by Sophocles is in the fact that his extreme desire to avoid the destiny makes him the victim of his fate because of the actions which are the products of the king’s free will. The discussion of this life paradox makes the reader focus more on the problem of the free will and fate and analyze life events.
Dodds, Eric Robertson. “On Misunderstanding the ‘Oedipus Rex’”. Greece & Rome, Second Series 13.1 (1966): 37-49. Print.
Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Print.