Oedipus the King

Oedipusthe King

Literaryworks have always played a crucial role in the determination of thequality of life that individuals live, as well as in the developmentand growth of the society. Indeed, a large proportion of socialchanges have been triggered by the ideas propagated in literaryworks. This should not be surprising particularly considering thatthe works are usually written on the basis of the occurrences in thesociety within which the authors live, usually with the aim ofhighlighting particular evils or issues that hold the societiesbackward. Highlighting these issues allows individuals within thosesocieties to have a paradigm shift on their mindset and possiblychange their manner of thinking regarding the issues raised. Ofcourse, this means that the literary works often underline the ideathat individuals are the drivers and determinants of their course oflife, with fate not having anything to do with the same. This may beseen as the case in Sophocles’ book “”. Whilethere may be varying opinions, it is evident that the life of Oedipusis a function of both fate and the personal choices that he made.

Inthe story, which unfolds as a political thriller, psychologicalwhodunit and murder mystery, Oedipus, the King of Thebes has beenbegged by the citizens to lift the plague that has been threateningto bring destruction to the city. At this time, Oedipus had takenmeasures to avert the possibility of more destruction by consultingthe oracle through his brother Creon. Upon returning to the city,Creon states that the murderer of Oedipus’ predecessor, King Laiushas to be found and sufficiently punished so as to end the plague, inwhich case, Oedipus embarks on the arduous task of solving thatmurder. This necessitates that he summons prophet Tiresias, whoinitially declines to speak but eventually accuses the King ofmurdering Laius. As much as Oedipus initially rejects this assertionby the prophet, the latter darkly hints at an incestuous marriage, aswell as a future of wandering, infamy and blindness. The depressionthat came with this discovery necessitated that Oedipus seeks theadvice of his wife Jocasta, who he had inherited after becoming theKing of Thebe. Jocasta, in the hope of assuaging Oedipus’ heart,tells him that the prophecy cannot be true since King Laius had beenkilled by “robbers” rather than in the hands of his son as hadbeen prophesied. This brings the revelation to Oedipus that the manthat he killed was actually his father, King Laius. Jocasta and KingLaius had abandoned the baby when the oracle revealed that he wouldkill his father and marry his mother. As much as they thought thatthe baby had died, he had survived and had been brought up in a faraway land as Oedipus. It may also be noted that the revelation of theoracle to Oedipus was actually what propelled him to take the journeyas he sought to run away from the people that he thought were hisparents. Once it is revealed that he had actually fulfilled theprophecy by killing his father and marrying his own mother aftertaking over leadership, he rushes to the palace to try and seek thecounsel of the queen, who had been revealed as his mother, only tofind that she had taken her life. Oedipus, eventually, takes the pinsfrom the Queen’s gown and gorges out his own eyes as punishment sothat he is no longer capable of seeing the misery that he has caused.Being blind and a disgrace to the society, he begs Creon to end hislife but eventually submits to the latter’s leadership whileawaiting the oracle’s determination for whether he continues beingan outcast or stays in Thebes. Evidently, his life was a function ofboth fate and personal choice, which interacted to influence thedecisions that he took and the choices that he made.

First,it should be noted that Oedipus’ course of life had been carved ordetermined well before he was even old enough to make decision forhimself or his life. Indeed, King Laius and Jocasta had been informedby the Oracle that their child would kill the father and marry themother well in time, which is why they thought of abandoning it sothat he can die before the prophecy could be fulfilled. Scholarsbring the attention of readers to the definition of the Oracle, aterm which underlined a priestess or priest who acted as a mediumthrough whom prophecy or advice was sought in classic antiquity fromthe gods (Kitto 56). This definition underlines the fact that thegods knew the course of life that an individual would take and couldtell the divine purpose of an individual via the oracle. The factthat the prophecy was from the gods or rather divine in nature meansthat there was absolutely nothing that the individual could do toavert the possibility of its being fulfilled in the short-term andthe long-term. Indeed, it should be acknowledged that the actionsthat an individual takes to avert the possibility of the fulfillmentof such a prophecy could essentially bring him or her closer tofulfilling the same. This comes to the fore in the case of Oedipus asit is revealed that his running away from the individuals who hethought were his parents (Polybys and Merobe), essentially, set himon the path to fulfilling the divine purpose that was set out for him(Kitto 59). This underlines the fact that he did not have any controlover the course of his life rather he was a victim of circumstancesor rather the product of fate.

Onthe same note, scholars outline the fact that the actions of otherpeople, which are beyond a person’s control, could influence thecourse of life that an individual takes. The revelation of theoracle’s prophecy caused King Laius and Jocasta to abandon the babyin an effort to avert the fulfillment of the prophecy. Of course,this is what made the child a stranger to them and set the ballrolling for the prophecy’s fulfillment in the long-term (Knox 43).Indeed, this absolves the child (Oedipus) from culpability as far asthe fulfillment of the prophecy is concerned and instead lays theblame squarely on the actions of people beyond his control or ratherfate. Scholars acknowledge that if Oedipus was dignified enough toseek to avert the possibility of fulfilling the prophecy by escapingfrom the parents that he knew, he could have done the same if he hadbeen brought up by his real parents and possibly terminated itsfulfillment (Knox 44). Of course, there is a possibility that hecould have done some things that could have caused the death of hisfather, but decisions such as eventually marrying his own motherwould most likely have been averted (Nagel 87).

Nevertheless,it should also be noted that his course of life also set him up forthe course that his life, eventually, took. Indeed, it should benoted that a large proportion of the actions that he took influencedthe course of his life. In his encounter with King Laius, there wasno reason why he could not spare the life of the old man and hisservants. His anger caused him to strike the man and, eventually, wasbestowed with the leadership of Thebes (Smith 549). Of course, therequirement that he had to marry the queen, who must have beenevidently older than him, should have triggered some interest in thedetermination of the history of Thebes, as well as what had happenedto his predecessor (Snell 399). However, he was so self absorbed andconcerned with taking over the reins of leadership that he did not doso, which brought him closer to fulfilling the prophecy that had beengiven by the oracle years before he was old enough to make decisions(Nagel 92). This points to the interaction between fate and personaldecisions in determining the course that the life of an individualtakes in both the short-term and the long-term.

Onthe same note, scholars acknowledge that he made the decision toleave the place that he knew as home and the people that he knew asparents in the hope that he would prevent the fulfillment of theoracle’s prophecy. It is the journey that he took that brought himon a collision course with King Laius. Some scholars acknowledge thatthe revelation was not simply aimed at informing him about the courseof life that he was predisposed to have, rather it was aimed atalerting him to the things that he should do and not do (Snell 397).Indeed, it should have pushed him to ask some questions regarding hislife and where or when the prophecy was revealed. This could havepossibly brought him to the knowledge of his real parents andpossibly prevented himself from fulfilling the prophecy (Smith 556).Such actions would have been based on knowledge and facts rather thanassumptions. However, he chose the easy way out, which involvedrunning away from his “parents” so as to prevent the fulfillmentof the prophecy, which set him on the path of doing exactly that.

Inconclusion, “” brings to the fore considerationsregarding the role that fate and personal decisions play in the lifeof an individual. However, from the life of Oedipus, it becomes clearthat both fate and personal decisions or choices play a key role indetermining the course of life that an individual has. Indeed, thiscomes to the fore considering that the life that Oedipus lived wasthe product of the decisions that he made, while other factors beyondhis control also played a role in the same. For instance, he simplycould have escaped any instance that resulted in a confrontation orundertake research regarding his history and that of the prophecygiven so as to give him an idea regarding how best to evade theprophecy.


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Knox,Bernard. Oedipusat Thebes.London &amp Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957, Print

Nagel,Thomas. Mortalquestions.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979, Print

Roberts,Edgar V, and Henry E. Jacobs.&nbspLiterature:An Introduction to Reading and Writing.Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004. Print.

Smith,Holly. “CulpableIgnorance”.ThePhilosophical Review(1983) 92:543-71, Print

Snell,Bruno. “FromTragedy to Philosophy”.in Greek Tragedy. Erich Segal (ed.). New York: Harper &amp Row.396-405, 1983, Print