An Important Role Free Will in Oedipus the King

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An Important Role Free Will in Oedipus the King

This essay will analyze the theme of free will in Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King.” It will discuss how the play explores the tension between fate and free will through Oedipus’s actions and the tragic outcome. The piece will examine philosophical questions about determinism and autonomy raised by the play. Also at PapersOwl you can find more free essay examples related to Ancient Greece.

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Fate is often said to be inevitable, an adverse outcome, condition, or end and free will is the ability to choose at your own discretion. In our everyday life, we make decisions and are often told that life is about making choices. It is because we have free will that we make choices which may lead to positive consequences if the choice is rational and yet other times our decisions lead to negative consequences. Free will plays an important role in Oedipus the King and fate appears in the play but it does not dominate it.

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 It is free will that gives humans the ability to make choices that affect their destiny, human beings have free will and do make choices all the time. Free will is distributed throughout the entire story of Oedipus the King.  

However, in ancient Greek, religion was comingled with honoring the gods and goddesses whom the citizens of ancient Greece believed would intervene in their behalf in a time of need. Fate played a role in everyday life in ancient Greece, fate predetermined the course of events in the life of a Greek. According to some, it was inevitable to change your destiny as it was already predetermined. It was an outcome that could result in death, distraction, or a person’s downfall. Fate according to ancient Greeks played a role in their lives- so was Oedipus’ doom predetermined by fate? “He visits the shrine at Delphi after he is told at a feast, by a drunken man maundering in his cup that he is not his father’s son” (Sophocles 1083). Oedipus questions his parents and they assure him that they are his parents.  

However, his suspicions remain in his every thought and Oedipus visits the Oracle of Delphi to get an answer from the oracle. The gods were not straight forward with him and he is told some dreadful, unbearable things. “Oedipus is told that he would lie with his own mother, breed children from whom all would turn their eyes; and that he would be his father’s murderer” (Sophocles 1083). Oedipus flees Corinth because he fears the prophecy revealed by the Oracle of Delphi would be fulfilled if he stays. Perhaps if his adopted parents had been honest with him and not hidden the truth from him things may have been different for Oedipus. The parents choose not to reveal the truth. Perhaps if Polybos, King of Corinth, and Dorian, his adopted mother, had told him the truth he would have remained at Corinth and not traveled to Thebes. Who made the choice not to tell him he was adopted?  Lineage was important to the Greeks and perhaps his adopted parents did not want him to discover that he was not of royal lineage.  

Destiny and doom refer to the idea of a fortune, usually adverse, that is predetermined and inescapable, something dreadful, often death or punishment by the gods and goddesses. Doom often refers or implies the final ending, always unhappy or a terrible calamity falls upon the person. The idea of an unalterable course of events is destiny. Fate predetermines the course of events, in one’s life. In my opinion, Oedipus does not die because the herdsman pities the baby and gives him to another herdsman who is from Corinth. The second herdsman takes the baby to the King of Corinth and the king and his queen adopt him as their own. 

The fact that he survives is not fate but free will and it was the herdsmen who made the decision not to kill or abandon him in the wilderness. The herdsmen from Thebes decides not to murder the baby and instead gives the baby to another herdsman from Corinth. He, Oedipus, ends up being raised by the king and queen of Corinth raised as a prince. We control our lives and do have the ability to choose but unfortunately, there are times we are unable to make good sound decisions due to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Humans have the capacity to make choices that genuinely affect their destiny. However, free will does not mean that mankind can do anything he pleases. Did Oedipus seal his own fate because of the decisions he made? 

Oedipus leaves Corinth and begins to travel. Eventually, he comes to a crossroads and comes across the King of Thebes and his horsemen who travel with him. The roads must have been to narrow as Oedipus is almost bumped by the kings’ men. His temper flares and he kills the group of men because of this incident on the road and amongst the dead is his real father, King Laios, of Thebes. Perhaps if Oedipus had not lost his temper he would not have killed the group of men at the crossroads. Does fate or free will cause someone’s temper to flare? Tempers flare because we allow it to happen and it is something we should be able to control. We can choose to get angry or choose not to get angry. 

Oedipus is arrogant, boastful and blames the groom leading the horses because he forced him off the road. Road rage in modern times is equivalent to this act of violence upon another human. 

Oedipus is determined to find out who killed the King of Thebes and he announces to the people of Thebes that he will kill the man or men that killed their king. He goes on to say that Thebes suffers due to the murder of King Laios, and he must put an end to it. “Then once more I must bring what is dark to light” (Sophocles 1071). The gods and goddesses demand justice and he must find the man that killed the king, his father, Laios. What causes Oedipus to be so determined to find the man or men who killed the King of Thebes? 

Oedipus is making his personal choices and even when the messenger arrives with the news of the death of King of Corinth he is consumed with the Oracle of Delphi’s prophecy. He becomes obsessed with the prophecy and still thinks that Dorian, his mother, is the Queen of Corinth and fears he will lie with her as revealed to him by Oracle of Delphi. This is yet another example of free will because his adopted parents should have told him the truth and perhaps he would never have encountered King Laios at the crossroads. Creon is perhaps the character who understands free will as he chooses long before Oedipus comes to Thebes that he does not want to be a king, but rather the brother-in-law of the King of Thebes. Oedipus accuses him of trying to overthrow him and make himself the King of Thebes and he tells Oedipus that his character is not of good quality and that he torments himself.  

Choragos tells Oedipus that Creon should be trusted and should not be maligned with malice and without final proof. Creon has been loyal to the King of Thebes and does not wish to be King of Thebes. This is a heroic man with good character and who has control of his life. Creon knows what he must do and is satisfied just as he is and does not wish to be a king. This character truly shows true humility and is proud of his status in the Kingdom of Thebes. “He pleads to Oedipus to let him die accurst if ever he has wished him harm!” (Sophocles 1080) He too tries to get Oedipus to trust him as a loyal brother-in-law and friend. Iocaste also chooses to ignore Oedipus and wants him to forget about taking revenge on the person or persons who murdered Laios. Queen Iocaste also wants to make amends with the gods by taking offerings to the alter of the gods, of incense and branches to help ease the fear that she and Oedipus are experiencing. Iocaste prays to Apollo to deliver them from defilement and fears for her husband’s sanity. Oedipus’ tale is disturbing and quite tragic and I do not believe in fate and would rather experience free will. If I should fail in life it is because of my own actions and decisions.

Oedipus may be considered heroic because he is determined to find out who killed the King of Thebes and tries to avoid the fulfillment of the prophecy. I think that his reasoning for gouging out his eyes with his mother’s brooch is just and perhaps a good choice. Oedipus tells the audience he could not bear the sight of his father and mother when he comes upon the house of death. He has done a terrible deed, kills his own father and takes his mother as his wife. He will never be able to look upon his parents in the house of death due to his sins against them.

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An important role Free will in Oedipus the King. (2021, Nov 29). Retrieved from